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Autism is a hidden disability, one that is still not well understood by society as a whole, as well as many in the caring professions who should understand it. Some people face the additional barrier that their autism has not been recognised, so that in effect they have not been seen as sufficiently disabled. We are talking about a spectrum of conditions and a wide range of individual needs. Some people with high-functioning autism are able to live independent lives, but many others will need support. Some will have accompanying learning disabilities or other conditions; they may display behaviours seen as challenging and need a lifetime of specialist support. Where autism has this effect on an individual, that person is a disabled person for the purposes of the Disability Discrimination Act, and thus is entitled to the full protection from discrimination which is provided by the Act, including from discrimination that arises from a failure to make reasonable adjustments. I was pleased to hear the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, about the work of the EHRC in this area, and I accept entirely the points made by noble Lords about the application of the Act in this regard.
That is why my department is leading work across government to address the inequalities and exclusion which people with autism face, to ensure that they get the support they need to access the same opportunities and mainstream services that the rest of us take for granted, and to live independent lives as equal citizens in the community. However, there is no quick fix either legislatively or financially. It is also about long-term education, culture and attitude change. In April, my honourable friend Phil Hope launched "A Better Future", a consultation on what the Government's autism strategy should look like. Social inclusion was identified as one of its five key themes. There has been a fantastic response to the consultation with more than 1,000 responses received from people with autism, professionals, voluntary groups and carers. These responses will inform the development of the strategy, ensuring that it can properly reflect the everyday reality of those whose lives are touched by autism.
The consultation has been extremely useful and informative and has helped us to form a consensus around what the priority areas should be, not only from a health and social care perspective but across all public services. First, there needs to be a greater awareness of autism and the needs of people with
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The third priority to come out of the consultation is that it is the job of all service providers, not only specialists, to do whatever they can to help people with autism to live independently. Where there are blockages it is everyone's responsibility to do whatever is necessary to remove them. The challenge-it is a huge one-is to ensure that programmes aimed at improving care and transforming public services address the needs of people with autism so that they no longer fall through the gaps.
The fourth priority is to give people with autism and their families somewhere to turn for help and support. This means increasing the capacity of existing services and working, for instance, with the third sector to provide more and better signposted services. Fifthly, and most importantly, in all respects we must ensure that people with autism benefit from personalisation, an issue raised by the noble Earl. No two people on the autistic spectrum have the exact same needs and we cannot design a system of care and support that treats them as anything other than unique individuals with individual needs.
That is the whole point of what we are trying to do. The strategy is not about setting up new structures or separate services but about making existing services meet the needs of people with autism; it is about being innovative and providing smarter services and spending money more effectively; it is about working differently and taking responsibility as individuals, organisations and communities; it is about making the system and the private and public sectors meet the needs of individuals, not making individuals meet the needs of the system. That will make the real difference. If we can get it right for people with autism, who have so many complex needs and individual challenges, we can get it right for everyone.
This is not something the Government can do alone; everyone in society needs to change their attitudes to people with autism, people who are different. We have seen too many horrible incidents of disabled people being singled out and attacked for being different. That is unacceptable and so, for example, a key element of our strategy will be working with key partners such as the National Autistic Society and TreeHouse to raise awareness and understanding and bring about the cultural changes that are needed.
I am sure my noble friend Lady Uddin will be pleased to learn that the Prime Minister has already given his backing for a co-ordinated strategic approach that will drive through change in services across the public sector. We aim to provide a truly cross-government
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Baroness Thornton: That is part of the strategy. Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to answer specific points. I can understand why he is feeling angry about this-indeed, it is shared by many of us-but it is simply not the case that nothing is happening; I do not accept that contention of the noble Lord. Of course, the Autism Bill has just finished its passage through the House with widespread support.
Turning to some of the points made by individual Members of the House, the noble Baronesses, Lady Prashar and Lady Greengross, both raised the issue of research. We have committed £600,000 to fund the prevalence study and £200,000 to enable the study to gain the best evidence of the transition to adulthood of young people with autism. Through the Medical Research Council the Government are currently funding 10 live grants and three live fellowships. The autism spend figure for 2007-08 was £2.26 million. It is not enough but it is certainly more than it has been in the past.
The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, raised the issue of how to improve data collection. The joint strategic needs assessments are a key mechanism for commissioners to understand the needs of local people and the information included in the JSNAs about people with autism is critical to ensuring that better services are planned and commissioned locally. This year we will publish the good practice guide, which will set out what a good JSNA looks like to help assessors identify the needs of people with autism who may be at risk of falling through the net.
