|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Further, we think that Amendment 60 would create significant problems. As I said, it would apply the "gross provocation" requirement to both limbs of the partial defence, but the "fear of serious violence" limb of the new partial defence to murder is intended to apply in a more tailored way to where a person kills in fear than does the current partial defence of provocation. It achieves this by focusing on what the defendant feared in the future, rather than being based on what occurred in the past.
Introducing a gross provocation requirement to the test for fear of serious violence begins to undermine that approach. Its effect would be that killings committed in fear would still have to be squeezed into a partial defence directed at killings committed in anger. It should be pointed out that the Law Commission did not apply the gross provocation label to the fear of serious violence limb, so doing that would be inconsistent with the commission's approach.
In short, we think that this additional hurdle of gross provocation is inconsistent and that it would make it much more difficult to argue successfully the fear of serious violence limb of the partial defence of loss of control. For those reasons, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment. If, as he has made it crystal clear that he intends to do, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, takes his amendment to the opinion of the House, I shall have to advise Members of the House to vote against him.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, I suppose that I should be grateful to the noble and learned Lord for saying that the amendment is good as far as it goes, but I know him well enough to know that that is a compliment. He said that I was in a conundrum. I do not want to be quixotically chivalrous but I think that, were I to look, as he advised me earlier, in the Oxford English Dictionary, I would find that he meant a cul-de-sac. For me, a conundrum is a riddle whose answer is a pun. However, I think that I can do no better than say what I said before, including to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford: I think that we are debating issues which demand full parliamentary scrutiny and which would have been far better in a Bill of their own entitled "Reform of the Law of Murder Bill".
I sense that most of your Lordships are dissatisfied with the way in which these debates are proceeding because we are, as has been pointed out, scratching at
26 Oct 2009 : Column 1042
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, I wish to take the opinion of the House on this amendment. However, if it does not succeed, I shall not be moving Amendments 63 and 64. I hope that that will be of some comfort to the House.
Before making my substantive points, I should declare that I am a patron of Research Autism and would like to thank it and Autism Speaks for the briefing and material that they provided in preparation for this debate. I also want to acknowledge the sterling work that all the voluntary organisations are doing to raise awareness of autism and to support those with this condition, as well as the work of the All-Party Group on Autism.
Autism is not rare. The term "autism" describes a range of developmental conditions arising out of brain differences affecting more than 500,000 children and adults in the UK. The symptoms of autism vary considerably but they always affect instinctive social behaviour and communication, which can lead to severe stress, isolation and a failure to achieve academic and other potential. The condition affects individuals in different ways. Some are able to lead everyday lives while others require special support. It is hard to create awareness of autism as people with the condition do not look disabled. When meeting someone with autism it is not always immediately obvious that they have a disability because there are no outward signs.
Autism is a hidden disability. Consequences can be devastating. The hidden nature of the condition can lead others to make judgments about the behaviour of people with autism, seeing their actions as wilful or malicious. Difficulties can flow from these judgments which can lead to people with autism being ostracised or bullied, or in some cases facing prosecution. Research indicates that one in 100 children is affected by an autistic spectrum disorder and 40 per cent wait three or more years for a diagnosis. It is still difficult to get a diagnosis as an adult if an individual has been missed as a child. Provision is variable throughout the country. Around two-thirds of local authorities in England do not know how many children with autism are in their area and only two are aware of the number of adults with autism. Twenty-five per cent of children have been excluded from school at least once. Family separation increases from one in three to one in two when there is a child with autism in the family. Training for parents and carers is inadequate or non-existent and training for professionals is again inadequate or non-existent. Children with autism from black and ethnic minority communities experience discrimination on two fronts: their disability and their ethnicity.
