PLANS for new legislation which would require public bodies, including councils, to promote the use of British Sign Language in order to improve deaf people’s access to services, have been backed by MSPs

Members of Holyrood’s education and culture committee yesterday called for the Scottish Parliament to support the bill when it is debated in Holyrood next Tuesday.

“We acknowledge the strong support for the bill from the BSL community and its recognition that the bill is a stepping stone in a long-term project. However, the legislation has the aim of heightening the profile of BSL and increasing its use in the delivery of services, and ultimately, to lead to better outcomes for BSL users in Scotland,” said the committee’s report.

“We consider the bill is an important step in helping to meet the linguistic needs of BSL users, in the same way as previous legislation did for the Gaelic language in Scotland.”

It added: “We hope the legislation will complement the existing equality legislation, and fully expect public authorities to continue their efforts in meeting their public sector equality duty.”

The bill, introduced by Labour MSP Mark Griffin last year, also suggests introducing a performance review, which would allow the Scottish Government to measure progress being made by public bodies as well as a proposal to name and shame organisations that perform poorly.

Members of the committee engaged with BSL users throughout their consideration of the bill, setting up a Facebook group, which allowed BSL users to submit their views via video clip. Key documents were also made available in BSL and evidence sessions were broadcast with live English/BSL interpretation.

The number of people in Scotland whose first or preferred language is BSL was estimated by the Scottish Executive to be around 6,000.

Ministers have already backed Griffin’s proposals and have estimated the measures, such as providing more BSL interpreters, would cost public bodies between £2.4m and £3.6m between 2016 and 2020.

Research commissioned by the Scottish Government in 2009 found deaf people faced major problems in accessing public services.

It also revealed that deaf pupils had significantly lower school attainment than their hearing peers, and there was limited understanding of the needs of BSL users amongst many public bodies.

It also found very few professionals who can communicate in BSL and a shortage of registered interpreters.

Figures from the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters show Scotland’s entire deaf population has to rely on the services of 80 dedicated sign-language interpreters.

Last year the British Deaf Association in Scotland warned many crimes against deaf people were going unreported, often because of communication problems and a lack of provision of an interpreting service from the police.

If Holyrood backs the bill next week it will return to the education and culture committee for detailed examination and for amendments to be made.