HC Deb 15 January 2003 vol 397 cc666-7
3. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)

If he will meet the First Minister to discuss school transport. [89727]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I meet the First Minister to discuss a range of matters, including school transport.

Mr. Edwards

Does my hon. Friend accept that the current law allows gross overcrowding on scheduled buses taking children to school and that, although overcrowding may have been a factor in the Vale of Glamorgan bus crash, it was within the legal limits? Does he agree that bus companies exploit the law and that local authorities enter into contracts in which overcrowding is in-built? Will he commend Monmouthshire county council for trying to address the problem? Does he agree that where Monmouthshire leads, the rest of the country should follow, although legislative action may well be needed?

Mr. Touhig

I am sure that the entire House was profoundly saddened by the death of 12-year-old Stuart Cunningham Jones in a bus accident in Cowbridge just before Christmas, and our sympathies go to his family. I take note of my hon. Friend's point. Last year, he secured a debate in Westminster Hall on school transport that went some way in helping to overcome the problem in Monmouthshire. The three-for-two concession allows transport operators to have three children in a seat that, in normal circumstances, would take two people, but they must be sure that the children can physically sit in the seats. There is no statistical evidence that the concession puts children at greater risk, but new legislation ensures that since 1 October 2001 all new buses coming on to the road are fitted with seat belts, and that will lead to the death of the three-for two concession, to which I look forward.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire)

Many school children in Wales still have to rely on their parents for transport to school because of the lack of public transport, and that increases congestion, road danger and CO2emissions. Will the Minister discuss with the First Minister whether all school children in Wales can have access to public transport to school?

Mr. Touhig

There is a formula for funding public transport and children's transport to school, and, in Wales, local authorities have been generous in going beyond the formula and providing additional transport facilities. The Government are committed to a massive investment in public transport. In partnership with our colleagues in the Labour-led Assembly, that will benefit children, ensuring that they travel to school as safely as possible.

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