Thursday, 20 January 2011

Autism Bill Scotland fails to gain support


12 January 2011

Autism Bill fails to gain support at Holyrood

Liberal Democrat MSP Hugh O'Donnell's Bill would have seen the Scottish Government prepare and publish an autism strategy.

MSP Hugh O'Donnell's Autism Bill - intended to bring in new laws aimed at improving services for people with autism - has been rejected by 109 votes to five, with two abstentions.

The Bill would have introduced an obligation on the Scottish Government to prepare and publish an autism strategy. It would also have required ministers to issue guidance to health boards and councils on implementing this.

The Holyrood Committee responsible for reporting on the Bill has already warned that the proposals could fail to make "meaningful differences" for those with the condition.

Mr O'Donnell called for MSPs to allow the Bill to be progressed further, or for the Scottish Government to adopt it and make any necessary amendments.

He said: "The intention from the outset was to provide a level framework for the 50,000-plus people in this country with autism.

"To give them the same opportunities to access appropriate support, education and employment as every other citizen in our country."

MSPs praised Mr O'Donnell for bringing attention to what was described across the chamber as an important issue. However members went on to say they could not support the Bill.


In September, public health minister Shona Robison launched a consultation on developing an autism strategy for Scotland.

And members of Holyrood's Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee said last month they were "not convinced" the Government strategy would be improved by Mr O'Donnell's Bill.

The MSPs said that while the Bill placed an obligation on the Scottish Government to publish an autism strategy, it did not detail what such a strategy should include.

They also raised concerns that introducing legislation for a specific disability could "lead to a perception of two-tier disabilities with some disabilities thought of as being more worthy of a legislative strategy than others".

Committee convener Karen Whitefield said: "Before we consider passing further legislation, resources should be directed towards ensuring that current legislation is being adhered to by local authorities and health boards.

"This Bill has successfully highlighted the barriers facing people with autism and help to focus attention on the crucial role of the Scottish Government in providing leadership across the public sector to surmount those barriers.

"However the committee does not believe that the Bill as introduced is sufficient to achieve this aim."


Public health minister Shona Robison also praised Mr O'Donnell for bringing attention to autism provision, and acknowledged his role in bringing about the Scottish Government's consultation on developing a national strategy.

She added: "We don't need legislation to get there, particularly when we can start that process now.

"Following the legislative route would result in delays as the Bill took its passage, and would mean a strategy would probably not be published until early next year."

Labour's Claire Baker said it was regrettable the committee could not support the Bill beyond stage one, however she welcomed the development of the national strategy.

She added: "Hugh O'Donnell's work has changed the direction of government and that is to be welcomed, and Hugh O'Donnell's efforts on this should be acknowledged."

While she could not support the Bill, Conservative MSP Elizabeth Smith said: "Absolutely no-one doubts that we need to do more.

"There is a need to ensure there is no postcode lottery when it comes to support.
"The need for better information, the need for earlier detection in nurseries and schools."

Liberal Democrat Margaret Smith MSP added: "It is quite clear to me that the pressure that Hugh O'Donnell has placed on the government has resulted in them bringing forward a strategy, effectively delivering the first half of his Bill.

"A significant victory."

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