2024 - Week 3

Mixing / mingling

Anya and Michael’s year kicked off in the usual fashion. No sooner had Christmas trees been disposed of than they boarded the train to the UK’s premiere Harry Potter franchise outlet for their annual outing to the Study of Parliament Group conference. Therein to mix and mingle with the great and good of the pedantic procedural community. At this point our keen-eyed reader may well be thinking, “Hang on! Anya and Michael? Mixing? And mingling?” And you would be quite correct to question this. Between smoking breaks between talks, they lingerered on the fringes, carefully avoiding eye contact, in the hope of side-stepping all intelligent conversation. They mostly succeeded, but not quite.

One intelligent conversation they didn’t quite manage to avoid was with Legislation Office Liam on the subject of how one might calculate the average duration of bills before Parliament. A little later - safely ensconced in a house of the public variety - they popped on their thinking caps and came to the conclusion that our beloved egg timer might be able to help here. Which is how the egg timer came to acquire a brand new view - or feature as young Robert would say - this one calculating the number of sitting days in each House for a given interval. Or at least for a given interval since the start of the 57th Parliament. A pretty pleasing outcome from a very short chat.

Still, it was not all finding a quiet corner in a public house and putting their heads down. Some drinking was involved too. Friday night saw their usual pint or six down the Bookbinders with boss-boss-brarian Edward. Taking a post-Christmas drink with Edward has become something of a tradition. A tradition we hope will continue well into the second set of his salad years. Bottoms up Edward.

Librarian of the Week

The inaugural Librarian of the Week Award for 2024 goes to Librarian Ned for his sterling efforts wrangling our peerage database. Ned is happy to report that we now have an entry for every hereditary peer who’s ever sat in the House of Lords from 1801 to 1999. Or from 1801 to 1922 for peers only of Ireland. Quite understandably. Life peerage data having been ticked off many moons ago, we’re now fully covered for anyone who has ever been a Member of the Lords. Apart from bishops and archbishops. A project of passion and absolutely wonderful work. A retirement gift, if you will, to Professor Paul. Farewell and good luck Paul.

Not only that, Ned has also backfilled all peerage holding records for every peerage created since the invention of the UK. That covers all holders of any peerage recorded in the United Kingdom peerage creations database kindly donated by David. Thanks David. We’re told that the work of Mr Sainty continues to be helpful. Representative peers back to 1707 also having been added. It does not yet include the holding of any junior titles not recorded by Mr Beamish, being an assortment of English and Irish titles created before 1603, and a smattering of Scottish titles.

In new, old search news, our Jianhan has ported over our miniature CMS to our new search application. Where, by new, we mean our old search application sat atop our upgraded Solr instance. It means our crack team of librarians once again have control over the snippets of text that appear on the parliamentary search home and about pages. For now, it’s one login shared between multiple librarians. Which was quite good enough to test things. Jianhan’s next job is rolling out individual accounts to individual librarians. We still intend to go live - ideally for a short while - with the old application code running over the new Solr instance. For some value of ‘intend’. Past that point, it’s merely a matter of finishing off the new application code and popping that live.

On the subject of which, frontend developer Jon continues to make magnificent progress, a whole pack of cards now sitting in our ‘review’ column. Librarians Jayne and Ned appear to have lumbered themselves with quality assurance work, a small start being made on our statutory instrument object pages.

Having ticked off the pixels for the full suite of object pages, designer Graeme has made a start on our result pages. Or at least attempted to. Unfortunately, boss-brarian Anya no sooner returned from Harry Potter town than she appeared to get struck by the ‘rona. This, plus a thousand other commitments - like doing her day job - meant she’s not had time to do the research to spec out what should appear on result pages and what should not. This lack of time for research has been a perennial problem throughout the project. All too often we feel we have design and development mouths to feed and nothing to feed them with. Thinking being necessary before the doing can start. A lesson in dependencies for us all.

How’s poor Robert?

Our regular reader will be all too aware that Young Robert has taken temporary leave from productivity to instead concentrate on process. Poor lad. Back before Christmas, YR and PM Lydia had their heads buried in Word documents attempting to cobble together an MVP HLD. The HLD passed the TWG with flying colours, only to stumble upon encountering the TDA. Don’t worry too much if you’re not following all this. We aren’t either. It’s not that the TDA rejected the MVP HLD, more that they wouldn’t pass it without further information being provided. That information has now been provided, and, this week, the MVP HLD was finally signed off by the TDA. Top work PM LK. Top work SA YR. Now all that’s left to do is build the blasted thing. So that should be fun.

I am a procedural cartographer - to the tune of the Palace Brothers

Over in map making land, the Agreement, done at Kigali on 5 December 2023, between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Republic of Rwanda for the Provision of an Asylum Partnership Agreement to Strengthen Shared International Commitments on the Protection of Refugees and Migrants - or the ADAKO5122013BTGOTUKOGBANIATGOTRORFTPOAPATSSICONPORAM as our more computationally-minded colleagues might prefer to call it - continues to stretch both our treaty procedure map and poor Librarian Jayne’s brain. Not to mention our h1.

