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§ Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)
This debate has arisen from a tragedy from which we hope that we can achieve a better result. In my constituency some time ago, a boy called Lee Kelly died when he alighted from a school bus. He crossed the road as he was allowed to do by the rules—everyone involved was following the rules—and was killed by a car passing the bus. He was so badly damaged that his internal organs could not be used for transplant although, being a sensitive and intelligent boy, he had requested, obtained and filled in a donor card only a week or so before.
That accident is not the only accident to have had such tragic results in the United Kingdom. I quote from a paper sent to me by the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations:A five year old boy got off the school bus, returning home as usual with his 11 year old sister. His mother was not at the stop as normal, because she was unable to cross the road due to traffic. The boy, excited to see her, went behind the bus and started to cross the road himself. He didn't see the lorry coming. His mother frantically shouted to him to stop. He froze in the middle of the road and was killed by the lorry as it sped by the school bus.Shortly after Lee Kelly's death and a little further away from my constituency, but near my own village, three children got off a school bus and tried to cross the road. Again, a lorry came past. The driver slammed on the brakes to avoid the girl but hit both boys, one of whom suffered severe brain injury.
Of course, this is not a problem in Devon alone, where school transport vehicles were involved in about 11 accidents last year—it affects every part of the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, for example, eight children under 15 have been killed since 1984 after alighting from a school bus.
My own efforts have been spurred on and stimulated by Lee Kelly's mother, Kathy Kelly, a remarkable woman, determined that her own tragedy shall be turned into something more positive and that anything that she can do to ensure that other mothers will not suffer her loss will indeed be done. Spurred on and urged by her, I sought a meeting with my hon. Friend the Minister and I am most grateful for his ready, speedy and intelligent response. I also sought a meeting with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science, who reacted in the same way.
Some immediate action was taken in Devon in the area in which Lee Kelly was killed. I propose that we should establish a pilot scheme significantly to identify school buses for oncoming traffic. Both the car driver and the lorry driver involved in the recent accidents in Devon—the one in my constituency and the one just outside it—said afterwards that they did not know that the vehicle was a school bus. I believe that that is at the heart of the problem. I therefore propose that my hon. Friend the Minister should take Devon as a pilot area and authorise Devon not just to put signs at the back and front of buses, but to illuminate them with flashing lights.
Thanks to our county engineer, Mr Michael Hawkins, and perhaps to the fact that our new chief executive, Mr. Richard Clark, came from an education background—he was chief education officer for Hampshire—Devon 552 county, encouraged by the local county councillor Honoria Broad, has taken immediate action and a pilot scheme starts in January.
I have tabled an early-day motion and I pay tribute to my colleagues on both sides of the House—45 to date—who have shown their support, not just by signing the early-day motion but by writing to me asking what else they can do to help. I have puzzled about the best that we can achieve, because it is a tough problem. Although I have quoted some sad cases, nevertheless every day thousands of children are transported—23,000 in Devon alone—and reach home and school safely.
I thought that one of the first things to do would be to establish how many children were killed or injured in that way, I tabled a parliamentary question asking the Secretary of State for Transporthow many children of school age have been injured in traffic accidents involving designated school buses in the last 12 months; and how many have been killed.The Minister replied:The information requested is not available."—[Official Report. 6 December 1989; Vol. 163, c.219.]The NCPTA, which cannot find the figures either, points out that the highest casualty rate for pedestrians killed or injured is among the 10-to-14 age group, followed by the five to nines. Some 20 per cent. of pedestrian casualties among children aged five to nine years and 39 per cent. of casualties aged 10 to 16 were on journeys to and from school. I must make it clear that those are not accidents on buses. They occurred while the children were on their way to school—not on buses, but just walking. We cannot find the figures that we seek, and I urge my hon. Friend to obtain and analyse them for the future.
