Triumph for opposition MP as autism bill moves forward with government support

June 22, 2009 at 4:34 pm 1 comment

Cheryl Gillan is Conservative MP for Chesham and Amersham

by Tony Grew

A bill that would require an adult autism strategy and statutory guidance has passed all its Commons stages.

The Autism Bill now moves to the Lords. It is a private member’s bill moved by Tory MP Cheryl Gillan.

“Mr Deputy Speaker, I cannot tell you how delighted I am to move Third Reading,” she told the House on Friday.

“Reaching this stage is a landmark, and our having done so is due not only to me, as the Member who had the privilege of promoting the Bill, but to the House of Commons at its very best.

“This has truly been a cross-party effort involving those on the Conservative, Government and Liberal Democrat Benches, and I am delighted that Members of Parliament have come together to try to introduce a Bill which we hope will make a great difference to so many people’s lives throughout our country.”

The bill requires the Secretary of State for Health to publish an adult autism strategy and to issue associated statutory guidance.

It would also place a duty on local authorities and NHS bodies to act under this guidance.

The government supports the bill.

Health minister Ann Keen told the House:

“I am happy to confirm that, although my Department is in the lead on this matter, it is a cross-Government piece of work.

“We have a steering group for developing the strategy which includes representation from all relevant Departments including the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Office for Disability Issues, and we are also working closely with Cabinet Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

“I can confirm, as the hon. Lady asked me to, that we will ensure that the delivery plan for the strategy is robust and practical.

“We will assess the impact of the proposals and the benefits, weighing up the evidence in a systematic manner.

“I am delighted to be supporting the Bill.

“We can confirm that the Bill is in a form that the Government can wholeheartedly support as it continues its journey through Parliament.

“We have made a difference in this Parliament.

“The hon. Lady (Mrs Gillan) has made a huge contribution, along with her colleagues but, of course, as we all recognise, it is the families and the people with autism who have made real progress.

“I hope that the House will give the Bill its Third Reading today and that the other place will ensure that it becomes an Act.”

Mrs Gillan, who is Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, outlined the scope of the legislation.

“The Bill has the potential to deliver the crucial improvements needed for the approximately 500,000 people with autism in the UK, who have been neglected for so long,” she said.

“Autism was long overdue serious consideration, as outcomes for both children and adults were consistently so much poorer than those for people who do not have autism.

“A recent report by the National Austistic Society (NAS)  found that 40 per cent. of children with autism had been bullied, that 27 per cent. had been excluded from school and that 42 per cent. reported that they had no friends.

“In addition, 70 per cent. had a psychiatric condition accompanying their autism. For adults, the picture is even bleaker.

“The NAS estimates that 63 per cent. of adults with autism do not receive enough support, while 82 per cent. of parents or carers of adults with autism say that their child needs daily support just to live independently.

“Only 15 per cent. of adults with autism are in full-time work and 75 per cent. do not have any friends or find it very hard to make friends, while 40 per cent. of adults with autism still live with their parents.

“We currently fail both children and adults with autism in this country.”

Tory MP Angela Browning said that parents worry about their children’s education and ability to live independently.

“However, as a parent, I think—I hope that I would speak for many parents—that the biggest fear is: “What happens when I die?” That has to be addressed.”

Mrs Gillan said that fear “is probably the most moving part of my encounters with families with children who have autism.

“The terrible fear of someone who has a child with a disability of any sort is about what will happen to that child when they are no longer around to give it the sustenance that it needs.

“That is why I hope that this framework legislation will provide a platform from which Governments can ensure that local authorities and other services are structured in such a way as to give greater reassurance to people in that situation.”

The bill creates a new legal duty to ensure that local areas collate and share data on disabled children and that they will also include children with autism in their plans for children’s services.

The statutory guidance accompanying the regulations will state that autism must be specified as a separate category.

The bill places a duty on the Secretary of State to introduce a strategy for improving outcomes for adults with autism, accompanied by statutory guidance for local authorities and NHS bodies.

“If the Bill becomes law, it will be a catalyst for huge progress in meeting the needs of the country’s adults with autism,” Mrs Gillan said.

MPs spoke in favour of the bill and paid tribute to Mrs Gillan for successfully piloting it.

Anne Milton, Tory health spokesperson, said:

“I was always aware of the danger that this morning’s speeches would sound a little more like an Oscar ceremony than anything else, and I am afraid that I will only add to that.

“None the less, I say to my children and to my colleagues that when one does something well, one should be proud of it.

“It should be used as an opportunity to understand better how one can do things better in future.”

“We have started the journey,” Lib Dem MP Annette Brooke said.

“We have the luggage and the map, but will we reach journey’s end?

“It is such a long journey.

“The NAO found that 74 per cent. of local authorities do not have a commissioning strategy for adults.

“Some 80 per cent. of GPs told the NAO that they needed additional training and guidance.

“This is a huge problem and we must not underestimate how much needs doing. Training is necessary across the board.”

Mrs Gillan said:

“By not providing adequate support to people with autism, we are wasting not only large amounts of taxpayers’ money, but human talent and lives.

“I hope that the Bill will act as a catalyst for change.

“I am very proud to have been able to continue other people’s work and introduce this legislation by working with people across all sides of the political divide and in the best interests of our society and community.”

The bill passed its Third Reading and now moves to the House of Lords.


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