Government pledges to make British Sign Language recognised language after bill by Lancashire MP

  • Report by Granada Reports political correspondent Lise McNally

West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper has said she is "delighted" after the news that her British Sign Language Bill passed ‘second reading' and is on its way to becoming law.

This means the government is one step closer to improving accessibility for deaf people by making British Sign Language (BSL) an official language.

The move would place a responsibility on the Government to provide improved guidance to public services and government departments on the use of BSL.

It would also see the launch of an advisory board of BSL users to offer guidance to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on how and when to use it and examine how to increase the number of BSL interpreters.

"Deaf people need their voices heard": Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper explains why it is so important British Sign Language is recognised as an official language.

Rosie and her profoundly deaf dad met with and signed with Princess Diana. Credit: Rosie Cooper

The government's promise follows a campaign by Rosie Cooper, the Labour MP for West Lancashire, to raise awareness of the difficulties that deaf people face.

She said: "My Bill aims to help put deaf BSL users on a more equal playing field with everyone else, to require the Government to work with deaf people to develop guidance on how public bodies should enable the use of BSL across their services."

She added that actress Rose Ayling-Ennis, who made history as the first deaf contestant in Strictly Come Dancing, had raised the profile for the need for BSL.

Both of Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper's parents were deaf. She says people who are not deaf have "better chances" in life.

Ms Cooper said: "As the daughter of profoundly deaf parents, I grew up with BSL as my first language, so to see it being used every weekend on Strictly was phenomenal.

"So many people are signing up to learn BSL and have a much clearer understanding of what BSL is and why it essential that we recognise it as an official language."

There are around 90,000 deaf people in the UK that rely on BSL.

Although British Sign Language (BSL) was recognised as a language in its own right by the government in 2003, it currently has no legal protection.

It means services do not need to provide an interpreter, which leaves many unable to access medical appointments or vital services.

Students from Heathlands School for Deaf Children in St Albans take part in a rally outside the Houses of Parliament. Credit: PA

Speaking after the proposed bill passed its 'second reading', Rosie said: “I am delighted that the Bill has passed this huge hurdle.

"It has been at least 230 years since BSL was first introduced, so this will be a very emotional day for every Deaf person who has been waiting for the legal recognition of their language.

“The success we now enjoy lies on the shoulders of all the deaf people, including my dad, who over the years fought for recognition and equality! That goal is now squarely in sight.

“Getting the Government to support my Bill has always been essential to actually making it into Law.

"The Minister has really embraced the Bill and BSL itself, and has helped wholeheartedly to develop it into something that will really make a difference.

Rosie Cooper, MP for West Lancashire, used a Private Members Bill to raise the issue of those reliant on BSL.

Minister for Disabled People Chloe Smith MP said: “I was proud to support the BSL Bill today.

"It is a significant step towards real equality for deaf people and will see British Sign Language become a recognised language.

“Passing the Bill will see the Government commit to improving the lives of deaf people and help create a more inclusive and accessible society.”