Plain English

Lord Norton

Iain Dale has drawn attention to the Plain English Campaign which, as it says on its website, has invited “all MPs and their staff to send us their nominations for the best (clearest) and worst (most ridden with gobbledygook) documents that they have seen this year in Parliament.”  

Why, one wonders, have they not written to peers?  We see some splendid examples of poorly written official documents and have to spend time trying to make sense of them.  The more that Bills and secondary legislation can be written in plain English, the better.  I like to think that we have achieved some successes in this area but there is still some way to go.

6 comments for “Plain English

  1. Bedd Gelert
    21/10/2008 at 4:59 pm

    Maybe it is because we plebs do have some influence over the MPs by the admittedly blunt instrument of their periodic endorsement at a General Election.

    If one of the noble Lords were found to be guilty of disingenuous obfuscation through the use of spin and gobbledygook [thinking of no-one in particular..] what, in all honesty, could one do about it ?

  2. lordnorton
    21/10/2008 at 6:46 pm

    Bedd Gelert: I think a General Election is an extremely blunt weapon indeed to punish an MP for poor English! Peers do not operate in a vacuum and would doubtless take note if someone called attention to the use of jargon and gobbledygook.

  3. Bedd Gelert
    21/10/2008 at 8:25 pm

    Sorry, Lord Norton, but I’m just throwing my toys out of the pram again due to the return of a certain bloke to this parish…

    On a lighter note, I feel that the real explanation why this has been restricted to MPs, and not a wider field of all politicians, is that it would be very dull if Rhodri Morgan would win yet another ‘Foot In Mouth’ type award from the Plain English Campaign..

    Now a bit of loose typing nearly had me referring to a ‘Palin English Award’ – now who might win that among the MPs we wonder…

  4. 22/10/2008 at 4:02 am

    I’ve always thought the Civil Service were the worst for gobbledygook. The one time I had direct contact with the Civil Service, they gave a very Yes Minister-esque reply to my simple question. That may have just been a one-off, of course (made me chuckle though).

    If one of the noble Lords were found to be guilty of disingenuous obfuscation through the use of spin and gobbledygook [thinking of no-one in particular..] what, in all honesty, could one do about it ?

    You probably wouldn’t need to do anything. As the Lords are each relatively independent, and the structure not very hierarchical, there wouldn’t be a problem in correcting the offender. At least that’s my impression as a layman. 🙂

    Also, if the Lords introduced legislation full of gobbledygook, the Commons still has to approve it. You may still hold those whom supported the bill in the Commons responsible; and boot them out of power for daring to say ‘double-tubed men’s lower garment’ instead of ‘trousers’ (for example).

  5. lordnorton
    22/10/2008 at 4:21 pm

    Bedd Gelert: You reference to a ‘Palin English Award’ leads to thoughts of a Plain Speaking Award which certainly would be somewhat different.

    Liam: I fear you have valid concerns about some of the documents produced by officials. I suppose I should admit that in the Lords, and in the Commons, the extent of our deviation from plain English is sometimes alleviated by Hansard: the reporters do tend to tidy up what we say. Sometimes this makes us appear more fluent than in fact we are.

  6. lordnorton
    22/10/2008 at 4:23 pm

    Liam: Your very last sentence reminds me of an amendment moved some years ago in the Lords, which was to delete ‘animals of the bovine species’ and insert ‘cattle’.

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