Back in week 2, Librarian Emma spotted that the Home Affairs committee had published a report on said treaty, recommending that the House be able to record its view as to whether the treaty should be ratified. Since then, Librarian Jayne has added a whole new Home Affairs Committee treaty component map, Librarian Emma stepping back in to actualise the appropriate steps in the Rwanda treaty work package. A proper bit of Librarian tag-teaming there.

As for any map, we’re more than aware that many of the routes are rarely - if ever - traversed and many of the steps never taken. Including all of its components, our dear old CRaG treaty map has 1107 routes, connecting 206 business steps, of which only 133 have ever been actualised. Which is the longhand way of saying most of the procedural things that can happen in theory rarely happen in practice.

Imagine our excitement then, when our crack team of librarians fired up the Early Day Motions website and came across our first ever EDM suggesting that a treaty should not be ratified. Not only this, upon opening up the House of Lords order paper, they also encountered our first ever debate on a motion that the government should not ratify a treaty. Unsurprisingly perhaps, both in the UK / Rwanda Agreement work package. Truly we live in exciting times. When these pixels finally meet your eyes, that debate may well have taken place. Do tune in.

Never ones to toot our own trumpet, our dear reader will know that - because our procedure maps are both logical and arithmetic - it is possible to point some parsing code at a work package and work out - given what has happened - what should happen next, what might happen next, what should not happen next and what should not happen ever. Procedural advice in a box, if you will. For the curious amongst us, the parsed version of the Rwanda treaty - alongside the parsed versions of all our other instruments - is available online in easily consumable pixels.

A word of warning to our dear reader. When perusing any parsed procedure, it is best to bear in mind that most of the things that might happen, most probably won’t. This being the nature of the beast.

Correcting past errors

For reasons that now escape us, back in 2023, a set of statutory instrument data tidying tasks went somewhat awry, when all SIs in the Search and Indexing triplestore accidentally found themselves associated with both Houses. Now it is true that the majority of SIs are laid before both Houses. But not all. Many months and many many calls and many many many tickets later, that slight boo boo has now been corrected. We pause to congratulate Librarian Jayne on both her diligence and tenacity.

Model making

This week, two new models break cover. The first one describes acts of tabling and was first considered complete way back in 2017. When we were all much younger. And more naive. The tabling model has recently been reshaped and refashioned by Librarian Ned and computational mixmasters Young Robert and Michael, in some attempt to bring it more into line with our making available model. It is now available via the medium of IP and HTTP for your delectation. Very neat, as we’re sure you’ll agree.

The second model is of far more recent invention, extending our geographic area model to encompass Statistician Carl’s much-celebrated work calculating area, residential and population overlaps between current constituencies and proposed constituencies. We hope our brand spanking new geographic area overlap model does Carl’s fine work some justice.

People, places, parties

There have been one or two tiny tweaks over in psephology world. First off, someone suggested that our general election party performance pages should list the electorate, the turnout and the number of lost deposits. It would be nice if we could remember who, but the request came in before Christmas and there’s been a lot of Baileys drunk between then and now. Anyway, that request is now complied with.

We were also asked if we could include independents on our general election party list page. But we just couldn’t. They’re clearly very different things. Instead, we’ve added a list of non-party certified candidates across all constituencies. Which, unless someone has a better idea, is about the best we can do.

One change that no one asked for has also been implemented. General election and election pages now link to the Parliament the elections were into. After all, if things are connected in real life, it’s only right that they’re connected in hypertext.

And finally, if you tuned in last time, you’ll know that Statistician Carl uploaded our much improved spreadsheets for the 2015, 2017 and 2019 elections. Much improved by the standardisation of column definitions and by the addition of MNIS Member identifiers and Electoral Commission party identifiers. More top work from Librarians Emily and Anna. Just to check that nothing went wrong in the process, we’ve now downloaded those spreadsheets and re-ran them through our import script. Nothing broke and no BOMs exploded. Lovely stuff.

A letter of thanks

We’re not ones to complain. But, we have to say, it’s rare we get thanked. As computational monkeys of the backstage variety, our efforts can be quite invisible. One supposes it is at least part of the reason why we write weeknotes. If we can’t thank ourselves, it seems unlikely that anyone else is likely to step up to the mark.

Imagine then our delight when an email of thanks finally flooded in. This from a clerk on the Business and Trade Committee. She got in touch to thank our crack team of librarians for all the work they put into parliamentary search over so very many years. Our grateful clerk has had her head buried in HTTP for the past week or so, looking for any material pertinent to the Committee’s Post Office and Horizon - Compensation: follow-up oral evidence session. A session you can watch right here. Imagine, telly on computers. What will they invent next?

Reader, parliamentary search did not let them down. We’re told that the committee staff were able to prepare a high quality information pack for the Committee members, well-informed questions for the witnesses and came across an assortment of very interesting evidence documents. We may just buy ourselves a tub of Celebrations to celebrate.