I beg to move,
That, if proceedings on the Autism Bill are not completed at this days sitting, the Committee do meet on Wednesdays at 2.30 pm when the House is sitting.
I offer you a warm welcome to the Chair, Mr. Gale. I am delighted that the Autism Bill has been allocated to such a senior member of the Chairmens Panel and I look forward to serving under your chairmanship. I hope that we will not keep you long, but these deliberations are most important. I hope that the sittings motion will be agreed by the Committee.
I am very grateful that so many hon. Members have come forward to serve on this private Members Bill Committee. The proposal is that the Committee sit at 2.30 on a Wednesday afternoon. No time is given for concluding the deliberations, but I anticipate that two hours on a Wednesday afternoon will probably be appropriate. Looking at the Bill and knowing the seriousness of the subject matter, I hope that it will involve no more than three or four sittings before we can bring it back for Report and Third Reading. However, the best laid plans of mice and men, and private Members Bills, often go awry.
This is my first private Members Bill, Mr. Gale. I have no experience in this regard, but I hope that you will guide me and the other members of the Committee. I am therefore pleased to propose the sittings motion.
I understand that I shall have the opportunity to speak later, so on this occasion I rise just to welcome and support the sittings motion. I hope that we can proceed with the Bill in due course.
Before we begin, I have to make two preliminary announcements. First, I remind hon. Members that adequate notice, which is three sitting days, should be given of amendments. As a general rule, the Chair will not call starred amendments. I remind hon. Members that amendments need to be tabled by the end of tomorrow to be selectable for next Wednesday.
Secondly, hon. Members may be aware that a money resolution is required to be agreed by the House before the provisions of the Bill that impose a charge on public funds can be considered by the Committee. Such a motion stands on the Order Paper under Future Business C, but it has not yet been agreed by the House. Clauses 2, 4 and 5 impose significant charges on public funds. I am, therefore, bound by the rules of the House governing our financial procedure to decline to propose the question on those clauses and the amendments to them.
I beg to move,
That further consideration be now adjourned.
I want to take the opportunity to say a few words on the reasons why I propose an adjournment. We have in the Room a group of MPs who are extremely experienced on the subject of autism, and I hope that will lead to a fully constructive and fruitful debate on the Bill. Things always happen in threes, and today three things have come together for us. First, we had the headline in the Daily Mail: Have we found key to autism? Secondly, we have had the advantage of a written statement on the consultation document published by the Minister. Thirdly, we have started the Bill on its passage through Committee.
However, as you rightly said, Mr. Gale, we have yet to get the money resolution, which inhibits somewhat discussions on the Bill. I am also proposing that consideration be adjourned because the consultation document for the strategy has been published only very recentlywithin hoursand it would be good for the Members who are bringing their expertise to the Bill to have a chance to study that document as well.
I have been delighted by the cross-party support that the Bill has been given. It is a testament to the co-operation that I hope we shall seeparticularly if we get a chance to put the money resolution through next week by virtue of the Governments willthat we have no Whips on the Committee at all. The promoter of a private Members Bill is allowed to choose or to invite people to join the Bill Committee and I contemplated inviting Whips from all our parties, but I decided that was not at all in the spirit of the Bill; quite the reverse. I hope that we will not need to be whipped in any way whatever.
We need to adjourn because the matter is of such great importance. There are some 500,000 people with autism in the UK. Since I agreed to take on the Bill, I have been particularly touched by all the communications that I have had with families across the board. Continuouslyalmost dailyI receive information and items from families and individuals with autism, wanting to make a contribution to the discussion of the Bill. Adjourning for a further week will give us time to gather in some more of those comments.
For all of us, the matter is important in all our constituencies. I think it is fair to say that every one of us, whether Ministers or not, has the opportunity, as the Bill is starting on its way, to go back to the people in our constituencies who have been exhorting us about it. I hope that the adjournment until next week, to discuss clause 1 onwards, will be advantageous to us.
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Lady. I wonder whether she has had discussions on the monetary implications of clauses 3, 4 and 5 in relation to the monetary implications of the Governments proposals. Are they similar or vastly different?
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. At this stage, as we are talking about the adjournment, I do not want to get into the details of the Bill. I can see by the nodding of your head, Mr. Gale, that I would incur your wrath. You will allow me latitude, but I am sure you will not let me go into that detail. However, it is something that we will get on to eventually, when we get into the body of the Bill.
