Autism Bill fails to make the case


The Autism (Scotland) Bill fails to convince the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture committee, according to its Stage 1 report published today.

Introduced as a Member’s Bill by Hugh O’Donnell MSP, the bill requires ministers to publish an autism strategy to address the perceived ineffective implementation of current legislation for autism services. NHS bodies and councils would also be required to “have regard to” the guidance issued under the strategy.

The committee praises the bill’s good intentions and agrees that people with autism and their families face significant barriers when trying to access services. However, it feels the bill would be unable to deliver the improvements to services needed. In particular, the committee fears the proposed obligation on NHS bodies and councils to “have any regard to” any guidance, would not be robust enough.

Committee Convener Karen Whitefield MSP said:

“We recognise the good intentions and goodwill behind Hugh O’Donnell’s Members Bill, and that this bill has led to a number of significant steps being taken by the Scottish Government on autism.

“However, the committee is not convinced the proposed Scottish Government strategy on autism would be improved by passing autism-specific legislation. We think that resources should be concentrated on improving services for adults, rather than creating new legislative burdens on NHS bodies and councils.

“We are also concerned this bill could create a perception of two-tier disabilities with some strategies thought of as more worthy of legislation and therefore seen as having more weight.”

The committee report made further recommendations:

  • Two significant new acts – the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2009, the Equality Act 2010 and the Scottish Government’s forthcoming autism strategy should all be allowed to bed in before any decision on autism-specific legislation is required.
  • The Scottish Government should revise its draft autism strategy to focus on the implementation of existing legislation and set in detail how it plans to improve autism services.

The Stage 1 debate on the Autism (Scotland) Bill will take place early in 2011.

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