My noble friend Lady Wilkins and the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, both raised the issue of information and data. It is true that there has not been a focus on services for adults with autism. We recognise that this is a real issue, which is why we are commissioning a prevalence study. We have asked the SCIE to look at how personalisation works for adults with autism and gather the views of professionals, people and carers. I have before me a list of about eight other things that we are doing. I shall write to noble Baronesses about them so that I can deal with other issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, asked about benefits and the wider programme. The Government are well aware that many people with autism are not receiving the support they need to live independently and encounter barriers to both accessing mainstream public services and full inclusion in society. That is why we have taken firm action to develop the first ever cross-government strategy on services and support for people with autism. The contributions of the National Autistic Society and the All-Party Group on Autism have been helpful in further raising the profile of this very important issue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, raised the critical issue of transition, which I address every time I speak on autism in your Lordships' House. The Government have announced a £19 million transitional support programme which will help to improve support for disabled young children through the transition to adulthood, including those with autism.
My noble friend Lord Judd raised the issue of acknowledging the progress and achievements of children with autism in the education system. These issues were raised during the passage of the Special Educational Needs (Information) Act. The DCSF is running a £31 million pilot programme in 10 local authority areas which is intended to improve outcomes for children with SEN, including those with autistic spectrum disorders.
The right reverend Prelate spoke about awareness-raising. The key thrust of the government-wide programme is to increase awareness of autism across the public sector. It is about not just those who provide services but also the wider community. The right reverend Prelate was absolutely right that how our society accommodates, celebrates and accepts difference is crucial.
My noble friend Lady Uddin raised the issue of money. We recognise that in the current economic situation public services are operating under huge financial constraints, but this should not be allowed materially to impact on the drive for change across the public services for people with autism.
I am glad that I have had the opportunity to set out more clearly our determination to lead action which will ensure that people with autism no longer fall through the gaps and to assert their right to live as independently as possible as citizens in our society.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: Before the break, I expressed my views on the current law on provocation and the Government's proposals to amend it. However, one thing is glaringly inconsistent in the way in which the Government are moving-Clause 49(6)(c). It appears that every human emotion can be invoked as a qualifying trigger for the loss of self-control, except something that has been done or said which "constituted sexual infidelity".
For some reason, which I really do not understand, the Government seek to remove from provocation the issue of sexual infidelity. That can apply to a male or a female defendant. I have been thinking about my own experience, and in all probability I have come across sexual infidelity as a trigger for a female rather more than for a male. In other words, a philandering husband
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I spoke in Committee about the betrayal of trust involved in sexual infidelity. Sometimes arrangements are arrived at between husband and wife that you would not expect to lead to a loss of self-control-almost an agreement. But there are cases in which there has been a deep bond of trust between the partners, or at least one of the partners has thought there was, and they have been betrayed. That betrayal gives rise to the deepest of emotions, which can lead to anger, jealousy, and indeed to picking up a carving knife. I remember in one case a lady picked up a bread knife and put it down and picked up the meat knife to murder her husband, which rather suggests that she had an intention to kill or to cause some really serious harm.
This removal of sexual infidelity as a cause of loss of self-control is just illogical and not desirable. I do not wish to repeat what I said in Committee, since this is Report, but the whole of the amendments that the Government have made are in my view obnoxious, and this is outstandingly obnoxious. What it really reflects is something that has run through the 12 years of this Government-a refusal to trust the good common sense of a British jury. They are the people who decide what the standards are, how deep the hurt is, and what justification there can be for the action of a particular defendant. I would rather leave these issues to the jury, if provocation has to stay, and not confine their consideration of the marital or other relationships between a man and a woman or a man and a man or a woman and a woman. I should rather leave it to their good common sense to determine whether murder, which is proved, should be reduced to manslaughter by reason of the partial defence of provocation. I beg to move.
Lord Henley: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hunt and I seem to be splitting the murder issues between us. My noble friend confessed that he last saw much crime when he was doing his law exams in the late 1960s. My knowledge is marginally more modern, in that I did my Bar exams in the late 1970s. However, I shall do the best I can. I hope that I can say that I know even less about sexual infidelity-but that is entirely a matter for me. After all, this is after dinner.
The noble Lord has laid out a compelling case for why this is, at best, a peculiar exception to be included in the Bill. It should go without saying that we do not suggest sexual infidelity to be an excuse or justification for murder, but that is quite a different thing from saying-as the Government hope to do-that the impact of another's sexual infidelity on a person's thoughts, actions and emotions should be disregarded entirely. As the noble Lord pointed out, there are different levels of infidelity. What this really involves is not the sexual relations of the defendant but a breach of trust.
