2023 - Week 4

An update on what everyone’s favourite team of crack librarians and computational experts have been up to this week.

Kind hearts / coronets

Librarian Ned has been hard at work backfilling peerage holding information for all peerages held by a current Member of the House of Lords. Our peerage database started life when David kindly donated data describing peerages created by letters patent in the Peerage of the United Kingdom since 1801. Since then, Ned has been putting in the legwork visiting libraries and archives to expand the dataset to include letters patent peerage creations in the Kingdoms of Great Britain, England, Ireland and Scotland. Marvellous work!

By way of background, the creation of a peerage is usually affirmed by the issuing of a letters patent to the first holder. As a database of peerage creations, the initial dataset contained information on the first holder of any hereditary peerage only. Obviously, being Parliament, we have reason to care about subsequent holders. So Ned has busied himself backfilling information for subsequent holders of hereditary peerages for any peerage with a holder who’s also described in MNIS. These may be hereditary peers now departed from the Lords, hereditary peers sitting as elected excepted peers and people sitting as life peers who also happen to hold an hereditary title. One example of the latter case being Douglas Hogg who served as a Member of the Commons from 1997 to 2010, inherited the Viscountcy Hailsham and the Barony Hailsham in 2001, before being granted letters patent as Lord Hailsham of Kettlethorpe in 2015. Quite a career and quite a good test case.

And not only this. The House of Lords does not stand still. So Librarians Anna, Emily and Ned have been working out how we keep on top of new arrivals. Leaving bishops to one side, there are two routes into the Lords: by virtue of a life peerage - where the holder may also be in possession of an hereditary title - and by election as an excepted hereditary. Team:IDMS already have workflows in place for new arrivals. These workflows have now expanded. The life peerage case is relatively trivial. A letters patent affirms creation and the holder will subsequently be summoned to the Lords. The only tricky part arises for the minority of life peers who also happen to hold an hereditary title. Like Viscount Hailsham. In such cases, the peerage holding records for the hereditary title will also be backfilled if this has not already happened. Elections for excepted hereditaries are trickier, but luckily there’s a register of potential candidates. So, ever prepared and always preparing, Ned has also backfilled peerage holdings for those peerages.

And that’s where we were until this week. Unfortunately, there is another route to peerage creation. One that resident computational ‘expert’ Michael did not spot until the database was designed and the application was built. It turns out that there are occasions on which a person has been in receipt of a writ of summons to the Lords without ever having been given a peerage. At this point, some notion of infallibility enters the picture and it is said that the peerage has been created ‘by writ’. Or as we - and possibly you - might say, ‘by accident’. Such peerages are also assumed to be hereditary, following standard rules of inheritance. We have around 20 current Members of the House of Lords in possession of a peerage created ‘by writ’. Our peerage database was designed on the assumption that a letters patent can affirm the creation of one or more peerages - always to the same person - and a peerage is always affirmed by the issuing of a letters patent. Which, in the case of ‘by writ’, just isn’t true.

Luckily, we work with James and James is never not helpful. We asked about adding a new Boolean to record peerages created ‘by writ’, a dollop of nullability on the requirement for peerages to be accompanied by a letters patent and a side requirement to record when the date of a letters patent is both unknown and unknowable. That work is now done. Which means, with a fair wind, Librarian Ned should be able to add peerage holding records for all current Members, no matter how their peerage was created.

Top work Ned. Top work James. A proper pair of marvels.

In other peerage related news, investigations continue on where we might find reliable records of House of Lords by-elections. And, should we find them, how we interlink candidates listed with peerage database person identifiers. Stay tuned!

A Wellcome trip

Shortly before Christmas, Silver joined us for a whiteboard session with Librarians Katharine and Susannah. The whiteboard was filled with matters of acquisition, cataloguing, retrieval, lending, storage, preservation and disposal. At some point it touched on digitisation too, not a subject we know a lot about. Fortunately we have a friend that does, so Librarian Anya dropped Tom at Wellcome a line. Which is how Wednesday came to see Librarians Katherine, Susannah and Anya, together with boss ‘brarian Bryn and their computational handmaidens Young Robert and Michael, swap Westminster for the glamour of Euston.

