2020 - Week 29

Procedure mapping

A wee while back, Librarian Jayne and Michael were making a few changes to our made affirmative procedure map. They forget now exactly what. Journal Office Jane inquired about the possibility of adding an ‘instrument lapsed’ step, to cover occasions on which the egg timer of scrutiny runs short of sand before the government manages to persuade Parliament to approve the instrument. The step was added but Jayne and Michael had lingering qualms. The combination of the egg timer ending, the instrument not remaining law and the absence of agreement to an approval motion all add up to mean much the same thing. Which made the lapsed step feel a little redundant. This week they petitioned for the removal of the step. Jane was receptive to the idea on the condition that the outcome was pretty much the same. After some consideration, Jayne and Michael concluded that they could not, in all honesty, promise the same clarity to users of the website. Whilst lapsing might be explicit in the data, the website collapses the path through procedure into an ordered list - it doesn’t make clear how steps are connected. Neatly illustrating the perils of taking a massively interwingled logical graph and rendering it as a line. Jayne and Michael took a page out of a great man’s book and went with Option Zero: Do Nothing. Which is often the best option. That said, the step remains redundant and should not be there. Jayne is in the process of rewriting the scope note to explain why. At least to ourselves. One day we hope for a website that fully expresses the procedure model. But until then, we are where we are.

Still on the subject of affirmative instruments and still on the subject of JO Jane, Jayne and Michael had another question. This time they asked why their Lordships would ever feel the need to table a fatal prayer. Given there is an approval motion that has to be moved, proposed, debated and a question put, they couldn’t readily determine why a fatal prayer would ever be necessary. We should note here that they were not questioning its existence. Jayne ran another one of her queries and found a handful of examples of fatal prayers being tabled against affirmatives. But that didn’t really explain why. This is probably a question they should have asked a couple of years back, but there’s no point living in ignorance, so they asked anyway. The answer that came back from JO Jane might best be summed up as, because politics. Which is an answer they should have been able to guess really.

Not all of the week was spent on information retrieval and sticking to Option Zero. Some actual mapping did take place. Jayne and Michael reopened the worm can of instruments created under paragraph 5(3) of Schedule 7 to the Local Government Finance Act 1998. This has been sat on the Trello board since way back when Journal Office Jack was with us. Such instruments are made affirmatives, but with a twist. Instead of the spoonfuls of sand in the egg timer being defined by some legislation as some number of days, such instrumental eggs are considered perfectly boiled when either the House of Commons approves the Local Government Finance Report (England) or before the 1st March. Whichever comes first. There is a slight additional complication with these instruments being Commons only. Jayne and Michael hope that that at least means fewer preclusion arrows to draw. A new version of the made affirmative map with a new type of clock has been created in the play pen folder but it needs more work. We admit we’re a little confused about why exactly the 1st March is pertinent here. Emails inquiring what’s special about that date have been dispatched to assorted Commons clerks. We await replies with interest. We also have a strong feeling that the second clock will require additional routes. But that’s work for next week.

Your weekly egg timer update

Jayne and Michael continued to test what they can of the egg timer application. There are a couple of procedures we have data for which we haven’t yet tested against our calculation code. They’re both of the made affirmative flavour but one dribbles sand when either House is sitting and the other one only when both Houses are sitting. They think the first of these is working as expected, but the both Houses case is complicated because the Journal Office only realised recently that such things existed. And the data we have covers the period when the Lords were moving to ‘rona induced virtual sittings and no one was quite sure what the sitting pattern would be. Jayne and Michael came to the conclusion that there were two possible interpretations of the both Houses rule:

They enquired of both JO Jane and the informing legislation but neither were conclusive. Jane did confirm her calculations take the latter approach. But we’d still like to be sure we’re definitely doing the right thing here. An email has winged its way to Daniel and his Speaker’s Counsel colleagues in search of some clarity.

All about the collaboration

Monday afternoon saw a phone call between Michael and Rad to run through next steps on our work with ParlRules Standing Order data. Jayne has since been joined by Tom to make more connections between our procedure routes and their SOs. A call with Robert and Michael to talk about data models for SOs was pencilled in for next week. And, almost unbelievably, librarians Anya and Jayne and computational experts Robert and Michael are now booked for a trip to Oxford next Thursday. So the plan is to skip whiteboards and meet for a picnic in the park. In the unlikely event our managers are reading this, rest assured we will prioritise standing orders over sandwiches. Let’s hope the weather holds out. And agoraphobia does not kick in as thresholds are crossed.

Collaboration continued on Tuesday with Anya and Michael joining a call with Felisia and Ganesh from the Gubmint Computational Section. Michael has plans to continue decanting gov.uk guides into maps and DOT notation. Felisia continues to fine-tune the learning machines to extract eligibility statements from webpages. There is still a feeling that any target data model might not be too dissimilar to a semantic model of legislation, given that it’s legislation that underpins most of the rules. Michael has since contacted Luke of the OPC and Adam - Professor in Law and Computer Science at Swansea University. Both of whom were introduced to him by John. And both of whom have strong reckons on how legislation should be modelled as data. More phone calls soon.

Librarian Liz and Michael were in receipt of an email from Andrew on Friday. He stumbled upon our Rush data Trello board and found a card with his name on it. There is much of talk of the benefits of working in the open. Many eyes making all bugs shallow etc. But this is the first time we think we’ve ever been contacted by a non-parliamentarian because he’s seen his name on a backlog somewhere. More identifier alignment from Rush data to Wikidata should happen shortly. Thanks as ever Andrew.

Still on the subject of Wikidata, friend of the family Tony has been hard at work tidying up incumbencies of government positions in Wikidata. This is not work we can take any credit for. Though it was prompted by a Twitter conversation with Gavin, Tony and Michael amongst others. In one day, Tony managed to tidy historical incumbents of the Home Secretary position. He’s since gone on to tidy up a number of other government positions at such a rate we can barely keep track. We can confirm that this is better quality data than Parliament has for such things. And we’re fairly confident it’s better than what government has too. Top work Tony.

Customer service of the week

Daniel got in touch on Thursday to say a spreadsheet he’d been using to teach students about diversity of Members of Parliament had disappeared from data.parliament. As holder of the Library’s keys to the Members’ Names Information System, Chris was contacted and managed to get a spreadsheet to Daniel by the end of the day. Whilst it may be less than ideal that getting such data involves having met someone at a conference who knows someone else with database access, the turnaround time was pretty good. And Daniel seemed happy. Thanks Chris.

Continuing our lifelong education

Anya and Michael continued their adult learning on Friday morning when they popped in to Teams to hear Martyn give a talk about procedural reform and how procedural reform comes into being. It was interesting as ever and Michael almost asked a question. But felt his provincial accent might let him down. So he held off. Besides which, it was one of those questions that people always ask that wasn’t really a question but a half thought through reckon with a question mark at the end. So nothing was lost.

Tiny chisel news

Robert was still on holiday this week. Or on “holiday” as Robert might say. So Michael remained at something of a loss for company and companionship. That said, Anya and Michael managed to meet up with the lad on Friday afternoon for a stroll from Clapham to Hammersmith, including a trip to Wandsworth Park pitch and put. Their intention had been a pleasant wander through parklands and this it was, and yet it was also a death march through a sun scorched and largely abandoned London. Plans to pitch and indeed put were placed on hold when our intrepid explorers discovered the 19th hole was open. In that heat it would surely have been remiss not to take a drink.