Free Our Bills - campaign for semantic markup in Parliamentary bills

26 March 2008

Free Our Bills campaign

Civic hackers MySociety have launched a campaign to encourage Parliament to publish its proposed new laws with semantic XML markup. This will allow people to process, transform, annotate, publish and even just read these bills in ways that make sense to them.

Currently, Parliament publishes new bills online in HTML and PDF formats. The HTML uses an arbitrary DOCTYPE-less, table-heavy tag soup and the PDF is, well, PDF. This will not do.

MySociety’s solution is for new bills to be copied over to an external server where a smart script attempts to parse the document into XML according to a to-be-defined schema. It then forwards the output to a real live human being for review and corrections before publication to the rest of the world. The textual content of the document would not be altered.

This fellow seems to think it’s a good idea, though as with many pronouncements on net matters from Messrs. Cameron and Osborne I’m left wondering whether he actually understands precisely what’s proposed.

While the campaign is an excellent idea, getting Parliament to serve up valid HTML would be a good start.

Moreover, the benefits of well-presented documents are limited without the legal right to modify and republish them. A parallel campaign to get the UK’s legislation out of copyright and into the public domain is long overdue. There’s something fundamentally wrong with a country that can lock you up for passing around copies of the very legislation that can be used to lock you up.

_(Image copyright MySociety) _