2022 - Week 45

Jianhan’s back

w00t! As we say on the internet. Our Jianhan’s back from his hols. Refreshed and replenished, he got stuck straight in. First on the agenda was patching over a bug in the instrument importer, which had been causing a blockage in the remedial order pipes. Meaning any and all such instruments went missing on their way to the desks of our crack team of librarians. That’s now fixed and the librarians are happy again.

Following successful testing in staging, next on Jianhan’s agenda was the addition of legislatures in our live environment. Which is also now done. Meaning our procedure model is now both unicameral and bicameral compliant. Not a thing that can be said of many models. Which means we can crack on with implementing our legislative consent motion maps in data, confident in the knowledge that procedural steps can be safely placed into the appropriate devolved legislature without the worry of naming clashes. It’s not often one can think of a devolved legislature as a namespace, but this is one such occasion.

Having powered through two columns’ worth of Trello tickets, our Jianhan has moved on to implementing step collections in staging. We’re hoping this will enable grouping of steps by position in a procedure (start steps and end steps), by stages in the public bill procedure (second reading in the House of Commons), by matters pertaining to agency (steps at which a Member might choose to intervene), and by which steps we want to turn up on the website. And which ones we don’t.

Not content with that, Jianhan’s also been helping Young Robert and Michael to set up a proxy for our brand new and rather shiny standing orders application, as well as talking Librarian Jayne, Robert and Michael through setting up a database on Azure. A thing that needs to happen for egg timing purposes should Parliament happen to dissolve. To date, Jianhan has been the single point of success on such matters. A worrying situation should he accidentally fall under a bus. Or win the lottery. Now that Young Robert, at least, can step into the breach, another small part of our general election preparation is in place.

All of which goes to show, it’s quite amazing what a crack team of librarians, a couple of whiteboard monkeys and an actual developer can achieve. Welcome back Jianhan!

Showing and indeed telling

As mentioned last time out, boss ‘brarian Anya has been busy setting up a show and tell covering our work with the ParlRules people and Shedcode James on all things standing order-ish. This week she roped in computational nightwatchmen Young Robert and Michael for slide making purposes. If you’re around Westminster on the 16th November - or just want to join in pixels - please do get in touch.

Staying with standing orders, Librarian Claire set up a pixel-based meeting with James to chat through his recent development work on cloning revision sets and cloning order versions into revision sets. And very swish it looks too. Marvellous work James. Marvellous work.

And still on the subject of standing orders, Anya, Young Robert and Michael are delighted to announce they’ve been accepted for the Study of Parliament Group Annual Weekend poster session. If you happen to be in Oxford in January and see a couple of shy, hungover people clutching a poster and avoiding eye contact, do please wander over. Or don’t. Use your own judgement here.

Teaching the machines about legislative reform orders

We know there a lot of people eager to see the results of our legislative reform order procedure mapping. Our regular reader to name but one. Please rest assured - progress is being made though we can’t deny it’s slow progress. Librarians Jayne and Ayesha have been instructing Michael on where and how to prod pixels. This week they’ve been mainly looking at ministerial statements accompanying a revised and relaid draft super-affirmative instrument as set out in section 18(8) of part 1 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006. That and trying to clarify when and why there might be debate in the House of Lords. Which is quite enough work for any week. We’d encourage fans of LROs to stay tuned. There will be actual, proper progress shortly. We hope.

Tweaking tweaties

In other pixel-prodding news, Jayne and Michael have been tweaking parts of our treaty procedure map, as set out in part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. At least, that’s what we thought our map showed. It turns out that most of the procedural routes described by the legislation are hardly ever trodden and that the real action is over in committee land. It further turns out that quite a lot of the action happens well before the laying of a treaty, as ministerial statements are made upon agreement in principle being reached, covering progress on negotiations, and upon signing of the treaty. New steps and routes have been added to both map and data, with Librarian Jayne combing though old treaty work packages - the ones where the treaty has been laid - to retrospectively actualise the steps. Unfortunately, the same work is not possible for treaties that have not yet been laid, the treaty website expecting a laying date and settling on the 1st January 0001 if it doesn’t find one. All less than ideal.

In the course of tweaking treaties, Librarian Jayne has also taken time out to properly document procedural routes with a start date but no end date. There’s even a new SPARQL query dealing with all things time bound. Because of course there is. Top work Jayne.

Now Jianhan’s polished off the procedure model legislature work, Librarians Claire and Jayne together with computational journeyman Michael, set about planning the work we’d need to do to replicate Legislation Office Liam’s legislative consent motion spreadsheet. Which is possibly the first sentence we’ve ever typed containing legislature, legislation and legislative. A spreadsheet has been cobbled together indicating which models and maps we’ll need to fettle to get there. More progress soon, we hope.

On matters of modelling

Anya, Ned, Young Robert and Michael have taken another peep at bishoprics in the context of Lords Spiritual. There’s a straw-man model - for now, it’s mostly straw and not much model. A small panic ensued when Michael suffered a crisis of confidence and couldn’t decide quite how fag-packety the model should be when it’s mostly just specialisations of things modelled elsewhere. Luckily Silver had time on his hands and kindly dropped into the call. One patient explanation later and Michael’s nerves were calmed again. Thanks Silver.

