Parliament's pedants in alphabet soup - Refugee Council
July 9, 2007

Parliament’s pedants in alphabet soup

The Refugee Council’s campaign to amend the UK Borders Bill to end the destitution of refused asylum seekers (Still Human Still Here) almost ran into problems of an alphabetical nature this week.

The Bill is being debated by members of the House of Lords in what is called Grand Committee.  Basically, this is when peers scrutinise the Bill line by line and suggest amendments. 

The Church of England bishops are leading on the Still Human Still Here amendment, but a number of other peers are very supportive and are putting in their own amendments to back it up.  The process of drafting and tabling an amendment is quite complicated, and every suggestion is meticulously checked by House of Commons clerks.  These clerks have a reputation for pedantry and take great pride in humbling the MPs and Peers who dare submit a dodgy amendment.

This week however, it was they who were at fault.  I can almost see the headline in the tabloids now: House of Lords officials award asylum lags extra benefits.  When a Lord approached the clerks with an amendment to restore welfare support to failed asylum seekers, they got their ‘f’s and ‘j’s mixed up – and the Lords authorities duly published an amendment calling for welfare support for jailed asylum seekers! So a measure designed to benefit hundreds of thousands of refused asylum seekers would have ended up benefiting the tiny number who have committed crimes!

Luckily your eagle-eyed Poliblogger spotted the problem, and the Lord in question has contacted the clerks – who are no doubt feeling rather more humble than usual…