BSL (Scotland) Bill
Several of our members have asked for more information about the Bill and the papers that come with it. Below is a list of questions and answers that should make things clearer. As the Bill progresses through the parliamentary process, amendments might be suggested. Where possible, we will try to explain them.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. What does the Bill mean?
A. The Bill, if passed, would promote, support and encourage the use of BSL in Scotland. The Scottish Government would have to write a National Plan on how they would do this.
Q. What is a BSL National Plan for Scotland?
A. The National Plan would direct the work of the Scottish Government in promoting, supporting and encouraging the use of BSL in Scotland.
Q. There are some times given in the Bill. What do they mean?
A. When a Bill is introduced and it asks for plans to be written, then the Bill also has to give a timetable for the plan to be written and when it needs to be reported on and what has to be in the report.
Q. So the Bill says that the first National Plan needs to be published no later than 12 months after the start of the session of Parliament after the Act receives Royal Assent. What does this mean?
A. If the Bill is passed in 2015 and is given Royal Assent –before the Parliament closes for the summer – then the first National Plan for BSL needs to be finished by the end of May 2017.
Q. Does the government have to speak to Deaf people when writing the National Plan?
A. Yes. The Bill says that the persons consulted are to be those who will be directly affected by the National Plan or have an interest in the plan – particularly people who use BSL and people who represent BSL users.
Q. Listed authorities’ BSL Plans. As well as the National BSL Plan, public bodies have to write their own plans, what does this mean?
A. All the public bodies listed in the Bill have to write their own BSL Plan that will show how that body is to promote, support and encourage the use of BSL. This means that, for example, a Council will have to consult with BSL users and the organisations that represent Deaf people and write up a BSL plan that will show what the Council will do to make sure services and information are available in BSL. The BSL plans written by public bodies must tie in with what is written in the National Plan.
Q. When do public bodies have to publish their BSL plans?
A. BSL plans must be published no later than 12 months after the National BSL Plan. So the first BSL plans will have to be written and published before the end of May 2018 if the Bill becomes an Act.
Q. What is the Performance Review mentioned in the Bill?
A. This is the report of how the National BSL Plan has worked or not. It will look at good practice and any examples of poor performance. The first Performance Review will take place before the end of June 2019.
Q. What is Schedule 1 in the Bill?
A. This allows the Scottish Parliament to change when the National BSL Plans as well as the Performance Review and public body BSL plans need to be published.
Q. What is Schedule 2 in the Bill?
A. This is the list of public bodies that have to write and publish a BSL Plan.
Q. What does consultation with Deaf people mean?
A. This is not listed in the Bill. This is something that could be listed in guidance if it is decided that guidance is needed. At the moment, there is no reference to guidance in the bill.
Call for Evidence
The British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill was introduced in the Scottish Parliament by Mark Griffin MSP on 29th October 2014.
The Bill and accompanying documents are available on the Parliament’s website in English and BSL at:
The Education and Culture Committee has been given the role of gathering evidence to support the Bill and to analyse this evidence. The Committee has issued a call for evidence which closes on Monday 2nd February 2015.
If you are an individual and want to submit written evidence but are unsure how to do it, click here to download a template that you can use.
If you are submitting written evidence for your organisation but are unsure how to do it, click here to download a template that you can use.
All responses should be sent to the Committee clerks at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or by post to:
Clerk to the Education and Culture Committee
The Scottish Parliament
The Committee is happy to get responses in written or BSL (video) format, which should be emailed to the above address. Please keep your response as concise as possible. If you are making a submission in written format, they would prefer to receive it in Microsoft Word.
The purpose of the Bill is to promote the use of British Sign Language (BSL). This includes requiring the Scottish Ministers and specified public authorities (known as listed authorities) to prepare and publish BSL plans.
According to the Bill’s Policy Memorandum—
“The intention is that, by placing this obligation on the Scottish Government and listed authorities, the profile of the language will be heightened and its use in the delivery of services increased.”
“The Bill will not, in itself, close any existing service gaps, but will represent an important stepping stone in the process for the development of BSL provision.”
The Committee’s role at Stage 1 of the parliamentary process is to report to the Parliament on the general principles of the Bill – its overall purpose.
The Committee has put together a list of questions that it would like your views on. These are listed below with examples of possible answers that provide the evidence that could be beneficial to the Committee:
1. In the Policy Memorandum, it says that Mark Griffin considered a number of different ways that BSL could be promoted as a language – for example, asking the UK Government to change the Equality Act 2010 or changing other laws to include BSL as a language, or by having a voluntary code that public bodies could follow if they chose to promote BSL in their work. Mark Griffin decided that the best approach was to put forward the BSL (Scotland) Bill.
