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Brent Central MP Dawn Butler makes history by signing question in Commons

PUBLISHED: 08:34 17 March 2017

Dawn Butler MP debating in the Commons.

Dawn Butler MP debating in the Commons.

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Ms Butler became the first MP to use British Sign Language (BSL) to ask a question in the Chamber while calling on the government to give it legal status.

Signing the whole question, Ms Butler pressed the government on whether it will consider introducing legislation in the next session on a British Sign Language Act to give BSL full legal status - as is afforded to other recognised languages.

Speaking as she made the signs, Ms Butler said: “Mr Speaker, I would like to sign my question. Will the Minister agree the 18 of March marks the 14th anniversary since the UK Government recognised British Sign Language.

“Will the Minister agree [it is] time to bring and get British Sign Language legal status like other recognised languages?”

Hansard, as well as the Commons, both confirmed they have no recollection of any questions ever being made in Parliament using sign language.

BSL was recognised by the UK government as an official minority language in 2003.

After fellow MPs cheered her, Leader of the House David Lidington told MPs in response to Ms Butler’s question: “The honorable lady has very eloquently reminded is of the importance of British Sign Language to a number of our fellow citizens who who live with deafness or sever hearing impairment.

“The Department for Work and Pensions has underway a review of the provision of signing services in this country.

“They have had several hundred submissions during the course of that review and the Secretary of State will be bringing forward conclusions in due course.

“I can also say to the House that the Department for Education does now plan to accept British Sign Language as an alternative qualification to functional skills in English within apprenticeships and I hope that that will be one step forward towards opening more opportunities to people living with deafness to play a full part in the labour market.”

Asif Iqbal MBE, president of Brent and Harrow United Deaf Club, praised the MP for casting light on the issue.

He said: “Many congratulations to Dawn Butler MP, one of our club ambassadors, for taking a bold step as the first ever MP to ask a question in British Sign Language.

“It was important that Dawn made this question ahead of the 14th anniversary since the government recognised BSL as a language.

“I applaud her questioning of the government asking the government to agree for BSL to have equal legal status, namely BSL Act like any other recognised official languages.”

Ms Butler said: “I was delighted to raise this very important issue in parliament today using British Sign Language. It was also very important to send a message that we must make our parliament as well as workplaces up and down the UK accessible to all.

“I learnt BSL many years ago so that I could communicate with a work colleague and have some fun with our secret conversations.

“The Government must ensure that BSL has the full legal status that it deserves. Businesses are losing out on a wealth of experience.

“I look forward to holding a debate in Westminster Hall on March 21 in regards to discrimination. It is important that all rights are protected and we make our country fairer and accessible to all.

“Even smaller countries such as South Africa have legally recognised its official language and given it legal status, the UK should now do the same.”

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