Speaking and signing during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), Vicky Foxcroft, the shadow minister for disabled people started by using BSL to ask why an interpreter wasn’t placed in the room to interpret the press conferences for Deaf audiences.
She continued: “If the Prime Minister doesn’t understand, imagine those who rely on British Sign Language feel at his press briefings.
“£2.6 million spent on the new press room, yet still no interpreter. What message does he think this sends to disabled people?”
At present, the briefings are interpreted on the Government’s social media accounts, the BBC News Channel and BBC iPlayer, but Deaf campaigners are calling for an in-person interpreter to make all press conferences accessible by default, using the hashtag, #WhereIsTheInterpreter.
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Foxcroft’s comments come after Boris Johnson moved his press conferences on the Government’s fight against the coronavirus from No 10 to No 9, spending millions on a custom built studio for the televised briefings.
When the briefings took place in No 10, Downing Street said they “cannot safely include” an in-person BSL interpreter because of “limited space” which “potentially puts them and others at risk”.
The argument was rubbished by Caroline Nokes MP, chair of Parliament’s Women and Equalities Select Commmittee, in January, who called on the Government to “go find a bigger room”.
Despite the conferences now taking place in the much larger room in No 9, the Government’s briefings have still come without an in-person BSL interpreter.
No 10’s refusal to offer the provision has since seen them face a legal challenge from Deaf campaigners, with a judicial review over the government’s currently underway and a hearing date to be announced.
It isn’t the first time that Foxcroft has raised the issue in the Commons, either.
Speaking in October, ahead of the Prime Minister’s conference on the tier system, the MP said: “Disabled people have felt like an afterthought throughout this pandemic, and I’d like to ask just one simple question, which requires only a yes or no answer.
“Will there be a sign language interpreter at your press conference this evening?”
Johnson replied: “I doubt that we will get one in time but the point is registered.”
A month later, Foxcroft said: “On 12 October, I asked the Prime Minister if he would ensure British Sign Language was available at future press conferences. He said, ‘the point is registered’. Registered but not delivered.
“Six weeks since that question, eight months since the start of the pandemic, still no progress on the sign language interpreter. So I ask the Prime Minister: will he meet with me, and others who rely on sign language interpretation, to work out a solution, so government communication is inclusive of all disabled people?”
The Prime Minister, then in self-isolation, replied: “I certainly will make sure that her delegation is properly received and we try and come up with a solution.”
Foxcroft’s latest question today comes after the Women and Equalities Select Committee published the Government’s response to its report on the “unequal impact” of coronavirus on disabled people, with one of the measures recommended by the group of MPs concerning accessible broadcasts.
Commenting on this issue, the UK Government said: “To ensure those who use BSL can receive the latest COVID-19 updates from the No10 COVID-19 press conferences live, the government provides live BSL interpretation which is available on all the Number 10 social media channels, the BBC News channel and iPlayer.
“This BSL feed is also made available to other broadcasters for them to include in their live coverage.”
Responding to Foxcroft’s question today, the Prime Minister said he was “grateful” to the MP and the way in which she asked her question, adding that he will write to the Labour politician “as soon as I can”.