Backbench Business - Services for People with Autismbackbench Business

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:09 pm on 21st March 2019.

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage) 2:09 pm, 21st March 2019

I absolutely join my hon. Friend in congratulating Cardiff airport on that. Going through an airport, with its security and everything that comes along with it, is a stressful enough situation for anyone, so the fact that the airport is doing that is very much to be welcomed.

Lord Bradley, a former Member of this House, produced a report in 2009 on how not only people with autism but other individuals with mental health issues come into contact with the criminal justice system. At the end of last year, he and I, along with some families of adults with autism, arranged to meet the new head of the new Independent Office for Police Conduct to talk about the way the police often deal with adults with autism when they come into contact with them, and with the complaints that then come when those adults with autism have been treated inappropriately and not according to the guidelines originally envisaged by Lord Bradley back in 2009.

Michael Lockwood, the IOPC’s new head, is to be given some credit for engaging seriously with this issue. We can see a sea change in attitude on this issue from the new IOPC when compared with the former Independent Police Complaints Commission. For example, he has agreed to meet and engage with the families of those who have had cause to raise complaints with the IPCC and the IOPC, and to involve them in designing the ways in which the IOPC will respond. There is a recognition that often these sorts of inquiries can be confrontational, whereas what is really needed is to get to the heart of the matter and the truth, and to make sure that lessons are learned and spread throughout the criminal justice system, particularly in the police force.

One thing that is being done by the IOPC, which I welcome very much and think should be done in other organisations, is that it is recognising that employees in these organisations will often have children with autism or relatives with autism, and that they can bring some expertise to the organisation when they are interacting with those with autism. For example, the IOPC recognises that many members of its staff are from families that have experience of autism and that they can bring an expertise within the organisation when looking at these cases where complaints are raised. I welcome that, because that sort of learning is what needs to take place across the police, the courts, the prison system, adult and children’s services across the country, and the NHS.

My hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire, who is no longer in her place, was talking earlier about what was going on in Bristol. In the case of my constituent and a couple of other families, I welcome the fact that, as I understand it, adult services in Bristol have agreed to review some of the cases they have dealt with in recent years, with a view to publishing a report, appropriately anonymised, that can provide lessons learned to people right across the country. That is very much to be welcomed.

My constituent has got together with other families to help set up an organisation called autisminjustice.org. I recommend that Members look at the stories on the site about the way in which these families have come into contact with the criminal justice system. The organisation’s long-term aims are to ensure:

“That criminal justice and care professionals are aware of and follow existing guidelines and policy relating to autistic people in a way that properly safeguards them.

That these professionals, as well as the general public, understand autism so that autistic people’s appearance and/or behaviour is not misunderstood and misrepresented in a way that puts them at risk of serious harm.”

Those are very laudable long-term aims.

I appeal to the Minister to engage with those families, with that organisation and with other Departments across Government to make sure that government is working in a joined-up way on this. Those of us who have been Ministers understand that it is not always easy to get out of the ministerial silos that Whitehall imposes upon us, but government works best when Ministers from different Departments get together with a common purpose. Surely on this issue of all issues, where there is cross-party support in this House and general agreement on what should happen, we should in no way be inhibited by Ministers not being able to work together. I urge the Minister to do as much as she can to work across Whitehall on this issue.