Struggles faced by people with Down’s Syndrome to access the care and services they need must end, the Government has said, as MPs backed a “world-leading” proposed law.
The Down Syndrome Bill cleared its first parliamentary hurdle as it received an unopposed second reading following support from across the House of Commons.
It will require the Government to publish guidance on the specific needs of people with Down’s syndrome and how they should be met.
Authorities providing health, care, education and housing services must then act to deliver on these requirements.
With legal protections in place, it is hoped the Bill will make it easier for people with Down’s syndrome and their families to secure the services they need and to challenge authorities not acting on their duties.
Health minister Gillian Keegan, who has a nephew with the condition, told the Commons: “People with Down’s syndrome should have the opportunity to enjoy all aspects of our society and to have access to the services and support that will enable them throughout their lifetime.
“I wholeheartedly support the Down Syndrome Bill.”
She added: “I know that today people with Down’s syndrome are struggling to access the services they need and I’ve seen this with my own family.
“It is not right, it must change and we will change it.”
Conservative former cabinet minister Dr Liam Fox, who brought forward the Bill, warned it would be a “stain on our country” to see people with Down’s syndrome whose parents have died being placed in “inappropriate institutions”.
With life expectancy increasing for people with the condition, Dr Fox raised the need to guarantee the independence and dignity of people in future – and to remove the worry and anxiety from their parents.
He told MPs: “This is not a Bill about a condition, it is not about dealing with Down’s syndrome, it is about people who deserve the same ability to demand the best health, education and care as the rest of our society.
“It is not on our part an act of charity, it is an act of empowerment and the recognition that all members of our society must have a right to respect, independence and dignity. That is why I brought this Bill forward.”
An estimated 47,000 people in the UK have Down’s syndrome.
Ms Keegan said the Bill applies to England but she confirmed further discussions are expected with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
DUP MP Ian Paisley (North Antrim) welcomed the “world-leading” legislation, adding: “We’re saying yes, people with Down’s syndrome are different but they are equal and this makes them equal under the law, equally subject to all the rights and liberties that our laws provide for every other citizen.”
Labour also supported the proposals, which will undergo further scrutiny at committee stage at a later date.