British Sign Language Bill - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 11:19 am on 25th March 2022.

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Lord Holmes of Richmond:

Moved by Lord Holmes of Richmond

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Photo of Lord McFall of Alcluith Lord McFall of Alcluith Chair, Freedom of Information Advisory Panel (Lords), Chair, Sub-Committee on Leave of Absence, Chair, House of Lords Commission, Chair, House of Lords Commission, Lord Speaker

Before we begin the British Sign Language Bill, I would like to point out that a British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on parliamentlive.tv. I am delighted to mark this first occasion of the live use of BSL interpretation in the House of Lords. [In British Sign Language: “Thank you.”]

Photo of Lord Holmes of Richmond Lord Holmes of Richmond Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Lord Speaker for taking the first line of my speech. It is such a positive point, and right that he should make it from the chair to show the whole House’s support for such a wonderful first in your Lordships’ Chamber.

Standing here this morning, I am but a bridge—a conduit or messenger—for the British Sign Language Private Member’s Bill. All of the credit and plaudits should go to the honourable Lady, Rosie Cooper, who steered her Bill through the other place in such style. Similarly, credit should go to all the organisations which have supported and pushed for such a Private Member’s Bill, not least the BDA, the RNID and all other organisations and individuals, right across the country, who have spent so much time pushing for this measure.

I start with an apology. I would have liked to have practised a small amount of sign language to put into my speech this morning but, having consulted many people, because of the obvious difficulties for me in being able to have a conversation in BSL, it was advised that it would be inappropriate for me to do so. I hope that is okay with everybody out there and perfectly in order. Again, I underline the fantastic live signing on parliament.tv as I speak.

The purpose of the Bill is, in many ways, incredibly straightforward. It is simply this: to include BSL signers. I will give one example, to make the point. Imagine you are a BSL signer and you go to a hospital or GP appointment. The news might not be good, but whether good or bad, it is certainly personal—perhaps some of the most personal interaction you may have with the state. In those circumstances, it seems wholly appropriate that a BSL signer should not have to rely on a spouse, parent, child or sibling to enable that encounter to be accessible and inclusive. This seems a perfectly reasonable proposition and it is certainly well set out and delivered in other aspects of the public sector.

The Bill itself was unopposed through all of its stages in the other place. Again, that is great testament to the honourable Lady, Rosie Cooper. In many ways, if noble Lords and those beyond this House want to get to the entire purpose of the Bill, just read the Long Title, so brilliantly penned by her.

On the detail of the Bill, Clause 1 recognises BSL as a language of England, Scotland and Wales. The Bill does not extend to Northern Ireland, for two key reasons: first, to recognise and respect the usage of British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language in Northern Ireland; secondly, to note the limited extent of the Equality Act 2010 in Northern Ireland.

Clause 1 puts on a statutory footing what was set out in a ministerial Statement in 2003 on the recognition of BSL as a language. Clause 1(2) is a technical but important part of the Bill, which simply sets out to ensure that it does not cut across or stymie any existing legislation and legislative provisions, not least those set out in the Equality Act 2010, particularly pertaining to reasonable adjustments.

Clause 2 puts a duty on the Secretary of State to report on the promotion and facilitation of BSL across all the departments of state listed in the Schedule to the Bill. This could be plans, strategies, approaches to promotion or press releases—anything, in reality, which leads to the promotion and facilitation of BSL. In many ways, it is Clause 2 which will enable the deaf community to hold the Secretary of State and the Government to account on the provisions of this Private Member’s Bill.

Clause 3 sets out a duty on the Secretary of State for the production of guidance for the promotion and facilitation of BSL. Again, there is a real opportunity here to bring out best practice and set out case studies—in short, to drive up and improve right across the piece on BSL. One of the key elements of Clause 3 is that it will be supported by an advisory board of BSL signers to put in their views, experience and expertise to the Secretary of State in the creation and deployment of that guidance.

That brings me to the non-statutory provisions, which the Minister has set out alongside the Bill. I will not dwell too much on these because I would not want to take words from my noble friend the Minister this morning. First, however, that board of advisers, the BSL signers, is absolutely critical to so much of what will happen in this space. Secondly, there is a move to increase the number of signers across the country. Thirdly, it will ensure that all elements of access to work fit with the intent and purpose of this Bill.

This Private Member’s Bill is clear, concise, simple and straightforward. In the British Sign Language Bill, the honourable Lady, Rosie Cooper, has given us a barrel of a Bill, from which can flow forth the finest brew of all: inclusion. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector), Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, is taking part remotely and I invite her to speak. For the middle section of her speech, the noble Baroness will be assisted by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Winchester Baroness Thomas of Winchester Liberal Democrat 11:28 am, 25th March 2022

My Lords, I warmly welcome this Bill and pay tribute to all those people who have made it possible, particularly my old friend David Buxton, chair of the British Deaf Association, and of course the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond.

Some years ago, I met a man who happened to be in charge of the Access to Work programme at the DWP, and I managed to persuade him to fund BSL interpreters for the surgeries of councillors with hearing loss, one of whom was David Buxton. I do not know whether there are now any councillors who fall into this category. Perhaps the Minister can tell us, and whether the scheme is ongoing.

I now hand over to my noble friend Lord Bruce, to whom I am very grateful for his help.

At this point, Lord Bruce of Bennachie continued the speech for Baroness Thomas of Winchester.

At first glance, this is a very modest Bill, but it is of enormous significance because, as we have heard, it gives legal status to British Sign Language at long last. In time, it will be unacceptable for the courts to be the only public service to offer BSL. It is also timely because, for the last two years, people with hearing impairments have not been able to lip-read, with so many people in masks. I can imagine that this will have taken its toll on their mental well-being, with many being very hesitant about going out and about.

It must be stressed that BSL is not everyday English put into sign language; it is a language in its own right, with its own grammar and syntax. It is of fundamental importance that there are far more properly trained interpreters who can fulfil the promise that the Bill affords. It is particularly important for there to be enough interpreters to work in the health service so that the children of parents with hearing loss are not put into the invidious position of having to be the go-between at consultations, especially when sensitive matters are being discussed. I know that the Department for Education is considering a GCSE in BSL—could the Minister say how far advanced those plans are?

At this point, Baroness Thomas of Winchester resumed.

My final point is to ask the Minister how we should scrutinise this legislation in the months ahead. Will the guidance that the DWP will issue to all departments be made public? When will the Cabinet Office’s report on the promotion of BSL be published? Finally, how will jobseekers with hearing impairments be able to access the services of BSL interpreters? The Bill is very welcome, if long overdue, and we all wish it well.

Photo of Baroness Grey-Thompson Baroness Grey-Thompson Crossbench 11:32 am, 25th March 2022

My Lords, I very much welcome the Second Reading of this British Sign Language Bill. I admit that it was quite an emotional moment when the Lord Speaker announced that it was being live-streamed on the Parliament channel—this is truly a landmark moment. I thank the many deaf people who have been in touch with me about the Bill. Philip Linnegar from the Hearing Advisory Service wrote to me and said that he could not imagine a more significant piece of legislation for deaf people. Indeed, it is a step forward, but there is always more that could be done.

In recent months, we have seen the power of television—the power of “Strictly” to educate is possibly more than we ever thought it might be. Rose Ayling-Ellis was amazing. It is wonderful to hear about the increase in people wanting to learn sign language. Over the years, I have heard many times about teaching BSL in schools or even having a GSCE—that would show true commitment.

I also thank Jill Jones, from the Deaf Ex-Mainstreamers Group, who told me that only 4,000 of the 54,000 deaf children in the UK are permitted to learn BSL—because deaf children must have an education, health and care plan in order to do so. Which spoken language requires a medical plan in order for a child to learn it? In published research on language endangerment, she states that there can be no other route to increasing the number of deaf children accessing BSL except by legal requirement. She is concerned that, although professionals working with families are supposed to give balanced information to all deaf and hard-of-hearing children, because of normalisation they do not always do so.

Sadly, I tried numerous times in lockdown to persuade the Government and others to enable BSL interpretation to be available at the 5 pm briefings. I know that this is beyond the scope of the Bill, but, with the commitment that we are seeing in the Chamber today, I hope that that might be something that could change in the future. It was possible in Scotland but not the rest of the UK.

Linguists have recognised sign languages as being bona fide languages since the 1970s. It would be interesting, in how we move on from here, to see how we can protect BSL, in terms of giving it the same status as English, Welsh and Gaelic. The same ethos was applied successfully in the Welsh Language Act 1993, in terms of giving this recognition.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for explaining the issues within Northern Ireland—quite a number of people have asked me that question. As wonderful as “Strictly” was, the memories may quickly fade, and I do not want to lose the momentum that we have. So it is important that we do everything we can to promote and facilitate training and education about British Sign Language for families with deaf and hard-of-hearing children. Co-workers and classmates also need to be educated in high-quality sign language communication in order to better provide for the inclusion within the community of deaf and hard-of-hearing persons. Again, this is crucial to BSL maintenance.

I will briefly talk about the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Deaf Ex-Mainstreamers Group was involved in the response to the UK Government in 2017. The UNCRPD clearly stated that families of deaf and hard-of-hearing children must be given information about BSL, which will not only help to save BSL from its endangered status but actually move the debate on. The UN convention was ratified by the UK Government, so it would be extremely helpful if this were more fully acknowledged. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will continue to take advice from experts in BSL maintenance as well as talking to hard-of-hearing children, who are rarely included in any discourse about BSL.

I am hugely supportive of the Bill, and I look forward to its swift progression through your Lordships’ House.

Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland) 11:36 am, 25th March 2022

My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, whom I thank for her very well-directed comments, which I am sure will be well received.

I am delighted to support the Bill and congratulate Rosie Cooper on introducing it and securing its passage through the other place. As the daughter of deaf parents, she knows all about the challenges of deafness and the importance and richness of sign language. As the parent of a deaf daughter, I have learned so much about the deaf community in the UK and worldwide. I have limited use of sign language—I can finger spell—but I greatly appreciate the skill of BSL interpreters and have campaigned to increase their number and status. I hope that the Bill will encourage more.

I have campaigned in many ways on behalf of deaf people, with varying degrees of success. I am an honorary vice-president of the National Deaf Children’s Society and the RNID, of which I am a former trustee. I am also a special representative of DeafKidz International. Over the years, I have supported all efforts to give legal recognition to sign languages. As a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I was a rapporteur on sign languages, and I tried to include sign language in the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

As my noble friend Lady Thomas pointed out, the only place where BSL is required to be used by law is our courts, and that is specifically because of the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights. Even so, that has not always gone smoothly: cases have been dropped because no sign language interpreter was available. I hope that the Bill will lead to an increase in the number of qualified interpreters generally.

It is ironic that languages such as Welsh, Gaelic and even Cornish have recognition in the United Kingdom, but BSL, an indigenous language, does not. Indeed, Welsh and Gaelic have their own TV channels, although there are few people for whom these are their only language—yet, for some profoundly deaf people, BSL is their essential first language. I have been disappointed that, on occasions, Ministers have sought to deprioritise sign language, quoting limited numbers. I believe that the numbers are irrelevant. For our deaf fellow citizens, BSL is their passport to work, relationships and participation in the wider community. They have a right for that to be recognised.

After years of campaigning, I realised there was a need for an all-party group on deafness, and I thank all those who helped to establish one and keep it going. There are so many discrete issues affecting deaf people, ranging across access to audiology, digital hearing aids, subtitling, telephone communication, interpreters, et cetera. We were honoured to have Jack Ashley as our president—he gave us unstinting support.

As a rapporteur for the Council of Europe, I visited Sweden and Finland and produced a report in 2003 on the protection of sign languages. This secured the support of the assembly but was not followed through by Ministers, although a number of member states did subsequently provide official recognition of sign languages, as the Scandinavian countries did long ago, even enshrining it in their constitutions.

