Parliamentary Research

Introduction

Many people use Public Whip to research their area of special interest and understand what Parliament is doing. We want to make it possible for everyone to share the workload of decoding the jargon and summarising the documents. Just being able to help one another to find necessary information will be a major step forward. Please look for discussions in the forum.

Commenting on debates

Over at TheyWorkForYou.com (there is a direct link from every division page) you can post your comments against speeches in the Parliamentary debates. This is a good way to highlight important facts or add information that may have been left out of the official discussion.

Division description editing

When the system uploads a new Parliamentary division, it prints the following statement above the words:

Description automatically extracted from the debate, please edit it to make it better.

While TheyWorkForYou.com helps to make the debates more friendly, it doesn't make the motions more readable, and our computer program often guesses it wrong. Not only that, even when it gets it right, the accurate text uses too much Parliamentary jargon and refers to other documents by page and line number where it would better be served by a hyperlink. This is particularly true for legislation.

Public Whip allows anyone to write a plain english version of the motion, with links to explanations and relevant document. Julian has taken on the task of doing all the Iraq votes and the counter-terrorism legislation. Have a look to them for examples.

We are looking for people who are passionate about other issues in Parliament that have been subject to frequent, repeated votes by MPs. It could be immigration, education, the environment, transport, ID cards, international development, and so on. Find these divisions, mark them with a Policy, and fix the division descriptions so that other people can see the precise meaning of what was voted upon. Public Whip is about making an informed choice based on the definitive record, and not having to take anyone's word for things.

Examples of division description editing

The first example is Council Tax - 2 Mar 2005 - Division No. 110, which is an opposition motion. These have a simple structure, but even so wording and formatting changes make the effect of the motion much clearer. The crucial thing it that it should be easier to tell what Aye and No mean.

Before EditingAfter Editing

I beg to move,

That this House notes that council tax bills have increased by 70 per cent. under the Labour Government, with further above-inflation rises planned in the forthcoming year and after the general election; expresses concern that pensioners have been hit hardest and calls on the Government to implement the Conservative policy of an automatic council tax discount for those aged 65 and over; notes with alarm the Government's plans in any third term for a revaluation which would lead to greater inequities and new higher council tax bands; rejects Liberal Democrat plans for a local income tax, regional income tax and higher national income tax; and calls for less bureaucracy and interference from Whitehall and regional bureaucrats in local government funding and for greater transparency in the allocation of local funding for councils.

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

"welcomes the Government's support for local government with its 33 per cent. grant increase in real terms since 1997, compared to a real terms cut of 7 per cent. in the last four years of the previous administration; notes that the increase in council tax this year is set to be the lowest in over a decade at around 4 per cent. and the second lowest since it was introduced and is less than the increase in average earnings; notes CIPFA's view that it will add less than £1 a week to average council tax bills; further notes that the effect of the Opposition's policy to cut grant to councils and abolish capping would allow council tax to rise unchecked; and looks forward to the report of the Lyons inquiry into local government funding which is due by the end of this year."

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 140, Noes 322.

The no voters successfully changed the motion text from:

This House notes that council tax bills have increased by 70 per cent. under the Labour Government, with further above-inflation rises planned in the forthcoming year and after the general election; expresses concern that pensioners have been hit hardest and calls on the Government to implement the Conservative policy of an automatic council tax discount for those aged 65 and over; notes with alarm the Government's plans in any third term for a revaluation which would lead to greater inequities and new higher council tax bands; rejects Liberal Democrat plans for a local income tax, regional income tax and higher national income tax; and calls for less bureaucracy and interference from Whitehall and regional bureaucrats in local government funding and for greater transparency in the allocation of local funding for councils.

To:

This House welcomes the Government's support for local government with its 33 per cent. grant increase in real terms since 1997, compared to a real terms cut of 7 per cent. in the last four years of the previous administration; notes that the increase in council tax this year is set to be the lowest in over a decade at around 4 per cent. and the second lowest since it was introduced and is less than the increase in average earnings; notes CIPFA's view that it will add less than £1 a week to average council tax bills; further notes that the effect of the Opposition's policy to cut grant to councils and abolish capping would allow council tax to rise unchecked; and looks forward to the report of the Lyons inquiry into local government funding which is due by the end of this year.

The second example is Ministerial Statements proposals - 29 Oct 2002 - Division No. 335, which is a motion to change parliamentary procedures. This has a textual amendment to a motion, and can be explained in less technical language than the original.

Before EditingAfter Editing

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House takes note of the Third Report from the Procedure Committee, Parliamentary Questions, House of Commons Paper No. 622, and the Government Response thereto, Cm 5628, and approves the proposals in both for a quota on named day questions, a reduction in the daily quota of questions per department, the introduction of electronic tabling subject to safeguards to ensure the authenticity of questions and the power of the Speaker to modify or halt the system if it appears it is being abused, and the timing and printing of answers to written questions and written ministerial statements. —[Mr. Woolas.]

Amendment proposed: (a), in line 8, leave out 'and written Ministerial statements'.—[Mr. Greg Knight.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 144, Noes 386.

The Aye-voters failed to remove the words 'and written ministerial statements' from the motion:

This House takes note of the Third Report from the Procedure Committee, Parliamentary Questions, House of Commons Paper No. 622, and the Government Response thereto, Cm 5628, and approves the proposals in both for a quota on named day questions, a reduction in the daily quota of questions per department, the introduction of electronic tabling subject to safeguards to ensure the authenticity of questions and the power of the Speaker to modify or halt the system if it appears it is being abused, and the timing and printing of answers to written questions and written ministerial statements.

TODO: Give third example of legislative amendment vote.

Guidelines for editing the description of divisions

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.

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