Parliament passes British Sign Language Bill, recognising BSL as a language of Great Britain for the first time
London, 27 April 2022
A Bill to recognise British Sign Language (BSL) as a language of England, Scotland and Wales passed unopposed by Peers on Wednesday 27 April at its 3rd reading in the House of Lords. The Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent on Thursday 28 April, passing into law as the BSL Act 2022.
The BSL Bill, which was brought forward by Labour MP Rosie Cooper, herself a child of Deaf parents, as a Private Member’s Bill in June 2021, gained Government and cross-party support, was introduced by Lord Holmes of Richmond (Conservative) to the House of Lords on Monday 21 March.
The Deaf community in Britain were celebrating this historic moment today, which comes after many years of campaigning for the recognition of their language and the right to access public services such as health and education in BSL.
A BSL Act represents a positive step forward for the Deaf community in Britain in terms of the recognition, facilitation and wider public awareness of their language.
The Act will:
- recognise British Sign Language as a language of England, Wales and Scotland*;
- require the Secretary of State to report on the promotion and facilitation of the use of British Sign Language by ministerial government departments; and
- require guidance to be issued in relation to British Sign Language, setting out how government departments and public bodies must meet the needs of the estimated 87,000** Deaf people in the UK for whom BSL is a first or preferred language.
(*The BSL Bill does not include provisions covering Northern Ireland, which is in the unique position of having two national sign languages – British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language - and is preparing to introduce its own BSL / ISL Bill through the NI Assembly.)
(**That number does not include hearing people who can sign, such as the family members, friends and colleagues of Deaf people, BSL interpreters, teachers of the Deaf, and so on. The British Deaf Association estimates that British Sign Language is the first or preferred language of around 151,000 people in the UK).
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.
British Sign Language is Britain’s fourth indigenous language, after English, Welsh, and Scottish Gaelic. It is only right that BSL be accorded the same status and legal protection.
Today is an historic day for the Deaf community in the UK, and an inspiration for other countries around the world where the national sign language(s) has not yet been recognised in law.
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 BSL users in Great Britain.
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 to meet the unique needs of the 151,000 people who have British Sign Language as their first or preferred language.
Key to the success of the Act will be the full involvement and inclusion of the input of Deaf BSL signers in important decisions, including policy development, funding and support mechanisms, from the beginning of the process.
“We also hope that the legal recognition of BSL will encourage many more people across the UK to learn British Sign Language and go on to become interpreters, bilingual professionals and allies of the Deaf community. BSL can bring us all together as a society.”