What happened in the National Assembly for Wales?

On Wednesday 14 June 2017, the National Assembly discussed the Autism [Wales] Bill.

It was discussed as a Private Members Bill by Paul Davies AM and the Assembly voted by 40 to 0 to allow the Bill to pass to its next stage. There were nine abstentions.

Alongside our campaigners our charity has been calling for an Autism Bill for Wales as part of the Act Now campaign.

What is a Private Members Bill?

A Private Members Bill is a draft law that is proposed by an Assembly Member rather than by the Welsh Government. Any Assembly Member can propose a Bill and must apply to be included in a ballot which is held by the Presiding Officer. To be eligible for the ballot, Members must also table certain pre-ballot information, including the proposed title of the Bill and its policy objectives.

What does it mean that Bill ‘has passed to its next stage’?

It means that the National Assembly has agreed to accept the ‘General Principles’ of the Bill or the general idea that a Bill on autism is a good idea.

Over the next 13 months the detail of the proposed Bill can be developed further.

What happens next?

During the debate a number of ‘milestones’ or priority actions were outlined, which, if met and taken forward would help fill the gaps that exist in services and support for autistic children and adults in Wales.

Paul Davies AM said that as he develops the Bill over the next year, if as a result of meeting the ‘milestones’ changes are made which significantly improve the lives of autistic people in Wales, he will reconsider the need for his Autism Bill.

The Minister for Social Services Rebecca Evans also said that she is considering issuing a code under the Social Services and Wellbeing Act that could put the current autism strategy on a statutory footing.  

We welcome both of these developments – the agreement about milestones and the statutory code.

We will be monitoring progress on the ‘milestones’ and working with Government on the statutory code.

We are also looking to work with all parties, as well as autistic people and their families to ensure that their needs are met in the best possible way.

What does it mean to ‘issue a Code’ under the Social Services and Wellbeing Act?

Part 8 of the Social Services and Wellbeing Act allows Ministers to issue or revise a code which can impose duties on local authorities. Before issuing a code, the Welsh Government must consult on it.

What is the Welsh Government’s current autism policy?

Since 2008, the Welsh Government has an autism strategy. It was the first of the UK Nations to recognise the distinct needs of autistic people and published a strategy for improving services and support for autistic people and their families. It also succeeded in raising awareness of autism by making it a policy priority.

However, since then momentum has been lost and the needs of autistic people are being overlooked. People face lengthy wait for a diagnosis of autism and local authorities don’t know how many autistic people are in their area and can’t plan appropriately for the support they need.

We believe legislation is necessary to make it clearer how services and support should be provided to those in the autism spectrum. It would help secure the long term future of the new integrated autism service for Wales that is currently only funded until the end of this Assembly term in 2021.

What is the Act Now campaign?

In the summer of 2015, we carried out a national online survey to find out what matters to people living with autism every single day. Some 90 per cent of people who responded said that specific autism legislation was needed. The Act Now Campaign was our attempt to persuade politicians of the need for legislation by including a commitment to it in their manifestos in the lead up to the National Assembly for Wales elections in 2016. Although five of the six parties supported the campaign, the Welsh Government did not and therefore didn’t include it in their plans for this Assembly term

If there is autism legislation why not legislate for other conditions?

Autism is frequently overlooked in policy, legislation and in the way services are organised. This is often because policy or service structures categorise support needs and autism doesn’t fit neatly into the categories. This means that people on the autism spectrum can fall in the gaps between services and policies don’t meet their needs. Introducing legislation will help to ensure that services bridge the gaps.

Does autism legislation exist in other parts of the UK?

Autism legislation already exists in England and Northern Ireland and similar legislation is being discussed in the Republic of Ireland. In Scotland, a 10 year strategy was developed after our charity campaigned there for legislation.

What can I do?

We value your support for our Act Now campaign for autism legislation in Wales. You can contact your Assembly Member and share your story and experiences with them. You can find your Assembly Member here http://www.senedd.assembly.wales/mgMemberIndex.aspx