A report by the National Autistic Society highlighted the neglect by researchers, professionals and service providers and this is a dimension that must not be forgotten. As awareness of autism among most of the population is very low and the nature of the disability often extremely complex, inclusion is harder to achieve. Despite some advances in understanding and defining autism, there is a long way to go before it can be said truly that people with autism are fully included in mainstream society. Studies suggest that only 15 per cent of individuals with autism become independent as adults. More than 40 per cent are living with their parents as adults. Of the able group the majority
26 Oct 2009 : Column 1045
The Disability Discrimination Act is not working for this group of people. The Act provides that reasonable adjustments should be made by employers to public buildings to ensure that people with disabilities are not discriminated against. However, the Act does not specify what constitutes a reasonable adjustment. More work is needed to discover the exact nature of the adjustment needed. More effort is needed to ensure compliance with the Act and bespoke guidance on reasonable adjustments should be provided. The Equality and Human Rights Commission should look at that. Sensitivity to noise, light and other sensory stimuli is not taken into account by disability legislation; buildings remain inaccessible to people with autism because of their sensory environment. Many are placed in inappropriate settings, such as mental health institutions or, in some cases the criminal justice system where staff are not trained to understand or respond to them appropriately. They and their families are under the most enormous strain and do not have informed support and help. Families report the struggle they face in getting recognition in everyday affairs such as a visit to the supermarket, or in important matters such as entitlement to education. Autistic children are the group most likely to be excluded from school and the majority of appeals to the special educational needs tribunal concern autism.
While the situation with regard to children has undoubtedly improved, there is very little support available to help them to make the transition from childhood to adulthood. Adults with autism often fall through the gap between mental health and learning disability services. Autism needs a niche of its own to prevent this from happening. The Autism Bill, which is aimed primarily at the needs of adults, recognises the need for better data locally, and that there is a lack of information sharing, planning and services. I know that the Government are committed to providing regulations and statutory guidance to local authorities and all other local agencies, and as part of Aiming High for Disabled Children, the Government have increased funding in relation to transition and autism. I am also aware that the Government are looking to produce a national adult autism strategy. All this is welcome, but it is difficult to see how meaningful this can be without informed research and an information database.
The National Audit Office report, Supporting People with Autism through Adulthood, was primarily impelled by the alarming outcome of a study by Professor Martin Knapp, which estimated the economic cost of supporting children with autism at £2.7 billion each year, while for adults this amounted to £25 billion each year. Of course, the emotional cost for families and individuals is immeasurable.
The key conclusions of this report confirm the huge lack of knowledge on who is affected, where they are and what is happening. It highlights the huge lack of knowledge in how to support those on the autistic spectrum, and the huge lack of transition planning from schools into adulthood.
While there is beginning to be an awareness of the scale of the issues and the high levels of exclusion, there is limited knowledge of exactly how to address them. There is an undeniable case for investing more in this area in order to understand which interventions affect the trajectory of autism and to help society better meet those needs. Autism is a major issue not just for health, and there must be an integrated approach across government. More work is needed to establish both the scale and the extent of the issues raised by this condition. What is certain is that autism costs a lot in human suffering and wastage of talent due to inadequate and inappropriate services and interventions. Currently, against an annual economic cost of £27.5 billion, the government spend on research is a mere £1.7 million, whereas considerably more is spent on research into lower incidence and lower impact conditions. By finding out what is the best way of intervening and supporting, especially in childhood and at that critical stage from childhood into adulthood, not only can we alleviate considerable suffering, but we can help people to have meaningful lives and also help make efficient use of stressed services and economic resources.
While I am encouraged that the Government are taking steps to respond to the issue of autism, I have to say that a lot more is needed. Strategies have to be underpinned by proper data and research, and strategies must be translated into meaningful action. We need action now to train teachers, social workers, GPs, health visitors, employers and benefit agencies. More effort is needed to ensure compliance with the disability discrimination legislation. All this need not wait for the publication of strategies next year. We need to take action now and build on the work that is being done.
Baroness Wilkins: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, on securing this important debate at such a propitious time with the passing of the first ever Autism Bill and the promise of a national strategy for adults with autism. We now have a real opportunity to improve the lives of people with autism.
One of the most important tasks to be tackled is the inadequacy of the existing service structures within local authorities in meeting their needs. This year's report by the National Audit Office on public spending on adults with autism found that 74 per cent of local authorities did not have a commissioning strategy for them and only 21 per cent of joint strategic needs assessments-that is the key tool used for the strategic planning of local services-include specific mention of the needs of people with autism.
