Tag Archives: parliament

An open letter to Rupa Huq, MP, regarding official Parliamentary videos

Dear Dr. Huq,

I have been very interested to read about your recent call for an end to the prohibition on the use of footage from official parliamentary broadcasts in satirical programmes, made at the behest of your brother-in-law and constituent, the television personality Charlie Brooker.

Rupa Huq 2015

Rupa Huq

I was equally disappointed at the stance of the (Conservative) Leader of the House of Commons, Chris Grayling MP, who said:

it is very important that we make sure the coverage of this House is use in an appropriate way — I am not in favour of it being used for satire programmes.

He is wrong, because satire is not an inappropriate use of such footage, which is made with public funds.

But the right to use it in satire is not enough — we should all be able to use it wherever we want, freely. For example, on Wikipedia, for educational purposes. And for that reason, it should be made available under an “open licence”, allowing anyone to use it, for any purpose (subject, of course, to existing laws such as those on decency and defamation), with the only requirement being to attribute the source. (I have written previously about what open licensing is and why it should apply to media about politicians.)

Please take up Mr Grayling’s suggestion, and pursue your campaign with the Commons’ administration committee — but please don’t limit your request to the right to satirise. Please push for full open licensing.

Thank you.

United Kingdom parliamentary URL structure: change needed

In Wikidata, Wikipedia’s sister project for storing statements of fact as , we record a number of unique identifiers.

For example, Tim Berners-Lee has the identifier “85312226” and is known to the as “nm3805083”.

We know that we can convert these to URLs by adding a prefix, so

by adding the prefixes:

  • https://viaf.org/viaf/
  • http://www.imdb.com/Name?

respectively. We only need to store those prefixes in Wikidata once each.


The in August 2014,
picture by Henry Kellner, CC BY-SA 3.0

The United Kingdom Parliament website also uses identifiers for MPs and members of the House of Lords.

For example, Tom Watson, an MP, is “1463”, and Jim Knight, aka The Lord Knight of Weymouth, is “4160”.

However, the respective URLs are:

meaning that the prefixes are not consistent, and require you to know the name or exact title.

Yet more ridiculous is that, if Tom Watson ever gets appointed to the House of Lords, even though his unique ID won’t change, the URL required to find his biography on the parliamentary website will change — and, because we don’t know whether he would be, say Lord Watson of Sandwell Valley, or Lord Watson of West Bromwich, we can’t predict what it will be.

When building databases, like Wikidata, this is all extremely unhelpful.

What we would like the parliamentary authorities to do — and what would benefit others wanting to make use of parliamentary URLs — is to use a standard, predictable type of URL, for example http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/1463 which uses the unique identifier, but does not require the individual’s house, name or title, and does not change if they shift to “the other place”.

If necessary they could then make that redirect to the longer URLs they prefer (though I wouldn’t recommend it).

I’ve asked them; but they don’t currently do this. In fact they explained their preference for the longer URLs thus:

…we are unable [sic] to shorten the url any further as the purpose of the current pattern of the web address is to display a pathway to the page.

The url also identifies the page i.e the indication of biographies including the name of the respective Member as to make it informative for online users who may view the page.

I find these arguments unconvincing, to say the least.

Screenshot, with Watson's name in the largest font on the page

There’s a big enough clue on the page, without needing to read the URL to identify its subject

Furthermore, the most verbose parts of the URLs are non-functioning; if we truncate Tom’s URL by simply dropping the final digit: http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/tom-watson/146, then we get the biography of a different MP. On the other hand, if we change it to, say: http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/t/1463, we still get Tom’s page. Try them for yourself.

So, how can we help the people running the Parliamentary website to change their minds, and to use a more helpful URL structure? Who do we need to persuade?

When writing about the web, links are required

Today’s Telegraph has an interesting article about MPs (and their agents) allegedly bowdlerising articles about themselves on Wikipedia.

What it doesn’t have, though, are links to any of the articles, let alone to the edits under discussion (such as this edit).

The Telegraph needs to understand that the word “Web” in World Wide Web refers to the interlinking of articles on different sites.

Adding links to the articles and edits discussed would serve at least two purposes. It would provide evidence to support the allegations the paper is making; and it would be a convenience and a courtesy their readers.