The British Sign Language Bill, a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Rosie Cooper MP last year and backed by the government, will receive its third reading in the House of Lords today before it passes into law following Royal Assent.
The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work has worked closely with Labour MP Rosie Cooper and D/deaf people’s charities and organisations, such as the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) and the British Deaf Association (BDA), to ensure the Bill effectively meets the needs of those who will benefit most.
The British Sign Language Act will recognise British Sign Language as a language of England, Wales and Scotland in its own right.
Labour MP Rosie Cooper, who introduced the bill said: “At long last, the Deaf community will be able to say that their language is legally recognised.
“Working across party lines and with the Deaf community, I really believe we have made history by creating a mechanism for Deaf people to achieve equal access to public services.
“Their voices will be heard loud and clear and there will be no excuse for failing to respect BSL as a language.
“The hard work doesn’t stop here however, but the door is now open for the Deaf community make real progress fixing the injustices that they continue to face.”
It is also supported by a duty on the Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions to regularly report on what each relevant government department has done to promote or facilitate the use of British Sign Language in its communications with the public.
The Act further places a requirement on the Department for Work and Pensions Secretary of State to issue guidance to departments on the promotion and facilitation of British Sign Language.
The guidance will be developed together with D/deaf British Sign Language signers.
Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Chloe Smith MP said: “Today is a momentous day and I truly hope it will transform the lives of D/deaf people across the country.
“The British Sign Language Bill will help remove barriers faced by the D/deaf community in daily life and is a further welcome step towards a more inclusive and accessible society.
“I am so grateful to the efforts of Rosie Cooper MP and the wonderful campaigners who have brought the British Sign Language Bill to the point of passing into law and I’m proud to have played a small part in its journey.”
Figures from the British Deaf Association suggest that there are 151,000 British Sign Language users.
David Buxton, Chair of the British Deaf Association, said: “We are extremely pleased to see the UK Parliament finally vote to recognise British Sign Language as a language of Great Britain in law today, after 19 long years of campaigning.
“Today is a historic day for the Deaf community in the UK, and an inspiration for other countries around the world where the national sign language has not yet been recognised in law.
“The British Deaf Association looks forward to working hand in hand with the government and civil servants to implement and monitor the progress of the BSL Act 2022.
“While today is a day to celebrate, we are aware that this marks the first step on a long path towards providing truly equal access to public services, information and opportunities for Deaf British Sign Language users in Great Britain.”
While it is seen as a step forward in the UK, as equality law is devolved in Northern Ireland, the Bill does not extend to Northern Ireland, in recognition of the existence of both British and Irish Sign Language among the Northern Irish deaf community.
However in March 2004 both British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language were officially recognised as minority languages.
Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive at RNID, said: “RNID and our supporters join with the Deaf community today to celebrate this historic moment as British Sign Language passes the final hurdle before it is legally recognised in England, Wales and Scotland.
“We’re immensely proud to have worked alongside other deaf organisations and parliamentarians to support this campaign.
“We look forward to the British Sign Language Bill getting Royal Assent soon and to working with the government to make sure the British Sign Language Act makes a real difference to the lives of Deaf people in the UK.”
The Third Reading of the British Sign Language Bill takes place today in the House of Lords and following this it will receive Royal Assent.
The British Sign Language Bill was first introduced on June 16, 2021 and passed through the House of Commons on March 17 2022, receiving unanimous cross-party support.