What is important about looking at the matter and putting off the discussion until next week is that there has been a genuine warm intention from the Government, not only in publishing the consultation, but in coming forward with suggestions that are a direct response to the Bill. I am particularly impressed by the fact that it was not difficult to get two Ministers on the Committee, which shows the Governments intention to try to find a way through so that we have protection in legislation for this group of people. I hope that if we can agree on a modus operandi at some future date, it will not be necessary to tie up both Ministers, because I am well aware from previous responsibilities that to tie up two Ministers is a great privilege. None the less, I think that is the sort of attention that autism should be receiving and is now demanding, not particularly through any of my actions, but certainly through those of the National Autistic Society, and through the way in which it put the Bill together with officials from both Departments.
I am happy to take longer on the Bill, not least because I know that we are expecting a National Audit Office report relating to autism. If we have a breathing space, we may have some more information that can inform our debate, which is so important. The NAO report has been promised for some time, but I gather that it has been delayed, so an adjournment will give us an opportunity perhaps to find out about the delay, or to inform our discussions better.
The Minister will have a moment to indicate his intentions, but in proposing the adjournment to the Committee, I hope I am not causing inconvenience, but arranging our affairs so that we have a better debate in the future. The Governments intention is obviously strong because they have tabled the money resolution. We hope that the usual channelsI have had some indication it could be possiblewill allow the resolution to go through in time for us to meet next Wednesday and start on the substance of the Bill.
If the Committee passes the motion to adjourn, I anticipate that we shall try to reach some agreement about which clauses we will discuss on each day, because that may also be helpful to Members. We have to keep quorate with six, but such an agreement might enable Members to move freely in and out of the Committee, although not too far away in case we need to vote. That is important. Given my explanation, I hope that members of the Committee will agree to adjourn further consideration of the Bill until next Wednesday.
The motion is debatable. If hon. Members wish to make a contribution, they may do so. However, as the hon. Lady said, we are debating the adjournment motion, not the Bill itself. If members of the Committee wish to make opening remarks, that is fine by me, but they must confine what they say to the need for an adjournment, not the Bill, which we hope very much will be debated next Wednesday afternoon.
I rise to speak to the Adjournment motion proposed by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham. It will be a pleasure to be under your stewardship, Mr. Gale, during the forthcoming sittings of the Committee. Even though we are adjourning, the Bill will give us a good opportunity to discuss an absolutely crucial and central issuethe needs of people with autistic spectrum conditions and services for them.
Members of the Committee are knowledgeable and experienced. The fact that my ministerial colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North, and I are here to debate the Bill demonstrates the Governments commitment to the issue. Former vice-chairs and the existing chair of the all-party group on autism and members of the group have been magnificent in keeping the concerns and needs of such people in the forefront of parliamentary minds.
I realise that it was not the hon. Lady. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill was successful, but I also wanted to acknowledge the hon. Ladys ten-minute Bill, which was a precursor to much of what we shall be debating. There is talent in depth in the Committee to discuss the issues.
Reference was made on Second Reading to the fact that our proceedings will be an opportunity for members of the Committee to interrogate the Government about our plans, announced before that debate, for taking forward measures for children, young people in transition and adults with autism. We had the chance through the Bill to talk about the Governments proposals and measures and the broad welcome that they received at the time throughout the House, as well as from organisations such as the National Autistic Society, which has been mentioned this afternoon. The NAS said that much of what we have already announced achieves some of the intended outcomes of the Bill. I am delighted that we are meeting today.
An adjournment may give us the opportunity to look particularly at the timetabling of the whole exercise. That is one of the areas that we need to explore, and putting off our proceedings until next week might also give the Minister and his hard-working officials an opportunity to consider such matters, because timetabling is of great concern to audiences outwith the Committee.
I am trying not to stray into talking about the clauses of the Bill, but the point has been made.
Like the hon. Lady, I am especially delighted that the first sitting of the Committee is today because, this morning, I had the pleasure of launching the Governments consultation on our adult autism strategy, which is now available for people to use. Indeed, I met members of the external reference group who are working with us to develop that strategy. They made proposals about how to proceed, and I now look forward to a major debate during the next 20 weeks out there with the public. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will take the opportunity to meet groups locally to discuss the strategy, which I shall say more about in a moment.
The strategy will be a cornerstone of the developments and improvements that we all want to see. I cannot think of a better day for the Committee to begin its work. I am looking forward to spending the next few Wednesday afternoons elaborating on our commitment to delivering real change for people with autism. There will be much to cover.