Not only that, but it found that a failure to identify adults with high-functioning autism or Asperger's
26 Oct 2009 : Column 1047
The vast majority of local authorities only offer services for adults with learning disabilities or mental health problems. While adults with autism may additionally have these problems, those who have neither are told that they are ineligible for support and that there are no services to meet their needs. However, there are some enlightened authorities providing specialist teams such as the one in Liverpool. Funded by Mersey Care NHS Trust, the Liverpool Asperger team has eight core staff members, including a speech and language therapist, a social worker, clinical psychologists, support workers and a community nurse.
The Liverpool team co-ordinates a network of services working together to address the particular needs of the individual with Asperger's syndrome. It offers assessment and diagnosis, together with clinical interventions based on the needs of the individual. For some people, a diagnosis may be all that they need to help make sense of their experiences. But others may need help dealing with other social or mental health difficulties or with learning to fit into a non-Asperger world.
As the NAO report has shown, these specialist teams actually save the country money. Often relatively inexpensive services, such as befriending schemes, social skills training, support to use public transport and so forth can be the difference between social exclusion and social inclusion for an adult with autism. This in turn can be the difference between a happy and fulfilling life, with the friends, hobbies and employment that we should all be able to enjoy, and a life of isolation which often leads to acute, and expensive, mental health problems.
We know that this model works. We know that it saves money. We know that it improves lives. It is essential that the forthcoming strategy for adults with autism is explicit about the needs for such teams in every local area, not just some, so that adults with autism can enjoy appropriate care and support wherever they live.
Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for securing this debate. The issue of social exclusion, especially affecting those with disabilities, is close to my heart. Autistic individuals are one of the most socially excluded groups in society. This is due to the complexity and lack of understanding of autistic spectrum disorders. For far too long, people with autism have been neglected by society. This statement is corroborated by the fact that those with autism often have bleak outcomes later in life. Studies have revealed that a large percentage of autistic people have stated that they find it difficult to make friends.
I am deeply saddened by the testimonies of those with autism; no group in society should be subjected to such helpless circumstances. We have a civic duty to foster greater relationships with autistic people. I should
26 Oct 2009 : Column 1048
People with autism have often been misunderstood for exhibiting what may be perceived as peculiar behaviour. Unfortunately, some of those individuals may come into contact with the criminal justice system at some stage in their lives.
According to a survey conducted by the National Autistic Society, one-third of people with autism are not in receipt of benefits. That revelation is truly shocking, as it tells us that those at the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum are among those who are missing out on vital support and assistance. Poverty is a harbinger of social exclusion. Research reveals that only 15 per cent of adults with autism are in full-time employment. That figure reflects the stark reality that autistic adults are simply not getting the support that they need when seeking a job. All adults with autism who apply for employment and support allowance in future should be given adequate assistance when submitting their claims. I hope that we will address the failures of the benefits system correctly to award appropriate financial support to autistic applicants. Greater understanding and awareness of autism will inevitably lead to better strategic planning among individuals and organisations responsible for addressing the needs of autistic people.
Autism by its nature is a complex condition that requires a comprehensive and co-ordinated plan of action. We are all indeed pleased that there is cross-party consensus on the Autism Bill, which will no doubt herald a new era of heightened awareness regarding autism.
I conclude by stating that it is our responsibility as an inclusive society to do everything necessary to ensure that the discrimination and exclusion that pervade the lives of autistic individuals are eradicated. In order to achieve that, we must ensure that those individuals have access to the support and resources that they require to live happy and fulfilling lives.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, on securing this debate. As vice-chairman of the All-Party Group on Autism, and as a former chairman of TreeHouse, I find it absolute agony to try to cover the ground in three minutes, but I shall attempt to do so.
The issue of autism spectrum disorder has risen up the agenda massively during the past few years. The passing of the Autism Bill last week in this House demonstrated that. I congratulate all those involved. It demonstrated the real will of Parliament to improve outcomes for adults with ASD conditions. Nevertheless, for both adults and children, there are still a great many issues to tackle. The campaign for improved inclusion and outcomes must continue.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|