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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:23 pm on 30th January 2018.

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Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd The Minister of State, Home Department 3:23 pm, 30th January 2018

The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. We have made considerable progress and the hon. Member for Cardiff West was at pains to point out at the beginning of his remarks that he wanted to focus on adults, because clearly that is where some stubborn and significant problems continue to reside in terms of awareness, understanding, decisions, judgments and treatment. We cannot be complacent. I hope that I can reassure the House that we will take all possible steps to improve the general understanding and responses appropriate within the criminal justice agencies.

The hon. Member for Cardiff West pressed me on training, and I will speak a little to that. He is no doubt aware that the Government have published a national strategy on autism—I think he referred to the “Think Autism” strategy; that was refreshed in January 2016. It sets out a programme of work across Government sectors to improve preventive action and support to those living with autism, to assist them to lead fulfilling and independent lives wherever possible. It included recommendations for further improvements in the services and support available across the health, education employment and criminal justice sectors.

The hon. Gentleman cited cuts to the police, but the budget of the College of Policing has not been cut, because of our strong commitment to the training and development of police officers. As part of the strategy, the college has committed to developing a new module of the authorised professional practice for the police service. That was included in the revised guidance on mental health and vulnerability, published in October 2016.

The guidance is the primary reference source for police on legal obligations and the appropriate response to incidents involving people with mental ill health, autism, learning disabilities and other vulnerabilities. It provides indicators for police staff about when there may be health or mental health issues underlying apparent behaviour. That can and should lead to better and more appropriate decision making. Guidance is backed by training modules for all staff who may come into contact with vulnerable people. In addition, the National Autistic Society—I join others in congratulating it, the APPG and the Westminster Commission on Autism on their work—has published a national guide for police officers and staff, which has been distributed to all forces. In many areas there is close liaison between police forces and local autism support groups.

I give this undertaking to the hon. Member for Cardiff West. The College of Policing, which is the agency we rely on for the development of police standards and training, is under the new leadership of Mike Cunningham. I undertake to write to Mike following this debate to set out some of the concerns expressed here and to seek reassurance from the college that those are understood and absorbed and that it attributes sufficient weight and importance to this issue.