2020 - Week 16

Life in lockdown continues to entertain, if only somewhat sparingly. Trapped in a moment of unexpected temperance, trips to the Two Chairmen have been substituted for occasional forays into gardens, only interrupted by half hourly trips to the front door to pick up another parcel from a masked hero. And treaties. Lots of treaties.

For anyone following along for the plague based updates, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee have updated their list of Statutory Instruments (subject to parliamentary procedure) being laid to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. What had been links to legislation pages from The National Archives, are now links to Statutory Instrument service pages. Which in turn link out to TNA. So nothing is lost and important parliamentary context is gained. Top work, Journal Office Jane and Committee Assistant Louise.

Last week we reported we’d been poking around the treaty procedure map, raking over soil to prepare the ground for a new House of Lords committee dedicated to scrutinising all things treatyish. The committee finally having a name - not to mention an acronym - helped matters enormously. Librarian Jayne and Michael created a temporary map with the new EU International Agreements Sub-Committee. Thankfully to be known as IAC for short. EUIASC sounding more like a sneeze. This was passed to our resident treaty and committee experts who, following a little to-ing and indeed fro-ing, signed off on our scribbles. Thanks Dominique, Jane, Alex and Ed. As of Thursday, both treaty procedure maps and data feature new steps for committee allocation and for the publishing of information by both the new Committee and the EU Select Committee. Together with a whole bunch of new routes adding the usual plethora of preclusions and allows. The same conversation revealed that a treaty having been allocated to a committee did not explicitly prevent its reallocation to another committee at some undetermined point in the future. So Jayne and Michael also removed a quantity of preclusion routes from between allocation steps, which at least should help to preserve what little remains of their eyesight. The treaty map now uses dotted lines to denote deprecated routes - we are as yet unable to reflect this in the data and await the addition of start and end dates to routes. So, at least for now, the maps the machines draw are a little messier than they might ideally be.

Still on the subject of treaties, Jane raised the question of whether the step ‘government statement that section 20 does not apply’ should appear in a procedure primarily based on the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. The statement being a way for the government to say CRAG does not actually apply. After consulting both Dominique and Alex, the conclusion was reached that - although unlikely - it could be possible for the government to lay a treaty under CRAG and then decide that CRAG was not in fact applicable. So retaining this step provides a useful escape hatch here. Sometimes not making changes is also work.

Whilst sense checking the new treaty map, Jane questioned why the steps for government statements to extend the first bicameral objection period were unconnected to the clock steps which cover this period. Via the mediums of telephone and Omnigraffle, Jayne and Michael shifted some lines around and came to the conclusion that what was needed here was a brand new clock for an extended objection period A. Government statement steps now cause this new clock to start, which precludes the original clock from stopping and the end of the extended objection period introduces a whole new slew of preclusion routes. After sign off from Jane, this is also now in both map and data.

Back over in SI land, Jayne has finally finished tidying draft affirmative data in the wake of recent changes. We had been capturing various bits of data around when drafts got made, but decided our records should reflect the state the SI was in when it made its way through Parliament. So Jayne has spent rather too long tearing out hairs and ripping out data. Still, all is neat and tidy now.

Jayne has also been slaving away on converting her procedural SPARQL query library - where step labels were once used, step IDs are now in place. This means we can safely update how we label steps without fear that we might accidentally break queries. We’ve said it before and we’ll no doubt say it again: given a choice between strings and identified things, we’d go with things every time.

Robert and Michael have continued chipping away at calcified ontology comments. As Michelangelo might once have said, “every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” In fairness no masterpiece has yet revealed itself, and yet they proceed in the belief that if they just keep hitting the damned thing with spanners, it can only improve. Last week saw their delicate hands and tiny chisels turn to the treaty ontology, which they then passed round our usual treaty channels in the hope of comments and possibly a light pat on the head. Fortunately Arabella got in touch, a phone call followed and Michael and Robert learned that the in forceness of a treaty is somewhat more complicated than the model allowed for. And probably something that sits well outside the bounded context of Parliament and firmly in the hands of the FCO. So Robert and Michael placed their tails between their legs, chopped off a couple of limbs from the model and started afresh. What’s currently online is probably a little more the work of a modern Prometheus than a Phidias. But then there is always next week.