Major takes rhubarb rap for Ulster gobbledegook

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If we needed official confirmation of John Major's grey language the Prime Minister today wins an award for authoring the most baffling piece of English of the year.

The Plain Language Commission has given Mr Major a Golden Rhubarb Trophy for the most confusing government document of the year, a category where as the winner might say, there is "not inconsiderable competition".

According to the commission - a commercially run gobbledegook watchdog body - the winner is the Northern Ireland settlement proposals, contained in an 11,000-word booklet entitled Frameworks for the Future.

Martin Cutts, director of the commission, is scathing in his judgement. He points out: "One sentence runs to 121 words and others exceed 70. The average is 35 words per sentence. If a topic is complex, an average of 15 to 20 would be reasonable."

In paragraph 46, picked out by the commission, the document says in no fewer than 67 words, that if there is a problem, everybody will sit down to talk about it. It summarises thus: "Where either government considers that any institution, established as part of the overall accommodation, is not properly functioning within the Agreement or that a breach of the Agreement has otherwise occurred, the Conference shall consider the matter on the basis of a shared commitment to arrive at a common position or, where that is not possible, to agree a procedure to resolve the difference between them."

Mr Major was nominated for the award by several citizens of Belfast who bought the booklet when it came out last February to try to discover where the peace process was going, and were little the wiser for reading it.

The document is not all the Prime Minister's own work, of course, but he is still entitled to the award as a signatory to the agreement, and because he wrote the foreword.

Mr Cutts concludes: "Nobody likes being negative about such a document, but Mr Major has made a public commitment to plain English in his Citizen's Charter, and this booklet fails to fulfil it."