§ Mr. Coaker
To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment (1) what representations he has received calling for the official recognition of British Sign Language; and if he will make a statement; 
(2) what plans he has to grant official recognition to British Sign Language. 
§ Ms Hodge
The Government have received a number of representations about recognition of British Sign Language, particularly since they announced their intention to ratify the Council of Europe's "European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages". The Charter contains what appears to be a fairly specific definition of what constitutes a regional or minority language. It is clear that those who drafted the Charter did not intend that sign languages come within its terms. We understand that of the 22 member states which have signed the Charter, nine have ratified it and none of these countries has specified their indigenous sign language. We have concluded that consideration of sign languages should not impede signature and ratification but the issue should be explored with other parties once we have ratified the Charter. The Charter has been signed and ratification is currently subject to Parliamentary procedures. Our understanding is that, after ratification, representations on sign languages could be considered by the Charter's Committee of Experts in about 18 months' time when the UK would be submitting its report on the implementation of its obligations under the Charter.