2020 - Week 44

Break in transmission

Our first duty toward our avid reader is an apology for last week’s break in transmission. Michael took a well earned winter break in St. Lucia and Anya, not to put too fine a point on it and quite frankly, dropped the ball. But we are where we are, and this week our lucky reader gets a bumper, fun-packed edition.

Procedure mapping

If you joined us the week before last, you may remember we were scratching our heads about whether we needed a step to say English Votes for English Laws has been suspended. As the suspension is not on an instrument-by-instrument basis, we decided the procedure maps were not the place. That said, we do need a way to capture that routes into EVEL certification are not currently traversable. And luckily our Jianhan has recently bequeathed to us time bound routes. So Jayne has given all the routes into EVEL a start date of 22-10-2015 - the date when we were first blessed with EVEL, and an end date of 02-06-2020 - the date on which EVEL was suspended for ‘rona based reasons. If you squint long and hard at any of our Statutory Instrument data visualisations, you’ll see dotted lines, indicating that those routes are currently closed. And if you stare slightly less long and less hard at one of our SI work package data visualisations, you’ll see that EVEL is no longer shown as a thing that might happen. At least for now. Adding a thanks to Daniel here. His tweets on the subject kept us on our EVEL toes.

Librarian Jayne has been busy busying herself with more autumnal cleaning of our procedure maps and data. We’d noticed some inconsistencies in how procedure steps referred to the Government. Sometimes we’d gone with an uppercase G, sometimes with a lower. Jayne has tided up our mess and the Government is now the Government everywhere. We still need to go back and bring our ontology comments into line. Sorry, the Government.

In similar grammatical tidyings, we’d also noticed that our treaty procedure used a mixture of ‘the treaty be ratified’ and ‘the treaty should not be ratified.’ We have deferred to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, and such steps now all use should. It is, after all, not an instruction.

Our affirmative procedure maps had been scribbled on the assumption that, where an SI had come into operation before being laid into Parliament, there would be a single communication to inform Parliament of that fact. Back in early October, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments queried one such letter. This resulted in a follow up letter from the government. Sorry, Government. There would appear to be no restriction in Standing Orders on sending follow up letters. And so, our ‘Communication declaring that the Instrument had come into operation before copies were laid before Parliament’ steps, which had been self-precluding, are now not.

Way back in the mists of time, all our maps had steps to describe the scheduling of debates. These steps allowed both the debate to take place and the debate to not happen, and therefore be rescheduled. At some point we removed the scheduling steps because they really weren’t adding much beyond more lines and blobs to contend with. The ‘debate did not happen’ steps were left in, as a nod towards knowing when rescheduling had happened. But they proved somewhat tricky to actualise, in much the same way that reporting a negative often is. So this week, Jayne and Michael took steps to remove steps. And now all ‘debate did not happen’ steps are removed from the maps.

Finally, another of those jobs where we decided the best course of action was option zero: do nothing. Jayne had enquired whether the evidence sessions planned by both the International Agreements Committee and the International Trade Committee should be featured on our treaty map. As expected the answer came back as a no. Whilst they may be of interest they are not, strictly speaking, procedural. Which handily lets us off the hook for how we might describe evidence sessions happening before laying under CRAG, in a procedure that kicks off with laying under CRAG.

Return to motion mountain

Probably the most mind-bending bit of our week was our return to Motion Mountain. Jayne and Michael had left it rather too long between chatting to David and Paul and returning to their whiteboards. So their faces were a little screwed up as they tried desperately to remember what they needed to change. The easy bit was remembering that they shouldn’t separate fatal and non-fatal amendments to motions, since the question on the motion as amended - or not - would be put regardless. The harder part was prising apart ‘proposing’ from ‘putting’, coupling ‘moving’ directly to ‘proposing’, making a debate hang off the proposal for motions on which the question was not to be put forthwith, peeling off in the direction of amendment consideration once the main motion has been proposed, directing back toward debate or question putting on the the main motion once the amendment has been disposed of and reattaching the begging(s) of leave to withdraw to the proposition(s). This is probably easier to draw than to type and it’s damned hard to draw so…

You may possibly have noticed that this did not come with the usual link to proof of work. This is because we don’t have one. Michael’s computer is no longer capable of drawing pictures and the machine he borrowed from Anya is no longer capable of speaking Git. So you’ll just have to trust us. Til next week.

