[Mr. Martin Caton in the Chair] — Children and Young People with Autism

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:55 am on 8th October 2008.

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Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill 9:55 am, 8th October 2008

I take your point, Mr. Caton, and I will try to be brief.

The fact that right hon. and hon. Members always expect an excellent speech from John Bercow should not be an impediment to our saying that we have just heard an outstanding speech. In the 20 or so minutes in which he introduced this important debate, he has outlined the problems, challenges and achievements in this field. I want to deal with one of the last points that he made when he talked about potential. He told us, in that beautifully comprehensive address, that although we have made progress, although there have been achievements and although there are many dedicated people in this field, not least in teaching, this issue is all about society ensuring that the potential of every child is recognised, encouraged and achieved.

I should like to reflect not only on the excellent reception yesterday that was sponsored by Angela Browning, at which she focused on other aspects of this important issue, but on a gathering and art exhibition that I attended recently in Glasgow, at which impressive works of art were on display. We assembled there and speeches were made, and as happens at these occasions—the same was true yesterday—there was a little disturbance; we have come to expect such things. I think that we were all transfixed by an outstanding painting that transcended everything else in that first-class exhibition. However, it was not until four or five minutes into the speeches that we realised that the young woman who was making a little noise was the artist of that outstanding work and showed such potential.

The hon. Member for Buckingham pursued some excellent arguments about getting education right and ensuring that teacher training deals with this issue. That is important, and what the National Union of Teachers has said is significant. Beyond that, it is important that we as a society prepare children, in the same classes and schools as children who experience autism, regarding what they can do and how this is a part of society, not least because nobody can predict what their futures will bring and whether autism might enter their lives. They should be encouraged to take a positive approach to this issue.

I want to deal briefly with the important issue of transition, which emerged in a report by the all-party group on disabled children and their families, which I had the honour of chairing a couple of years ago. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that for many children who experience autistic spectrum disorder, that point of transition is absolutely crucial to them and the world in which they live, and it is crucial to their families and their future. I shall not draw the hon. Gentleman into the argument about resources, particularly in Scotland, but I have put it on the record. Apart from planning for the future, in the field of transition especially, more resources must be made available.

The whole debate is about people rejecting the view that out of sight is out of mind. It is about addressing the problems that exist, as the hon. Gentleman did, acknowledging what is being done, being angry about what is not being done and demanding change where it is necessary. Some of us who sponsored the ten-minute Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton received a very interesting e-mail from a gentleman called Jamie Stewart. I have not met him, but he said that what he was about to tell us was not a scientific account of how people react, but an account of the National Audit Office focus group in which he took part. He said that four out of seven parents had experienced divorce, and two had become carers of a partner who had suffered a breakdown. We therefore owe it to parents of children who experience autism, and to the children themselves, to continue to focus on this crucial issue. This morning, the hon. Member for Buckingham has yet again shown how it can and should be done, but I do not expect him to say that this will be his final speech on the issue; he will have to make many more. In doing so, however, he can feel sure that he will have the warmth and support that we offer him today.