2020 - Week 26

Procedure mapping

This week started as last week finished. On Friday, Librarian Jayne and Michael had had a meeting with some FCO legal types to check a few of the details around made affirmative Statutory Instruments laid under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. And on Monday they sat down to add what they learnt to the procedure map and the data it illustrates. Which means we are now fully sanctions compliant. And here is a query to prove it. Jayne set about re-indexing instruments under this heading but stumbled into a hole when she realised we didn’t know when the commencement order for the previous tranche of sanction SIs had appeared. And commencement orders define when the scrutiny period begins. And they aren’t laid into Parliament. Another email was dispatched to our friends at the FCO and we now have all the information we need. Or at least think we need. “[I]t might have been handy if they had mentioned that a year ago,” remarked an esteemed procedural colleague. But we are merely here to document. And never to complain. Still less whine.

Still on the subject of made affirmatives, those paying attention last week will know that we had something of an epiphany. Much like our other Statutory Instrument procedures, we had had the route into Lords laying as an optional allows and not as a mandatory causes. This introduces complications to the procedure, requiring the addition of requires routes to check that future allowances are actually allowed and that certain subsequent steps are not allowed unless there’s been a laying before the Lords. At some point last week, we chanced upon the notion that made affirmatives are always laid into both Houses. So we checked with both Journal Office Jane and Mr Evans, who both reported, to the best of their memory, no made affirmative SI had ever been laid before the Commons only. Librarian Jayne and Michael promptly changed the Lords laying route from allows to causes and set about simplifying the rest of the procedure. Which was all good until Jayne ran a query over our existing data and found 12 made affirmatives only laid before the Commons. And promptly screamed. On Wednesday of this week, Jayne and Michael sat back down and reverted all changes in both map and data. So now we’re roughly back to where we were the week before last. Only slightly more tired and frustrated. This reminds us to check the data for precedence. Something we’d forgotten we knew.

That said, we did make some improvements to the made affirmative procedure map. Actual improvements that we haven’t yet found reason to revert. One such improvement was the addition of an instrument remains law step, making both the draft and the made affirmative neatly symmetrical.

In the course of editing and reverting and editing and reverting, we noticed that some of our procedure conclusion steps were being caused or allowed by steps taking place outside of Parliament. Procedure conclusion steps are used by our queries to check whether or not an instrument is currently before Parliament. If any concluding step is actualised, we know the instrument is no longer subject to meaningful parliamentary scrutiny. And if no concluding step is actualised, we know that it is. Following much pondering and head scratching, Jayne and Michael came to the conclusion that it just didn’t feel right to have external events trigger procedure conclusion. So they’ve now made all routes to procedure conclusion steps originate from steps happening inside Parliament. So what once was “Instrument approved by the House of Commons” caused “Instrument remains law” which in turn caused “Procedure concluded in the House of Commons” is now “Instrument approved by the House of Commons” causing both “Procedure concluded in the House of Commons” and “Instrument remains law”. We don’t think this makes any practical different to the way the maps might be parsed by machines and it does add additional complicating routes, but hopefully brings them closer to the mental models of our clerkly colleagues. A note has been appended to our design notes just in case we ever forget.

On a more practical footing, Jayne and Michael also found time to finally tidy up Jayne’s library of SPARQL queries. Like most good things, it had grown somewhat organically. Or exhibited emergent behaviours, as Michael prefers to say. So they took a hoe and a shovel and some pruning sheers, removed some weeds, transplanted some seedlings and made a garden. If you’ve ever been curious about how to query graph data, it’s really not a bad place to start. For these queries, some interest in parliamentary procedure would also be of benefit.

All about the collaboration

Jayne spent Friday morning with Tom, one of our friends from the ParlRules project in Oxford. They took a first stab at pinning House of Commons public Standing Order tails onto procedure route donkeys. The results of which are now in our spreadsheet. Next week, Jayne plans to spend more time going through the details to check we’re happy with the mappings and working out what kind of relationships we want to describe. She’s also planning to take copies of our procedural maps and annotate them with Standing Order blobs. At which point, our usual suspects can probably expect an email. Thanks in advance Mssrs. Atkins and Evans.

Anya, Liz and Michael spent a pleasant Friday afternoon in the company of Nick, the chap who’s been attempting to cobble together a CRM for a team working in the area of outreach for Committee inquiries. Michael had taken Nick’s spreadsheet and done what he usually does when faced with new data. So there is now a playground, Rails powered website. And a new, more normalised spreadsheet. Anya and Liz offered advice on how Nick might go about subject indexing the organisations he’s listing and Liz promised help with any and all taxonomic matters.

Continuing our lifelong education

Whilst lockdown, heatstroke and an overdose of cooling dairy based products may be leading to bodily calcification, Anya and Michael remain quite determined that their brains should not follow suit. So on Tuesday morning they fired up Zoom and joined a Study of Parliament Group seminar on COVID-19 parliamentary committees. Where they heard all about how Parliaments in Ireland, New Zealand and Scotland - not to mention our very own House of Lords - went about setting up COVID committees and the types of scrutiny those committees carry out. Thanks as ever Cristina and Hannah.

Your weekly egg timer update

Further clarification on when to turn over the egg timer arrived this week in the form of an email from JO Jane. If the egg is added to the pan during recess, the egg timer does not get turned until one House resumes sitting. Or both. Depending on the procedure. So that logic has now been added to the calculator controller.

Jayne and Michael spent some of Thursday morning running spot tests on what we have so far. If you tuned in last week, you’ll know that we successfully deployed an egg timer that successfully returned dates. Our success was so great it quite outshone the matter of those dates being incorrect. This week more progress was made, a bug was fixed, some of the calendar data was re-entered and correct dates were finally returned. This at least for Proposed Negative Statutory Instruments and bicameral negative Statutory Instruments. Or at least for the ones we checked. Which is to say, not all of them. Back of an envelope calculations lead us to suspect that both negative and affirmative Commons only SI calculations are working. The data in the SI service continues to be based on JO Jane’s calculations, so includes Lords sitting dates. The Commons Journal Office have been informed of this and advise us to persevere with Jane’s maths for now.

Tiny chisel news

Robert and Michael’s tiny chisels took a rest this week. Although they were joined by Anya and Silver on Monday for a chat about the FRBRness of the record model. Michael had been confused about whether something like a monthly report could be described as different manifestations of a single work. But it turned out no-one else was confused by this and the consensus was it couldn’t be. Instead Anya, Silver and Robert suggested we use the collection or series model. Michael stopped thinking that every problem is a FRBR problem, nodded assent and pretended he’d thought that all along.

Last week Anya and Michael attempted to lead a session mapping the model they made of the House of Commons Library Economic Indicators to existing models for publishers, records and contributions. But neither Michael’s screen nor his brain had the spare capacity to make that happen. So, armed with his new knowledge that not everything is a work, he spent part of Tuesday switching his attention between his model railway and scraps of paper. And made a model of the mappings between models. Which is now available electronically and online.