As I said on Second Reading, autism cannot be considered in isolation, but must be within the context of what else is happening throughout the wide range of social care services, and health and education as a whole. That includes improvements to mental health services and better support for people with learning disabilities, for both of which I have ministerial responsibility, and the reform of local social services.
During the adjournment of our proceedings and while we contemplate future sittings, we will be able to examine the delivery of public sector services that are increasingly personalisedI believe, rightlyto address the varied needs of people with autism. I pick up the point that the hon. Lady made about the research that has come out today about a possible understanding of one of the causes of autism. That research is welcome and gives us a deeper understanding of the condition. It is important that we continue to develop our understanding of autism. We are investing in research to improve the evidence base. I realise that is not the subject of the Bill, but it is important to acknowledge the work that is being done outside the Bill.
There have been considerable efforts already to reform the system for adults with autism to make sure that local services respond better to the individual needs of the most vulnerable in our society. I want to use the Committee sittings to set out in detail how the reforms will meet the needs of people with autism. For example, our Putting People First strategy sets the whole tone for adult social care for the next decade. Our independent living strategy focuses on how we can help people with disabilities to live independent lives. Our recent strategy on learning disabilities, Valuing people now, will help people with autism who also have a learning disability to ensure that they get a fairer deal across health, housing, employment and community care services. We will come back to all those matters when we discuss the measures in the Bill and how we will deliver real transformation for people with autism.
Although my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is present, I want to say, As with adult services, so with childrens services. We know that the picture for childrens services is also one of tremendous reform, activity, and real commitment to change things for the better for vulnerable children, including those with autism. We were discussing the child health strategy just before the Committee sat. My hon. Friend and I co-chair the Aiming High for Disabled Children board, which looks at such matters. Our child health strategy sets out comprehensive plans to improve local services to deliver more targeted specialist support for children with complex needs, and it makes specific reference to children with autism. I am sure that my hon. Friend is looking forward to setting out for the Committee, when we get to the relevant clauses, all that is being done for children and young people with autism.
I am grateful to the Minister for being so generous in giving way. As he is laying out the sort of information that will be available, could he let every member of the Committee have a detailed letter specifically on the meetings that he held with his colleague that sets out exactly what those discussions and proposals were in time for next Wednesdays sitting? I am sure that that would be a great help and assist our understanding.
Yes, I hope to provide the Committee with the relevant information as and when we reach those points in the Bill. Officials from the Department have been in regular contact with the promoter of the Billthe hon. Member for Chesham and Amershamand her advisers to discuss how best we can take forward their concerns in ways that give the degree of certainty that action will happen in responding to the needs of children, young adults and adults across the country, while retaining the flexibility that we need to ensure that local needs and circumstances are taken fully into account. I hope that we can have meaningful discussions to achieve a mutually satisfactory outcome.
My starting point for the sittings will be to try to convince the Committee, as I said on Second Reading, that there is no need for the legislation that we are going to consider. Like the hon. Lady, I am in an unusual position on a private Members Bill. It is unique for me and I dare say for many other Members, because this is not a Government Bill. It is not a Bill that we feel able to support in its current form.
On a point that was raised about the money resolution, we expected that the promoter of the Bill would undertake the assessment of costs associated with her proposals that we need to inform decisions on the scope of the money resolution. However, we have not had that information, although I wrote to the hon. Lady and my officials met her team only last week. Inevitably, that has meant a delay in tabling the money resolution. I hope that we can resolve those issues.
Indication was given to my team of advisers, who met the ministerial team of advisers last Tuesday, that a money resolution would be tabled in time for todays sitting. I cannot table that, as the Minister knows. Also, when it comes to an assessment, I am but an hon. Member promoting a private Members Bill that was suggested by outside charitable organisations. I do not have the resources available to him or to his ministerial colleague nor, individually, the expertise or skill to provide the Minister with those assessments. However, the Minister does, and if the Bill is delivering everything that he says of it, he must per se have already carried out those calculations. I hope that now he is well aware that I do not have the resources to provide the financial information that he is asking forsomething he could so easily do, if he wished to encourage the Bill forward.
FinallyI apologise for the length of my interventionI am sad to hear that the Minister is still seeking to persuade us that the Bill is not necessary. When the Bill came to me, it had already been the subject of discussions between officials in his Department and outside organisations. Therefore, it is rather sad that an indication might have been given to an outside organisation that such a private Members Bill would receive a good hearing in the House. I hope that that was not the case, because that would be a sad way for a Department to conduct itself.
