House of Commons first: live simultaneous BSL interpretation for petition debate

28 February 2018

The Commons Petitions Committee has scheduled a debate in Westminster Hall on a petition calling for British Sign Language (BSL) to be part of the National Curriculum.

The petition, started by Sign Language performer and TV and radio presenter Wayne Barrow, has so far been signed by more than 26,500 people. He grew up in Birmingham with profoundly deaf parents. In the petition, Wayne Barrow argues that “Around 50,000 people in the UK use British Sign Language, so why is this not taught in schools? There are many children who are born deaf, and we need to give them a better chance at a more integrated future.”
Although the petition has not reached the 100,000 signatures usually required to be considered for debate, the Petitions Committee recognised that the number of BSL users in the UK is relatively small. That small number would make it difficult to reach the 100,000 signature target. will show a live simultaneous interpretation of the debate, ensuring that BSL users who are deaf or have hearing impairments can follow the debate in real-time. A transcript and subtitled version will be available within hours of the debate. 
Rt Hon Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, Chairman of Ways and Means and Principal Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, said: 

"The House of Commons is working to make all parliamentary business more accessible to everyone, including people with hearing impairments. We were so pleased to include full BSL translation for the first time in November 2017 for the debate on Deafness and Hearing Loss, but simultaneous translation for the live TV feed has been a complex challenge. I’m thrilled it is now happening in Westminster Hall. It’s fantastic to be part of making the House of Commons more accessible to deaf people."

BSL interpreters have been used in select committee evidence sessions, as well as in a Westminster Hall debate in November 2017 on Deafness and Hearing Loss, but this will be the first simultaneous BSL interpretation streamed during the live debate coverage.
The debate will be opened by Liz Twist MP, a Member of the Petitions Committee, and start at 4:30pm on Monday 5 March.
Before the debate and in response to the petition, the Government said “whilst it is not a mandatory part of the curriculum, schools are free to teach it if they choose to do so. … We have no plans to change the current national curriculum for schools.”

What will the petition debate achieve?

Debates on petitions in Westminster Hall are general debates about the issues raised by the petition. MPs can discuss the petition and, if they wish, ask questions about the Government’s position on the issue or press the Government to take action. A Government Minister takes part in the debate and answers the points raised.

These debates help to raise the profile of a campaign and could influence decision-making in Government and Parliament. Petition debates in Westminster Hall cannot directly change the law or result in a vote to implement the request of the petition. Creating new laws, or changing existing ones, can only be done through the parliamentary legislative process which involves a number of debates, and detailed consideration of the law in draft, in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. This process is normally started by the Government, although there are some ways in which individual MPs or members of the House of Lords who are not in the Government (known as "backbenchers") can ask Parliament to consider new laws.

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