back to article UK.gov urged to adopt web-friendly legislation format

Digital democracy crusaders at Mysociety.org have won Tory backing for their campaign for legislation to be released in a web-friendly XML-based format. Mysociety MP accountability project TheyWorkForYou.com has launched the public drive after failing to convince parliamentary IT chiefs in private that publishing bills as easily …

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XML?

I thought that this was currently handled by what was HM Stationary office, rather than parliment. apparently bills need to be up on the Net by 2pm the next day.

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Err, ar*e about t*t ?

"When the text of a bill is completed, it would be copied to a server outside the parliamentary network. A script on the server would parse the text into the basic XML structure Mysociety has designed."

Surely the right way around would be for the text to be created in XML to start with, which can then be automatically parsed into all the formats required - text, html, pdf, ... and with no requirement to proofread the results since there won't be any scope for errors IF* it's done right.

* Oops, I see where this all falls down now !

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@ Simon Hobbs

Are you mental?

MySociety reckon this could be set up for £10k. If you have to get parliament to learn something new, then they'd run through a £10k budget just on the lunch where they decide which consults should run the training courses.

Far better just to take what they do already and get them to "approve" the XML version. That way they get to take some credit for something IT related as no-one in government agrees to anything unless they can squeeze a bit of political capital out of it.

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Alert

More to the point ...

All bills and indeed all legislation and official documents should be written in PRECISE and PLAIN ENGLISH LANGUAGE instead of ambiguous legal mumbo-jumbo whose sole purpose is to earn money for the of the so-called-legal profession advising people whether or not the law really says something or other.

If there really MUST be a mumbo-jumbo version (for reasons best known to the people who insist without the slightest merit that laws shouldn't be understandable), the rule should be that there is ALWAYS a plain language version too, that any procedings must be based on the plain language version and that in any ambiguity the plain language version must always take precedence, such that the mumbo jumbo version needn't have existed in the first place.

Oh, and now we have intelligible documents, insist that every bill has to be ratified by a majority public vote instead of this nonsense of having to sign our rights away to untrustworthy MPs who 9 time out of 10 don't behave the way they promised when they were asking for votes.

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If it's ever implemented...

It'll cost hundreds of thousands - Steve's right about the £10k to pick out the consultants.

In fact it's probably the low price tag which is putting them off - once that's been made public by some pretty professional people, the gov/civil service has got no room for the usual gold tape around everything.

Simon's point is excellent too - why not create it in XML then export it how and as needed...?

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Paris Hilton

You can have it Fast, Perfect and Cheap

Pick any 2.

They are obviously aiming towards cheap and fast so quality is out the window. Should make a really good government project (well, maybe not too fast).

Paris because she knows about cheap and fast.

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Stop

RE - If it's ever implemented...

"When the text of a bill is completed, it would be copied to a server outside the parliamentary network. A script on the server would parse the text into the basic XML structure Mysociety has designed."

The <ahem>basic</ahem> structure that Mysociety designed? What about the accurate, detailed and very effective xml structure that legislation currently resides in. The same one that is used to create the current web content and PDF versions of legislation etc.

"Simon's point is excellent too - why not create it in XML then export it how and as needed...?"

See above.

It seems that Mysociety aren't too sure of how legislation is currently processed. They are looking at parliament to generate the structured content whereas it is the Queen's printers who provide that service (via TSO the new face of HMSO). They are looking for a solution (their own schema) to a problem that was noted quite some time ago and solved.

OPSI has current legislation as it is published in valid XHTML format. Everything from 1988 onwards was published electronically and is available online. Prior to that PDF versions are available where possible.

http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts.htm

The UK statute Law database has current content dating back to 1337 showing changes, proposed changes and concurrent versions of subsections within individual items of legislation

http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/Home.aspx

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Thumb Up

Great news!

If this heralds the advance of legislation to a level somewhere near that of properly-designed software, great news! Laws will be based on clear and accurate specifications, meet well-defined needs, be well designed, automatically tested for consistency and clarity, and retired when their lifecycle comes to an end. Oh, and regression tested to make sure they don't clash with other laws already on the statute book.

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W
Coat

Re: RE - If it's ever implemented...

"The UK statute Law database has current content dating back to 1337..."

They're publishing it in leetspeak too? To appease the geeks. Pfff. Political correctness gone mad.

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Coat

Naivety

£10k does seem hopelessly naive. Possibly if done by actual human people who actually know what they're doing, but this is the *government* we're talking about.

More likely they'd outsource it to IBM or similar, who would stick a couple of zeroes onto the budget, then do exactly the same thing but with an army of salesmen and middle-managers cluttering up the place.

The fact that it's already published in XML is, of course, irrelevant. After all, solving a problem that's already been solved is (marginally) less likely to go tits-up.

Mine's the one reeking of cynicism...

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Heart

XML does not equal structured data

@ Anonymous Coward - Two things. Firstly, XML does not structured data make. You can put unstructured stuff in XML. Specifically, Bills and Amendments are not currently published with the way they amend each other encoded in a structured way. Any internal XML that they come from is document publishing XML i.e. Basically visual markup. It isn't structured storage of the proposed law XML. If I'm wrong, post up one of the internal XML files somewhere to show me that I am! It would be fab if I am!

Secondly, that OPSI and the SLD publish Acts is irrelevant to the campaign. We're talking about Bills and Amendments - proposed laws. This is so that people can scrutinise them before they are passed. Really important stuff. We want to make sure that new laws are good quality.

Thirdly, you may note that the campaign page http://www.theyworkforyou.com/freeourbills/ itself doesn't mention XML. We only mention it briefly on the technical details page http://www.theyworkforyou.com/freeourbills/techy . XML has nothing to do with this campaign - XML is just a light layer. Doesn't mean much - it is no more interesting to say structured data is in XML than to say it is encoded with 8 bits per byte. What matters is consistency of format, reliable unique identifiers, encoding of all required structural information.

Finally - just to say that I think the recent improvements to the bill pages on parliament.uk are fantastic, and that the release of the Statute Law Database is fantastic. Well done to everyone in Government who is working on those things, and every power to them to do more similar things in the future.

(I work for mySociety)

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Excellent.

This is an excellent idea in principal, one of the biggest political problems today (in my opinion) is this idea of stealth democracy. The practice of passing bills and laws serrupticiously, deliberatly discouraging media coverage or not disclosing the details until the last minute.

If more ordinary people got actively involved in the political process in this country, then its obvious defects would become obvious to all, and I've not doubt we'd see marked change.

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