Monday, 23 May 2011

Useful Tools: They Work For You

There are quite a number of useful tools for activists that often get ignored, or that people haven't yet heard about, which can save a lot of time and effort to get the information you need.

This post looks at one that is very useful for keeping an eye on Parliament: "They Work For You".

Please leave recommendations for other tools in the comments - I have a few more I want to do, but since these are far less famous than they deserve, there's probably plenty more that I don't know about.

They Work For You

They Work For You - - is a heavily reformatted Hansard (the official record of the UK Parliament). It has several advantages over using the original:

  1. A nicer interface than Hansard, with speeches more clearly separated; photographs, party affiliations, constituency and Ministerial responsibilities of MPs displayed; as well as inline links and cross-references for common terms.
  2. An excellent search that actually has a good chance of finding what you were looking for. Having performed a search, you can then set up an alert (either email or RSS) and be updated every time a new entry matching your search appears.

    Without this facility, the Parliamentary Timeline wouldn't have existed - it quite literally turned it from impossible to practical.

  3. Link to a single speech on its own or in the context of the debate. You can do this with Hansard, but not quite as easily.

  4. The same good interface covers Commons debates, Lords debates, Westminster Hall "informal" debates, and Written answers and statements. This is where a lot of the work of Parliament goes on, largely out of public view. Some of the answers include quite detailed quantitative data - it's often worth checking here before making a Freedom of Information request to a government department: you can save yourself some time if an MP has got a suitable answer already.

  5. Summaries of MPs, including data drawn from other sites. Very useful for seeing what your own MP is up to, or finding out which Lords might be interested in your issues.
  6. Also covers the three devolved Parliaments and Assemblies to the same standard, and with the same search interface.

It's extremely useful if the issue that you're dealing with is political in the Parliamentary sense. Less useful otherwise, but there might be something interesting hidden in a written answer or an un-publicised debate.