Cheryl Gillan MP – says her new Autism Bill shows how politicians across party can work together

June 29th 2009


Cheryl Gillan MP – says her new Autism Bill shows how politicians across party can work together to change society and help those with special needs

The Conservative MP, Cheryl Gillan, is successfully pushing through a Private Member’s Bill on Autism in The House. It will ensure local authorities and NHS service providers give adequate support for adults with this learning difficulty. It will champion new pathways for diagnosis, assessment and support for those with Autism.

The MP for Chesham and Amersham says she was fortunate, after many years, to come top of the Private Member’s Bill ballot. reporter Linda Fairbrother got Cheryl to tell the story of her new Bill from her name first being drawn out of the Ballot to the Bill passing its third reading in the Commons.

Cheryl explained: “I have entered this Lottery ever since I was elected and never won, and when I was told I had won, it was an amasing thing to win a political lottery .

I think Private Member’s Bills Legislation should be used to cover an area that would not normally get attention from the government, and I also personally felt a Private Member’s Bill should not be used for political devices. “

She said she talked to colleagues and charities before deciding that the gap in existing provision for Autism sufferers needed addressing:

Of all the huge submissions I had from outside bodies I narrowed it down to about 6 or 7 and I sat down with a small panel of people in my office to look at the merits of the individual propositions.

I think of all the people that came to see me it was the National Autistic Society that struck all the cords, both in terms of what the cost to the public purse would be, what the need was, and how I could approach it on a cross party basis. I also had some experience of people with autism in my constituency and also particularly through my colleague Angela Browning MP who has been championing this cause.

I thought that I would put forward a small piece of legislation which would help both with the identification of the prevalence of autism throughout the UK but also look at the transition which seemed to be the sticking point, for people with autism and the provision of adult services.”

As a result of attracting cross-party support for her pioneering Bill, it has successfully passed its third reading in the House and has now gone to the Lords:

It has been an interesting passage because it started off with the government opposing it and the government told me that they couldn’t support it because they were doing it all anyway. I kept saying you were doing the Prevalence Study twelve months ago, and this isn’t going to wash – so after a lot of cajoling, and several meetings and some interesting exchanges, suddenly the Minister dealing with this saw the light.”

Cheryl Gillan MP continued: “What has always struck me about this area was the great concern of parents about their children, whilst they are there they are able to care for their children, but into adult life, there is always this terrible fear for parents when they are no longer there who is going to look after their child?

I feel particularly strongly about this area because historically there has been so much difficulty for these individuals and yet many many of them are capable of making great contributions to society and having very fulfilling lives with just a small amount of intervention.

I think what was very interesting was the National Audit Office report which found that people with Autism really do use a wide range of public services, but that there is a differential effectiveness of the service provision as a whole and of the outcomes for people with autism . Many parents even have trouble obtaining the diagnosis. “

This is England’s first ever piece of Autism legislation, and Cheryl says she thinks it shows how politicians across party work to bring about change in society and that in the wake of the  MPs’ expenses scandal, it highlights, the good work that politicians do in Parliament.

Cheryl Gillan MP added: “I think what has happened over the past few months with the problems with Parliament and the revelation about expenses and allowances is that it has become clearer that people do not actually fully understand what an MP does and what their role is. I think that is partly our fault and partly the education system too.

I find a lot of young people don’t even fully appreciate the role of an MP and of course, it’s part social worker, it’s part legislature, and it’s part Lord of the Manor if you like, and when it comes to events and functions, it’s advocate, and chief cook and bottle washer. It’s a very demanding job to be truthful if it is done to the full, but people seem to think we only work the hours that Parliament is sitting and because there is nobody in the Chamber we couldn’t possibly be working. They should come and see the emails that come into me every day and the letters and the amount of work that is put in in this office. I think people don’t understand it.”

Commenting on the reporting of Parliament she said: “It is extraordinary that when you have a piece of legislation that is going to affect at least half a million people and their families, that is a large proportion of people in the UK, there is hardly any interest at all. I think that can be laid fairly and squarely at the door of the press and for them it is not a sensational story, but actually I think it should be a sensational story because I think the way in which many of these individuals and their families are treated is a disgrace.”

She said she felt proud of the work she and others had done on the Bill:

This is really one of the reasons you come in here to try and help other people. It sounds crass in this climate but I can assure you that is what the majority of my colleagues and myself gave up other jobs and came into the House or offered themselves for election for. It is a reflection of what is good in this place when people are only looking at what is bad in this place which I absolutely detest and loath.”

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