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5 May 2009 : Column 140

Autism Bill (Money)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

10.1 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Phil Hope): I beg to move,

On Second Reading, it was the will of the House that the Autism Bill should be discussed in Committee. The Bill, introduced by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), will have expenditure implications for the public purse. At the first sitting of the Committee last week, the Chairman confirmed that those implications are significant for certain clauses of the Bill. Therefore, approval for a money resolution is needed before the Committee can engage fully in those discussions.

I want to stress that the Government, and I personally, share the hon. Lady’s wish to improve services for people with autism, whether children or adults. Indeed, with the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry), I have made clear commitments to take forward a range of work that will achieve all the objectives claimed to be behind the Bill. We will take it forward in a way that is cost-effective and focused on improved outcomes for people with autism. Our determination to deliver real and lasting change for people with the condition is rock solid.

Although there was a common aim on Second Reading, I was duty bound to make clear to the House the Government’s view that the Bill, as currently drafted, is not the most effective way to achieve the improvements that we all want, and my view on that has not changed. Nevertheless, the establishment of the Committee to consider the Bill gives us a timely opportunity to discuss all the important issues that it raises. I am looking forward to doing so, confident that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham and I will be able to move forward together in a true spirit of mutual interest and collaboration.

To do that, however, we need to deal with the money resolution, without which the Committee will not be able to have a detailed discussion of the key clauses of the Bill. On that basis and no other, I commend the resolution to the House.

10.2 pm

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I am pleased to speak to the Government’s money resolution on the Autism Bill. I thank them and the Minister for tabling the resolution at this stage. As the Minister acknowledged in his brief contribution, it is necessary to progress discussions of the Bill against the background of the House’s having passed the money resolution.

The resolution is also a good sign, in my book, because, as the Minister said, we are continuing negotiations on the content of the Bill. I am optimistic that, with a
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little give and take on both sides, we may reach agreement on legislation which will give the help that the Minister and I wish to bring to people with autism and their families. Some cost to the public purse is associated with the legislation, and I have been looking at the costs with the National Autistic Society.

However, it is becoming more apparent that, in this case, a stitch in time will save nine. That is what the Bill is all about. Expenditure at an early stage, enabling better interventions and better assistance to be given to people with autism, can often help prevent such people from deteriorating into a crisis phase. It is the costs of people in crisis that are often so high, to say nothing of the savings that we may be able to find in terms of the pain and misery that a crisis usually causes the individual and their family.

The Minister will be familiar with the Knapp report, which clearly laid out the economic consequences of autism; it certainly makes sobering reading. The aggregate national costs of supporting children with autistic spectrum disorder were estimated to be about £2.7 billion per year, most of which was accounted for by the services used. For adults, the aggregate costs amount to £25 billion each year. Of that, services account for 60 per cent. and lost employment and family expenses account for the remainder.

With an annual cost to the economy of about £28 billion, we must be looking for ways to ensure that the best outcomes are achieved for people with ASD and that the money is well spent. Early interventions can help with behaviour patterns, and increased investment at the right time could reduce the high support costs in adulthood. The report points to the reality that greater availability of early interventions will reduce the impact of ASD on the UK economy—but most importantly, it could improve the quality of life for people with ASD and their families. In addition, we will shortly have the National Audit Office report, which will give us a more detailed analysis of the effectiveness of expenditure. I am sure that that will add to the knowledge of what Government need in order to ensure that we improve the quality of outcomes. We need to know how best to spend these resources, and I hope that the Bill will act as a pointer and a general framework for that background.

On the clauses relating to children, registration of children with autism on the local authority registers should not present significant cost implications. The cost of an administration assistant to receive the register and manage it totals £210,600 on the last Government-prepared estimate, but as the registers already exist in some form, the additional costs should be marginal. The effective implementation of clause 2 would result in an increase in service provision, but it is also clear that there are significant medium-term and long-term savings to be made by providing the appropriate services at the right time to children with autism.

On clause 3, there is existing funding to deliver support for transition through the Aiming High for Disabled Children transition support programme, but there is a low baseline in many authorities, and the £17 million that is already in the budget can only achieve so much. However, as the funding exists, it does not necessarily form any great amount in extra costs under the Bill.

On the remainder of the clauses, much of the cost has already been committed by the Department through the announcements that the Minister has made. We are in
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the process of negotiating amendments to the Bill so that it can reflect the generous offer made by the Government to fulfil some of those promises. I look forward to the Minister supporting the Bill as we progress through the Committee stage, and I am delighted that the money resolution has been tabled to enable that progress to be made.

