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Civil Service

Guide to Parliamentary Work: an updated tool for civil servants

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A Brilliant Civil Service, Civil Service Leaders, Skilled people
Head shot of Elizabeth Gardiner with glasses
Elizabeth Gardiner, First Parliamentary Counsel and Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office’s Government-in-Parliament Group

To the uninitiated, Parliament’s procedures can seem as intricate and complex as the Palace of Westminster itself. Anyone attempting to find their way through either its procedures or its corridors unguided will, sooner or later, end up getting lost.

Yet Parliament matters enormously to civil servants, as the Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom set out in an article for Civil Service Quarterly earlier this year.

She wrote: “Civil servants need to understand how Parliament works. Civil Service Learning offers courses on Parliament that will help you appreciate – among other things – how your work is scrutinised; how the stakeholders you are dealing with feed their views into Parliament; how Parliament makes laws – and the many ways in which Parliament can put your minister on the spot.”

The Leader of the House also referred to the appointment of designated Parliamentary champions for each government department. They are there to help ensure civil servants have the skills necessary to support ministers on Parliamentary business – whether that is being scrutinised by MPs or driving forward the Prime Minister’s agenda through legislation.

Whitehall tourist sign with Big Ben in the background

We have received requests for further guidance in response to the Leader of the House’s article, so I’m delighted to publicise a new guide for civil servants seeking to improve their understanding of how Parliament works.

The revised and updated Guide To Parliamentary Work sets out the essentials civil servants need to grasp about Parliamentary procedure, from the basics of the sitting day, to processes around Parliamentary papers, oral statements in both Houses, and Parliamentary Questions.

I hope that civil servants seeking to support their ministers will find what they’re looking for in this updated guide – and that it will help them navigate through some of the intricacies of Parliamentary protocol.

If they find themselves lost in the Palace of Westminster itself, though, my advice is it’s best to ask for directions from a doorkeeper!

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  1. Comment by Caroline Wilson posted on

    The Civil Service is so huge it can such a challenge to get the information out to everyone! So we have recently launched a new Parliamentary newsletter for Civil Servants. Each month there will be a different theme, latest on new learning events, general news, articles, fun facts etc. You can sign up by registering via this link:

    Please spread the word!

  2. Comment by Ian Jackson posted on

    The words "civil servants need to grasp" is a bit OTT. In my logistics work at a small northern MOD facility I can't see how this might be relevant. The Civil Service is wide and varied offering many opportunities in different trades and professions, few requiring an understanding of parliamentary business; if they did it would be Mandatory Training. There are Civil Servants in suits and office shoes and there are those of us in hi vis jackets and safety shoes. That said, I will be reading more on this out of interest more than anything else but I don't think there is a "...need to grasp..."

  3. Comment by Norman Lee Plumpton-Walsh posted on

    During my politics degree, I undertook a parliamentary internship in my MP's office. I used my knowledge of the intricate workings of the Palace of Westminster only yesterday assisting colleagues.
    I'd be willing to share any of my experiences.

  4. Comment by Summer Houlder posted on

    Hi Ruel,

    Thank you for your comment. I thought you might find it helpful to hear about some of the ways you could learn more about Parliament.

    Each government department, at the request of the Cabinet Secretary, has a Parliamentary Champion to promote parliamentary capability in their department. The Parliamentary Clerk and wider Parliamentary Branch in a department are also a source of knowledge and experience when it comes to parliamentary matters. Most Departments use Parliament Week (this year 12-18 November) as an opportunity to raise the profile of Parliament, so do look out for events that are taking place then.

    We also have a dedicated team in Civil Service Learning who are working incredibly hard to improve parliamentary skills across the Civil Service. They run ‘Understanding Parliament’ courses on a regular basis, at both foundation and practitioner level to ensure everyone’s training needs are covered. These courses provide a general overview of Parliament, however, if you have a particular interest, the one hour Parliamentary Insights talks for Civil Servants are great to get a clear, succinct explanation of a topic from a key expert from Parliament (eg delegated legislation, select committees or debates and voting). All these events are free. Please see the link below for further information.

    If you aren't able to access events in London, please keep an eye out on your departmental intranet as Civil Service Learning regularly attend all-staff events, conferences and CS Live events across the country. A monthly newsletter is also produced, which details upcoming training and events and other useful information.

  5. Comment by Iain Fifer posted on

    I did a law conversion a few years ago, and have read quite extensively about how parliament works - but nothing has proved to be as insightful, and as useful for day to day policy work, as finding a day to shadow our parly team. I would recommend it to any official that has to interact with parliament through ministers. Not only does it bring to life the most relevant aspects of parliamentary work, it gives you the space to have all your questions (including those that you hadn't yet come across - but which arise naturally through the day) answered.

  6. Comment by Ruel Cole posted on

    Most civil servants like myself, would love to know how Parliament works, but in the real world we are not going to have the opportunity to do this due to business needs and the nature of the work in which we do. I have a thrust for knowledge including Diversity and Inclusion as well as law, if you truly would like all civil servant to have a better understanding of how Parliament works, how are you promoting this throughout all government department. I only came across this page by accident.

    • Replies to Ruel Cole>

      Comment by Caroline Wilson posted on

      Hi Ruel,

      It is a challenge to get the information out to everyone - the Civil Service is so big! However, if you are interested in keeping up to date, you can sign up the (new) Parliamentary Newsletter for Civil Servants - the first was issued in September 2018. Each month there will be a different theme, include details of latest learning events, general news, fun facts etc. Here is the link: