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British Sign Language Bill

Volume 821: debated on Wednesday 27 April 2022

Third Reading


Moved by

My Lords, before we begin consideration of the British Sign Language Bill, I would like to point out that a British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on and on screens in the Chamber.

My Lords, at Second Reading we had a first in your Lordships’ House: proceedings were signed for the first time. As the Lord Speaker has pointed out, there is another first for your Lordships’ House today: signing is available for the benefit of Members and all others in the Chamber this afternoon.

The British Sign Language Bill takes a ministerial commitment in a Statement in 2003 and puts it on a statutory basis: to recognise British Sign Language as a language in England, Scotland and Wales—enabling, empowering, including. What does this mean in practice? Take, for example, hospital appointments. The news may or may not be good but, whether good or bad, it will always be personal, perhaps the most personal interaction we have with the state. As a result of this Bill, BSL signers will be able to have such appointments and/or communications with the state in an inclusive manner, rather than having to rely on parents, spouses, siblings or children to communicate such news.

I pay particular thanks to Rosie Cooper MP, who perfectly piloted this Bill through the Commons; she joins us at the Bar of your Lordships’ House today. I thank the ministerial team, my honourable friend Chloe Smith in another place, and my noble friends Lady Stedman-Scott and Lady Scott in your Lordships’ House.

I pay tribute to the Bill team and to all the officials at DWP who have worked tirelessly to get the Bill to this stage. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I pay tribute to all those individuals and organisations who have campaigned for this change for so many years: the BDA, the RNID and David Buxton, a man who has done as much as most in this area, and who rightly joins us in the Gallery of your Lordships’ House for this historic moment.

My Lords, the British Sign Language Bill: enabling, empowering and including BSL signers, and benefiting us all.

My Lords, this is an historic day for the deaf community, who have campaigned for many years for recognition of their language. But it is also our language, and the clue is in the title: British Sign Language. It is the language of the deaf community of Scotland, Wales and England.

It is also the means by which the deaf community integrate and exchange with the hearing community. This Bill is not the end; it is the beginning of the deaf community’s ability to take their rights forward, to use their language and to develop it to advance their quality of life across the range.

I urge deaf people to take advantage of the law to demand their rights and to ensure that we get more interpreters in more situations, enabling them to communicate in every way possible—personally, privately, commercially, professionally—as the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, has said, in education, health and all the spheres which we, as hearing people, take for granted.

David Buxton is in the Gallery with other representatives of the deaf community and Rosie Cooper is here at the Bar. They have all worked so hard to make this day a historic start for the deaf community. It is a beginning, not an end, and I urge deaf people to take advantage of it.

My Lords, I too pay tribute to all those involved with the Bill, especially my honourable friend Rosie Cooper, who not only steered this Bill through another place but built such wonderful cross-party support to bring us to where we are today. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, did a fine job carrying it through this House, so I thank and commend him too.

It is such a privilege to know that finally, the words we say here are being interpreted for BSL users at home, so I thank and congratulate all those BSL users who have campaigned to get to this point today. I encourage them to keep up the pressure.

I was sorry to miss the earlier stages of this Bill—also due to Covid—but I was very grateful to my noble friend Lady Merron, who did such a great job at the Dispatch Box that I was not missed in the slightest. Indeed, there were no calls for me to return. I am also grateful to Milton Brown from our Opposition Whips’ Office, who worked very hard on this Bill and the other DWP Bill that concluded today.

I was very moved by the stories told during the passage of this Bill of gifted BSL users being denied opportunities, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, said, of children having to interpret for their parents in situations they should never have been exposed to, simply because they could not get the interpreters they should have had a right to.

I hope that as the Bill goes through, people watching at home and in the Gallery are confident that it is one more step in making our country a better place for BSL users and their families. We are very pleased to support this Bill.

My Lords, it is indeed an historic day for our deaf community. I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the passage of this Bill through our Lordships’ House, but I also want to say a particular thank you to my noble friend Stedman-Scott, who at Second Reading set out a range of support that the Government will provide to ensure that the commitments in the Bill are taken forward.

I particularly congratulate my noble friend Lord Holmes on leading on this Bill. His plea for haste and a smooth passage was sincere in its purpose: to recognise British Sign Language in statute without delay. He has brought together noble Lords from across the House in united support on this important issue. I know he has consulted closely with noble Lords who have had a long-standing passion to promote British Sign Language and support deaf signers. I am so pleased that he, and all noble Lords who have spoken in support of this Bill, have succeeded.

By passing this Bill, we will start to remove some of the barriers to deaf BSL signers’ increased participation in work, education, culture and wider society. By increasing their participation, the richer and more inclusive all our lives will be. I extend my congratulations to the Member for West Lancashire in the other place, who introduced this Bill, and to all those involved in the BSL Act Now campaign, who have campaigned tirelessly for this important piece of legislation. Many of them have joined us today to witness what I sincerely hope will be an historic moment for deaf communities and every citizen in England, Scotland and Wales. The Government are committed to supporting all people with a disability, including deaf people, to lead fulfilled and independent lives. Supporting this Bill is part of that effort, and I am delighted that we all have played our part today.

As Lord Speaker, I welcome the BSL organisation and its members here today. I congratulate them and fellow parliamentarians who have steered this historic Bill to its successful conclusion—[Applause.] I will tolerate that disturbance.

Bill passed.