This was going to be a blog post about ‘permalinking’ in government. But as I started to research it, I came across something quite shocking.
I was told today that 50% of the web links quoted in Hansard are no longer functional. The standard excuse that ‘ah well, you know how it is’ doesn’t really stand up when you’re talking about the official record of parliamentary proceedings. Of course, it presumably isn’t the fault of Hansard itself. But if it isn’t their fault, it’s certainly their problem. I’m told there are early discussions involving the people like the Cabinet Office and National Archives, about trying to establish some kind of permanent referencing system to stop this happening. Not before time, if this is how bad things already are.
Of course, we can take it for granted that URLs were at least accurate when they were initially published, can’t we? Er, no. Brace yourself.
I thought I’d count up how many URLs were quoted in the last published day’s written answers. (The answer was eight, incidentally – and they were all fine, although the Foreign Office‘s lengthy addressing looks really ridiculous in this context.) In the course of doing so, I came across the following which actually, genuinely got through, in a written answer by Mike O’Brien. I don’t count it among the aforementioned eight URLs, for what will be immediately obvious reasons.
This detailed publication can be found in the House of Commons Library and on the Pensions Regulator’s website at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yes folks, that’s a website address quoted with an @-sign in the middle of it. Must be some special kind of website that I’ve never come across. You’ll also note the domain ‘pensionsregular‘, not ‘regulator’. But it gets worse… the officially quoted email address for the Pensions Regulator is actually email@example.com Now it may well be that thepensionsregulator is just an alias of pensionsregulator – but at the very least, you’d think they’d pick one and quote it consistently. So we have a web address quoted which isn’t a website, isn’t spelt properly, and is either inaccurate or inconsistent. Fantastic.
I’m stunned that this was signed off at all appropriate stages by (presumably all three of) the Pensions Regulator’s office, DWP and Hansard. And I don’t think it’s acceptable or excusable. It certainly makes me wonder how much attention people actually pay to their PQ responses.