Richard Remelie is a PhD student in the White Rose Doctoral Training Pathway. He writes about his 3 month internship at Parliament.
What is Parliament?
Parliament and the Government are not the same thing. The Government runs the country and proposes new laws. The role of Parliament is to scrutinise and challenge the Government, making sure the public’s interests are taken into account. The Government cannot make new laws or raise taxes without Parliament’s agreement.
The Government includes 122 Ministers and is led by the Prime Minister. Parliament includes all Members of Parliament (MPs), the House of Lords, and the Monarchy. The people in Government are MPs belonging to the party who had the most MPs elected in the last general election. They are chosen to be in Government by the Prime Minister, who is the leader of the majority party. Hence, all people in Government are also MPs, but most MPs are not in Government as there are 650 MPs in total.
The Government is organised into a series of Departments which enable it to run the country by putting policy into practice. Each Department covers a different area of society, such as Transport or Health and Social Care. Every Government Department is scrutinised by a corresponding Parliamentary Select Committee, which is a group of around 11 non-Government MPs. Select Committees are one of the main ways that Parliament scrutinises and challenges the Government. Each Committee has a Chair who is elected by all MPs and is responsible for leading the Committee’s work and setting its agenda.
After successfully applying for a three-month internship with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), I was invited to work with the Parliamentary staff who support the work of the Education Select Committee. The Education Committee scrutinises the spending, policy, and administration of the Government’s Department for Education. It mainly does this via inquiries, which involve meetings with expert witnesses, analysis of written evidence, and visits to key stakeholders. Once the committee has completed an inquiry, it publishes its findings in a Report and makes recommendations to the Government. The Government do not have to implement the Committee’s recommendations, but they are expected to publish a written response within two-months.
Covid restrictions eased when I started my internship, so I was able to live in London and regularly work from an office which is five minutes from the Houses of Parliament. My daily work varied, but often involved analysing written evidence and preparing briefing documents which help Committee Members (MPs) prepare for their weekly Committee meetings where they question Ministers or key stakeholders about matters relating to Education. These meetings are usually streamed live, and recordings of sessions that I helped organise are available here and here. Attending the Committee meetings each week was one of my favourite things to do and I learnt so much from listening to the discussions. I also attended weekly team meetings with the Chair of the Education Committee, Robert Halfon. In these meetings, we discussed upcoming Committee sessions, ongoing Committee inquiries, and plans for future work.
Another highlight of my internship was attending a Liaison Committee meeting where the Prime Minister was questioned on the situation in Ukraine and the cost of living. The Liaison committee is made up of the Select Committee Chairs. It considers matters relating to Select Committees and questions The Prime Minister three times a year. A recording of the meeting I attended is available here.
In addition to the work experience, one of the most valuable things about my internship was having a pass to access the Houses of Parliament. I made the most of this by regularly eating in the cafeterias and spending time walking around exploring. I often stopped to talk to the Parliamentary doorkeepers who were always so friendly and taught me so much about how Parliament works. I also went on guided tours and attended debates, both of which are open to the public. All this enabled me to get to know Parliament, appreciate the beautiful architecture, and learn as much as possible.
In between work for my internship and getting to know Parliament, I spent the rest of my time in London seeing and doing as much as possible. This involved lots of walking and visits to museums, galleries, and law courts. I also went on daytrips to Oxford, Cambridge, Bath, Canterbury, and Dover.
What have I taken away?
My internship provided me with so many opportunities and gave me three of the best months of my life. I would like to thank the team I was part of and everyone who supported me along the way. I now have a much better understanding of the different roles of Government and Parliament, and a greater appreciation of the many good people working hard to maintain and improve our democracy. I plan to use my experiences to help other people learn more about how our democracy works and how they can contribute to it, either as citizens or academic researchers. Spending time around MPs, Government Ministers, and the many people working for Parliament has given me a greater appreciation of what is possible and what I am capable of. It has given me some of the skills and experiences needed to work in these roles in the future and, above all, it has given me the belief that these roles would be within in my reach with enough commitment and hard work.