Proposals to make British Sign Language (BSL) an official language of the United Kingdom have been backed by Hemel Hempstead’s MP.
Sir Mike Penning spoke in parliament on Friday in support of a Private Member’s Bill that would see that happen – and also aims to set up a British Sign Language Council to promote and advise on the use of BSL in public services.
Sir Mike, who co-sponsored the Bill, is a patron of the Hertfordshire Hearing Advisory Service and a long-time campaigner on deaf issues.
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Sir Mike Penning MP with local BSL campaigner Zahra Khaira in Parliament Square last Friday
The Bill passed Second Reading and has secured Government support and now moves to the Committee Stage.
Speaking after the debate, Sir Mike said: “This Bill builds on the work done back in 2003 when the UK Government formally recognised BSL as a language in its own right.
“We now want to go further and get BSL recognised as the UK’s fourth official language.
“Many people don’t realise that for many deaf people, BSL is their first language. In fact, there are many hearing people for whom BSL is their first language as well – as is the case for Rosie Cooper MP who introduced the Bill and whose parents were both deaf.
“Many people find, for a variety of reasons, that their hearing fails as they get older and many of these people look to learning BSL to help communicate.
“I am also supporting a campaign for a GCSE in BSL – which the Government are working on. Wouldn’t it be great if we all learned a little bit of BSL at school?”
“I pay tribute to the work of the local deaf community and BSL supporters in keeping me informed and for their energetic campaigning on these issues.”
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Philip Linnegar, chief executive officer of Hertfordshire Hearing Advisory Service, said: “I am delighted that the British Sign Language Bill is making steady progress towards legal recognition.
“It will provide government departments and public services with the guidance needed, that will help reduce health and social care inequalities, and reduce barriers to communication.
“Sir Mike has been a fantastic supporter of this important Bill, and we share his enthusiasm for a GCSE in BSL.”