Page last updated at 15:48 GMT, Wednesday, 21 January 2009

MP's plan to boost autism support

Cheryl Gillan
Ms Gillan said she hoped for government support

An MP is seeking to pass a law to improve the way local authorities provide support for people with autism.

Conservative Cheryl Gillan came top of a ballot of MPs hoping to introduce private members bills into Parliament.

This will allow Ms Gillan's proposals, which she says have cross-party support, additional time for debate beginning next month.

She wants councils to have to gather data on the number of autistic children and adults to better plan services.

Better planning

According to the National Autistic Society, two thirds of councils do not currently know how many children and adults there are with the condition in their area.

Ms Gillan introduced her bill to Parliament on Wednesday.

It needs the support of 100 MPs to move forward to a second reading next month.

A lot of families are experiencing falling through the net
Cheryl Gillan

Ms Gillan said autism help was uneven across the country and it was "crucial" that councils recognised their responsibilities to those afflicted with the condition.

"Because local authorities do not have the data on the number of children and adults with autism, they are not able to engage in suitable planning of services to meet their needs," she told BBC Radio Four's Today programme.

"A lot of families are experiencing falling through the net."

If passed, the law will place a responsibility on councils to collect information on autism cases from disparate sources such as social work teams, adult services and specialist schools.

This would make it easier to co-ordinate basic services and help ensure consistency of approach for children and adults.

Ms Gillan described the proposals as "modest" but said she was "thrilled" to put them forward and hoped the government would back them.

The Department of Health said it would make its position clear "in due course" once it saw the details of the bill.

It said it was already taking "significant action" to help children and adults with autism and was developing a strategy for adults with the condition.

'Great news'

About 588,000 people in the UK are thought to be affected by autism, a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them.

It is a huge step forward in ensuring a brighter future for people with this serious, lifelong and disabling condition
Mark Lever, National Autistic Society

The National Autistic Society, which along with other autism charities is helping to draft the proposed legislation, said it was potentially "great news" for the thousands of people with autism who felt neglected and isolated.

"It is a huge step forward in ensuring a brighter future for people with this serious, lifelong and disabling condition, but we urgently need support to make this law," said its chief executive Mark Lever.

Each year a ballot is held of MPs vying to introduce their own legislation.

Ms Gillan came top of December's ballot but did not have to decide the subject of her proposed bill until now. The amount of parliamentary time for private members bills is limited although a number of Fridays are set aside for debates.

Private members bills tend to be a good way of raising issues but rarely become law unless they gain the backing of the government.

Last year Tory MP Michael Fallon put forward a measure to allow councils to require more efficient energy standards for new homes and offices, which became law in November.

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SEE ALSO
Gillan wins chance to set own law
11 Dec 08 |  UK Politics
Autism 'may be missed in girls'
16 Sep 08 |  Health
Autism misunderstood by public
29 Oct 07 |  Health

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