What I learned in that process was that legal recognition has a transformational effect. It greatly increased deaf awareness and understanding of communication with deaf people. It led to the inclusion of sign languages in the curriculum. This, in turn, had two important benefits. First, it widened awareness of sign language across the population in general and, secondly, it increased the pool and deployment of sign language interpreters. I secured the support of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister for pilots, known as I-Sign, in Merseyside and Devon to train more interpreters. These proved successful, and David Cameron undertook to extend them.

When I came up in the Private Members’ Bill ballot, I introduced my own Bill in 2013. The Communication Support (Deafness) Bill addressed the needs for support for all forms of communication with deaf people, including lip-speaking, text-to-speech recognition and sign language. It also proposed a BSL board to promote sign language. Ironically, the Minister at the time, Mike Penning MP, declined to support the Bill and it was squeezed out. However, I like to think that my engagement with him might have had some effect because he is a sponsor of this Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, has said, someone else who certainly had a galvanising effect on securing government backing is surely the inspirational Rose Ayling-Ellis, whose spectacular success in winning “Strictly Come Dancing” reached millions in showing how BSL cements the bridge between the deaf and hearing worlds.

The Bill follows similar legislation in the Scottish Parliament and the progress of sign language in Wales, which understands bilingualism better than any part of the UK. While progress has been welcome, there is nevertheless much more to be achieved in all parts of the UK. I hope that the Bill will be the start of a transformation.

I completely understand and endorse the deaf community’s wish to see this Bill pass unamended into law, but I have some questions for the Minister. The simplest and most welcome provision is Clause 1(1), which simply states:

British Sign Language is recognised as a language of England, Wales and Scotland.”

Hallelujah to that. However, I ask the Minister to explain what the following subsection means:

“Subsection (1) does not affect the operation of any enactment or rule of law.”

Do the Government envisage offering BSL as a language option within the school curriculum? I know that the RNID has been working on that. It has proved popular and had enormous benefits in countries where this is the case. Will the Government reconsider giving support to the further development of video relay services which help sign language users communicate remotely, not just for work and business purposes, but for family and relationships?

Although not directly related to only BSL, when can the Government achieve their commitment to ensuring that the captioning—namely, subtitling—signing and audio description of streaming services are brought fully into force? It is now nearly five years since the Digital Economy Act was passed, giving the Government the power to regulate these services. It is over a year since Ofcom gave the Government final recommendations on how this should work. So when will the secondary legislation be brought forward? I appreciate that it may not be the Minister’s direct responsibility, but I hope that she will be able to reply, either now or in writing.

As we have mentioned, the Bill excludes Northern Ireland, where British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language are both used. Is the Minister aware of any proposals to introduce similar legislation for the Province? Finally, in Clause 3, the Secretary of State is required to

“issue guidance … about the promotion and facilitation of the use of British Sign Language.”

Will Ministers engage with the private sector to encourage wider support for BSL through VRS and face-to-face interpretation?

Like my noble friend Lady Thomas, I commend my friend David Buxton on his tireless, cheerful and good-natured campaigning on behalf of his community. Thousands of deaf people are cheering this Bill on. Let it be the start of a revolution in deaf awareness in the UK.

Photo of Baroness Merron Baroness Merron Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 11:43 am, 25th March 2022

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, whose closing comments were undoubtedly uplifting for us all. I feel very humbled to be taking part in this debate on such a significant Bill and on such a historic day. As the Lord Speaker reminded us, this is the first occasion on which British Sign Language will be used for our proceedings on Parliament TV.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, on championing this Bill and its passage through your Lordships’ House. I add to the many tributes we have already rightly heard to my honourable friend Rosie Cooper MP, who brought this Bill to the other place and has piloted it through. Her inspiring work has built substantial cross-party support, such that the Bill has every chance of becoming law. I also congratulate the many people who have campaigned over such a long time to bring this point to our attention, and they have also campaigned for the rights of those who deserve these rights. The Bill will be tremendous for promoting opportunities for those who are disabled up and down our country.