All about the collaboration

Not all of our modelling work has been procedural. On Monday, Anya and Michael met with Grace, Lorna, Edward and Chris to talk through where they’ve got to with modelling research records, and to explore where they might go next. They have a long list of R words such as review, revision, retention, replacement and retraction they’d like to somehow include in the model. It was, they thought, a very good meeting and they managed to get through it all in double quick time. Again, there is no picture to share. But this time, more because a second meeting is pencilled in with other Library types and they don’t want to prejudice the results.

On Tuesday, Librarian Liz and Michael gave a quick talk to other library people. This time to the Parliamentary Data User Group on the subject of the Rush database. Michael stuck to the background of who Michael Rush is, why the data is collected, how it forked over time, and how it’s now neatly in one place. And he tacked on a quick tour of the database schema. Which should surprise no one. Liz talked about how the data is managed and how we might want to manage it in the future. Oli and Phil were there. It’s always lovely to see Oli and Phil.

On Wednesday, Anya and Michael ventured into our Palace to meet with Lords’ colleague Donna. Liz and Ben joined via pixels. They were taken on a tour of the Hanging Files of the West Front - the sanctum sanctorum of the Lords’ institutional memory. The hanging files being cupboards in which files, well, hang. Whilst we would dearly love to share a picture, we fear on this occasion, it’s just not possible. At least not without being shot at. There is a plan forming of how the files might be digitised. Or, in the short term, how the books showing where the files are filed might be digitised. Thoughts have turned towards how we might construct a back-of-the-book type index, and how the subject taxonomy might be made more approachable whilst also preserving an historical record of how they’ve been organised to date. Some hybrid monster of SKOS and ISAD(G) may beckon from our future.

Glitching Lords’ business

After finding much success in his glitching of legislation, our Robert has now turned his computational expertise toward Lords’ Business. Accessing this has presented a long-term hurdle for our team of crack librarians. The problem, as ever, is time. If you check the Lords’ Business page before the event, you’ll find everything more or less at your fingertips. If you arrive a day late, whilst some links to business items remain available, some have most definitely disappeared. So if you miss a day, you’ve missed some business forever. Anya flagged this some time back, in the hope that one or other computational expert might pick up the problem and run with it. And Robert did. His new glitch app scrapes the HTML and encodes it as JSON. He then makes not only nice, neat and tidy HTML pages but more importantly, pages with all links still in place. Which means our librarians need never miss a day again.

By about Wednesday of this week, Robert declared himself happy - or as happy as he gets - with the work, and handed it over to Librarians Claire, Jayne, Emma et al. And lo, the very next day, a rebranded and slightly tweaked version of the Lords’ Business microsite came upon us. So Robert spent a few more hours tweaking XPaths, before once again declaring himself happy. Top work Robert.

Lifelong learning

Never ones to let a week go ‘bye’ without learnings, Anya, Liz, Jayne and Michael popped along to the latest in the long-running series of Lords procedural seminars. This time on the subjects of ping-pong and powers. With a dash of money thrown in for good measure. It proved, as ever, to be both informative and entertaining. Thanks John.

Thursday evening for librarians is like Thursday evening for students. The last night of the week they can afford to go out. Anya, Liz, Jayne, Emily and Steve all left their bedsits for a fun filled evening with the doyenne of cat and class, Vanda Broughton. The person who taught Anya all her favourite things about librarianship. It is important to remember that your subjects are emergent from materials, she said. A degree of bias being inescapable but please people, do reflect. She went on to quote D.J. Foskett who pronounced, “[t]he creed of a librarian; no politics, no religion, no morals.” Anya could not agree more.

Anya and Michael ended the week with yet more food for thought when they popped in pixels to the Open Data Institute’s Friday talk. This week featuring Full Fact’s Andy on why bad information ruins lives. An excellent talk from a bright lad with a lovely manner. Thanks Andy.