Letter to Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards
Mr John Lyon CB
Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards
Houses of Parliament
Dear Mr Lyon,
RE: Minister grossly misleading the House and the public on points of fact relating to his department
I would like to draw to your attention to the fact that in answering questions about interpreters on Tuesday 14th March Mr Crispin Blunt seriously misled the House. He claimed that under the previous payment arrangements interpreters were being paid six figure salaries doing work for the Ministry of Justice. In fact a recent survey by the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) has shown that the median annual earnings of interpreters in this country is £15,700. Even a Public Service Interpreter in Romanian, one of the most in demand languages, will only earn at most £30,000 - £40,000 per year. Doing elementary maths on the previous pay scales of interpreters would have told Mr Blunt that earning £30 an hour as freelancer, and half that for travel, which takes up a substantial proportion of interpreters’ time, means they cannot feasibly earn £100,000.
The £100,000 figure has been erroneously quoted in a few newspapers recently, including the Birmingham Mail (23.9.11) and the Sunday Times (23.10.11), which is presumably from where Mr Blunt has taken the idea. This false information has been countered on each occasion by Nick Rosenthal the Chairman of ITI in a letter to the Birmingham Mail on 11.10.11 and to the Sunday Times on 13.11.11.
The problem is that the public and the House will have presumed that Mr Blunt was quoting from Department of Justice records rather than from deliberately provocative and misleading newspaper articles quoting a single unverifiable source. Misrepresenting information in this way to try and score points in a debate in the House and influence the public at large must surely be a breach of his ministerial position.
Mr Blunt continued to quote the £100,000 figure on the Today programme on 15.11.11 despite being informed on by Nick Rosenthal on 14.11.11 of the actual earnings of interpreters (the interview appeared to be live). He also made claims on the programme that the previous system for employing interpreters “had been open to abuse”. In all their official dealings with interpreters or in setting out reasons for the Single Framework MOJ officials have never claimed or mentioned that Interpreters were abusing the system. The only explanation that I can think of for Mr Blunt’s remark is the Sunday Times article on 23.10.11 which quoted a single unnamed interpreter who said he deliberately underestimated the time it would take him to reach a police station so he would be more likely get the job rather than another interpreter. Though inconvenient to the police this does not seem to be a practice heard of elsewhere in the interpreter community presumably as once a police station knew an interpreter was unreliable they would stop booking them! It would also make no, or occasionally a minimal difference, to the fee an interpreter would receive despite the assertion otherwise in the article.
I would be grateful if you could look into these matters and take appropriate action. I am sure you will find no verifiable information either in the Ministry of Justice records or elsewhere that Public Service Interpreters in this country have in fact been earning £100,000 a year from their work for MOJ. The few interpreters who might feasibly earn these large amounts are conference interpreters or those interpreters who also manage interpreting and translating companies.
I have also written to the Speaker of the House about my concerns as I am not sure whose jurisdiction this complaint would come under as the misinformation has been given both to the House and to the public via a radio programme.