I have been very moved by some of the stories which I have heard from people advocating for this Bill. This includes stories of gifted deaf people being denied opportunities because they are users of BSL. I have also heard tales of children having to interpret for their parents because no BSL signer was available and, as a result, being party to sensitive discussions, such as health diagnoses. Frankly, these are situations in which they should never have been involved. This should not be happening in our country in 2022.

Who could not have been moved and uplifted by the gathering of campaigners in Trafalgar Square which took place just last Friday, on the same date that the UK Government officially recognised BSL in 2003? It was also the day when MPs backed the proposed legislation on Report and at Third Reading in another place. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, made a great, correctly fond and supportive reference to David Buxton, chair of the British Deaf Association and founder of the BSL Act Now! campaign. Mr Buxton said at last week’s rally:

“It’s not the end of the road, it’s the start of the road.”

He added that the next campaign is to get

“BSL in the home and BSL in the schools”, and I endorse his comments. I reflect that last Friday’s rally had to be moved from Parliament Square to Trafalgar Square because of its popularity. Indeed, there was an appearance from the “Strictly Come Dancing” winner Rose Ayling-Ellis. She praised the turnout and told the crowd:

“This is what the deaf community is about.”

Those of us who remember her performance and words on “Strictly” will know that she lifted our hearts, taught us so many lessons and inspired an audience, both those who are deaf and hard of hearing and those who are not. While we may move on to the next episode of “Strictly”, we will not forget that inspiration in a very long while.

As has been set out already, there are some 90,000 people in the UK for whom BSL is the primary method of communication, and 150,000 signers in total. However, deaf people still do not have access to the same public information and services which are so readily available to the hearing population. This is the evidence, if ever we needed it, that we need to go further, starting with enshrining that recognition in legislation. The Bill would constitute the important next step in upgrading BSL to a language of Great Britain that is well warranted. As the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, emphasised, this would put it on a similar footing to how Welsh and Gaelic are considered in Wales and Scotland, respectively.

This Bill—and the future Act—would be an important piece of symbolism. However, it is so much more than just a gesture. This recognition will help to improve life for those who sign, particularly those who are deaf or deafblind and who rely on its various forms on a day-to-day basis. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, stated, legal recognition of BSL means so much in practice because it will help to promote and facilitate its use. The other measures in the Bill would require the Secretary of State to report on how this is being done by the Government, and to take leadership on this by issuing guidance for the wider Government’s own use. As we have heard, by issuing guidance on the use of BSL, and by requiring the Secretary of State to report on actions taken by government departments to promote or facilitate its use, the Bill would result in BSL users seeing an absolute step change in their ability to access public services in their first language.

I very much welcome this Bill on behalf of these Benches, but I have a few questions to ask the noble Baroness the Minister. The first relates to Clause 2, which places a duty on the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to report on the promotion and facilitation of British Sign Language by ministerial departments. Can the Minister tell the House whether that reporting requirement will extend beyond central government departments to other parts of the public service? Will it, for example, cover the delivery of health services, court services and jobcentres, and will it cover executive agencies and other arm’s-length bodies? I hope that the Minister will be able to say that it will.

Clause 3 places a duty on the Secretary of State to issue guidance on the general promotion and facilitation of British Sign Language. Again, can the Minister tell the House whether that guidance will cover the public sector as a whole in the way that I have described in respect of Clause 2?

Finally, for this Bill to get through before the end of this parliamentary Session, we will need to show restraint. So can the Minister assure the House that, if no amendments are tabled, the Bill will definitely be passed before Prorogation?

I conclude by once again congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, my honourable friend Rosie Cooper MP and the many, many campaigners, and I pledge the support of these Benches for this Bill. It will be a really important moment, not just for the deaf community but for everybody, when this Bill—I hope—reaches the statute book.

