Introduction to hansard

Evan Odell

2019-09-08

hansard is an R package to pull data from the UK parliament through the http://www.data.parliament.uk/ API. It emphasises simplicity and ease of use, so that users unfamiliar with APIs can easily retrieve large volumes of high quality data. Each function accepts a single argument at a time, and functions that require additional information to retrieve the data you requested will ask for it after you execute the function. Functions retrieve data in json format and convert it to a tibble. The hansard_generic function supports the building of API requests for XML, csv or HTML formats if required. Note that the API is rate limited to returning 5500 rows per request in some circumstances.

Installing hansard

From CRAN

install.packages("hansard")

From GitHub (Development Version)

install.packages("devtools")
devtools::install_github("EvanOdell/hansard")

Load hansard

library(hansard)

Using hansard

hansard contains functions for calling data for the UK Parliament API. The functions are designed to call data from a specific http://www.data.parliament.uk/ API. The parameter options for each function vary, depending on the specific information available from each API, but there are four constant parameters in every function (with the exception of the hansard_generic() and research_topics_list() functions described below): extra_args, tidy, tidy_style and verbose.

tidy

tidy is a logical parameter accepting either TRUE or FALSE, defaulting to TRUE. If TRUE, hansard will fix variable names, which by default contain non alpha-numeric characters and appear to use an inconsistent/idiosyncratic naming convention, at least by the standards of the various naming conventions used in R. Dates and datetimes are converted to POSIXct class. Some extra URL data included in the API is also stripped out.

tidy_style

The naming convention for variables used if tidy==TRUE is indicated by tidy_style. tidy_style accepts one of "snake_case", "camelCase" and "period.case", defaulting to "snake_case". All variable names will be converted to match the given naming convention.

verbose

verbose is a logical parameter accepting either TRUE or FALSE, defaulting to FALSE. If TRUE, the function will print the progress of the API query to the console.

hansard_ prefixes

In addition to the more generic sounding function names, each function in hansard has a wrapper where the name is prefixed with hansard_. For example, both bills() and hansard_bills() will return the same result.

Almost all hansard functions (the exceptions being the functions that retrieve more reference style data: bill_stage_types(), commons_division_date(), commons_terms() constituencies(), election_candidates(), election_results(), members(), members_search(), research_briefings_lists() and hansard_generic()) include a start_date and end_date parameter, which can be used to set the earliest (start_date) and latest (end_date) data to be returned from the API.

Example using the commons_divisions() and mp_vote_record() functions

The commons_divisions() function returns divisions in the House of Commons, including the result of votes and information on what we being voted on. mp_vote_record() returns a data frame the voting record of a given MP on each division they voted in. The example below returns all Commons Divisions where Diane Abbott voted aye in 2017. To find the parliamentary ID of Diane Abbott (or any other member of the House of Commons or House of Lords), use the members_search() function described below.

library(hansard)
z <- mp_vote_record(172, "aye", start_date = "2017-01-01",
                    end_date = "2017-02-07", verbose = FALSE)
z
## # A tibble: 11 x 5
##    about  title                         uin       date_value  date_datatype
##    <chr>  <chr>                         <chr>     <chr>       <chr>        
##  1 685695 EU (Notification of Withdraw… CD:2017-… 2017-02-07… POSIXct      
##  2 685768 EU (Notification of Withdraw… CD:2017-… 2017-02-07… POSIXct      
##  3 685669 EU (Notification of Withdraw… CD:2017-… 2017-02-06… POSIXct      
##  4 685670 EU (Notification of Withdraw… CD:2017-… 2017-02-06… POSIXct      
##  5 685672 EU (Notification of Withdraw… CD:2017-… 2017-02-06… POSIXct      
##  6 678297 Opposition Motion: Prisons    CD:2017-… 2017-01-25… POSIXct      
##  7 678341 Opposition Motion: School Fu… CD:2017-… 2017-01-25… POSIXct      
##  8 677700 Wales Bill: Lords Amendment … CD:2017-… 2017-01-24… POSIXct      
##  9 671450 Opposition Motion: NHS and s… CD:2017-… 2017-01-11… POSIXct      
## 10 670447 Commonwealth Development Cor… CD:2017-… 2017-01-10… POSIXct      
## 11 670448 Commonwealth Development Cor… CD:2017-… 2017-01-10… POSIXct

Using commons_divisions(), we can see the result of one of those votes, ID 722300, the Early Parliamentary General Election bill that dissolved parliament for the 2017 General Election. The function default is to return a list of every MP and how they voted:

x <- commons_divisions(722300, verbose = FALSE)
head(x)
## # A tibble: 6 x 7
##   number member_party  type   member_printed_… vote_id about label_value   
##   <chr>  <chr>         <chr>  <chr>            <chr>   <chr> <chr>         
## 1 1      Labour        aye_v… Ms Diane Abbott  722300  172   Biography inf…
## 2 10     Labour        aye_v… Dr Rosena Allin… 722300  4573  Biography inf…
## 3 100    Labour        aye_v… Mary Creagh      722300  1579  Biography inf…
## 4 101    Labour (Co-o… aye_v… Stella Creasy    722300  4088  Biography inf…
## 5 102    Conservative  aye_v… Tracey Crouch    722300  3950  Biography inf…
## 6 103    Labour        aye_v… Jon Cruddas      722300  1406  Biography inf…