It felt quite odd being in a building where none of the lightbulbs were blown, none of the corners filled with rodent traps and all the lifts stopped at all the floors. Not short of money, those Wellcome folks. It was even more strange to sit through a set of technology slides that were about the people that used the technology. Rather than say, an incomprehensible set of acronyms and vendor names. When the developers talked of how they established a mutual working relationship with the librarians and archivists, a happy tear may have rolled down Librarian Anya’s cheek. It’s often said that the old digital thing is really more about culture and collaboration than it is about computers, but one rarely sees it in action. Tom has done fine work. Thanks Tom. Thanks Christy. Thanks Alex. Thanks Jamie. Thanks Paul.

Procedure mapping

Two items of procedure mapping news this week. Neither of them really news.

Thursday saw an in-pixel meeting between JO Jane, Librarian Jayne and computational midshipman Michael. Having recently polished off remedial order and legislative reform order procedure maps, our crack team of cartographers were keen to learn what JO Jane thought they should map next. Way back in time, when wrinkles still lay in our future, the threesome had taken time out to draw up a sketch of assorted instruments and which procedure they trigger. If any. Localism orders, public body orders and instruments subject to the pre-Stormont Northern Ireland procedure being the top candidates. But in answer to the question “what next?”, the answer came “do nowt”. None of the remaining procedures ever having been used much and being mostly defunct. So that saves time and trouble. Not that we left the meeting short of work. Instead JO Jane advised our mappers to be on their guard for the mapping of new procedures that may - or may not - emerge from the passage of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill and the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. We remain on standby.

The other related news concerns some small updates to our design notes, in which the combined brains of Librarian Jayne and computational all-rounders Young Robert and Michael attempted to wrap braincells around the thorny issues of procedural clocks, step collections and - thorniest of all - whether or not a step forms part of a procedure. The latter effort being something of a cop-out. Knowing where a procedure ends and what should form part of it requiring bigger brains than proved to be available.

Having little left to do - for now - in the world of secondary legislation, we turned our attentions back to primary legislation in general and legislative consent motions in particular. We’re kind of on a promise to Legislation Office Liam to take on some of the workload around tracking LCM procedure in the devolved legislatures. To which end, we’ve been mapping out procedures in collaboration with colleagues in Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff. Before we can put those maps to use, there’s both modelling and mapping work to do.

Given we’re in bill land and a bill is a parliamentary paper, we now have a revised version of our papers model. That said, our mental Venn of papers and parliamentary papers is still more than a little fuzzy. If you’re a clerk, and you see us coming down a corridor, and you really don’t fancy a conversation about papers - it might be best to scarper.

Librarians Claire and Jayne and part-time scribe Michael have also been applying tweaks to our bill model. This time with a more FRBR-like flavour. It still needs a layer of comments before it makes much sense. And even then, your mileage may vary.

Next steps - we think - are working out what needs to change in the procedure editor database to cope with bills and which bits of the bill procedure maps we need inside the machines for our LCM tracking use-case. More next week.

On the registering of interests

Thursday saw a meeting between Open Innovations Giles and Stuart, House of Commons Registrars James and Thomas, and our very own Young Robert and Michael. Open Innovations have been contracted to build a quick prototype. The prototype takes a set of competency questions, a set of model features and a set of mappings, and so allows us to evaluate how changes to model features change the number of competency questions the model can answer. It’s all really rather nifty.

For now, we’re using it to evaluate which of the competency questions raised in evidence to the Standards Committee can be answered by the model features outlined in the House of Commons Register of Members’ Interests ruleset. But we see no reason why it can’t be applied to other things. The competency question, model feature and mappings data is available under the Open Parliament Licence. More importantly, the code is available under an MIT Licence, so, if you have a set of competency questions and a model you’d like to test … fill your boots. We’re fairly certain we’ll be using it for more things.

Our Jianhan

By this point, our regular reader may well be asking, what’s happened to our Jianhan? Is there no news of our Jianhan? Well, funny you should ask. We’d been hoping he might spend a little time on three quick tweaks to our procedure parsing code. But, unfortunately, it was not to be. Our Jianhan is instead preparing the ground for our planned new data platform by attempting to export 300 million triples from our search and indexing store. 300 million! Not a number to be sniffed at. The poor lad’s gonna need a faster Dell. And a bigger telephone.