Photo of Baroness Stedman-Scott Baroness Stedman-Scott The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 11:52 am, 25th March 2022

My Lords, it is indeed a special day for us, and I am delighted that this Bill has come before your Lordships’ House. I join all noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Holmes for bringing forward this important Bill. I pay tribute to the honourable Member for West Lancashire, who has worked tirelessly with my honourable friend the Minister for Disabled People to build such great cross-party support for this Bill.

The Government are committed to supporting all people with a disability, including deaf people, to lead fulfilled, independent lives. For deaf people, this must include the ability to communicate with others through BSL or other forms of deaf communication. As my honourable friend the Minister for Disabled People has said, BSL is a rich, vibrant language in its own right that helps to build a sense of community for many deaf BSL signers. This was made absolutely clear—as the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, has already said—to all who attended last week’s Sign Language Week rally, which had to be moved to Trafalgar Square, organised by the British Deaf Association.

Deaf people from across the country came together to mark the 19th anniversary of the recognition of BSL as a language in its own right by the UK Government. But this year’s rally was filled with a sense of great anticipation that this Bill would place this recognition into law, and we must not let them down. Attendees eagerly watched the Bill’s Third Reading, and the message from Members in the other place was clear: they want us to pass this Bill and for the Government to get on with delivering for BSL signers and the deaf community. This is what we intend to do.

As my noble friend Lord Holmes has set out, this Bill recognises BSL as a language of England, Wales and Scotland and places a duty on the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to issue guidance on the promotion and facilitation of BSL. It also requires the Secretary of State to report on information supplied by ministerial departments regarding their use of BSL. We are going further. Alongside the Bill, my honourable friend the Minister for Disabled people has announced a suite of non-statutory measures that will help promote and facilitate the use of BSL. These include: establishing a non-statutory advisory board of British Sign Language signers to advise the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on matters relating to BSL; examining how we might increase the number of BSL interpreters; reviewing how we might work in DWP to ensure the Access to Work fund better helps BSL signers; and considering how the Government can further facilitate and promote BSL usage. We hope that, alongside these measures, we will see an increase in the use of BSL across society.

Noble Lords have raised a number of questions, which I will seek to address. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, asked about BSL guidance. As I have said, Clause 3 places a duty on the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to issue guidance on the promotion and facilitation of BSL, which will be developed together with deaf BSL signers as part of the remit of the non-statutory board. Guidance may include advice on reporting requirements, but also on best practice for BSL communications, and could include case studies setting out the value of BSL provision. The intention is that the Government would work with the board of BSL signers, as I have said, to explore the best approaches to ensure that the guidance is targeted at everyday interactions for deaf BSL signers and helps service providers and public authorities adhere to the requirements of the Equality Act 2010, in particular the duty to make reasonable adjustments and the public sector equality duty.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, also raised the issue of the progress of a BSL GCSE, as did the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. I can confirm that the DfE is working closely with subject experts to develop draft subject content for a BSL GCSE. The DfE is also working with Ofqual to ensure that the subject content can be assessed appropriately. The department is aiming to consult publicly on the draft subject content later in 2022. The Minister for Disabled People has written to the Minister for School Standards to better understand if there is any potential to expedite this process.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, asked about interpretation for local councillors holding surgeries. Councils are required by the Equality Act to make “reasonable adjustments” to accommodate the needs of disabled councillors, who would otherwise be placed in a position of disadvantage compared with non-disabled councillors.

The noble Baroness also raised the important question of whether jobseekers will be able to access BSL. The DWP helps deaf people access our services in a number of ways. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, raised the point about the video relay service. I will give more detail on that later, but it is available for all DWP services through GOV.UK. For existing deaf customers who require BSL, Jobcentre Plus work coaches are able to book a face-to-face BSL interpreter to come to appointments to help people. If a deaf person attends a jobcentre to seek access to a DWP service, they will be signposted to use the video relay service via GOV.UK and, where necessary, a future appointment can be arranged for a face-to-face appointment with a BSL interpreter.

