In March 2003, the then Labour Government recognised BSL as a language in its own right, and I am proud that this took place. However, we must build on this and introduce a British Sign Language Act to give BSL full legal recognition.
As the British Deaf Association has said, BSL is the preferred language of over 87,000 deaf people in the UK. It is vital that we ensure people who are deaf or have hearing loss can fully participate in society and that their language is legally recognised.
BSL is not currently granted any particular status by UK wide legislation. The most relevant legislation is the Equality Act 2010 which places a duty on employers and other service providers, among others, to make reasonable adjustments. I know the British Deaf Association has raised concerns that the Equality Act 2010 does not make specific reference to BSL, and does not focus on the value and integrity of BSL as it does not protect or promote it as a language.
I have been very concerned about the lack of access to information for people who are deaf during the coronavirus pandemic. It is now more important than ever that everyone has access to public health information.
Whilst the Welsh and Scottish governments have taken the welcome step of having sign language interpreters physically attend COVID-19 related press conferences, the UK Government has failed to do so. It has instead stated that BSL interpretation has been available on the BBC News channel, BBC iPlayer and the BBC News YouTube channel.
It is unacceptable that deaf people are being left out of vital public health announcements by the UK Government. I will continue to call on the UK Government to include sign language interpreters at its press conferences.
The deaf community deserve to have equality and a level playing field. I fully believe BSL must be given legal recognition, indeed, I was elected on a manifesto which committed to the introduction of an Act that would do just that.
The Government currently argues that a BSL Act is not necessary because of the Equality Act 2010. This has been rejected by the British Deaf Association, and I can assure you that my Opposition Colleagues and I will continue to advocate for a BSL Act.