Question put and agreed to.


Employment (Mr. Howard Horsley)

10.7 pm

Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): I rise to present the petition of my constituent, Mr. Howard Horsley. In doing so, I am supported, although in his absence, by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who has consented to my mentioning his support.

The petition states:


5 May 2009 : Column 143

Post Office Services (Shropshire)

10.10 pm

Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): You will be relieved to hear that this is a slightly shorter petition, Mr. Speaker.

The petition states:

some 1,000 of them—


5 May 2009 : Column 144

Rail Timetables (Lewes)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —(Ms Diana R. Johnson.)

10.11 pm

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): I wish to raise a constituency matter relating to rail services to my constituency, and in particular the impact of the new timetable introduced on 14 December last year. It is fair to say that in the years leading up to last December, my constituents were seeing an improved railway service. We had got over the disaster of the existence of Railtrack and seen new rolling stock introduced and the replacement of Connex with Southern. The number of complaints that I was receiving about rail services was reducing, although of course there were still one or two.

All that was good, but there has been an avalanche of complaints from my constituents since the new timetable was brought in on 14 December. The reason for that is that it is fragile by its very nature and disadvantages my constituents in Lewes, Polegate, Seaford, Newhaven, Plumpton and elsewhere. Part of the discussion that took place before the new timetable came in was about what should happen to the Gatwick Express service. A common view—the majority view—was that the dedicated Gatwick Express service should cease, as it occupied platforms with stationary trains at Gatwick, blocking the lines. That was the view of Southern, the current train operating company. The view that it put forward, to which I subscribe, was that the replacement of that dedicated service with trains running through to Brighton or elsewhere would have led to a much more robust and better timetable.

The Government were in a difficult position, but I am sorry to say that they appeared to take the side of the aviation industry. They allowed the dedicated Gatwick Express service to continue, albeit in modified form with certain trains routed through to Brighton. The consequence has been that the timetable has been thrown into disarray, with grave consequences for my constituents. Notably, there are now trains running through to Brighton that are lightly loaded, while trains running through to Lewes and Eastbourne are heavily overcrowded. The 18.45 dedicated service to Gatwick from Victoria, for example, has a load of less than 40 per cent., whereas the 18.47 train from Victoria to Lewes and on to Eastbourne has standing room only to Lewes, not least because the number of carriages has been reduced from eight to four on that service. What we have seen overall—Southern has confirmed the figures for me—is four fewer carriages in the rush hour running through to Lewes and Eastbourne than there were before the timetable changes were introduced.

I should like to cite one or two examples from constituents for the Minister. I have received a large number of complaints from constituents. It is not possible to do justice to them all this evening, but it is possible to refer to some of them. Southern also appears to have been inundated with complaints, because I am now receiving complaints about its failure to respond to complaints. I did not receive such complaints before, so clearly Southern is overwhelmed with correspondence as well.

Here is a typical e-mail from one of my constituents in Seaford:

A further complaint by a local pressure group draws attention to the following: short formation as a matter of policy on the 16.17 service from Victoria to Eastbourne, which has now been reduced to four carriages; short formation on the 16.57 service, the following train from Victoria to Eastbourne; the removal of the 17.17 London Victoria-to-Seaford and Ore service; serious overcrowding on the 17.23 service from London Bridge, which is the service to which the other constituent whom I have quoted referred; people standing to Haywards Heath or beyond; and the constant late running of the 18.06 service from Victoria to Eastbourne, which is described by the group as a “systematic failing”.

My third example is from a constituent who says:

He makes the following suggestion:

He also bemoans the fact that the new timetable from 17 May shows no improvements to the December timetable, despite all the kerfuffle and the protests, in order to rectify the damage that has been done.

I understand the various pressures that exist, with a lot of trains seeking to use limited infrastructure. Of course there is a need to balance services on different bits of the network. However, I hope the Minister will accept that the new timetable is not working for my constituents in Lewes or for those in Eastbourne. Perhaps naturally, blame has been levelled at the rail company, which is not entirely without blame for how it has handled the matter. However, the crude political reality is that the company is bidding again for its franchise, as are its three competitors, and is therefore not going to tell the Government, “Your timetable has caused most of these problems.” However, my honest assessment as a local Member of Parliament is that the changes to the timetable that were imposed on Southern, not the timetable that Southern wanted, have caused most of the problems.

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