2023 - Week 6

Librarians of the Week

This week sees three - three! - winners of our much coveted and occasional Librarian of the Week award.

First up, way back in November 2021 we were in the midst of adding filters by enabling Act to our statutory instruments website when we noticed our Act data was incomplete, going back only (only!) as far as 1987. Who better to ask for a better list than The National Archives? Which is exactly what Librarian Jayne did. TNA kindly sent through a spreadsheet of all the Acts they know about. Sadly, their list was missing dates for Royal Assent and short titles. Which are rather important to us. So Jayne set up a personal side project to comb Hansard, Wikipedia and various proprietary databases. 18 months later and she’s done, crossing the finishing line for 20th century Acts last April, and for 19th century Acts this week. A labour of love, she calls it. Which we, in our turn, call an understatement. 10,550 Acts for the 19th century alone. It only remains to load the Acts to our data platform, return the new and improved data to John et al and let Andrew and the Wikidata community know they are free to fill their boots. Marvellous stuff. Absolutely marvellous.

Elsewhere, Librarian Ned has been hard at work adding peerage holding records for every current peerage holder in the House of Lords, every peer on the register for House of Lords by-elections and every peer that MNIS knows about, to our lovely peerage database. This for both peerages created by letters patent and peerages created ‘by writ’. More marvellous stuff.

Our Emily did a fine job keeping our Members Names database up to date with the latest comings and goings in Government, creating new departments, ministerial posts and secretaries of state on the day of the announcement. Even, dare we say it, outpacing gov.uk (it’s not a competition). And even if it was, no one would see us cross the finish line. We don’t publish our cabinet page until gov.uk do. We must first wait to see how gov.uk orders the ministers on the page, in order to apply that order on our own page. Order! Order!

It all goes to show that - if you give a well-motivated librarian the right tools - there’s no end to the things they can achieve. Well done Emily. Well done Jayne. Well done Ned. Your Librarian of the Week badges and a £50 Woolworths token - to be shared - are in the post.

Spiritual Lords

Having mostly cracked the Lords Temporal problem - by-elections aside - Librarian Ned and his computational sidekicks, Young Robert and Michael, have now moved on to Lords more Spiritual in nature. Week 5 saw them cobble together a very basic relational data model. This week, they returned to that model, tweaked it a little and attempted to make a set of Google spreadsheets in a roughly similar shape. Which Ned has now started to populate. Lovely stuff. If things were working as normal, the next step would involve Michael grabbing that data, importing it into a database and wrapping a bit of a website around it. Or a ‘browseable space’, as Young Robert might say. Unfortunately, as we think we’ve established, Michael no longer has a working computer. So we may need a different plan.

Tweaty tweeking

We had a recent request to change the concluding step on our CRaG treaty procedure map from ‘Treaty can be ratified’ to something along the lines of ‘Treaty can be ratified once any necessary legislation has been passed’. Which puzzled us. We would never call ourselves treaty experts, but we’d always been under the impression that ratification and legislation are two different matters. Or orthogonal as Young Robert might say. At least in a dualist system such as our own.

To resolve matters, we sent out a bat signal to Arabella, who took time out of her day to pop by and visit us. She confirmed our suspicions on the orthogonality of ratification and legislation and suggested new wording for our concluding step: ‘Parliamentary scrutiny concluded, Government can ratify treaty’. Which is now implemented.

Discussion moved on to the difficulty of tying together treaties and (any) implementing legislation. Librarian Jayne has had her head buried in explanatory memorandum to treaties and statutory instruments, looking for links. Links that are not always obviously clear. Sometimes the explanatory memoranda explain, and sometimes they simply allude. It turns out that one of Arabella’s researchers has also been exploring this area. A new plan was hatched. Arabella will share her spreadsheet with us. And we will publish ours. Once step collections are live - and the functionality to actualise procedural steps without publishing to the website timelines - we hope to create links from treaties to legislation based on Arabella’s spreadsheet and Librarian Jayne’s readings of explanatory stuff. And where EMs have come over all coy, that information will be shared with treaty scrutinising committees in the hope of some kind of virtuous circle emerging.

Thanks Arabella. Lovely to see you as ever.

I am a procedural cartographer

(To the tune of The Palace Brothers - I am a Cinematographer.)

