Government supports MP’s autism bill


England could soon have its first autism-specific legislation, after the government threw its weight behind a private members’ bill that aims to transform services for adults with autism.
The National Autistic Society, which drafted the bill on behalf of 15 autism charities, said it was “absolutely delighted” at the government’s move, made during the committee stage of Conservative MP Cheryl Gillan’s autism bill.
Gillan’s bill includes measures to strengthen information about the number of people with autism and their needs; improve the planning of services as children move to adulthood; and ensure better access to services for adults with autism.
Phil Hope, the care services minister, successfully proposed an amendment that added the government’s planned new autism strategy to the bill.
Through other amendments, Hope committed the government to publishing its autism strategy by 1 April 2010, to issuing guidance to councils and NHS bodies by the end of 2010, and to keeping the guidance under review.
Crucially, the bill now imposes a statutory duty on councils and NHS bodies to follow the guidance.
The government’s strategy will focus on five main themes: health; social inclusion; choice and control; awareness raising and training; and access to training and employment.
Gillan told the committee that the government backing was a “breakthrough” after years of campaigning, as the new measures in the bill “would bind local authorities and NHS bodies so that…they cannot ignore, either accidentally or intentionally, the needs of people with autism and their families”.
Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS, said after the hearing: “We are absolutely delighted that the government is prepared to take decisive action to tackle the shocking lack of help which leaves people affected by autism feeling isolated, ignored and often at breaking point.”
The bill is due to receive its third reading in the Commons on 19 June. A consultation on the autism strategy, launched in April, closes on 15 September.
To find out how to take part in the consultation, visit