2020 - Week 32

Under new ownership

If you are our regular reader, you’ll know that back in week 23 Robert and Michael put out a rather touching advert for a new owner. This week, their efforts came to fruition when the data platform picked up a new manager in the shape of Ian. Welcome aboard Ian. As Robert continues to vacation in Battersea-upon-Thames, Ian has yet to set eyes on his wrinkly wee face. We can only imagine the joy.

As the pause button on the data platform was flipped to unpause, we also welcomed Sadia to the fold. The week of welcomes continued as Jianhan and Kunal returned to the warm embrace of everyone’s favourite pedantic web team. Onwards.

One of the first bits of work we need to do is an investigation into the orchestration from the Members’ Names Information System to the platform. That piece of work is being picked up by Data Language, so this week Michael found himself buried face first in GitHub and assorted bits of Sharepoint to find out what we could for Silver, Julian et al. Conversations were had and rough plans put in place.

Procedure mapping

Librarian Jayne and Michael had a card on Trello that resulted in lots of leg work, but no actual work. Recent changes to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act treaty procedure saw the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) adding their eyes to treaty scrutiny. The new steps were added to the procedure without self preclusion routes, meaning the committee could in theory scrutinise the treaty - or different bits of the treaty - multiple times. We weren’t sure if this was correct or if our procedure map should be a little more prescriptive. A mail winged its way to Dominique, Eleanor, Arabella and Alex. Who surprisingly - this being summer recess - got back almost immediately. Eleanor confirmed that the JCHR “could consider a treaty more than once and at different stages – although of course the type of consideration might be different at different stages.” So that answered that question and no changes were made.

Jayne and Michael made the somewhat worrying discovery that the draft negative procedure map and the draft negative procedure data had slipped ever so slightly out of sync. Whilst the data suggested that withdrawal of the instrument from the House of Commons should preclude a Delegated Legislation Committee debate, the map did not. They spent a little time squinting at the map in some half colour blind attempt to spot other discrepancies but found none. Though their eyes are fading a little these days. They did come to the conclusion that the data was in fact correct and the map wrong. Which is, they suppose, better than the other way round. The map is now fixed and everything is right with the world.

Jayne noticed a rogue route had popped into the CRAG treaty procedure. In both pixels and data. The withdrawal of a motion to take note of a treaty was allowing another motion to take note to be tabled. Which is not exactly wrong. But is redundant. As we are inclined to explain at length, the procedure model is more a means of constructing state diagrams than it is a means of constructing flowcharts. Given the tabling of a motion to take note is allowed from the moment a treaty is laid into the Lords - and is only precluded by either withdrawal of the treaty or by the government playing its get out of jail card and issuing a statement that Section 20 of CRAG does not apply - another tabling of another motion to take note is always possible. So the rogue route has been pruned and tossed onto the procedural compost.

Still in the world of CRAG compliant treaties, Jayne and Michael had another question for our ever friendly domain experts. Whilst our Statutory Instrument procedures allow for debates on motions to happen in Lords Grand Committee, our treaty map did not. More emails were traded with Dominique, Eleanor, Arabella and Alex. Dominique confirmed that, “[m]otions are actually quite likely to be debated in [Grand Committee], all things being equal. [T]hen an actual decision taken on a subsequent day in the Chamber.” Jayne and Michael have now added two new steps for ‘Grand Committee debate’ and ‘Grand Committee debate did not happen’ and a host of associated allows and precludes routes. Since this is not a thing that has happened whilst we’ve been dealing with treaties there was no reindexing required. We’re better prepared the future though, thanks Dominque.

There was one final question on treaty procedure. Which is probably a question we should have asked a couple of years back. Does the end of a parliamentary session have any effect on what happens to a laid treaty. Alex got back to say that, unlike primary legislation - where bills which fall at end of a session unless carried over - Parliament proroguing has no effect on treaty procedure. Besides delaying it a little. So, at least in this respect, treaties are more like SIs. Which is a relief. Once again, no changes were required, but learning is still work. Thanks Alex.

Your weekly egg timer update

Jayne and Michael had fully intended to do a little more testing of the “standard” bicameral made affirmative calculation based around either House sitting. But they didn’t have a comprehensive list of made affirmatives in the data platform subject to the either House rule vs those subject to the both Houses rule. So that didn’t happen. Better luck next week. We are still in search of an interpretation of the both Houses sitting rule by someone who can actually read legislation. The Speaker’s Counsel may well be hearing more from us.

All about the collaboration

Librarian Liz loaded the skeleton data for new Members returned at the last election to the Rush data, using the spreadsheet importer built by James. She also added three missing Members who’d been returned at by-elections in the previous Parliament but had not yet come to the attention of Professor Rush. And added their new Rush IDs to Wikidata. Thereby helping maintain the triangle of identifiers between Parliament, the History of Parliament Trust and Wikidata. The spreadsheet importer is now set up and maintained and should make the team’s life easier following future General Elections. Thanks James.

We’ve hit something of a blocker on Rush data, as the prof has been unable to get his hands on a copy of the latest edition of Dods Parliamentary Companion. He’s tried both Exeter Library and Exeter University Library. We have tried the House of Commons Library and the History of Parliament Trust. All to no avail. Our Michael poked family friend Andrew who in turn poked around COPAC and found a single claim of ownership by The London Library but it’s in their reference collection and restricted to members. We’re working on the assumption that the edition does in fact exist but libraries aren’t processing deliveries because the plague intervened. When neither the British Library nor the Bodleian have a book, we know we’ve truly entered the second dark age. Thanks for your efforts Andrew. In the unlikely event there’s anyone reading this, and the even more unlikely event you have a copy you are prepared to lend, please do get in touch.

Post of the week

Dave Rogers of Public Digital on the triplicate tripwires of Command and Control, everything always having to be awesome and the curse of the Digital Jesus.