Public Administration Select Committee: Inquiry

Bad Language: The Use and Abuse of Official Language

Current Status: Report published, Further Report incorporating Government Response published

Link to Further Report

Link to Report

30 November 2009 - The Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) today publishes a report urging politicians and public servants to use language that is clear, honest and understandable. It gives examples of official language that fail this test.

PASC concludes that too often government uses language that confuses or distorts meaning. Bad language of this kind is damaging because it can prevent public understanding of policies, and can deter people from getting access to public services and benefits.

PASC’s key recommendation is for government to deal more effectively with cases of bad official language. Misleading or confusing language which results in harm, such as preventing someone from receiving benefits or public services, should be regarded as ‘maladministration’. This would mean that people’s complaints about poor official language would be treated on the same basis as other kinds of poor administration. Failure on the part of government and public sector bodies to rectify the situation would justify taking complaints about bad official language to the relevant Ombudsman.

Tony Wright MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“Good government requires good language, while bad language is a sign of poor government. Far too often, government uses language that obscures, confuses or evades. We propose that cases of bad official language should be treated as ‘maladministration’, as for any other type of poor administration. Complaints made on this basis must be dealt with properly. This would help ensure that government takes seriously its responsibility to use good, clear and understandable language."

Written Evidence:

Minutes of evidence taken by the Committee:

9 July 2009, Corrected Transcript
Simon Hoggart, Matthew Parris, Professor David Crystal and Marie Clair

Press Notice:

7 July 2009: No Sir Humphrey: PASC to discuss the language of government with Matthew Parris, Simon Hoggart, David crystal and the Plain English Campaign

27 March 2009: PASC launches Mind your Language inquiry