History was made in the House of Commons chamber at Westminster this week when Dawn Butler, MP for Brent, became the first Member of Parliament to ask a question in the Chamber using British sign language (BSL).
Dawn’s question to Leader of the House, David Lidington, at Business Questions was timed to coincide with 14th anniversary of British Sign Language being recognised by the Government as an official language for the first time. It also came in the middle of the BDA’s annual Sign Language Week.
She asked the government if it would consider introducing legislation in the next session on a British Sign Language Act to give British Sign Language full legal status, as is afforded to other officially recognised languages.
Dawn told BDN: “I learnt BSL many years ago so that I could communicate with a work colleague and have some fun with our secret conversations.
She added: “The Government must ensure that BSL has the full legal status that it deserves. Businesses are losing out to a wealth of experience.”
The Deaf community responded with hundreds of supportive messages on social media, including this from Katie Louise: “I am so Proud of you. Myself and the deaf community needs more people like you. As for you signing in parliament I was speechless – in fact I had to ask my partner to tell me I am not dreaming. Your signing (was) great. Keep learning, practicing, and keep doing what your doing”
Text of Dawn Butlers question and the answer from David Lidington at House of Commons Business Questions – Thursday March 16th 2017
Dawn Butler MP (Brent Central) (Lab)
“I would like to sign my question. Is the Leader of the House aware that 18 March marks the 14th anniversary of the UK Government’s recognising British sign language? Will he agree time to debate giving British sign language legal status like other recognised languages?”
Mr Lidington MP
“The hon. Lady has eloquently reminded us of the importance of British sign language to a number of our fellow citizens who live with deafness or a severe hearing impairment. The Department for Work and Pensions has under way a review of the provision of signing services in this country and has received several hundred submissions. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will bring forward the conclusions in due course. I can also tell the House that the Department for Education plans to accept British sign language as an alternative qualification to functional skills in English within apprenticeships, which I hope will be one step towards giving opportunities to more people who live with deafness to play a full part in the labour market.”