It is of interest and concern to discover from the Bus and Coach Council that less stringent standards are applied to the operation and use of school buses than are applied to public service vehicles. The director general says:There are about 66,000 school buses … owned and operated by local authorities. Many of those are involved in the carriage of school children. PSVs … number about 71,000.Certain requirements are needed for class VI public service vehicles but not for school buses. School buses do not have to specify the number and position of the emergency exits or the fuel tank location relevant to the doors specified. There do not have to be first aid kits on board. The gangway dimensions and the minimum seat dimensions do not have to be specified. Passenger communication with the driver is not restricted. Passenger protection measures are not specified and neither is the driver's accommodation.
Instruction of the driver is not restricted or the carriage of inflammable or dangerous substances prohibited. The marking of exits and emergency exits does not have to he specified nor the access to emergency exits. The steps, platforms and stairs do not have to be specified. The driver does not require a public service vehicle vocational licence. Crew and passenger conduct regulations do not have to apply. Vehicle fuelling with passengers on board is permitted and drivers are not subject to drivers' hours regulations. In addition, the annual inspection for school buses covers less than one third of the items for public service vehicles.
553 Could that be the reason why school buses going around the United Kingdom are often aging vehicles, almost rusting, which appear to have gone out of service in the 1950s and been resurrected for school runs?
The Kent newspaper, the Ashford and district Kentish Express, reported on Thursday 30 November 1989:An explosion aboard a crowded school bus which injured eight children has sparked off a protest campaign by frightened parents … a rear tyre exploded sending wheel-arch debris into the downstairs compartment. … One pupil of 14 is being treated at the specialist eye unit. … 'It looked as though she'd been hit in the face with shotgun pellets', said one pupil. … Youngsters sitting above the wheel-arch were thrown from their seats … as an aluminium panel smashed into their legs.Angry and worried parents bombarded the school and the coach firm with telephone calls.One of the more worrying comments highlighted in the report of that event, and one which is not unusual in the United Kingdom, was made by the head teacher, who said:In future we will look carefully at the procedures on the school buses,. At the present time there is no proof of overloading with 80 to 90 children on board. It was within the law.I suggest that that is a good reason why the present rule whereby three children are allowed to sit in two adults' seats and to stand in the gangways should be revoked. Despite the fact that we do not have sufficient buses to offer a seat to every child, we should make every effort to obtain that necessary result.
The quality of minibuses also causes anxiety. There is a move towards minibuses, perhaps because the quality of the larger buses is so poor. The medical officers of the Schools Association have written to me:It was good to read your excellent letter in The Times … You made so many good and wise comments … send me any replies you get from Transport or Education. May I say that our Association has been very concerned about the use of minibuses for transporting schoolchildren, often overcrowded and ill-equipped. As you say, I am sure that they should have radio links or mobile telephones. Would you also agree they need fire-extinguishers and comprehensive first-aid kits? … It does seem that the authorities have been dragging their feet for years and, I am delighted to learn that you are pressing Her Majesty's Government on these vital, life-saving matters.Another head teacher wrote to me from Essex about the problems of dangerous driving:Although the route is not heavily used by traffic it is very narrow and winding, there have been numerous occasions when children have been flung off seats due to sudden braking or swerving unexpectedly. Many of the small children cannot touch the floor when they sit on the seats properly. I am sure you will appreciate my concern not only in regard for traffic dangers but also to "stranger dangers." The bus drivers are not always interested and a child could easily be enticed off the bus with a stranger without the driver realising the significance.I do not suggest for one moment that all the problems are one-sided and lie with the authorities or, indeed, with the drivers. The children sometimes behave in a difficult manner. I have received a letter from a constituent saying: "the general public do not appreciate the level of service provided—free transport to and from school for the majority of children every day—and in return the driver has to endure foul language, abuse and unruly behaviour, and the operator has to suffer vandalism to his vehicle".
That was from one of the coach operators operating school runs.
554 A couple of weeks ago, the North Devon Journal reported:A leading coach operator is all set to scrap one of his regular school journeys because of an escalating wave of disturbance and foul language among pupils.The trouble is so alarming that adult passengers … in the centre of Barnstaple have rushed off in disgust before it pulls away, even sacrificing their fares, to avoid the barrage of four-letter words.The travel operatorhas thrown down a challenge to parents: 'Travel with your children and see for yourselves. You'll find it a real eye-opener."'Comment has also been made about drugs. I do not have substantiated figures, but I know that there is cause for concern among the police. I believe strongly that parental responsibility for children's behaviour on buses is of extreme importance.
I have amassed more material of the same type as I have already quoted. Parents have written to me from all over the country since I put one letter in The Times two and a half weeks ago. Head teachers, parent-teachers associations, doctors, bus drivers—everyone has written, and the letters keep pouring in. I shall pass them all to the Minister. I feel confident that I shall be meeting him again, as I know that he is as determined as I am to try to find the best solutions.
I ask the Minister to consider a 10-point code of good practice. First, all buses should carry distinctive signs, front and back, warning motorists that children are boarding and alighting. That was the first point that my hon. Friend and I discussed, which he accepted in principle, and which is to be put into practice in a pilot scheme. Secondly, school buses should be illuminated with flashing lights to make the vehicles more visible to motorists. Even in the short while since I put that point to the Minister, comment has come back from other parents proposing another idea. They suggest that flashing lights may be difficult in darkness and that it would be better to have an illuminated light which is switched on when dusk falls. I commend that thought to the Minister.
My natural third point is that no standing should be permitted on school buses. I do not believe it right that children should be allowed to stand in the gangway, and they should be told to sit down if they do so. I understand that standing is permitted under current legislation. I urge the Minister to move towards redesigning or redesignating the seating capacity so that, eventually, we get away from three children being counted as two passengers. Would my hon. Friend want his child to be on a bus with 79 other children and no other adult? I would not want any of my nieces or nephews to travel in such conditions.
My fourth point is that seat belts should be made compulsory on all school buses. The Minister knows that we in Devon feel strongly about this. I understand my hon. Friend when he says how difficult it is for Britain, that he is negotiating in Europe, but that it is tough for us to act alone. I urge him to be most fluent and energetic in his negotiations with our European partners. I cannot understand why they do not wish to introduce such seat belts.
Fifthly, first-aid training should be compulsory for all school bus drivers and schoolchildren. Perhaps the saddest and most miserable part of the inquest transcript that I read of Lee Kelly's death was the fact that the bus driver, poor man, had no first-aid training. He did not know what to do and, incidentally, no more did the van driver. The 555 schoolchildren got off the bus with their coats and looked for a mirror to see whether Lee was breathing, which he still was.
Surely it is not too much to ask that all school bus drivers should have a certificate in first aid. St John Ambulance staff, or our ambulance drivers—the men and women who know so much about first aid—in a short lesson could teach school bus drivers how to offer simple first aid and give them a certificate. Will the Minister urge his colleagues in the Department of Education and Science to provide in the national curriculum that, at some time during a child's time at school, there should be one compulsory lesson in first aid, and professional ambulance men and women should be called in to give the lesson?
The most difficult suggestion that I have to make is that all traffic should be halted when children board or alight from school buses. That is commonplace in the United States of America and Canada. The Alberta code of conduct is fierce, and the same sort of code applies in the United States. I appreciate the smallness of this island, the overcrowding that we suffer in terms of people and traffic, and the congestion in our major cities. Nonetheless, is their no possibility of the Minister looking at this suggestion most carefully, even if it were put into practice only in rural areas? The accidents that I described, which took place in rural areas, would not have happened if the traffic behind had had to halt.
It will be interesting to see whether the pilot scheme being carried out in the Hatherleigh area from January will have a beneficial effect on traffic so that cars coming behind buses slow down or even halt when their drivers see the sign and note the flashing lights. The police will be monitoring this, and Richard Clark, the chief executive, told me from county hall that, in the spring, once the scheme is up and running, he will be most willing to produce a video and full records of what happens. I had a lengthy talk with him this weekend. He is as concerned as I am that we should get this right. I urge the Minister to see whether there is any way in which, in country areas, traffic could be halted when children board or alight.
I have requested that when school buses make regular stops, particularly in the country, there should be signs saying "School bus stop" of the same colour as the signs on the back and front of the bus. I do not know why we do not have those already. There should be adult supervision, in addition to the driver, on crowded routes to ensure that proper safety procedures are followed. Not every route needs that—some are not crowded and I hope that not too many buses have 80 children on board. How can we expect a bus driver to cope under the conditions which I have accurately described from particular cases, and which are not unusual, without another grown-up on the bus?
School buses should be equiped with radio links or mobile telephones for use in emergencies. In Devon, it can take a long time for the ambulance to come, not because the ambulance does not move fast, but because it has a long way to go. It takes me two and a half hours to cross from one end of my constituency to another, and I drive rapidly. The ambulances cannot come as fast as a small, ordinary passenger car and need to be alerted at once. If a bus has to stop in a remote area—such places exist—a radio link or mobile telephone is needed in order to summon help.
If we were able to adopt the 10-point code of practice, it would avert other tragedies. I cannot help but think, as 556 I read the material that pours in daily as a result of the campaign, that there is a much larger tragedy waiting in the wings. We mourn Lee Kelly and the other children. Let us, for heaven's sake, not need to mourn more deaths and injuries. I urge the Minister to discuss the code with his colleagues and to push for its early adoption.
§ Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
It is my pleasant task at this ghastly hour of the morning highly to commend the work of the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson). She has without doubt raised an important matter before the House and country, and the public response that she has described bears testimony to that.
When I wanted to find something pertinent to say in I he debate, I did what I suppose many Members of Parliament do: I asked my research assistant to contact the Library. That was instructive, because almost everything that the Library sent to me emanated from the work of the hon. Lady herself. It also appears from some of the replies that she has had in the House that she has been pushing at an open door. I hope that the Minister will follow that through today and give us even more positive information.
As the hon. Lady said, she is trying to introduce this code of practice because of the tragic death of one of her constituents. One death is one too many, but having looked at the available material, I share her concern that we do not know the extent of the problem. We do not know how many children are being injured in these circumstances, or how many killed. The hon. Lady rightly pointed out that the statistics of teenage pedestrian casualties are abnormally high compared with those of our European partners.
Many families are so worried about road safety that they do not allow their children to be on the roads except when that is unavoidable, so the statistics may relate to accidents that occur when children travel to and from school. That is very worrying; I hope that the Minister will confirm that he is taking steps to deal with the problem of our lack of knowledge, and that he will produce new advice for his Department or for local authorities about the gathering of statistics, the better to ascertain the extent of the problem.
The Opposition share the hon. Lady's concern about the general standard of public service vehicles. We have pressed repeatedly for improvements in those standards, which we believe have deteriorated because of the Government's policy of deregulating bus services.
I have observed in London and around the country that very strange vehicles are carrying schoolchildren to and from school. We do not see such buses transporting anything else, and that is worrying, too. It is a fact, not just a lay person's opinion, that standards are lower, and that increases our anxiety.
Safety must be paramount in any form of public service, especially for children. In the main, we support the hon. Lady's 10-point plan; we are keen to see the experiments supported, and if it is found practicable, we hope that most of the plan will be implemented quickly.
ILEA would certainly support the idea of clear signs on the fronts and backs of buses. The hon. Lady's idea of illuminated signs instead of flashing lights would find widespread support.
557 It seems absolutely obvious that children should not stand on buses, and we are amazed to find that it is common practice and permitted by law. Most adults are very worried about that, and it could be changed quickly. We hope that it will be. The same applies to three children being regarded as two for seating purposes. We support the idea of compulsory seat belts on buses and of first-aid training.
We also look forward to hearing more from the Minister on halting traffic. The experimental scheme in Devon may produce information that will help in making a judgment. However, the problem does not exist only in rural areas. I have lived in a number of urban areas, when I constantly saw children in hazardous situations—such as alighting from a bus and then walking to the back of it, close to passing traffic. London's one way streets pose an additional danger. School buses having only one exit are often obliged to allow children to alight from the side of the bus that traffic is passing. There is a clear case for arguing that the other vehicles should halt in those circumstances.
The standard colouring and marking of school buses, as is done in the United States, should be pursued. Standardisation would clearly help the motorist, and we are keen to learn the Minister's response on that aspect. Whatever proposals for improving safety standards he may put before the House, we hope that he will make it clear that local authorities will not be expected to find further sums from their restricted budgets to meet any additional cost involved in implementing those measures. Safety is a national responsibility whose costs should be met by the Government, not passed on to fare-paying passengers—although that hardly applies in this instance—or to local authorities.
The Association of Metropolitan Authorities has consistently pressed the Department to consider the compulsory fitting of reversing alarms not just on school buses but on public service vehicles in general. That request is relevant to the debate, and perhaps the Minister can say whether his Department is giving it further consideration.
The debate has been interesting and worth while, despite the lateness of the hour.
§ The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Atkins)
The earlyness of the hour, the hon. Lady means.
§ Ms. Ruddock
The Minister corrects me. As a comparatively new Member, I am not sure whether this debate is taking place in the latest hours of the previous day, or in the earliest hours of the next.
Whichever day it is, the debate has been valuable, and I commend the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West on her comprehensive presentation, which I know will produce good results that will secure the support of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House —and that of the public at large.
§ The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Atkins)
I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) on raising the subject of school bus safety in the same manner as she has adopted in dealing with me on many previous 558 occasions. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) adopted the same style—albeit that she is not nearly as new a Member of Parliament as she would like us to believe.
Since becoming Minister for Roads and Traffic, I have met many people who have experienced grief, tragedy and other problems associated with road accidents of one form or another. Only yesterday, I was concerned with the case of a Mrs. Stone, whose 17-year-old daughter was killed in a road accident. I have involved myself in the campaign against drink driving, and mothers and fathers have told me about the loss of their loved ones of all ages through drink-driving and the effects of those tragedies on them. The death of one of my hon. Friend's constituents is a case in point. Often such a tragedy is required for anything to happen, but one of my objectives is to avoid that. Tragedies inevitably spotlight particular problems—and this is one of them—but they should not be required to bring about a response from Government.
I know a good deal about this subject from personal experience. My two young children, aged 13 and 10—the 13-year-old probably would not like to be described as young—use the school bus every morning. They travel some 16 miles from my home to their school in Blackpool, and I am only too well aware of the problems. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way in which she presented those problems, and trust that her campaign will go from strength to strength, because it is helping me—and my officials—to bring about changes that we hope will prevent accidents in the future.
I am happy to put it on the record that, since I came to the Department in June, I have been immensely impressed by the dedication of my officials in dealing with the problem of road safety. The Department's good record is, I think, generally accepted, and I know that my officials have welcomed the opportunity of my hon. Friend's campaign to do what many have wanted to do for a long time.
I shall consider much of what my hon. Friend has said in considerable detail. She has been able to raise the issue in the public prints, on the Floor of the House and by asking questions, and the response that she has received is all grist to the mill. I was particularly pleased that we were able to agree to a pilot scheme in Devon. It is a big county, with both rural and urban problems, and we shall learn a lot. I shall examine the results with considerable interest, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend has encouraged the chief executive to let me have the information in due course.
I should add that I have a slight constituency interest in buses and coaches. As my constituency contains the Leyland bus company, I have been closely associated during my time in Parliament with both general and specific matters relating to bus and coach safety.
I have been negotiating closely with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science, who has a real interest in these matters. She has learnt—I am sure that she knew already—that to a large extent they are the concern of the local education authorities, and, through them, the DES.
I shall be considering in some depth the 10-point code that my hon. Friend mentioned to the House. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) drew attention to the variety of buses and coaches used by education authorities; as she said towards the end of her 559 speech, the costs to the authorities are substantial, and they therefore opt for more economically priced vehicles then they might otherwise.
§ Mr. Atkins
"Cheaper" is indeed the word. As has already been said, it is early in the morning.
It would cost a great deal to introduce specialised buses for use on school trips, such as the fleet of bright yellow buses used in the United States, and the education authorities would have to pay. The authorities that have been consulted by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science have said in no uncertain terms that they are unhappy about the likely cost of some of the proposals that my hon. Friend and I have considered.
They are worried about the three-into-two argument, for example, and the no-standing argument. More modern buses are safer and tend to be more luxurious, but they also cost more. There are factors here which are important but in respect of which I cannot supply answers straight away.
We are already involved with signs in the pilot scheme. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's welcome for that. We shall see what comes of it, and I look forward to finding out. Considering the advantages of a flashing light or a permanent light is a jolly good idea. There has to be a highly visible sign of some sort. Flashing signs attract attention where a fully illuminated one might not. There is scope for study here. I urge my hon. Friend to encourage Devon county council to try both forms to see which is preferable. In the summer, a fully illuminated sign might not be noticeable, whereas a flashing sign would attract attention.
I share the House's view about no standing. It is dangerous and a practice that is worth considering. I have already said, however, that local education authorities say that it will cost a lot of money if the result of having no standing is that more buses are required. My hon. Friends in the Department of Education and Science may also have views on the enormous increase that would be required in their travel budget. It is nevertheless a fair suggestion, as is redesignating the seating arrangements.
We have to be realistic about this. On modern and some older coaches, which are quite large, there is room for three children on a seat designed for two people. That does not really answer my hon. Friend's question. If, as I hope, we shall have a seat belt for every seat, three children would not be able to use a seat for two. That may be the point at which we make a change.
I feel strongly about the provision of seat belts, and we are doing some work on that. Our objective is to have them fitted on all seats in minibuses and coaches. I recently had a meeting with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders at which I talked in general terms about the possibility of seat belts on coaches. I cannot make their provision mandatory for reasons which I think the House understands—they involve the European Commission—but I can at least encourage the option to be made available. Seat belts are available from one or two manufacturers, and I hope that all will get the message from this debate that they should be made available. Education authorities could then specify them if they had the necessary resources.
560 First-aid training is an excellent suggestion. I was surprised, as was my hon. Friend, to learn that none is necessary. I suspect that it is one of those things that has gone almost by default. It, too, is a matter for my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Education and Science, but I shall add my weight to the idea.
It has been recognised that the most difficult area is whether traffic should be halted when a school bus is taking on or dropping passengers. Halting traffic would cause traffic congestion in cities. In the morning at least, school buses travel at the same time as everyone else, and I suspect that stopping traffic would cause great difficulties. Rural areas may be able to follow this suggestion, but even there there may be a problem with narrow winding lanes. I cannot give a specific answer now.
My instincts tell me that it would cause congestion and create difficulties in keeping the traffic moving, which is a contributory factor to road safety and casualty reduction. However, we are considering it. Devon county council may have some views on that and I look forward to hearing them. It may be possible to specify certain areas where it would help, and if that is the case I shall consider the matter in detail.
It is easy to have a bus stop outside a school as that is where the children will be, but picking them up is not so easy. My own children's bus picks up where people hail it or where children find it convenient. That would not be necessarily the same spot every day, and if it were, there would be so many pick-up points that having bus stops dotted round would affect sensibilities, create excessive street furniture and perhaps be counter-productive. However, there may be some merit in having special brightly coloured bus stops outside schools in busier areas. I hope that that will be revealed by the pilot scheme. Perhaps Devon county council will use a brightly coloured, highly visible temporary bus stop. I should be interested to hear the results of any experiments, but it is not quite as easy as it sounds.
The same applies to supervision by adults. I am not an education specialist—although everyone who has been to school always thinks that they are—but the problems that schools have getting teachers to do extra work would apply. I suspect that it will be difficult to persuade teachers —especially in rural areas. For example, teachers who live in Blackpool will not be frightfully keen to take the bus 16 miles out to where I live. The supervision does not have to be done by teachers; the parents may volunteer.
As my hon. Friend is aware, although children in her constituency and my children especially are extraordinarily well behaved and never in any way offend against the discipline of the parent or teacher who is in charge, some children are not quite so open to disciplinary action. I shall not be drawn on what I would do in the circumstances, as it might provoke rather than pacify. Nonetheless, in those circumstances, parents might not be able to control the children. In some instances we are dealing with third, fourth and fifth-form youngsters who rightly have their own minds and their own views and do not take kindly to discipline from teachers, let alone from someone else's mother or father. As it is thought to be rather bad form to give them a clump around the head, I suspect that the disciplinary factor needs greater consideration. Again, that is a serious point that we recognise.
Radio links are a very good idea, as they are no longer as expensive as they used to be. A personal radio which can 561 be carried should be encouraged, and I shall certainly pursue that point. I suspect that such radios are beginning to be available. Their use depends on the personal whim of the driver or the school rather than regulation, but the suggestion has much merit.
The 10-point plan that my hon. Friend has presented to the House has considerable merit. There are differences of nuance that we can pursue, and certainly the most difficult one is the halting of traffic.
My hon. Friend suggested painting the bus a special colour. My hon. Friend and the House will recognise that that means specifying a large number of buses which effectively cannot be used for anything else. That poses problems in the marketplace for bus and coach operation generally. I do not think that a bus or coach which is made for the general public is less safe because it is carrying children, provided that the substance of my hon. Friend's 10-point plan is taken into account—that is, the introduction of seat belts, special stopping arrangements and perhaps flashing lights which can be removed for the purposes of reconverting the bus or coach for conventional use. That would mean existing vehicles could be used. I suspect that designating special buses would be so horrendously expensive that it would prove difficult. As the hon. Member for Deptford rightly said, my Department is familiar with all those topics and I have learnt that they are very important.
My hon. Friend is pushing at a wide open door. I shall continue to look at this matter with considerable attention to ensure that the points that have been made in the debate and other matters relating to child safety are kept very 562 much in mind. I could delay the House by talking at length about what we are doing on child safety. I can say, from my experience and because of the importance of the subject, that our record on road casualtlies is as good as anywhere in Europe, but on child safety we have a long way to go. That is true of any casualty, and so long as one child is injured or killed, our record will not be good enough.
I have taken a great deal of trouble with child safety in a wide variety of areas—en route to and from school by bus or coach, on foot, by pedal cycle or in cars—and I am devoting much attention to it. The House expects me to do that, and I pledge to continue to do so. As part of giving attention to road safety for children, I assure the House that the points that have been made in the campaign by my hon. Friend are well received, and I am grateful to her for raising them.
I thank the participants in the debate on both sides, and especially my hon. Friend. The matters that she raises are important. I hope that the memorial to Lee Kelly will be a scheme which will ensure that people, and parents in particular, do not have to experience the grief of bereavement resulting from the sort of tragedy that my hon. Friend's constituents have experienced, for it is unacceptable that that should be the case.
I have experienced bereavement in my family and I know the problems that ensue. I am determined that, with the support of the House and the public, we encourage drivers, and road users generally, to recognise that children above all are our most vulnerable citizens. Anything that can be done to improve matters for them must be our priority and objective. I give that assurance to the House.