Following on from recent work on the making available of laid parliamentary papers, we’ve also dipped a toe into the waters of library deposits. Happily, it would appear our verb / noun split theory holds true and that a very small depositing model is all that’s needed between the more generic making available model and our lovely little parliamentary paper model. Much like laid papers, the trickiest bit of deposits would appear to be their tendency to turn up in bundles. That and the question as to whether a deposited breathalyser can actually be a ‘paper’. Thanks are due to Lords Library Ann, Karen and John, and Commons Library Andrew.

A wee while back instructions came in to start modelling Hansard, something we’ve rather been putting off. We collared House of Commons Mike and House of Lords Matt for a first attempt at a pencil sketch of proceedings. Whatever a proceeding might be. It was supposed to be a whiteboard session followed by a team bonding trip to the pub, but sadly Matt came down with the ‘rona. Not dissuaded, he joined in pixels and we think we got somewhere. Though we’re not entirely sure where exactly. Like many a domain modelling session, it rapidly became apparent that - when it comes to crunching language - there aren’t quite enough words to go round. Maybe things are easier in German. As Librarian Anya pointed out, ‘modelling Hansard’ is rather like modelling the Radio Times, when what’s really needed is a model of Telly. Never one to miss a chance to say, ‘when I was at the BBC’, Michael wonders if there’s some kind of recursive model that might cover everything. Proceedings all the way down, as it were. One for next week perhaps. Pens placed away, whiteboards scrubbed, Anya, Jayne and Michael strong-armed Mike into a short stroll to the Two Chairman. Not that he took much persuading. And very pleasant it was too.

Later that same week, a morning meeting with Commons Hansard reporters was planned. The night before, Anya and Michael resolved to make another trip to another pub a brief one - keen to be bright eyed and bushy tailed for this first meeting. Unfortunately for all concerned they happened to choose the very same pub as a sizeable contingent of Commons Hansard. The agreed pint limit was breached, a tray of shots was passed around, Michael trapped his finger in the pub door, and the poor lad they’d been hoping to impress was induced to apply bandages. Which is one way to make friends and influence people. Thanks Guy. The next morning, somewhat bleary eyed but not unproductive, more maps were made, the ice having been comprehensively broken.

Interests financial and otherwise

Last time out, we assessed our ruleset compliant model for the House of Commons Register of Members’ Financial Interests against our competency questions. This week we’ve crossed from the green carpet to the red, and are beginning the same work for the House of Lords. Registrar Tom and friend of the family Ben watched aghast as Michael wielded his computational spanner in the general direction of the ten Lords categories. Six of which are now considered complete. More to follow next week.

Kind hearts / coronets

And finally. When we first made our peerage model, we forgot to make the distinction between a peerage becoming extinct and a peerage merging into the Crown. A mistake that propagated into our peerage website. With no money to spare, we rather cheekily asked Shedcode James if he’d be happy to correct our mistake. And he was. Lovely lad.

Database and code patched, Librarian Ned migrated 41 instances from what had been an extinction date and a note into our new ‘merged into the crown’ date. One such example revolving around our current King. Lovely stuff.

And yet more. Ned has also backfilled our list of administrations adding missing dates following Chris Cook’s British Political Facts. For Law Lord incumbencies, he’s converted notes on peerage records to fields on incumbency records, added end dates to incumbencies to cover the deceased, added missing references to the Gazette, added missing ‘vice’ references, following appendix 2 to Louis Blom-Cooper et al., The Judicial House of Lords, 1876-2009 and expanded abbreviations. So what was ‘LCJ(NI)’ now reads ‘Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland’. Much more friendly.

And still, we’re not done. Ned’s also added a new peerage type, covering life peerages created before 1876 and migrated all peerage records as appropriate. For writs of acceleration after 1801, he’s added people and peerage holding records with a note on the peerage itself.

Staying with the peerage notes field, these have now been expanded to cover disclaims under the Peerage Act 1963, losses under the Titles Deprivation Act 1917, writs of acceleration, and ‘previously known as’ notes for peerages not yet in the database.

Perhaps most excitingly of all, especially for parliamentary purposes, Ned has used David’s notes ‘previously known as Nth Lord X’ notes on letters patent records to create new people and peerage holding records. Working alphabetically through the Roll of the Peerage, he’s started to populate holders of peerages either currently in the House or in the Register under Standing Order 9(4). So far, UK peerages A-M are done, N-Z to follow. At which point, the poor lad will have to do the same again for the pre-UK peerages we’ve taken - with permission - from the work of JC Sainty. Even more subsequent holders have been populated by combing through MNIS, the Rush database and the History of Parliament Trust website. All of which means - taken with the bishopric work - one day we might possibly have a new MNIS that describes not only who’s in the House, but what ‘seat’ they occupy and why they’re there.

Gobstruck. What can one say? The world needs more librarians. Many more librarians. Let’s leave it there.