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UK Parliament: the long road to open data

Talk by Edward Wood at the Parliament, Data and Democracy meetup

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UK Parliament: the long road to open data

  1. 1. UK Parliament: the long road to open data Edward Wood Director of Research, House of Commons Library secondreading.uk @edwardwood99
  2. 2. “The history of Hansard is strewn with the battles, great and small, of a Parliament conscious of its rights, privileges and powers, and conscious of the image, both of itself and of its individual members.” (Anthony Lester QC, 1994)
  3. 3. 1. Censorship 2. Money 3. Indexing
  4. 4. 1. Censorship
  5. 5. •Until the late 18th century, reporting debates in Parliament was regarded as a breach of Parliamentary privilege •Publishers who ignored the ban were liable to fines or imprisonment
  6. 6. Reasons for secrecy… 1.Men could not be expected to give their opinions freely in the public gaze 2.Not wanting the King to find out what was going on
  7. 7. …and some ingenious ways of getting round it
  8. 8. Proceedings of the Lower Room of the Robin Hood Society
  9. 9. Samuel Johnson
  10. 10. Debates of the Senate of Magna Lilliputia
  11. 11. Sr. R - t W - le
  12. 12. Sir Rat Widdle
  13. 13. Sir Robert Warpole
  14. 14. J - b R - s M - gg
  15. 15. J acob Rees Mogg
  16. 16. Brass Crosby (1725 – 1793)
  17. 17. Colonel George Onslow
  18. 18. John Wilkes (1725 – 1797)
  19. 19. 2. Money
  20. 20. Hansard is born: and money is always too tight to mention
  21. 21. •Radical publisher William Cobbett launches his Parliamentary Debates in 1802 •He gets into financial difficulties and ownership passes to Thomas Curson Hansard in 1812 - Hansard was born. •It was hard to make money from reporting Parliament, so reporting is taken over by Parliament in 1909
  22. 22. 1994: the new threat to Hansard • Fast forward 65 years to the Thatcher Government… • 1980: Hansard’s publisher, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, becomes a trading fund • The subsidy from HM Treasury is gradually reduced, leading to… oSteep price rises oFalls in sales and library subscriptions
  23. 23. This was a “parliamentary dereliction of duty” because it resulted in a decrease in the availability of factual and objective information about the legislative process at a time when the people had “never been so extensively governed.” (Anthony Lester QC, What Price Hansard, 1994)
  24. 24. 1994: a great year for websites
  25. 25. 1994 •Birmingham City Council
  26. 26. 1994 •Birmingham City Council •The Economist
  27. 27. 1994 •Birmingham City Council •The Economist •Amnesty International
  28. 28. 1994 •Birmingham City Council •The Economist •Amnesty International •Bianca's Smut Shack
  29. 29. 1994 •Birmingham City Council •The Economist •Amnesty International •Bianca's Smut Shack (actually an online community)
  30. 30. 1996: Parliament gets in on the act
  31. 31. •Parliament website launched •Hansard available free online •HMSO privatised •They need to find a new business model…
  32. 32. Yes it was awful but… •You didn’t need to visit a library •It was easy to navigate to a given date •Search engines [usually] located contributions by individual MPs and Peers •Search engines [sometimes] located discussion of topics or bills
  33. 33. 3. Indexing
  34. 34. 1831: Erskine May’s first job
  35. 35. Indexing in the House of Commons Library • Thomas Erskine May was appointed Assistant Librarian in 1831, 40 years before he became Clerk of the House • Along with Thomas Vardon (Librarian) they indexed the Journal of the House and Acts of Parliament • Best practice emerged: “an Index for reference to facts, and an analytical digest of precedents”
  36. 36. 1955: the Strip Index
  37. 37. 1967: the Commons Library and Computers
  38. 38. blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Library
  39. 39. blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Library blah blah blah blah blah blah blah modern
  40. 40. blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Library blah blah blah blah blah blah blah modern blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah computers
  41. 41. blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Library blah blah blah blah blah blah blah modern blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah computers blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah tricky blighters
  42. 42. 1968: a bizarre collaboration with the Atomic Energy Authority at Culham 198O: POLIS launched – Parliamentary Online Information System 1999: the Library begins parsing data from Hansard
  43. 43. post script: TWFY and Public Whip

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