On the hon. Ladys point about the money resolution, that is why I said that we are in this rather unique situationthis is not a Government Billhence the issues about money resolutions and so on. We shall do what is needed to get to the debate on the clauses that have financial implications. We have tabled the money resolution, but there are the procedures of the House to get through. None the less, because the Bill may have financial implications and as yet the hon. Lady does notis unable to, as she rightly saidhave the resources to spell them out, the Government would have difficulty in agreeing to clauses for which we do not know the cost. When we get to individual clauses, we shall have to explore the issues and what it all might mean. I tried to signal earlier that we have been in regular contact with the hon. Lady and have asked questions. I hope that we can work collaboratively to find our way through the difficult issues, because that would be in everyones interest.
I repeat what we said about the Bill on Second Reading. We know that legislation can be a blunt and crude instrument for driving change, especially when the end that we seek is better awareness and better use of the expertise and resources already in the system. We must preserve for councils the freedom and flexibility necessary to meet the complex web of local needs, giving them the scope and skills that they need to zero in on the specific needs of people with autism. Hence, for which I make no apology, I expect to return again and again in our sittings to the fact that rigid legislation ties the hands of those making such efforts and will do more harm than good.
I hope that we can all recognise that the Governments work on autismwhether with children, young people in transition to adulthood or adultsis significant, far-reaching and the first to have ever occurred. We shall discuss whether the clauses are flawed, unnecessary or have financial costs, and if there is a way forward and the disadvantages can be resolved, I hope that we can find mutually satisfactory solutions. However, that is not the case with the Bill, as I said on Second Reading and repeat now, so that the Committee is fully aware of the issues.
When the Minister wrote to all Members just before Second Reading, he outlined in some detail, on a point-by-point basis, the Governments alternative strategy, indicating how they felt that they were meeting the Bills general requirements. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham, will the Minister assist the Committee by making available the costings associated with that letter and the point-by-point list of the proposals that the Government have introduced? He has appreciated what my hon. Friend said about producing the exact costs for the Bill, and his making those Government costings available would be a good starting point for discussion in Committee.
My dilemma is that this is not my Bill, and it has costings attached to it that its movers have not been able to provide. We have tabled the money resolution, and it will be passed, so that we can move into clause-by-clause examination. We need information about the Bills costings, not about my proposals and what the Government are doingthat will come up as we debate the clauses. The issue is what the clauses might cost the taxpayer and to what extent they are the right way forward in delivering better outcomes for young people, children and adults with autism. It is the Bill that we are debating, and it might have financial implications. Although this is an opportunity to interrogate the GovernmentI think that hon. Members said as much on Second Readingand I would happily find time to respond to questions from Members, we are actually debating a Bill.
I appreciate what the Minister says about the Bills costingsI take that pointbut if I were to table parliamentary questions based on the list in his letter, asking what the costings were for each item, I would assume that his Department would most certainly answer. That is not an unreasonable request. In the spirit of co-operation, it would help if he made available those costings to the Committee. In his letter, his argument was basically that we do not need this or that in the Bill because the Government are already going to provide an adequate service through an alternative route. If we at least have those costings, that might help us to develop any potential additional costings incurred via my hon. Friends routethe Billrather than via the route proposed in the Ministers letter.
I am trying to keep in order, Mr. Gale. You are giving us a great deal of latitude. When we arrive at discussions about the clauses that relate to the announcements that the Government have made, I will happily discuss those issues. However, it is the clauses that will be before us, and we will need to consider the extent to which the Bill has costs and whether those costs are reasonable when we get to that debate. The money resolution would enable us to do that. I have explained the cause of the delay: we would be tabling and supporting a money resolution without knowing what moneys were involved, as the Bills movers failed to provide information to the Government on the Bills costs. I hope that we can discuss all that when we get to those clauses. Although I will take interventions, Mr. Gale, I am trying to keep within the strictures that you have laid upon me.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Perhaps we do need to adjourn until next week, because I tabled a question to the Minister simply about the costs of local authorities identifying the numbers of disabled children and adults with autism in their areas. The response was that no costing had been made, and that costing is being worked on for a prevalence study that was promised last year, so 12 months later the costings are still being worked on for promises made last year. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honitonwe are all friends here, it is an all-party Committee, I hopein saying that if the Ministers proposals fulfil the Bills aim, it would help to have the Departments full costings. I was surprised by the answer that I got on my birthday, on 21 April, that no costings had been carried out.
