Bad Language: The Use and Abuse of Official Language - Public Administration Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  The language used in politics and government matters because politics is a public activity and the services that government provides are public services. The public nature of government and its activities means that politicians and public servants should be required to communicate with people in a straightforward way, using language that people understand. We have encountered numerous examples of official language, however, where meaning has been confused and distorted. Bad language of this kind is damaging because it can both prevent public understanding of policies and inhibit original expression and thought. (Paragraph 21)

2.  Poor communication by government bodies dealing with the public is a significant concern, especially when large numbers of people are affected. Long, complex official forms, officious letters and confusing requests for information can all deter individuals from attempting to deal with public authorities. This is particularly worrying when it prevents people from getting the benefits or services to which they are entitled. (Paragraph 27)

3.  Mockery, as practised by sketchwriters and other political observers, serves a useful purpose by reducing our tolerance for the misuse of language. More generally, "good" political language should be encouraged, and the use of language that distorts or disguises meaning should be exposed and condemned. (Paragraph 32)

4.  We believe that the use of inaccurate, confusing or misleading official language which results in tangible harm, such as preventing individuals from receiving benefits or public services, should be regarded as maladministration. People should be encouraged to complain about cases of bad official language directly to the body concerned, and government needs to take such complaints of maladministration seriously. Failure to do so would provide grounds for people to complain to the relevant Ombudsman about poor official language. (Paragraph 39)

5.  Making legislative language clearer and simpler needs to be balanced against the interests of ensuring that legislation is as precise and certain in its meaning as necessary. Supporting material such as explanatory notes can help make legislation more accessible to the non-specialist reader. Government could, however, explore to a greater extent initiatives to make the statute book clearer and more readily understandable, such as rewriting existing legislation (along the lines of the successful tax law rewrite project) and giving serious consideration, on a case by case basis, to drafting laws in clearer, simpler language. (Paragraph 44)

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