Dumbing down? I wish...

government, headings, plain-english
Rob Waller

If you google ‘Quentin Letts’, ‘Daily Mail’ and ‘dumbing down’ you get more than one result. Last week he was reporting concerns that parliamentary bills were being formatted too clearly.

In a piece entitled 'Dumbed-down parliamentary Bills should be in plain English...rather than just plain daft’ Letts reports on concerns raised by a member of the House of Lords, Lord True. Great name for a politician, that, and an example of nominative determinism to file alongside my lawyer Mr Why, and my teacher Ivor Payne.

A bill currently going through parliament (The Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill) is described thus by Lord True:

‘The Bill is laid out in a daft manner, a bit like one of those Frequently Asked Questions website pages. This is fatuous dumbing-down, totally unnecessary, patronising, rather silly — the great curse of accessibility. On a printed page your eye can still wander to other parts of the Bill but once you move to electronic access, this approach could be positively unwholesome. If you signpost people, you can mislead them.’

I’d never thought of accessibility as a curse, but of course he’s right that any simplification involves risk and trust: the risk that attention is being drawn to certain parts of the content in a biased way. And that other information, not so well signalled, sneaks in by stealth. And to read a simplified version is to place your trust in the simplifier. But what’s the alternative? The risk that people can't read it at all, or read the beginning more carefully than the later parts.

You are probably wondering what the fuss is about, so here is a typical page from the Bill:

Page from parliamentary bill


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