Back over in statutory instrument land, week 5 saw a small snafu in House of Commons procedure when the Energy Bills Support Scheme and Alternative Fuel Payment Pass-through Requirement (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2023 were referred to a Delegated Legislation Committee for consideration and the Minister never quite got round to moving the second consideration motion formally. Not a thing we’ve witnessed before. On Monday, the instrument returned to the Committee, with an accompanying statement from the Chair that there could no further debate. The motion for its consideration was finally moved, and the Question was put and - perhaps unsurprisingly - agreed to.

All of which means both map and data have now gained explicit steps and routes for the putting of a question on a consideration motion. At least for the made affirmative procedure. Other procedures will be adapted likewise as soon as we have the time. The made affirmative procedure has also gained a new step covering ‘a no further debate statement’ from the Chair. Though the route into that step is firmly time-bound. It not being a thing we ever wish to see again. Our thanks to Legislation Office Liam for shepherding this through our latest round of modifications.

Also over in SI land, somebody - we forget quite who - had mentioned the possibility of legislative consent motions for legislation of a more secondary nature. Having already worked with colleagues in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh to map out devolved legislature procedure for LCMs in a primary context, we decided we needed to investigate further. JO Jane - quite unusually - claimed to have no knowledge of such matters. So Librarian Jayne and her trusty computational lapdog Michael decided to prod Mr Korris. A meeting was held in which Mr Korris explained that it only applies to a very limited set of super-affirmative SIs and that - if such a thing should happen - no message is received by Parliament. So that’s some work we don’t have to do.

On the mystery of parliamentary papers

Boss ‘brarian Anya continues have us ponder as to what the hell a ‘parliamentary paper’ is. We know there are papers in which Parliament takes an interest and are referred to as parliamentary papers. And that there are papers in which Parliament takes an interest in that are papers, but not parliamentary ones. We suspect this is an important distinction; the second paragraph of Erskine May on the subject of impact assessments for bills is quite adamant that they’re not parliamentary papers. But the boundaries are still blurred. At least to us.

To that end, Thursday saw an in-pixel card-sorting exercise with Messrs. Hennessy and Korris. We think we’ve found some clarity but remain keen to see what other clerks think. Looking at you Martyn. Thanks Mike. Thanks Matt.

After sucking thoughtfully on her pencil for a couple of weeks, Anya has now decided that Michael’s idea of removing the parliamentary paper distinction from the models and moving it to the paper type taxonomy makes some sense. Our paper model, laying model, depositing model and presentation model have been updated accordingly. Should we ever get to the bottom of what a parliamentary paper is and is not, our new approach means our crack librarians are fully in control of pinning it to things. Or lumbered with the job. Depending on your perspective.

The second, paper-related clerkly meeting of the week saw everyone’s top team of crack librarians joined by expert committee clerk Gordon Clarke. This time covering how committee papers are made available to a House. The answer was reassuringly simple: committee reports are reported to the House. Of course. Which means we now have the beginnings of a reporting model. It still requires a layer of comments, but it’s not nothing. Thanks Gordon.


Thursday was a busy day, meeting wise. It kicked off at 10, with computational expert Michael summoning Librarians Anna, Anya and Phil, Data Scientist Louie and Researcher Carl for more general election planning. We know that if we’re going to import data from Democracy Club, we have work to do around matching identifiers for people, parties and constituencies. The constituency part proving trickiest with an incoming boundary change expected. Luckily, our Carl is something of an expert on geographic matters, so we feel we’re in capable hands. We also know we have work to do to reshape candidate names and genders in Democracy Club to the same shape as our systems. Another chat with Sym beckons.

Some things we forgot from week 5

A couple of things we forgot on our last outing. First up, Librarian Jayne met new user researcher Chris. It all seemed to go quite well. Though Chris may have emerged knowing more about parliamentary procedure mapping than he was quite expecting. He didn’t look too shellshocked as he staggered towards the lift, so we remain hopeful he’s still talking to us.

Shedcode James and Young Robert finally solved our proxying problem, which means our shiny new standing orders application, expertly assembled by James, should appear at api.parliament.uk/standing-orders shortly. It’s actually already there, but you need to be authenticated and the data is subject to test edits, so we’re not linking to it yet. Michael sat in on the meeting but couldn’t follow much of what was going on. So he was only really there in what he’d call a supervisory capacity. Well, someone has to take on managerial duties.

And finally

It’s not always heads down for our crack team of librarians. Occasionally jokes are made. Sometimes they’re terrible. A Commons debate on Wild Deer Management and Sustainable Food saw the subject of ‘Venison’ gain entry to our Thesaurus. It’s the most expensive meat, explained Librarian Phil. Why, we asked. Because it’s deer, he said. My god.