We know from survey data that many people do not know a great deal about Parliament. The latest Hansard Society Audit of Political Engagement found that, although 41% of those questioned claimed to know a ‘fair amount’ about Parliament, just over half knew not very much or nothing at all. There is a particular problem for how Parliament carries out its work in that some of those who do not know a great deal about the institution, or lack interest in it, are civil servants. Some officials do know and take a great interest in it. They are the ones who are keen to be on Bill teams and to spend time in Parliament. Others have rarely or never set foot in the Palace and treat it as a body to be treated with distrust, prone to interfere with the activities of Departments.
In order to ensure that senior civil servants are alert to the significance of Parliament, I moved an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill in 2010, an amendment that was accepted as it stood by Government and now constitutes section 3(6) of the Act:
(6) In exercising his power to manage the civil service, the Minister for the Civil Service shall have regard to the need to ensure that civil servants who advise Ministers are aware of the constitutional significance of Parliament and of the conventions governing the relationship between Parliament and Her Majesty’s Government.
I have variously pursued Government to see what they are doing to comply with the provisions of the statute. One aspect I have been pursuing has been the training of civil servants. Training used to be provided by the National School of Government. This has now been superseded by Civil Service Learning, which provides primarily online courses for officials. Normally I put down questions when I genuinely want to know the answer. With this issue, it is different because I already have insider information. I am therefore aware of the shortcomings in complying with the 2010 Act. The Government is unwilling to concede such shortcomings, so I have pursued questions which entail factual answers. Perhaps the most instructive is the answer to one I tabled before the summer recess:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many staff are presently employed by Civil Service Learning; and, of these, how many teach on modules that address the role of Parliament and the constitutional relationship between Parliament and the executive.
Lord Bridges of Headley: As of 30th June 2015, there were 72 staff members employed by Civil Service Learning. One staff member is responsible for learning that covers the roler of Parliament and the constitutional relationship between Parliament and the executive.