Do you think we need a change to the law to promote the use of BSL and, if so, why?
Yes, we need a BSL Bill in Scotland.
Why? Under the Equality Act 2010, asking for information and services in BSL is only available as a “reasonable adjustment”. A public body is
“not required to do more than it is reasonable for it to do. What is reasonable for an organisation to do depends, among other factors, on its size and nature, and the nature of the goods, facilities or services it provides, or the public functions it carries out, or the association it runs.” http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/your-rights/service-users/adjustments-disabled-people
“If you are a disabled person and can show that there were barriers an organisation should have identified and reasonable adjustments it could have made, you can bring a claim against it in court. If you win your case, the organisation may be told to pay compensation and make the reasonable adjustments.”
There is only one solicitor in Scotland who is a Deaf BSL user. We are unaware of any solicitors who have a sufficient fluency in BSL to represent a Deaf BSL user without the need of a BSL/English Interpreter, and many solicitors are in turn, unaware of the need to provide interpreter support or if they are aware of the need, assume that the Deaf BSL user will pay for this support, even though communication is a two-way process.
2. Mark Griffin MSP hopes that the duties under the Bill will “lead public authorities to increase the use they make of BSL and the extent to which they are in a position to respond to demand for services in BSL” (Financial Memorandum, paragraph 4).
increase the amount of information that will be made available in BSL? Do you think that public bodies will increase the services that they provide in BSL?
Yes. In 2006, New Zealand passed the NZSL Act. This was reviewed in 2010/11. The review report stated that Deaf SL users had more access to information and services since the Act was passed but that more could be done by national government to promote the use of the language. One of the outcomes from the Act was that more hearing people wanted to learn NZSL and from that, Deaf NZSL users felt themselves to be more involved in the wider community. The review did find that the New Zealand Government needed to be seen to lead the way in providing information and services in NZSL, but that government departments were increasingly applying the Act to the work they do – for example, Ministry of Social Development, including: Child, Youth and Family; Work and Income; Office for Disability Issues; Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry of Health. http://www.odi.govt.nz/what-we-do/nzsl/review-report-2011/how-well-are-the-nzsl-acts-guiding-principles-for-government-departments-being-implemented.html
At the present time, many public services do not provide information and/or services in BSL. For example, the complaint made by Mrs C who raised concerns with the SPSO about the failure by Tayside NHS Board to provide a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter for a patient – Ms A – in Ninewells Hospital. The complaint which has been investigated is that it was unacceptable for the Board not to provide a BSL interpreter during Ms A’s 12-day in-patient admission to the Hospital in July 2011. http://www.spso.org.uk/investigation-reports/2013/march/tayside-nhs-board-0
The NHS Inform website (the national health information service) has 45 different pieces of information about cancer. None of these are available in BSL. The information that is available in BSL is about the Patient Rights Charter, Communication and Participation, Confidentiality – rights and responsibilities, but there is no information on illnesses and diseases. Where are Deaf BSL users expected to find this information in their own language? http://www.nhsinform.co.uk/Rights/Publications/OtherFormats/BSL
3. The Bill is solely about the use of BSL. Could there be unintended consequences for other languages or forms of communication used by deaf people in Scotland?
Yes. The Bill could have unintended consequences for all people who have a hearing loss, because as public bodies become more BSL aware and Deaf aware, then they should also become more deaf aware generally. An unintended consequence for other languages could be that there is less money in the pot for interpreting and translating, but if the person whose first language is not English is hearing, then they have an advantage that Deaf BSL users do not, in that they can learn to speak and read English. This is not something that Deaf BSL users can do as an adult.
4. The Bill will require the Scottish Government to prepare and publish a BSL National Plan and a BSL Performance Review every four years. The Scottish Government will also be required to designate a Minister with lead responsibility for. What should this Minister do?
The fit would be with the Minister for Learning, Science & Scotland’s Languages, who would have the same responsibility for BSL as for Scotland’s other languages; although since the Scottish Government operates on the basis of collective responsibility, all decisions reached by Ministers, individually or collectively, are binding on all members of the Government. So responsibility for BSL, the National Plan and the Performance Review would be across government.
5. The BSL Performance Review provides the basis for the Parliament to hold the Scottish Ministers to account, and for Ministers to hold the public authorities listed to account. If listed authorities say they will do something relating to the promotion of BSL, will the Performance Review process make sure they are held to account?
If the Performance Review is carried out using the co-production model so that members of the Deaf Community, their families and carers as well as those organisations that support them are involved, then public bodies can be held accountable. It is important that Deaf BSL users are involved in the scrutiny of the Authority Plans as this affects them and their families. It may be that there is a need to set a baseline through research into what is actually available at the present time – this could be done through a mapping exercise.
