2022 - Week 26

The work experience lad

In undocumented week 25, we were delighted to be joined by work experience Jack. And he was quite delighted to join us. It’s hard now for us to recall being 17, but we’re fairly sure the world of work appeared to be worth avoiding for as long as possible. Michael has a vague recollection of an absolutely horrendous week spent at the tax office in Oldham, although on the plus side, a young lady called Michelle did teach him to smoke. Anya’s time was more gothic, featuring a gramophone and tea dances at an Irish psychiatric hospital. None of these hurdles faced young Jack. Instead he was treated to Librarian Jayne and Michael’s usual fruity language as they continued their quest to map legislative reform order procedure. Now, 17 year old lads can have an undeserved reputation for surliness. But not young Jack. His eyes gleamed with excitement as he learned all about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, assorted standing orders and good old Erskine May. A joy that proved quite contagious. He certainly emerged with an enhanced ability to spell privilege. We’re sorry, Jack.

On matters of mapping

Recent weeks have seen very pleasing progress in our attempts to map the legislative reform order procedure. With sections 12, 13, 14 and 15 ticked off, attentions have turned to section 16 and mapping out the negative part of the procedure. Which also seemed to be going well until this week the wheels fell off and we came to an abrupt and juddering halt. In our normal practice, we do not like to map the un-evidenced. But this is the first super-affirmative procedure we’ve dealt with where the procedure determination step is inline in the procedure. We’re currently clueless as to whether - should a Minister recommend the negative procedure - fatal prayers against the instrument would be allowed to be tabled from the point of laying or only after the procedure has been determined. The legislation is silent on the matter, standing orders are silent on the matter and - because this is not a thing that’s ever happened - Erskine May is also silent on the matter. We feel we find ourselves for the first time perched atop Mr Evans’s procedural pyramid lacking any clue on how to get down again.

Librarian Jayne and Michael usually get on well. They’ve spent many pixel-based days in each other’s company sucking on pencils, staring at procedural pixels. And pleasant days at that. But after spending several hours pondering this conundrum, by late Friday, they cannot deny that tempers had started to flare. This is one thing to be said in favour of remote working. Should tempers have flared over a whiteboard it seems perfectly possible they’d have come to blows. There’s only one winner in that situation and it isn’t Michael.

Anyway, an email in search of an answer was dispatched to House of Lords Matt and House of Commons Mike. Unfortunately for all concerned, the answers that came back didn’t quite put the problem to bed, Matt suggesting he’d be minded to allow prayers to be tabled from laying onwards. What fate such motions might meet should the procedure be determined to be affirmative or super-affirmative remaining a question for next week. Over in the Commons, Mike suggested he’d be more tempted to wait until the procedure determination phase was concluded before allowing the tabling of such motions. Still, at least the two Houses are chummering over the matter with advice being sought from both Legislation Offices and Journal Offices. We remain hopeful that consensus might be achieved. Although, as Mike points out, they can’t even agree on the colour of the carpets, so it’s possible our hopes are misguided. Until clarity comes our way, LRO procedure mapping is on hold. We’ve said it before, and will no doubt say it again, but, if you’re in the business of drawing up processes - or procedures if you will - drawing it first might be helpful.

Back in week 24 we reported that colleagues from the Scottish Parliament had got back to us confirming that both fatal and non-fatal amendments could - at least in theory - be tabled against legislative consent motions. Although those being fatal in nature would be very, very unlikely to ever be selected. Nevertheless, we have amended our Scottish Parliament LCM map allowing for both tabling and non-selection. So we think that’s now moved to the done pile. Splendid. Next week we hope to take a punt on LCMs in the Northern Ireland Assembly, though our attempts at communication with colleagues in Belfast have so far proved fruitless. Jayne has at least perused their website, assorted committee reports and standing orders so we won’t be mapping completely blindfolded.

In other procedure mapping news, we are delighted to announce that the changes to the test website we need in order to test our step depth work have made it into Software Engineering’s current sprint. Which means we’ll hopefully be unblocked in the not too distant future. At which point, we’ll be able to test our Jianhan’s new SPARQL query and - if that works - continue to add step depths to all our procedures. And if it doesn’t, find a drawing board to head back to.

Over in the world of public bill procedure, Jayne and Michael continued attempts at mapping what they had thought was the fast-tracking of second reading. House of Commons Huw was kind enough to join for another hour and quickly put them right. They now know they are are, in fact, attempting to map the fast-tracking of other things at or around second reading and not, in fact, the fast tracking of second reading. The map has been retitled and rejigged accordingly. Thanks Huw.

Our only other mapping news was a minor intervention involving the addition of one new decision step and one new business step to our CRaG treaty procedure, reacting ‘at pace’ - as we like to say - to unfolding events. Or at least we thought we were until it turned out our reactions were, in fact, several months late. Good old Twitter alerted us to the existence of oral evidence sessions by the International Trade Committee, not a thing we’d ever factored into our equations. In the course of adding new steps to cope with this, Librarian Jayne noticed that just such a session had taken place during scrutiny of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership with Japan. Meaning our newly added business step has already been actualised and our treaty tracking website updated accordingly. Just 18 months too late. Oh well, we live and learn.