My birthday was two days before the hon. Ladys, which makes us the same star sign. I am not sure whether that is a good or bad thing.
It would appear that I am on the right side of the cusp, but let us not go there, Mr. Gale.
It is for the movers of the Bill, not the Government, to provide the costings. Perhaps we will discuss that later when we get into the clauses.
I think that I should make some progress or I shall get into difficulty with you, Mr. Gale.
Today, we have started an important conversation across the country on how to transform services and support for people with autism. I am sure that we will use the Committee to discuss the proposals in detail. I want to use these sittings to set out how the strategy will have real bite, be comprehensive and far-reaching and have a deep impact, as I try to persuade the Committee that ours is the right approach, as distinct from that in the Bill.
I will describe in more detail the five themes that we set out in the consultation: health, guaranteeing the highest standards of specialist and mainstream care for autistic patients across all settings; social exclusion, removing the everyday barriers that autistic people face; giving people with autism more choice and control over how and when they interact with services; better awareness-raising and training, ensuring that we have a highly skilled and knowledgeable work force; and, most importantly, supporting people with autism to take advantage of training and employment opportunities. As I learnt today, only 15 per cent. of adults with autism are in employment, yet we know how important a job is to people with any form of mental health issue or disability and to those on the autistic spectrum. I want to explain how the adult autism strategy and the measures covering children and young people will fully meet the Bills stated aims.
I want to address the question that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham raised about the prevalence study and the importance of better data. A great deal of work is already going on for both adults and children, but I know from the way that the hon. Lady raised the issue and from the debate on Second Reading that there was concern about the adult prevalence study. I will welcome the opportunity to reassure the Committee during its sittings that we are absolutely committed to delivering that study. Getting this right is crucial for local authorities and primary care trusts to have a robust picture of the number of people with autism in their areas to commission the right services to meet peoples needs. We have commissioned the NHS information centre to manage the study and are about to appoint a scientific adviser to write the research specification and ensure that we get the best study that we can.
I hope that I have demonstrated that we will have our work cut out in carrying out detailed scrutiny of the Bill. I am looking forward to devoting my Wednesday afternoons for the next few weeks to reassuring the Committee that the actions that the Government already have in hand will achieve everything that the Bill seeks to do and will do so more quickly and effectively. Moreover, by preserving freedom and flexibility at local level, they will give us a strong base to make further improvements for the care and support of people with autism in the future. I support the Adjournment motion moved by the hon. Lady.
On behalf of my colleague, the hon. Member for Romsey, who unfortunately cannot be here today, I would like to say that we both look forward to serving under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. We are particularly interested in getting into detailed debate next week, because the issue is of such importance that members of the public will not want to see any game playing. I hope that we are doing the best for all our constituents; many parents of all ages are deeply concerned and are sometimes in dire circumstances because of the lack of support. I look forward to the detailed debate.
I am pleased to speak briefly on the Adjournment motion. I should like to address the money resolution as I understand that we are adjourning because it is not in place.
I listened carefully to the Minister, who has had several opportunities to answer the question as to what the costs of the Governments proposals are likely to be. His reply on several occasions has been that this is a private Members Bill and it is for the private Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham, to provide those details and that she has not done so. Of course, it must be true that it is for my hon. Friend to provide costings for her Bill, but it is also the case that the Governments attitude to the Billthe Government have made it clear that they do not think the Bill should go aheadis intimately related to their own proposals, and their own proposals must have a cost.
The Minister said a minute ago that he thought his proposals were more effective and that they would be quicker. I think of the National Audit Offices mantra of economy, effectiveness and efficiency. The Minister must also have a view on whether his proposals are more economic. If he has such a view it can only be because he has some numbers. All my hon. Friends were asking him to do was to share those numbers with the Committee. For him to say in response that it is for my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham to come up with numbers for the proposals in her Bill is not an answer to the points that my hon. Friends were making. It is an answer to a different point.
I, too, was led to believe from discussions that my advisers had with Department officials that the money resolution does not require costingsit merely states that the costs arising from the Bill will be covered. As the Minister knows what those costs must be, because the Bill so closely mirrors his own proposed activities, it would be a generous and noble gesturewould it not?if the Minister made his costings available for the Committee.
I am torn between needing to engage in this adjournment debate, Mr. Gale, and trying to answer the question.
