Down Syndrome Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:59 pm on 4th February 2022.

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Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 1:59 pm, 4th February 2022

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, which has been raised by my hon. Friend Suzanne Webb and my right hon. Friend Sir Robert Goodwill, who have previously mentioned specific genetic conditions. We will definitely consider overlaps and linkages between these conditions and Down syndrome through the consultation on the development of the guidance. Even though, as has been stressed many times, this Bill is specifically drafted to increase its chances of being passed, many groups will benefit from the work to develop this guidance.

I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset for the two amendments he tabled in Committee to ensure that the guidance is laid before Parliament on publication and to amend the Bill’s long title. I was pleased to accept both amendments on behalf of the Government. Laying the guidance in Parliament, as my very experienced right hon. Friend explained, will ensure it has the proper scrutiny.

I also thank my right hon. Friend, other hon. Members and stakeholders for providing invaluable feedback, on Second Reading and in Committee, on ensuring the implementation of the guidance in practice. Of course, the guidance must be acted upon for us to see real change for people with Down syndrome. That is why we have committed to having a named lead on integrated care boards who will be responsible for the implementation of the guidance in practice. The named lead will ensure that the right services are in place at local level and that people with Down syndrome are able to access those services. That will be a much-needed voice. We are determined that the guidance will be implemented fully and as intended at local level. This will lead to tangible improvements in the lives of people with Down syndrome, and I am personally very committed to that.

At the heart of the Bill is guidance for the relevant authorities—local authorities, and education and health authorities. I am clear that to ensure that the guidance is fit for purpose, we will consult widely and in an open and inclusive way. We will seek views from people with Down syndrome and their families, from the voluntary sector and from others who support people with Down syndrome to ensure that it reflects their needs and experience. We will work with stakeholders to ensure that the guidance remains fit for purpose. This is a real opportunity, and we do not intend to miss any aspect of it.

Once the guidance is published, the Government will keep it under regular review and update it periodically. As I said, we also recognise that people with genetic or chromosomal conditions other than Down syndrome may experience similar problems to people with Down syndrome, so we will definitely look at that and consider how the guidance can help some of those groups more broadly during the process.

I know from the debates during the passage of the Bill that employment is a really important consideration, on which we have not done well enough to date. We will continue to explore any steps required to make sure that people with Down syndrome who want to work can find work that is right for them. Fundamentally, we must make sure that people with Down syndrome maintain good health and receive the right education to support their transition into work. The Bill is an important and meaningful way of achieving that aim. It will provide those lasting foundations for people with Down syndrome to be successful.

Additionally, we are delivering a wide range of employment initiatives, such as dedicated disability employment advisers at our Jobcentre Plus sites. All these schemes, including the Access to Work fund and so on, will help to ensure that people with a learning disability have better opportunities in the workplace. Again, that is something that I am personally committed to.