Criminal Justice System: Adults with Autism — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:07 pm on 30th January 2018.

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Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces) 3:07 pm, 30th January 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Sir Edward.

I came to the subject of autism rather late in life; I will share with hon. Members the tale of my visit to a remote primary school in Caithness a number of years ago. There was a boy, probably aged about 12, who was deeply engrossed in making an Airfix Halifax bomber. Anxious to impress him, I said, “That bomber’s a Halifax. It has Merlin engines”—the subtext was, “Aren’t I clever to know that?” The boy looked at me and said, “Yes, it’s a Merlin XX with Stanley Hooker superchargers and a brake horsepower of 1,240.” As my jaw sagged, the teacher murmured in my ear—you know what I am going to say, Sir Edward—“Asperger’s.”

Even though I was then in my 40s, that was the first time I had come across the condition. Part of the reason why I am here for this debate is that this is a learning process. I am sure hon. Members will recall the book—published in 2004, I think—called “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time”. Medical professionals and experts in autism might say that it is not an accurate depiction of autism, but as a view from the inside of the person, it was very instructive to all of us, and I was glad that it became a big seller.

The debate is about awareness of the issue. I did not know what “stimming” meant until I got into the subject, but I now know. I can remember being irritated by somebody on a bus doing exactly that. When I look back I feel ashamed because I should have understood. The Marcus Potter story was scary, although it turned out right in the end. It shows how close we are sometimes to things going wrong, but the judge did a very good thing.

Mrs Trevelyan, who is no longer in her place, made a good point when she suggested the idea of a link person in Government Departments. It would not cost particularly anything, but it would go a long way to—this is a hackneyed expression—a joined-up approach to sorting things out.

Dr Cameron correctly intervened to point out that Police Scotland are up to speed on this matter. I am not always known for heaping praise on the Scottish Government, but I cannot fault them on this at all. The issue is difficult for some people, but they have not ducked it. I am not saying that the UK Government are ducking it. That is not my intention. I would not try to paint them into such a corner.