British Sign Language Legislation

Introduced by Mark Griffin MSP to the Scottish Parliament on 30 October 2014, the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015 was passed into law on 17 September and is the first of its kind in the United Kingdom.


About the legislation

The legislation aims to raise awareness of British Sign Language (BSL) and improve access to services for those using the language by requiring the Scottish Government and listed local bodies to publish and implement their own plans for how they will promote the use of the language.


The Education and Culture Committee's call for evidence closed on 2 February 2015. To inform our written response we issued a survey to parents and consulted with our Young Campaigners who have been following the progress of the Bill closely. You can view our written evidence here[pdf].

We also provided oral evidence at the Scottish Parliament session on 24 February 2015 which you can read here or watch here.

The National Deaf Children's Society's views

We welcome this landmark legislation and believe that it could act as a critical step in strengthening the position of the language in Scotland. If fully implemented, the legislation has the potential to support more deaf children and their families to access their right to the support they need.

For more information contact the team at   


Updates on implementation

The National Deaf Children's Society is a member of the Deaf Sector Partnership (DSP) which has been set up to help implement the Act.

The DSP consists of five delivery partners (British Deaf Association, Deaf Action, Scottish Council on Deafness, Deafblind Scotland and National Deaf Children's Society). The Scottish Government are members as support partners. To stay up to date with the latest work of the Partnership please visit their website or join the 'British Sign Language (Scotland) Act (2015)' Facebook group.

Our specific role within the group includes consulting with parents through a Parent National Advisory Group (PNAG) on what they think should be included in the first BSL National Plan. This information will be fed back to the main BSL National Advisory Group who will develop the final plan with the Scottish Government.


  • The Scottish Government will be consulting on the first BSL National Plan in March 2017 for a period of 12 weeks. This will set out how BSL is to be promoted in Scotland.
  • Information Day: 4 February 2017, National Museum of Scotland:
    We are supporting our Deaf Sector Parners, Deaf Action, who are holding this event. This will provide information to parents and deaf young people on the BSL Act and the consultation process. Our members are invited to attend. For more information contact:
  • There will be a range of ways to feed your views into the consultation process and events happening locally. More information will be updated on this page in due course.



Where did the legislation come from?

  • The Bill was originally proposed back in 2010 by the then Labour MSP Cathie Craigie but fell in 2011.
  • The Bill was then proposed with a different focus by Mark Griffin MSP as a members’ Bill.
  • The draft proposal was published on 27 July 2012 and consultation on the Bill concluded on 7 November 2012.
  • It attracted support from 43 MSPs and was laid before the Scottish Parliament on 29 October 2014.

What are the aims of the Act?

  • The Act aims to raise awareness of British Sign Language (BSL) and improve access to services for those using the language.
  • It does this by requiring the Scottish Government and other local bodies to publish and implement their own BSL Plans on how they will promote the use of the language.
  • It can therefore be considered as an enabling framework to public authorities for the promotion of BSL within their services.

How will the legislation achieve this?

  1. The Scottish Ministers will be required to create a BSL National Plan for Scotland, setting out their strategy for the promotion and facilitation of BSL. This will inform the Plans that listed authorities (such as local authorities) will have to publish. 
  2. Listed authorities are also required to prepare their own BSL Plans that mirror the principles in the National Plan.
  • All national and authority Plans are to be published in BSL.

What do we think should be in these plans?

  • The legislation does not specifically state what is to be included, however NDCS believe the National Plan should have a strong focus on child-centred provision and early-intervention, to ensure deaf children are given the best start in life and are supported to reach their full potential.
  • In particular, we recommend that the National Plan addresses:
  1. Closing the education attainment gap experienced by deaf learners; 
  2. Minimum levels of qualification in BSL for education practitioners; to ensure deaf learners are supported by Communication Support Workers who are able to accurately interpret what the teacher is saying;
  3. BSL becoming an accredited school qualification and having the same status as other languages;
  4. Improving the availability of Family Sign Language and other family support;
  5. Ensuring aspirations of the Act are appropriately resourced.

