British Sign Language (Interpreters)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:10 pm on 27th March 2003.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 3:10 pm, 27th March 2003

It is appropriate that the last question in this session of Parliament should be asked by the person who uttered the first words in the Parliament.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing Scottish National Party

To ask the First Minister whether, in the light of Her Majesty's Government's decision to give official recognition to British sign language as a language in its own right, the Scottish Executive will fund a long-term training programme for more sign language interpreters. (S1F-2624)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

As a start, I believe that we should double the number of British sign language interpreters in Scotland and I have asked officials to prepare plans for how we might achieve that, which will be presented to whatever set of ministers occupies the Executive offices after the election.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing Scottish National Party

That was an encouraging answer.

I am proud to be asking the last question in the Parliament. Since my members' business debate on the subject, during which the public galleries were packed with deaf people, the Executive has taken quite a lot of steps on the issue, such as the type-talk scheme, interpretation for visitors, the BSL video, leaflets and the £10 million for audiological assistance. I am happy to congratulate the Executive on those developments, but is the First Minister aware that the core problems remain? Those problems are the need for formal recognition of BSL, which is an ancient, sophisticated and evolving language, and the emergency shortage of interpreters, which has been referred to.

There are now 39 interpreters; at the time of my members' business debate there were 32. However, Finland has 350 interpreters. There are fifteen BSL students on the go, but because they are part time, they receive no funding. I suggest the practical step of making the Heriot-Watt University course a degree course, which would attract more students and allow them funding as full-time students. That would speed up the process for the many people who would like to be interpreters. The deaf also wish a centre for deaf studies, which could perhaps be considered by whomever succeeds the First Minister—I am optimistic about that.

In yesterday's debate on children, Jackie Baillie said that we want a Scotland where every child matters; I ask that it should be a Scotland where every deaf child matters.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I share Winnie Ewing's commitment to British sign language. As a child, I learned basic BSL from my father. It is not only important that we have enough interpreters in Scotland, but that we encourage recognition of the language's importance to the deaf community, especially to deaf children. We can do a lot more and I am sure that we will do it. One of the marks of this young Parliament during the past four years has been its willingness to do the right thing for Scotland's children. I am sure that we will do that again on this issue in the years to come.