2021 - Week 37

Public bills (slight return)

When we started this series of weeknotes, way back in 2019, it was with the intention of documenting our progress on mapping the public bill procedure. The email to our readers even has subject line ‘Public bill procedure modelling’. At least, that is, when Anya remembers to send it. Then lockdown happened and we were separated from our beloved whiteboards. Whilst Teams and Zoom may be perfectly adequate for the average office talking shop, we find they are of very little use for domain modelling sessions. Pixel based chats make it hard to discern when an interruption is acceptable. They certainly don’t allow opportunities for domain experts to get bored of our stupidity and grab the pen. Which is usually the best and most useful bit of any attempt to model a domain.

Because we lacked whiteboards and people, we put down our public bill pens and went back to refashioning our procedure model and maps into a more logical and arithmetic shape. The thrilling details of which we have regaled our loyal reader with for many, many months now. Sorry. As we limp out of lockdown, we have been reunited with whiteboards and - even though our dry wipe markers are now as dry as a bone - it starts to feel like proper work may once again be possible. At least for a day a week. This week we managed to pencil in time with both Richard and Graeme for public bill storytelling sessions during conference recess. Thanks Richard. Thanks Graeme.

To prepare the ground, Librarian Jayne and her faithful assistant Michael have made a start on refashioning some of the work we did back in 2019 to match our new understanding of matters. So far, they’ve managed to reshape the legislative consent motions that may happen in the three devolved legislatures and they’ve made a start on consent of a more prerogative kind. Both maps and data for Queen’s consent have been ticked off, whilst Prince of Wales’s and Grand Steward - or Stewart as we like to say - of Scotland consent have been remapped but not yet taught to the machines. More work next week.

An H2 with the snappy title of instruments created under the urgent procedure set out by Schedule 8 of the EU Withdrawal 2018 Act

Our avid reader may well recall that we spent some time earlier this year mapping a new procedure for instruments which amend or revoke subordinate legislation made under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. For reasons outside anyone’s control, this procedure has yet to make it to the Statutory Instrument website. We are hopeful this may happen soon. That procedure comes with an escape valve. If the ‘relevant authority’ considers that the instrument should be expedited, they may make a written statement to the House of Commons disapplying Paragraphs 2 to 5 of Schedule 8. This week that escape valve was triggered for the first time when just such a statement was made for the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2021. Librarian Jayne and Michael took to work and within an hour - or so - added new steps to both our logical draft and made affirmative maps and data in staging and our route-based maps and data in live. Thirty minutes later the new data was sucked into our triple store and the website updated. Librarian Jayne even found the time to add a new query for such instruments to our ever growing SPARQL library. Another feather in the cap for managing procedure as data. And not code.

In other SI related news, our Jianhan has made a small but time-saving change to our procedure editor code to make adding enabling Acts to Enabled Things just a little bit easier. Our team of crack librarians wish to thank Jianhan.

We are not an island

Away from the world of procedure, we are in the midst of a couple of collaborative projects with Paul and our other friends at the History of Parliament Trust. Librarian Ned and Michael got together over pixels for our third round of testing of the new peerage website. James continues to squash bugs almost as fast as we can raise them. We’re still waiting on enhanced announcements data from David, but, that aside, we are almost ready to go live.

Meanwhile, Librarians Ayesha and Anna are knee deep in patching up the reference data that sits beneath the History of Parliament Trust’s Rush website. The data started life in an Access database and lacked some of the usual constraints that lead to tidy data. Which means we have school types like ‘Public school’, ‘Public School’ and just ‘Public’. Our crack librarians are working column by column, table by table to reconcile what’s there, whilst researching and plugging the gaps for bits that aren’t. Unfortunately, no matter how tidy we make the data, such values are still stored as strings. Which means the risk remains of things going awry as more data gets added. Fortunately some money has been found to pay James to take our tidied data and normalise it into new tables. So instead of typing types as free text, future librarians will benefit from ready populated drop downs. And data consumers will benefit from much less mess.

Mapping written questions and answers

On Thursday, Anya and Michael were joined by Table Office Matt for a very pleasant hour white-boarding the House of Lords’ question and answer process from the first inkling of an idea for a question to the publication of its answer. It has since struck us that we failed to dig into round robin questions, questions in pursuance of things and corrections to answers. If you’re reading, Matt, we may need to borrow another hour at some point. Sorry.

A little more geography

Later on Thursday, Librarians Anya and Phil and computational ‘expert’ Michael were joined by statistician Carl and local government expert Mark for further explorations of places and spaces that are slightly larger than a constituency. Or at least that’s what they thought they were doing. Until it turned out that whilst it is more usual for a constituency to be wholly or partly contained by an upper tier local authority area or indeed a lower tier local authority area, there are occasions when local authority areas of either flavour are wholly or partly contained by a constituency. Being newcomers to such geographies we’d arrived with the naive assumption that our model may end up describing a set of Russian dolls. Not only are they not Russian doll-like, when they are, there are occasions on which the ‘smaller’ doll ends up on the outside of the ‘larger’ one. Marvellous.