When will the legislation come into force?

  • The Act became enforceable the day after it received Royal Assent on 22 October 2015.

When will the Plans be produced?

  • The first National Plan will be published within 2 years of the Act becoming law and every 6 years thereafter.
  • The first listed authority Plans must be published within one year of the first National Plan being published, and within 6 months of every subsequent National Plan.

How will we know if the legislation has worked?

  • The Scottish Ministers must produce their first progress report within 3 years of publishing the National Plan (5 years from now), and every 6 years thereafter.
  • Progress reporting will be monitored through self-assessment and feedback from BSL users. The National progress report will highlight good practice and areas where development is needed, without naming and shaming local authorities.

I’m a deaf young person, how can I share my views in my local area?

  • Listed authorities must consult with those likely to be directly affected, or who have an interest, in an authority Plan. They must, in particular, consult BSL users.
  • Nationally, Scottish Ministers will be required to consult those likely to be directly affected or who have an interest in the National Plan when developing and finalising the National Plan. They must consult users of BSL and those who represent such users. This will be done through the setting up of a National Advisory Group (NAG).
  • Once the group is established you can contact them with your thoughts and views.

What won’t the Act do?

  • The new funding attached to the Act is for BSL Plans, not new services.
  • The legislation is not prescriptive, in that the Act does not outline what BSL provision authorities must provide. It does, however, set out principles which listed authorities must have regard to. They will be contained in the National Plan.

Does the Act make BSL an official language?

  • BSL was recognised as an official language by the Scottish Government in 2011. The Act does not change the status of the language.

This is the National Deaf Children's Society's understanding of the provisions within the Act, to the best of our knowledge. We will provide any necessary updates as the implementation of the legislation progresses.


Stage 3 final debate & vote

"...a fantastic example of members of a minority group in our society coming together, forming a cross-party group, setting out their priorities and lobbying members..." - Mark Griffin MSP

On 17 September 2015 the final Stage 3 debate and vote saw the Bill unanimously pass into law with no further amendments made. You can watch the debate in BSL here or read the official report here.

The passage of the Bill marks an historic moment for deaf children, their families and the entire deaf community across Scotland, many of whom have British Sign Language as their first and preferred language.

We strongly believe that if fully implemented the Bill will ultimately help create more choices and opportunities for deaf children and young people and help them achieve their full potential.

The challenge is now for the Scottish Government to set out an ambitious National Plan that will drive progress for deaf children and their families like closing the education attainment gap and strengthening early years support.  You can read the briefing we sent to MSPs ahead of the debate here[pdf].

The National Deaf Children’s Society is committed to working in partnership across the sector to support the implementation of the Bill in every way that we can. 


Stage 2 update

The Education and Culture Committee considered and passed the Bill at Stage 2 with support from the Scottish Government on 2 June 2015. 

The most significant amendments that were passed are outlined below: 

  • To include tactile BSL: In relation to meeting the needs of Deafblind people within the Bill;
  • To revise the scope of the National Plan: To allow 2 years before producing the first National Plan and to extend the timescale involved in producing National Plans to a 6 year cycle;
  • To ensure plans are published in BSL;
  • To ensure consultation with Deafblind users;
  • To remove special Ministerial responsibility: With the understanding that all Ministers are collectively responsible;
  • To shift the focus of the Performance Review: To “progress reporting” with a focus on sharing effective practice among local authorities;
  • Amendments in relation to listed authorities: To adjust authorities required to produce their own BSL plan.


Stage 1 update

The Stage 1 debate on the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill took place in the Scottish Parliament on 5 May 2015. The debate followed Mark Griffin MSP's motion to agree to the general principles of the Bill.

There were 17 MSPs who spoke at the debate, including the Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages, and all supported the general principles of the Bill.

Read our briefing for MSPs ahead of the debate here[pdf].

Read our summary of the key themes covered at the debate here[pdf].