Thank you, Mr. Gale. The hon. Member for South Norfolk is absolutely rightthere are two different things. There are the costs of the Bill, which are a matter for the promoter of the Bill. The money resolution is a general resolution to find the money to pay for the costs of the Bill. When we come to debate the money resolution in the Houseit has been tabled but it needs business time to debate itI will make clear my concern that we will be passing a money resolution to enable us to deal with clauses in Committee without knowing what the costs are. That is very unusual in terms of parliamentary business. We have a private Members Bill; we want to facilitate the debate and we want things to happen, but for the Government to encourage everyone to vote for a money resolution without knowing how much they are voting for is fairly important, given the demands upon the public purse. I will be expressing that concern when we debate the money resolution. In the meantime, we have our proposals, the consultation that we have launched and the strategy that will come at the end of the year, which will have an impact assessment in due course. Those issues will get flushed out during the Committee process.
I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. The central point seems to be the Ministers contention that the Bill is not necessary because the Government are coming forward with proposals that meet all the aims of the Bill, and yet more. If that is the case, there must be a cost attached to all those proposals, and yet more. The cost must be known or knowable and should have been worked out already or certainly should be worked out pretty soon. As for the Ministers point about proposals for which the cost is not fully known, I have to say that based on my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honitons experience and mine, and that of other members of the Public Accounts Committee, it is commonplace for the Government to come forward with proposals for which they have no idea of the costs, or for which the end costs turn out to bear no relation to what the Government originally said.
The proposals in the Bill and the Ministers proposals seek to rectify something that has a huge impact on the public purse at the moment. The costs of not putting in place adequate reforms, particularly in relation to services for adults with autism, are quite considerable. The recently published Knapp report addressed the cost of not reforming services for people with autism, and although the NAO has yet to report, the cost of reform is also within its scope. Those two important documents, one of which we have seen and another that we have yet to see, might actually conclude that it is not so much that more money needs to be spent, but that by reforming the services there will be a saving in leaving things as they arethe status quo.
The Minister should take heart from what has been, until recently, a blank piece of paper in terms of what it costs when things go wrong for the autistic community without support. We have now started to see some figures in that regard, which will certainly inform the Committee.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point and I shall conclude my remarks. In parenthesis, I have often heard Ministers make points under the general rubric of invest to save where they have not whistled inwardly as the Minister just appeared to do, so my hon. Friends argument is not inherently fallacious. In fact, it is quite the contrary, because it is relevant to the money resolution and to the reason why we are adjourning.
Furthermore, on the issue of employment, which the Minister mentioned earlier, I too heard on Second Reading that only 15 per cent. of people who have autistic spectrum conditions are in employment. I declare a personal interest, because my wifes brother is diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome and has been in employment throughout his entire adult life. He is very proud of the work that he has done, and his employers have always been extremely proud of him as he has been an unusually diligent and conscientious worker in the jobs he has had.
If only employers looked more widely and laterally, and did more in terms of work placements to assess people rather than basing the process on interviews, which people with such conditions are not necessarily likely to be very good at, there are huge opportunities to improve the finances connected to the issue. My hon. Friends point about saving money is therefore relevant.
I entirely agree. That is why the whole theme of the national strategy that we launched today centres on employment and training. They are absolutely essential. I hope that over the next 20 weeks the whole community of people with autism, as well as carers, families and professionals working with them, have the opportunity to feed examples into the consultation from across the whole autistic spectrumnot just adults with Aspergers. There are real opportunities, which I hope will result not only in better quality of life, but in financial savings too.
My scepticism was related to the level of needs of people with autismthe hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham mentioned 500,000 earlierand the amount of transformation that needs to take place. Let us wait to see what the NAO has to say about the issue.
It is dangerous to underestimate human potential and the energy that can be generated when people are given the opportunity to help themselves, as Rod Hackney, the architectural adviser to the Prince of Wales, once said. That remark is apposite in this context.
I am delighted with the Ministers clarifications and I hope that he will reflect on what has been said about the figures that must exist for the Governments own proposals. Sharing those figures with the Committee at the appropriate moment, which will preferably be as soon as possible, will be very helpful to the consideration of my hon. Friends Bill.
Before I put the question to the Committee, I wish to make a gentle observation myself. I have allowed a certain amount of leeway this afternoon, because Members on both sides of the House have been good enough to make time available and it seemed reasonable to allow some opening remarks. I have allowed that in the hope and expectation that when we come to the debate on the Bill, those remarks will not be made again and we may therefore win a little time. I also do not propose to be quite as generous in future with the length of interventions; in other words, if you think you have got away with it, you have not.