2021 - Week 45

Whilst week 42 was mostly chatting to people, week 43 saw a much needed vacation. Week 44 was spent turning what we learnt from our chats into pixels. Week 45 was all about the dotting of Is and the crossing of Ts. Which means we have things to show.

Back to bill mountain

Having combined things we learnt from Graeme, things we learnt from Richard, things we learnt from Erskine May, things we learnt from Parliamentary Search, and things that Librarians Jayne, Claire and Ned just know, we now have a model for describing bills. Or at least the start of one. A fair bit of the week was spent moving lines around, as the debate raged about whether Hybrid Bills should subclass Bills or subclass Public Bills. Because Hybrid Bills are introduced as Public Bills and only transmogrify into Hybrids upon later examination, we’ve opted for the subclassing as Public Bill option. At least for this week. Should there be any clerkly eyes going spare, please do take a look and tell us what we’ve missed out, what we’ve misunderstood, and what we’ve got plain wrong. For now, the bits one might expect to appear around Private Bills - sponsors and agents and whatnot - are left intentionally blank. This is because …

… we’ve also been hard at work on mapping the public bill procedure. The beginnings of which are starting to poke their heads above ground here. Although, given the above, it’s looking more than likely that this will also turn out to be the hybrid procedure map. So far, we’ve managed to map the outline of the procedure - in some attempt to determine when a bill is in a House, when a bill has successfully left a House, when a bill has unsuccessfully left a House and when a bill may enter a House. We also have maps for legislative consent motions, prerogative consent, Commons first reading and motions for leave to present ten minute rule bills. So the easy bits really. All but the latter are now inside the machines, checked and tested. Marvellous.

Orders remedial

Librarian Jayne has also been hard at work attempting to draw up procedure maps for proposed remedial orders, draft remedial orders and made remedial orders. All as set out, somewhat confusingly, by Schedule 2 of the Human Rights Act 1998. Wednesday afternoon saw a pixel based meeting with clerks from the Joint Committee on Human Rights - Lucinda fighting out of the green corner, Olivia representing the red. Feedback was gratefully received on both the proposed and draft procedure maps. Which is why both of those pictures are currently covered in graffiti. Reporting options for the JCHR are now understood - or at least better understood - and we have our first example of scrutiny reserve on the Commons side. Thanks Lucinda. Thanks Olivia. We will be back.

The made procedure for urgent orders continues to baffle us. Not least because it’s unclear - at least to us - if the original instrument can be approved within the first 60 days. Or if that period is reserved for representations. Having peered at the legislation, at the standing order, at Erskine May, and at the MPs’ Guide to Procedure, we remain none the wiser. An email has been dispatched and we hope the mist will clear shortly. In the meantime, if our dear reader knows the answer to this, please do get in touch.

In further remedial order news, our beloved egg timer is currently scattered all over the floor of Michael’s machine, as he attempts to shove calculations for four new time periods into the mix. In truth, the only difficult bit is knowing what to call the first 60 days of the made affirmative procedure. The rest being easy because young Robert and Michael made the egg timer from a set of components they can easily swap in and out as new calculations become necessary. For which they would like to thank their younger selves. Top work lads.

The parsing of work packages

Our Jianhan has now finished his first pass at converting young Robert and Michael’s Ruby code into something more maintainable. The baton has passed back to Librarians Jayne and Claire, who have set about testing the thing. Ably assisted by Jianhan porting tables from our live database to our staging database at 10am every morning. A small bug popped up in the parsing of the made affirmative procedure. For anyone who knows the made affirmative procedure, this should come as little surprise. That bug is now squashed and testing continues. Should Jayne and Claire declare themselves happy, it only remains for team:Librarian and team:ComputationalExpert to come to some consensus on how best to visualise a parsed work package and we should - finally - be ready to go live.

On matters ontological

Not content with publishing our first attempt at a bill ontology, this week also saw the publication of our first attempt at a geographic area ontology. Carl has kindly marked our homework, a couple of tweaks being made as a result. At some point the decision was taken to superclass all areas into a single Geographic Area class. Which means most of what Carl and Mark taught us about the domain is now squished down into a wholly contained by property and a partly contained by property. Whilst it feels slightly sad to bury domain knowledge in comments, it does at least appear to work. Which is not nothing. Should geographies be your thing, please do take a peep.

Questions and answers thereto

This week saw more tweaking of the House of Lords question and answer flow diagram in response to feedback from Gatekeeper Sally. It would appear we have now met her very exacting standards without the need for us to issue a written statement correcting our earlier attempts. Feedback also came in the form of more computational details from Joe. Which lead to further tweaks. We’d like to thank both Sally and Joe for their time and patience.

A select bunch of team:Anya also gathered to draw out what the team does around written questions, answers and statements. The intention had been to pop that into the main flowchart but it turns out they do rather more than will comfortably fit into the box allocated. So maybe some headline bits will get moved into the main map but the librarian map will continue to live largely outside.

All this has made us realise that we somehow forgot to ever draw up and write out an ontology for written statements. An omission that feels quite surprising in retrospect. More work for the next few weeks.

Making sense of ministerial posts

Librarian Anna has been working with colleagues in the Parliament and Constitution Centre of the House of Commons Library to bring some sense to the allocation of ministerial positions in our Members’ Names Information Service. A task not made any easier by the lack of time bound labels in said system. And made less easy still by the ease with which titles tend to change form over time. We are aware that someone did some work in Wikidata along these lines but can’t clearly recall if that was Andrew, Tony, Simon or someone else. Please say hello if it was you.