We agree that a defendant who relied on sexual infidelity alone as a defence for murder without anything deeper or broader would be highly unlikely to succeed, and rightly so. But to select one aspect of human behaviour and totally exclude it as a consideration is denying the court the opportunity to weigh up the circumstances of the case in their entirety. We on these
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We also question the Government's choice of wording. How does something that is said constitute sexual infidelity? A confession of past wrongs is just that-a confession. It does not constitute anything more. The presence of paragraph (c) is more to do with gesture politics than serious reform of the defence of provocation. Therefore, I ask the Minister to help us in our debate by explaining exactly the problems of this paragraph and why the Government included it in Clause 49. Is it a Law Commission recommendation or the invention of someone in the Government? The provision inhibits due consideration of all the events surrounding murder and denies proper deliberation of the factors that may raise a partial defence to that murder. The law would be better served with its removal, and we on these Benches will support the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, should he wish to press this amendment.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: I, too, support the amendment. As the House knows, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, that the whole of Clause 49 is objectionable, but this particular paragraph is truly objectionable. It is little short of astonishing that Parliament should be asked to tell the jury whether sexual infidelity is enough for a man or woman to lose their self-control. I thoroughly support the amendment.
Lord Neill of Bladen: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, for not being here at the beginning of his speech, but I know very well his views on this topic. We would make ourselves look extraordinarily foolish if we say that a jury cannot take account of what most people recognise as being the most dominant cause of violence by one individual against another. Every opera you go to, every novel you read has sexual infidelity at some point or another. Otherwise, it is not worth reading or listening to. Forgive that aside, but it is the correct recognition of the literary position. It is mainly men killing women. I put that to a learned Member of your Lordships' House and was told that I had forgotten "Antigone", a play by Euripides in which the woman ensures that her male should-have-been lover gets his comeuppance on the beach when the wheels of the chariot go wrong. However, on the whole, it is the men. It is an incredibly powerful voice. In every newspaper you read there is a case where somebody has killed or attempted to kill a spouse, lover, lost lover or whatever. To rule this out as not being an area of activity where human passions are deeply engaged, leading to violent action, is absurd.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, Amendment 62 would remove the subsection which provides that,
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It has often been thought, because of the history of the partial defence of provocation, that men who kill their unfaithful wives can make use of that defence to evade a murder conviction. To put it bluntly, we do not believe that it is right or fair, or that it should be a possibility. The development of case law and the outcomes of more recent cases may suggest that this problem has been to some extent addressed; I concede that. Indeed, pleas of provocation on the basis of sexual infidelity normally now fail. However, the current law still allows the defence to be raised and, obviously, where a defence can be raised it will succeed from time to time. Frankly, we want to draw a line under all this. Our provision spells out that it is unacceptable for a defendant who has killed an unfaithful partner to rely on that unfaithfulness to try to escape a murder conviction.
This debate is all about a partial defence to murder and, specifically, about when we should deem it appropriate to reduce liability for murder to that for the less serious offence of manslaughter. Our conviction is this: killing in response to sexual infidelity is, well into the 21st century, as I say, not a defensible basis for such a reduction to be made. Indeed, I challenge those who oppose this provision and have spoken against it to explain why they consider that, when one person kills another, the fact that the deceased had been unfaithful to their killer should ever be enough to reduce a murder conviction to manslaughter. The Government believe that what we propose here is appropriate and proper for the times that we live in, so I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment. If he will not, I will advise the House to vote against it.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the Minister seems to suggest that we are living in the past. That is not true. We say that the standard should be set by a jury, which must be under the age of 65; from our contemporary society; represents a cross-section of the community; understands the people in front of it; and can weigh these issues up in a way that we cannot in the House of Lords on 26 October. We cannot legislate in that way to cover all situations.
The noble Lord has confirmed-indeed, my noble friend Lord Carlile has confirmed-that you do not succeed in a simple case of infidelity with a plea of provocation. It requires much more than that today-more than it may have done if you went back to when this
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The standards of today are to be applied not by the Government in this House but by a jury, who will hear the whole case-all the facts, all the mitigation-and, by the standards that they believe are right for today's society, will determine whether this should reduce murder to manslaughter. I am opposed to that concept anyway, as your Lordships know, but, if you have to have it, to exclude sexual infidelity from the consideration of the jury altogether by statute is entirely wrong in principle. It is not that we are for husbands who kill their wives or wives who kill their husbands, or anything like that. It is the way our system works that standards are to be applied by the people-not, as in this instance, by the legislators. It is for that reason that I seek to test the opinion of the House.
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