Proposals to give British Sign Language (BSL) legal recognition and enhance its use in public services are on the verge of becoming law in what was described as a “historic day” for the deaf community.
The British Sign Language Bill received an unopposed third reading in the House of Lords on Wednesday.
Having cleared its final round of parliamentary scrutiny it is due to go for royal assent and become law.
There was a cheer from campaigners in the public gallery as peers gave their final consent, and BSL interpretation of the session was available on screens in the House of Lords for the occasion.
The British Sign Language Bill would give BSL legal recognition in England, Wales and Scotland, and require the Government to issue new guidance and publish reports on what each Government department is doing to promote or facilitate the use of the language.
The Private Member’s Bill was sponsored by West Lancashire Labour MP Rosie Cooper and Conservative peer Lord Holmes of Richmond.
Lord Holmes welcomed what he described as a “historic moment” in the upper chamber.
He outlined the difference the Bill would make for things such as doctors appointments, saying: “As a result of this Bill, BSL signers will be able to have such appointments and all communications with the state in an inclusive manner, rather than having to rely on parents, spouses, siblings or children to communicate such news.”
He said the Bill was “enabling, empowering… including BSL signers, benefitting us all”.
Conservative frontbencher Baroness Scott of Bybrook said: “It is indeed an historic day for our deaf community.
“The Government is committed to supporting all people with a disability, including deaf people, to lead fulfilled and independent lives.”
She said supporting the Bill is part of that effort, adding: “I am delighted that we have all played our part today.”
The Bill passed unopposed through both Houses with cross-party support.
Chief executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, Susan Daniels, said: “Thousands of deaf children use British Sign Language and this will be a day of celebration for all of them. It’s also a powerful symbol of recognition for the deaf community and a big step towards real equality.
“What’s important now is that we maintain the momentum and keep shining a light on the issues deaf children face, because their fight doesn’t end here.”
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