Hansard Liaison Subproject

The Public Whip puts the pages on the parliamentary website through punishing tests, which immediately highlight small typing mistakes in gigabytes of data. It's rare that you'll notice an error with the human eye, but to us writing the software it appears that they are everywhere.

Subproject Goals

The Hansard Liaison Subproject aims to:

  1. Track errors which cause material problems for the Public Whip project. For example, ambiguous or missing division listings. Get these corrected on the Hansard website, or clarified so we can add exceptions to our code.
  2. Work with the official record to improve the quality of their website. This includes standards compliant HTML, consistency of data to aid computerised parsing, and ultimately provision of information as XML or other structured data files.
  3. Persuade the official record to record the party whips at a division, if it is clearly visible such as a member waving people into the right lobby.

Current Status

  1. Currently, we email the House of Commons Information Office, and they get any serious errors fixed. They respond to material errors fairly quickly by either updating parliament.uk, or emailing us with the correction.
  2. We've visited TSO, talked to people in parliament and to MPs about this. But this is going to take some time. There is currently a project in parliament to update their systems to use XML, but the status of the project is unknown.
  3. No material progress yet. Our definition of rebellion has caused some complaints from MPs, but these so far haven't encouraged either the parties or Hansard to publish the official party whip for each party.

Hansard Bug Tracker

For a while we used standard bug tracking software to keep track of errors in Hansard. You can browse them using the link below. Some of the errors are "serious" which means there is a gap in the public record. Others are just formatting errors which (sometimes massively) inconvenience us.

Hansard error tracker on Sourceforge

Baffled Outsider's Guide to the Parliamentary Bureaucracy

Hansard are part of Parliament. They are separate from Government, of course. They have about 16 reporters who sit in the chamber and listen to a small amount of debate in five or ten minute "shifts". They then spend an hour typing it up on a computer with a tape recording. They produce the Official Report each day in some (unknown) file format, and it is electronically transferred to TSO (The Stationary Office).

TSO originates from the Government office HMSO. Note, not an office of Parliament, although they were employed by Parliament. TSO was created by privatising part of HMSO in 1996. They are an independent, private publishing company. They take the electronic Hansard, and from it produce the daily paper copy. They also make the bound copies. More recently, they make the web site.

(This is clearly a relic of the past, as if web publishing were analogous to normal publishing. You don't need a printing press, and the equivalent (a web server) already exists within the organisation which wants to publish it, making it pointless for them to contract it out to an external one. A reform could streamline this.)

The website publications.parliament.uk is on a separate server to parliament.uk. It is managed by TSO rather than Parliament. TSO also do other publishing work, but they are a customer of the Parliament website, so they have to answer to them.

House of Commons Information Office (HCInfo). The first port of call for anything. These are very friendly folk. They seem used to the most peculiar of queries. Best is to ring them up on 020 7219 4272. Email [email protected].

House of Commons Library Help Desk. Another help desk, though more for internal use by parliament, whereas HCInfo is for external use. Their phone is 0207 219 2345.

Information Architecture Support. If you email [email protected] it goes to this division of parliament.

The Stationary Office (TSO). This privatised part of the old HMSO (Her Majesty's Stationary Office) is based mainly in Norwich. Their phone number is 08457 023474.

Parliamentary Press. An office of TSO based in London. Phone them on 0207 394 4255.

HMSO Crown Copyright Office. This is the last remaining non-privatised part of HMSO, the rest is now owned by TSO. They deal with all crown and parliamentary copyright issues. Phone them on 01603 621000.

About the Project

The Public Whip is a not-for-profit, open source website created in 2003 by Francis Irving and Julian Todd and now run by Bairwell Ltd.

There are lots of plans afoot, including extensive redevelopment of the site and plans for new functionality. To keep up with what's happening, please check out the blog. We're working on updating all the contact details throughout the site, but if you'd like to talk to us about the project, please email [email protected]

The Whip on the Web

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