6. The Bill requires the public authorities listed to prepare and publish BSL Plans in each parliamentary session – every four years. The Bill sets out what a BSL Plan should include. What do you think the plans should include?
The BSL Plans should be agreed at a local level following engagement with and participation of the local Deaf Community, their families, and carers, as well as local deaf organisations. Deaf BSL users have different needs in terms of information and services can be different depending on where they stay, whether it is an urban, rural or very rural setting. For example, there are areas of Scotland where internet access is not reliable and so access to information can be patchy. In these areas, Deaf BSL users may prefer information on DVD. There may be a need to have online interpreting, for example, in areas of the Highlands and Islands as there are few professionals have the necessary levels of BSL to communicate directly with Deaf BSL users, and there are very few BSL/English Interpreters.
7. The Policy Memorandum explains the timescales for publication of Authority Plans. Do you have any comments on these proposed timescales?
The timescales may be quite tight, especially since the public bodies will have to engage with the Deaf Community, their families and carers and the organisations that support them. It may be more realistic to extend the timescale for the Scottish Government to put design and publish the National Plan and carry out the Performance Review, then extend the timescale in proportion for the public bodies.
8. In preparing its BSL Plan, a public authority must consult with those who are “likely to be directly affected by the Authority Plan or otherwise to have an interest in that Plan” and must take into account any comments made to it during the consultation.
What effect do you think the requirements will have on you or your organisation?
It is important that the Deaf Community, their families and carers as well as the organisations that support them are fully involved with the Authority Plans. The plans should be written using the model of co-production. It is no longer appropriate “to do to people”; those affected need to be at the centre of the planning process.
9. The Bill lists 117 public authorities that will have to publish BSL Plans. Are there any public authorities you would add to or take off the list?
The Finance Committee would welcome any views on how much the Bill could cost that could help it to analyse the Bill, including answers to the following questions.
For public bodies:
10. If the Bill has any financial implications for your organisation, do you believe that they have been accurately reflected in the Financial Memorandum (FM)? If not, please provide details.
11. Do you consider that the estimated costs and savings set out in the FM are reasonable and accurate?
12. If applicable, are you content that your organisation can meet any financial costs that it might incur as a result of the Bill? If not, how do you think these costs should be met?
As Scotland moves towards being an “inclusive communication nation” – from the Independent Living in Scotland’s Principles of Inclusive Communication – then public bodies will have to meet the costs of providing information and services for all people in their communities of interest. This Bill simply focuses on one important aspect of this for people who, in the main, do not have the literacy and language skills to make informed choices in any language other than their first language, BSL.
Does the FM accurately reflect the margins of uncertainty associated with the Bill’s estimated costs and with the timescales over which they would be expected to arise?
12. Do you believe that the FM reasonably captures all costs associated with the Bill? If not, which other costs might be incurred and by whom?
If a public body does not consult or engage with the Deaf Community, their families and carers and the organisations that support them at the moment, there may be additional costs, but if Scotland is committed to being a fully inclusive country for all its citizens, then public bodies should have a budget set aside for this at the present moment in time.
13. Do you believe that there may be future costs associated with the Bill, for example through secondary legislation? If so, is it possible to quantify these costs?
There may be future costs in terms of ensuring that all public bodies have the capacity to consult and engage with the Deaf Community and its supporters.
Scottish Parliament Education and Culture Committee
British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill – Evidence session with Mark Griffin MSP
The Committee held its first evidence session on the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill on the 16th December 2014, and the video of the session is now available. It has audio, captions and a BSL translation. To view the video, go to the Scottish Parliament website.
We said we will give updates throughout the process of the Bill.
We are waiting on an announcement from the Scottish Government on their position on the BSL Bill, which we hope will be positive. We have received several “statements of support” for the Bill from our members and look forward to receiving your comments.
We would also suggest that you contact Mark Griffin MSP to show your support for his Bill. His email address is Mark.Griffin.email@example.com.
Three things we would encourage our member organisations to do:
1. To wait and take account of the Scottish Government position before you submit your evidence.
2. You work to reach the Deaf Community in your area and ensure they are informed about the Bill and its process. Do let us know about any events or sessions that you are holding. We are happy to help with publicity.
3. To consider the questions asked by the Education and Culture Committee – see above – and to submit your own written evidence. Please do send a copy of your evidence to us at SCoD too, so it can influence what we submit to the Committee. Send a copy to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Scottish Parliament now has a Facebook page – click here. You will need to have your own Facebook account to access the group page.