The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, asked me about the United Nations and the disabled group. I will write to her on that. I thank the noble Baroness for her help in arranging for somebody to teach me to use sign language to say, “I beg to move”. However, I have failed on this occasion because I do not have to say it—so I am saving it for another day.

Perhaps I may just say, in full agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and others, that we will never forget the performance of Rose Ayling-Ellis. It lifted our hearts and it has had a profound effect, for which we are all grateful.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, for his efforts to promote the issues of deaf people and the various groups that he has worked with. I know that he tabled some legislation before. This has been a long time coming, but we have got there in the end. That is why we must make sure that this Bill passes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, asked why we do not make BSL an official language and said that the Bill does not go far enough. Other languages of the UK, including English, do not have official recognition, so it would be inappropriate to make an exception for BSL. Welsh is an official language in Wales only. The Bill provides for statutory recognition of BSL as a language, which gives the assurances sought by deaf charities and the BSL signers they represent.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, raised the important point about Clause 3 on guidance for business and the private sector. Guidance intended for the public sector will be useful to the private sector as it will set out information about BSL form and functions, and set out case studies that are relevant and can be useful to the private sector. He also raised the point about a province being recognised. I did not catch the province, so I hope he will allow me to read Hansard and write to him to confirm the answer—I will be most grateful. I have already made reference to the video relay services that the noble Lord mentioned. Progress has been made in this area. A number of service and telecommunications companies have introduced a video relay service which allows deaf people to communicate with non-British Sign Language signers via an interpreter using video phones.

Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland)

I am very grateful and appreciate the development of VRS, but a lot of deaf people are concerned, because they want it for social purposes and these services cost quite a lot of money. I have been pressing for the Government to look at ways of getting affordable access so that deaf people can use it not just for work but for relationships, family and personal reasons. I hope the Minister might take that away.

Photo of Baroness Stedman-Scott Baroness Stedman-Scott The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I will take that back to my colleague the Minister for Disabled People, and write to the noble Lord, and place a copy in the Library for the whole House.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, raised the point about the Bill affecting

“the operation of any enactment or rule of law.”

The rationale for Clause 1(2) is to ensure legal certainty so that recognition of BSL will not generate confusion or disputes. In particular, the purpose and effect of Clause 1(2) is to leave the existing balance of legal protections of the Equality Act 2010 unaffected.

The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, asked how broad the guidance and reporting requirements will be. Clause 2 requires the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to regularly report on what each relevant ministerial department detailed in the schedule to the Bill has done to promote and facilitate the use of BSL in its communications with the public. These communications could include public announcements, publication of a plan, strategy or consultation document, or activities promoting its work—for example, press conferences. The reporting requirements will be for UK ministerial departments to comply with, not for individual hospitals or schools. This reporting will give us a much better understanding of how BSL is being used across government and how we can continue to improve communication for BSL signers.

I shall finish by saying two things. First, I too endorse the great work of David Buxton. He has been spoken of with great affection and great dignity and I and my Benches join in that tribute. Let us be absolutely clear: we want this Bill to go through, as it is very important. Expectations are high, commitment is high and, as I said on the previous Private Member’s Bill, if any noble Lord has any issues, please come and see us so that when we get to Committee there will be no amendments and the Bill will pass in time for a great celebration by the people for whom this will make a great change to their lives.

Photo of Lord Holmes of Richmond Lord Holmes of Richmond Conservative 12:04 pm, 25th March 2022

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who participated in today’s important and ground-breaking debate. Each contribution has underscored not only the purpose of the Bill but the need for the Bill—in essence, that simple and most powerful of all points, that when we seek to include a seemingly particular sector, group or community, everyone benefits. I thank my noble friend the Minister and her ministerial colleague the Minister for Disabled People, the honourable Chloe Smith in another place, for all the work and commitment they have both shown to the Bill; to all the officials at the DWP for all the work they have put in to briefings and, indeed, the preparation of the Bill; and, again, to the honourable Rosie Cooper in another place for all her work on the Bill. Finally, I thank David Buxton, who has done so much in this space for so many.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.