With the summary parameter, we can return a brief summary table of votes:

y <- commons_divisions(division_id = 722300, summary = TRUE, verbose = FALSE)
tibble::glimpse(y)
## Observations: 1
## Variables: 13
## $ abstain_count                     <chr> "0"
## $ ayes_count                        <chr> "522"
## $ noes_vote_count                   <chr> "13"
## $ did_not_vote_count                <chr> "0"
## $ error_vote_count                  <chr> "0"
## $ non_eligible_count                <chr> "0"
## $ suspended_or_expelled_votes_count <chr> "0"
## $ margin                            <chr> "509"
## $ date                              <dttm> 2017-04-19
## $ division_number                   <chr> "196"
## $ session                           <chr> "2016/17"
## $ title                             <chr> "Early Parliamentary General E…
## $ uin                               <chr> "CD:2017-04-19:264"

The results of votes in the House of Lords can be retrieved with the lords_divisions function. The voting record of individual Lords can be retrieved using the lords_vote_record functions.

Multiple Parameter Functions

The following functions accept vectors of member IDs and departmental names for applicable parameters:

For example, the following function returns all questions answered by Nichola Blackwood (4019) or Sam Gyimah (3980), asked by Keith Vaz (338) or Diane Abbot (172), and covered by the Department for Health or the Ministry of Justice, between 2016-12-18 and 2017-03-12.

w <- all_answered_questions(mp_id = c(4019, 3980), tabling_mp_id = c(338, 172),
                            answering_body = c("health", "justice"),
                            start_date = "2016-12-18", end_date = "2017-03-12")

tibble::glimpse(w) ## need to fix this
## Observations: 23
## Variables: 31
## $ about                               <chr> "705625", "705626", "705627"…
## $ answering_body                      <chr> "Department of Health", "Dep…
## $ question_text                       <chr> "To ask the Secretary of Sta…
## $ tabling_member_printed              <chr> "Keith Vaz", "Keith Vaz", "K…
## $ uin                                 <chr> "65590", "65591", "65592", "…
## $ attachment                          <list> [<data.frame[2 x 3]>, <data…
## $ grouped_question_uin                <list> ["list(c(\"65591\", \"65592…
## $ answer_text_value                   <chr> "<p>73 clinical commissionin…
## $ answering_member_about              <chr> "4019", "4019", "4019", "401…
## $ answering_member_label_value        <chr> "Biography information for B…
## $ answering_member_constituency_value <chr> "Oxford West and Abingdon", …
## $ answering_member_printed_value      <chr> "Nicola Blackwood", "Nicola …
## $ date_of_answer_value                <dttm> 2017-03-07, 2017-03-07, 201…
## $ answer_date_time                    <dttm> 2017-03-07 17:15:39, 2017-0…
## $ date_of_answer_datatype             <chr> "POXIXct", "POXIXct", "POXIX…
## $ is_ministerial_correction_value     <chr> "false", "false", "false", "…
## $ is_ministerial_correction_datatype  <chr> "boolean", "boolean", "boole…
## $ answering_dept_id_value             <chr> "17", "17", "17", "17", "17"…
## $ answering_dept_short_name_value     <chr> "Health", "Health", "Health"…
## $ answering_dept_sort_name_value      <chr> "Health", "Health", "Health"…
## $ date_value                          <chr> "2017-02-27", "2017-02-27", …
## $ date_datatype                       <chr> "dateTime", "dateTime", "dat…
## $ hansard_heading_value               <chr> "Diabetes", "Diabetes", "Dia…
## $ house_id_value                      <chr> "1", "1", "1", "1", "1", "1"…
## $ registered_interest_value           <chr> "false", "false", "false", "…
## $ registered_interest_datatype        <chr> "boolean", "boolean", "boole…
## $ tabling_member_about                <chr> "338", "338", "338", "338", …
## $ tabling_member_label_value          <chr> "Biography information for K…
## $ tabling_member_constituency_value   <chr> "Leicester East", "Leicester…
## $ legislature_pref_label_value        <chr> "House of Commons", "House o…
## $ legislature_about                   <chr> "25259", "25259", "25259", "…

Special functions

Several functions have special or experimental features:

The research_briefings() function

The research_briefings() function includes the feature of requesting data using lists created using the research_briefings_lists functions:

research_topics_list <- research_topics_list()

research_topics_list[[7]]
## [1] "Defence"

In this case I have given them the same name as their function, but you can assign any name you wish to them.

Having created the lists, they can be used to specify which topics and subtopics to call, although strings can also be used. In the example below, a and c contain the same data.

a <- research_briefings(topic = research_topics_list[[7]])

c <- research_briefings(topic = "Defence")

If a specific subtopic is called, but the topic is not specified, the function will still return all data within that specific subtopic. Note that this is slower than specifying the topic and subtopic.

If a specified subtopic is not a subtopic of the specified topic, the function will not return any data.

The hansard_generic() function

The hansard_generic() function allows you to put in your own paths to the API. Information on all the paths available in the API can be found on the DDP Explorer website.

x <- hansard_generic("commonsansweredquestions.json")

Note that the API defaults to returning 10 items per page, but allows up to 500 items per page, the default used by hansard.