LEGISLATION to promote the use of British Sign Language (BSL) was unanimously backed by MSPs last night.

The passage of the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill, brought forward by Labour MSP Mark Griffin, was greeted with cheers and applause by campaigners in the Scottish Parliament’s public gallery.

It will require Scottish ministers to develop a national plan for BSL and place an obligation on public-sector bodies to prepare and publish their own plans.

The aim is to increase awareness of BSL and its use in the delivery of services.

During a debate on the bill at Holyrood, Griffin cited statistics from the Scottish Council on Deafness showing that 77 per cent of BSL users who visited hospital could not easily communicate with NHS staff.

He said: “It is that sense of abandonment and isolation – whether it be in a healthcare situation, in a school or an education situation – that I hope the passing of this legislation will address.”

Languages minister Dr Alasdair Allan said the Scottish Government would set up a BSL group to advise on the content of the national plan.

Labour equality spokeswoman Rhoda Grant said the bill “will send a strong message to the deaf and deaf-blind community that we value them and we value their language”.

Conservative education spokeswoman Mary Scanlon called for “an honest appraisal of postcode provision” of BSL in Scotland to identify gaps in availability, as well as a more accurate assessment of provision.

Avril Hepner, British Deaf Association community development manager in Scotland, said: “The success of the BSL (Scotland) Bill is a wonderful achievement.

“I am proud, as a Scottish person, to see my country leading the way in making the first ever BSL Act in the UK.”

Delia Henry, director of Action on Hearing Loss Scotland, said: “We congratulate Mark Griffin MSP on the passing of his bill and we hope the legislation will start to remove the communication barriers which affect the everyday lives of people who are deaf in Scotland, and ensure that vital services become fully accessible for BSL users.”