On matters of modelling

Tuesday saw Librarians Anya, Jayne and Claire together with computational experts young Robert and Michael meet in pixels with Rad, Tom and James. Rad having recently returned from Italy, it had been hoped that he’d make the journey down from Oxford and we’d get to chat in person. Then Tom caught COVID. So that put paid to that. That said, even over pixels, progress was made. Our regular reader will know that we’ve been piggybacking on the work of the ParlRules people to make persistently citeable standing orders. As a massive fan of standing orders, our regular reader will also know that what we have today is lacking in both order and section titles. Happily, it turns out that Rad and Tom have data available for this. They just haven’t, as yet, published it. But, with summer incoming, they’re looking to do just that. And bring House of Commons public standing order data up to date. Our standing order model has now been updated to include order titles and a new class capturing sections - and their titles - in a revision set and we think we have a plan to take the reshaped ParlRules data and inflate it accordingly.

What our regular reader may not know is the House of Commons are considering - at this stage, we believe, merely considering - moving some standing orders out of public business and some standing orders out of private business and making a new set of standing orders to cover all things hybrid. Wow. To cope with this potential change, we’ve removed the property placing an order in a business extent. We’ve also added a new class describing legislatures, meaning we can now cope with both the unicameral and the bicameral. Something we’ll need to deal with if we’re serious about citing sources from our legislative consent motion maps. All of this creates a little more work for James and more work than he’s actually signed up for. So next week’s plan is a meeting of minds to scope out a new and expanded statement of work for phase two. Lovely stuff.

Still on the subject of standing orders, Anya’s currently planning a bit of a show and tell around our standing order data and editing application. Probably on the far side of summer recess. If you’re a clerk with an interest in standing orders and you’d like to hear more about ParlRules and see what we’ve built, please do get in touch.

Work has continued on modelling the laying of papers and the papers thereby laid. A few weeks back we were in yet another pixel-based meeting with a virtual whiteboard full of things Michael, at least, had never heard of. The naming of parliamentary papers tends to conflate the nature of the document, the authority under which it’s laid, its place in a series and any “numbers” resulting from its place in said series. Which makes it nigh on impossible to separate the proverbial wood from the ex-trees. We now think we have the beginnings of a model that begins to put the various pieces in their correct places, a better understanding of authorities, a better understanding of series and a better understanding of paper types. The latter still being something of a work in progress with Anya, Jayne and Michael spending part of Thursday beginning to map out a taxonomy of paper types. The aforementioned Matt and Mike have also proved helpful in our explorations of all the ways in which things are made available to Parliament and we think we have a reasonable understanding of all the nouns and their accompanying verbs. House of Commons Robi also chipped in with an explanation of what all the buttons in the Papers Laid application mean. Or what he thinks they might mean. All of this needs to find it’s way back into our laying and making available models but the hard work of thinking about it feels done. The rest is just documentation.

At some point over the last couple of weeks our crack team of librarians also took their first shot at modelling ‘proceedings’. The definition of which still needs some pinning down. We have a sketch, a lot of questions and little more. If some proceedings are said to be ‘formal’, for example, what are other ones called? At this stage it’s like wading through porridge. But that was also true of layings and laid things a few weeks back. As ever, we remain hopeful that the same clarity may emerge here.

Librarian Ned, young Robert and Michael continue their death march through models, re-commenting and tweaking where necessary. This week, they are delighted to announce that our House membership model is now considered complete. Since this is somewhat central to our attempts to reshape Member data to take account of what enables people in general to sit in Parliament and what enables a particular person to sit in Parliament, we’d heartily encourage all clerkly colleagues to take a look. Since existing modelling in the Commons captures both House memberships and constituency representations, it’s always been trivial to reshape that data to describe both the who and why. The same not being true in the Lords. If Anna or Matt are reading, please click here. As all the best websites say.

With House membership done, Ned, young Robert and Michael have turned their attentions to our election model, hoping it needs little more than some spit and some polish. Efforts to render the parliamentary career of Viscount Thurso in RDF Turtle have made limited progress with the addition of a Commons election or two. Adding in his election to the House of Lords as an excepted hereditary remains top of the to do list, but not until we’ve fully finessed our election model. At which point, we’ll start work on a bishopric model and aim to describe a bishop or two.

On matters of management

Jianhan has continued on his quest to port our beloved egg timer over to Azure. Unfortunately, whilst Azure is perfectly happy running Ruby on Rails apps, it doesn’t much like attempts to run Ruby scripts as cron jobs. And since nobody really fancies rewriting the egg timer code, we need to find a lightweight way to run a script on Azure that imports data from a set of Google calendars into Postgres. He’s currently in the middle of a couple of spikes to get a C# script to pop any old data into Postgres, then expand that to grab data from a calendar and pop that into Postgres.

Our crack team of librarians comprising team:Phil have been concentrating efforts on reviewing both model and information management policies for contact point details in the Members’ Names Information Service. The review part is now done and the manual has been updated to reflect changes to policy around storing contact details for former Members. A couple of tickets have also been raised with colleagues in Software Engineering that should allow us to make more of the model with minimal database changes. Super.

Outreach efforts

In other news, Thursday saw Anya, Jayne, Robert and Michael at an actual, in-person meeting with data science GDS folks Alessia, Max, Rory and Felix. Sadly, neither Dan nor Ganesh being able to make it. Conversation ranged from taxonomies, indexing principles and entity extraction to process mapping and parsing. Michael was most pleased to reprise his long-term obsession with getting GDS to embrace the delights of well-cited process maps. Whether his sales pitch was successful would require input from a more independent observer.