This week is Parliament Week, and events have been organised across the country to connect people with Parliament and democracy in the UK. To mark the occasion, I thought I would look at one important way in which the Civil Service supports the work of Parliament.
Have you ever wondered how bills make their way to, and through, Parliament?
An important part of the answer is Civil Service teamwork – groups of civil servants working flexibly together to deliver an excellent product, often against very tight deadlines.
The core team is the departmental bill team, which provides support for ministers throughout the process, from the development of the policy through to Royal Assent of the bill in Parliament. The team is led by a bill manager and generally consists of relatively small numbers of policy specialists and lawyers. Sometimes this core team is joined by others, who are drafted in to help at certain pressure points, such as preparing material for debates in Parliament.
But legislation is a cross-government effort, so other teams of civil servants are involved as well.
There is the team who support the PBL (Parliamentary Business and Legislation) Committee in its role of managing the government’s legislative programme on behalf of the Cabinet.
This team provides advice on the overall legislative programme and holds regular meetings with bill teams to assess progress in the preparation of individual bills. Then, there is the team of the Parliamentary Counsel, who are responsible for drafting the bill and any amendments to it, as well as providing procedural advice on the bill as it makes its way through Parliament. And there are the teams who support the leaders of both Houses of Parliament and the government whips in taking government business successfully through Parliament.
Each of these teams needs to function in its own right and to interact successfully with all the other teams, as well as the other stakeholders involved in the legislative process.
Things that make a difference
There are many excellent examples of good team-working. Experience shows that some things, in particular, can make a real difference:
- good communications – making sure that everyone who needs to know what is happening does know; communications that are agile and direct (long letters are out, phone calls are in)
- sharing and retaining know-how – making use of those with prior experience of the legislative process can save an enormous amount of time
- not working in silos – thinking across the whole process, involving others as necessary, and teams blending into each other as appropriate
- not forgetting the basics – the bill team will definitely need a printer and photocopier!
We are also working to ensure that the law and our processes are more transparent. This means ensuring that the law we draft is clearer and that we are more open to the outside world about the way we work within government. As part of this, we try to use everyday language in bills and have also published our guidance on how the law should be drafted. Crucially, we are learning from best practice and new ideas outside of Parliament that we can bring back to Westminster.
This week is about celebrating Parliamentary democracy. It’s an enormous privilege to be able to prepare bills and take them through what is often called the ‘mother of parliaments’. There cannot be many closer connections to Parliament and democracy than for civil servants to support ministers in the legislative process.