Autism Bill as Amended at Further Consideration Stage Explanatory and Financial Memorandum

This Memorandum refers to the Autism Bill as amended at further consideration stage in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 7 March 2011 (Bill 2/10)

INTRODUCTION

1. This Explanatory and Financial Memorandum has been prepared on behalf of the Member in charge of the Bill, Mr Dominic Bradley. It is intended to assist the reader of the Bill and to help inform debate on it. It is not, and is not meant to be, a comprehensive description of the Bill. It does not form part of the Bill and has not been endorsed by the Assembly.

2. This Memorandum needs to be read in conjunction with the Bill.

BACKGROUND AND POLICY OBJECTIVES

3. The Bill’s main objective is to enhance the provision of services to and support for people with conditions which are on the autistic spectrum. The Bill sets out two ways of addressing deficiencies in service provision and support for such people:

(1) by amending Schedule 1 to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 so as to resolve any ambiguity as to whether the term “disability” applies to autistic spectrum conditions; and

(2) by requiring the preparation and implementation of an autism strategy.

CONSULTATION

4. The Member in charge of the Bill chairs the All-Party Assembly Group on Autism and developed proposals for a bill as a consequence of that work and the associated engagement with stakeholders. He consulted on the policy behind the Bill during Spring 2010, receiving 24 written responses, which were broadly supportive of the proposals, although public sector consultees questioned the need for legislation. Evidence-gathering on the proposed measures in the Bill was carried out by the relevant committee during the Committee Stage of the Bill.

OPTIONS CONSIDERED

5. The main options considered were -

  • Option 1 - continue campaigning for better coordinated services and fair treatment
  • Option 2 - introduce and enact the Autism Bill
  • Option 3 - introduce and enact the Autism Bill including provision for the establishment of a temporary office of Autism Commissioner

6. Ambiguity about whether the Disability Discrimination Act adequately embraces autistic spectrum conditions can best be addressed by legislation. Bodies such as Autism NI have been pressing for clarification of the law.

7. Despite pressure from a number of organisations and Members of the Assembly, the Executive has not formulated an inter-departmental, whole-of-life autism strategy. This suggests that only legislative pressure will bring it about.

8. The Member consulted on a proposal to establish, on a temporary basis, an independent oversight body to monitor and make recommendations on the adequacy and effectiveness of services for people with autism and their families/carers. On discussion with stakeholders and consultees and given the economic situation, the Member decided to proceed without including such provisions in the Bill.

9. The Member concluded that legislation is necessary but that, in view of the concerns raised and the cost involved, the Bill should proceed without the provisions relating to an Autism Commissioner.

OVERVIEW

10. The Bill has 7 clauses.

COMMENTARY ON CLAUSES

Clause 1 - Amendment to Schedule 1 to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995

Clause 1 extends the list of “normal day-to-day activities” in Schedule 1 to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Capacity to undertake these activities is used to assess whether someone’s condition falls within the definition of “disability” in the Act. Enacting Clause 1 will clarify that a condition which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on someone’s ability to ‘take part in normal social interaction’ or in ‘forming social relationships’ can constitute a “disability”.

Clause 2 - Autism Strategy

Clause 2 requires the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (“the Department”) to prepare and publish a strategy on autism within 2 years of the passing of the Act and following consultation with the other Northern Ireland departments. All departments in the Executive are placed under an obligation to implement any part of the strategy for which they are responsible.

In order that the strategy is comprehensive, the Bill requires the Department to seek information from the 5 Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland on the prevalence of autism in their areas. The Trusts are placed under an obligation to provide the information so requested. Furthermore, the Northern Ireland departments are required to co-operate in the preparation of any strategy. The strategy is intended to be a living document and Clause 2 therefore requires it to be kept under review and updated by the Department at intervals of 7 years or less. The Minister is required to lay a report before the Assembly every 3 years.

Clause 3 - Content of the autism strategy

The autism strategy must set out how the needs of people with autistic spectrum conditions are to be addressed throughout their lives. It must also address the needs of carers of those with autistic spectrum conditions and identify what steps the Department proposes to take to promote an autism awareness campaign.

Regulations may be made under this Act only if they have been approved by the Assembly. Before regulations can be made, they must have been the subject of consultation.

Clause 4 - Interpretation

This clause defines a number of terms used throughout the Bill. ‘Autism’ is interpreted as including Asperger’s syndrome, Rett’s syndrome, Heller’s syndrome and other pervasive developmental disorders not otherwise specified.

Clause 5 – Commencement

The Bill will come into operation three months after the date on which it receives Royal Assent.

Clause 6 – Short title

This clause provides for the short title of the Bill.

FINANCIAL EFFECTS OF THE BILL

11. The Bill will not have significant financial implications although some costs would be expected in relation to the autism awareness campaign proposed as part of the strategy.

HUMAN RIGHTS & EQUALITY ISSUES

12. The Bill is concerned with the promotion and safeguarding of the rights of people with autistic spectrum conditions. Its provisions are compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998.

13. The policy underpinning the Bill is intended to have a positive impact on people with autistic spectrum conditions. Its aim is to enable those with autistic spectrum conditions better to realise their full potential and place them on a more equal footing with other citizens.

LEGISLATIVE CONMPETENCE

14. The Member had made the following statement under Standing Order 30:

“In my view the Autism Bill would be within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

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