Deaf people around the UK are celebrating a fantastic win and a vital step towards the legal recognition of British Sign Language (BSL), after the BSL Bill passed its second reading unanimously in the House of Commons today.
BSL is the first language of 87,000 Deaf people in the UK and is used by tens of thousands of others to support their communication. The language was formally recognised by the UK government in 2003 but does not yet have full legal status, meaning many Deaf people are unable to access essential information and services in their first language.
Campaigners – including Strictly Come Dancing winner Rose Ayling-Ellis – and charities supporting the BSL Act Now! campaign are celebrating the victory and calling upon MPs and ministers to get the Bill over the line.
Passing its second reading today means that the Bill is on its way to becoming law. It now has to complete its passage through the House of Commons and the House of Lords. If passed, a BSL Act would increase both the official status and public awareness of BSL. Government Departments and public bodies would also be required to stick to and report their performance against new guidance, setting out how they must meet the needs of BSL users.
The Bill was presented as a Private Member’s Bill by Labour MP Rosie Cooper, who is a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) and considers BSL her first language. She spoke emotionally about her parents’ experience during the debate and why legal recognition for BSL was so important. Many other MPs also spoke in support of the Bill during the debate, setting out why it was so urgently needed and the difference it could make to Deaf people’s experience of school, work and getting the services they need. The Bill was passed unanimously.
Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive at RNID, said:
“This is a momentous day for the Deaf community where we celebrate moving a massive step closer to full legal recognition for BSL. We are thrilled that the Bill has been approved in principle by MPs and will now move onto the next stages of the legislative process.
“The Bill includes important mechanisms which will provide government departments and public services with guidance explaining how they are required to meet the needs of BSL users. This will help ensure BSL users are fully included in society.
“We celebrate with the Deaf community today and we hope parliamentarians will now give Rosie Cooper all the support she needs to get this Bill passed into legislation and give BSL and deaf people the recognition they deserve.”
Annie Harris, Advocacy Officer at RNID, said:
“We are delighted that the British Sign Language Bill passed its second reading today, with such strong support from parliamentarians and the Deaf community. We are now one step further to achieving legal recognition for BSL. This will make a massive positive difference to the lives of Deaf people across the UK, pave the way for our country to become more inclusive, and recognise the wealth of talent Deaf people bring to society.”
The BSL Act Now! Campaign coalition is led by the British Deaf Association, and includes RNID, the Royal Association for Deaf People, SignHealth, National Deaf Children’s Society, Black Deaf UK, Signature, iBSL and the National Register of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD).