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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:06 am on 8th October 2008.

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Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Labour, South Thanet 10:06 am, 8th October 2008

I, too, shall be brief, because of the number of Members who want to speak. I shall make just four suggestions, but first I thank John Bercow and congratulate him on bringing the issue to us today. I am not sure that he is the man whom I would choose to write a plain English guide, but he is certainly the right man to lead our debate today, and I enjoyed his speech and I agreed with everything that he said.

I became interested in the subject when I first became an MP and three constituents, all with autistic children, came to me. They wanted Lovaas technique to help their children, but their local council said that they could not have it, although it could provide an alternative that was just as good. My constituents decided that one of them would take a test case to a special educational needs tribunal. The council was represented by a barrister and won the case, but it then changed its mind, granted Lovaas technique to the two parents who had not gone to the tribunal and said that it was now ultra vires to provide Lovaas technique to the parent who had gone to the tribunal. That struck me as an entirely inappropriate way to deal with education and parents' requirements. As a follow up, the father who did not receive Lovaas technique provided it privately—at great expense to himself and his family. It put such pressure on the marriage that it broke up, but the child did so well that they were able to go back into mainstream schooling at the secondary stage. That is what can happen if one secures the right support for a child, but it could have been done without all the pressure that was put on that family. Far too many cases go to tribunal, and when one gets there one finds that the council is represented by a barrister, and that, as a parent, it is against the rules to get legal aid for one's representation. My first practical suggestion is therefore that every council should provide an independent and professional friend at its expense to help parents to prepare and present their case. They do not need to be a barrister; they just need to be somebody who knows what they are doing and can help to ensure that the parents' case is properly presented and the playing field levelled up.