Civil servants and Parliament

Lord Norton

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  This has now been superseded by Civil Service Learning, which provides primarily online courses for officials.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.

One member of staff!  This figure is especially worrying given the turnover nowadays among senior civil servants.  Resources need to be adequate to meet the need to educate officials.  Government needs to take its responsibilities to Parliament seriously.  Good Government needs an effective Parliament. I fear I may be keeping my colleague, Lord Bridges, busy.

5 comments for “Civil servants and Parliament

  1. tizres
    07/08/2015 at 3:14 pm

    This can’t be right: over half of the unit are employed in HR? Data from 2014:—Organogram-Data—Civil-Service-Learning-junior-data_csv.csv/preview

    I’m sure they aren’t all pen pushers. Are they? No, I’m obviously missing something. Then again, in the era of transparency, I suppose the data should be meaningful to the general public.

    Does your insider know that s/he is the insider?

  2. MilesJSD
    12/08/2015 at 3:35 am

    “We know that a lot of people don’t know a great deal about Parliament”

    In other words, the British population and dominant general Public is insufficiently capable of being “democratic”.

    Therefore both “you” and the nation’s “educators” are not-fit-for-purpose;

    which in turn means that the British Constitution has long, over-long, been unfit-for-purpose, too;
    doesn’t it ?

    • maude elwes
      13/08/2015 at 8:28 am

      @ Miles JSD:

      Do any of them involved in Parliament want ‘people’ to know a great deal about what goes on there and of the fall out from the movers and shakers ineptitude inside that place? I don’t think so. Take the obvious cover ups like David Kelly and the Chilcot report. The fact that the man in position of leader, at the time he took us into an illegal war beside the USA, can still have consent from those in that place, as well as the gall, to openly and with approval, spout his mouth about whom he thinks should run the party he devastated. His side kicks, those who admit they would be as culpable today, given the go ahead to tell us they agree with what he did. Meaning they would repeat his illegality given half a chance.

      Then use the example we have in our faces right now and will have over the next few weeks, since the party that calls itself Labour, decided to allow its members to have a choice on who will lead ‘their’ party. The open vote rigging against the peoples man and the threats that if democracy rules, and their guy is put in his rightful place, they will do a Brutus to be sure the voters who put their money on line for him will be thwarted in their cry for recognition. Every one of those who secret ‘Tories’ should be vetted and thrown out of that party as it is pretending to be something it isn’t. They are running on a lie.

      Follow that into the bigger picture with TTIP. Addressed in secret. Passed in secret and already up and running as we can see so easlity with our internet shopping being taken over, page by page, in order to eliminate the business capablity of those outside the USA. Now, for example, its being called ‘Global Ebay.’ Try to look at what the people in the UK are selling, see how hard you have to search. Put up you want ‘UK’ sellers or ‘UK only’ and see how you are directed immediately to the dollar market.

      And what do you want to bet, that any word made public about the truth of that TTIP deal will lead to criminal charges against the he/she who dares to tell us all they know on how we have been stitched up. Forced on us through Europe. GM products everyone of us know is poison to our bodies shoved down outr throats like the fois gras production. And if you dig really deep, how there is a connection to our farmers being put in a situation, here and across Europe, that forbids them to make a sensible profit from their work. All in order for GM contaminated milk from outside our borders to be shipped and sold here by those producing the crap in countries where the costs are not competitive with a modern world worker. It is the process of slavery these pieces of toad breath are backing. Why do you think the US President tells the people of Britain ‘he’ wants us to remain in the EU? Because it is in our interests to do so? Or, theirs? If we are in a straighjacket, with the rest of the Europeans, it is easier to control us through their TTIP Globalist agreement than it is if we stand alone and vote for our own best interests.

      The European Debating website are running a thread on whether ‘we’ the citizens of the EU believe referendum is legal. Take a deep intake of breath. And read that as, do you think ‘democracy’ should be criminalised……. And why do you think that would be questioned by Europe? Well TTIP and that ‘secret’ agreement of couse. The one we mustn’t know exists.

      So, you see, you have to ask clearly and openly if Parliament want ‘the people’ to know anything at all about what goes on insdie those walls. As ‘secrecy’ allows them to get away with murder.

  3. Stacey
    14/08/2015 at 12:00 pm

    This is interesting. I know that the civil service uses the excellent Parliamentary Outreach team for training and that there are online modules on the intranet to explain the parliamentary process (which could benefit from the Lord Norton touch!) and some opportunities to visit parliament but perhaps there is scope for parliament to provide lunchtime seminars/tours to civil servants like the Supreme Court is doing in September.

  4. MilesJSD
    20/08/2015 at 12:05 pm

    Lord Norton, maude elwes, and Stacey are each contributing some vital essential to this Issue.

    Here’s mine (that is, whomsoever’s are originating its contents via my occasionally ‘wartchful’ mind):

    Two monumental Governance & Educational Failures keep rumbling and wobbling all current Human Civilisations:
    and they do this totally uncontrolledly from underneath our ‘biggest & best’ ‘headquarters’:
    the worldwide Establishmentarian Underground Survival Bunkers,
    the various Militaries;
    the various competeing Econpomies, Sociological, Scientific 9inckuding Medical [qua “Health”],
    the Individual Human Developmental (suppressed therefore non;existent);

    last and not at all least from underneath , in amongst, and on the many ‘market-cpmpetion and consumption’ surfaces of
    both the Non-Bio and the Bio Environmemnts
    [focally qua their Longest-Term Lifesupportiveness limitations].
    “What goes on in hiding behind Establishmentarian, Judiciary, Parliamentary,
    ‘Big Business’, ‘Majority-Populations Representative, Strategic-Securfity, and Insider-Media doors”
    could actually be made public
    via for instance Documentary TV
    [for which the UN would be the obvious ”disinterested’ choice, surely ? –
    and should not be traditionally summarily ‘vetoed’
    e.g. “because rogue states such as North Korea would never allow such documentaries to be seen by their populations.
    What is most crucial is the fitnessing-for-longest-term-purpose of every-one of the World’s Populations (fortunately most can now understand English ?),
    in the successive levels and extents of Governance and Sustainworthy-Lifestyling abilities and further enablements.

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