NAS heralds Autism Bill as ‘huge step forward’

The National Autistic Society has heralded the announcement of a private member’s bill on the provision of autism services as a “huge step forward”.

Cheryl Gillan, the Conservative shadow secretary of state for Wales, chose to take forward an Autism Bill after winning a House of Commons ballot to decide which MPs should sponsor legislation in the current parliamentary session.

If it passed into law it would be the country’s first piece of autism legislation, and comes with the government working on the country’s first strategy for adults with autism.

Backed by 13 charities

The Bill, which will be published shortly, builds on demands arising from NAS’s I Exist campaign to improve outcomes for adults with autism, launched last year, and has the backing of 13 autism charities.

Expected provisions include a duty on councils to record the number of people with autism in their area, a duty on children’s services to co-operate with adult services over the transition of children from the age of 14, and a duty on councils and primary care trusts to take account of adults with autism when assessing local needs.

Gillan said: “It strikes me as wholly unfair how hard people affected by autism have to fight to get the help they so desperately need. The continuing ‘postcode lottery’ of autism services across the UK is simply unacceptable and incredibly damaging. Creating the first ever autism law is crucial to helping local authorities take the necessary action and recognise their responsibilities towards this severely excluded group.”

‘Complete failure’

NAS chief executive Mark Lever said the Bill was an urgent response to the “complete failure” of local authorities to respond to the needs of children and adults with autism. Research by NAS has found that just two councils know how many adults with autism are in their local area and about half have a specific register of children with the condition.

NAS is now urging supporters to lobby their MP to support the Bill’s passage through Parliament. Head of policy and campaigns Amanda Batten said: “We’re expecting the second reading of the Bill to be on 27 February. We need 100 MPs in the House of Commons on that date to vote it through. 

“This will be a big year for autism. Work on the autism strategy is getting underway. We hope that the Autism Bill will complement that work rather than distract from it, to give the strategy some teeth.”

Last year Angela Browning MP helped introduce an private member’s bill on autism under the 10-minute rule, which restricts the amount of time allocated for debate in the House of Commons. Gillan’s Bill, which is closely modelled on Browning’s, has a greater chance of success as private member’s bills brought up via a ballot are allowed more parliamentary time.

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Autism and Asperger’s syndrome: adults lack services

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