HC Deb 17 June 2003 vol 407 cc192-3
2. Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr)

What recent assessment he has made of the safety of school buses in England and Wales. [119403]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty)

There is no specific category of school bus in UK regulations. Any bus, coach or minibus may be used for dedicated school-to- home transport. In that context, therefore, it is imperative that we keep assessing and researching all aspects of the safety of all of those forms of transport.

Adam Price

I thank the Minister for that reply, which bears out what many hon. Members already know—that the regulations governing the transportation of live cattle are more stringent than those governing the transportation of children to and from school. Will the Minister undertake to review, for instance, the 50-year-old rules that allow three children to be placed in seats designed for two? The same rules permit up to 22 children to stand in a bus, even when the journey takes in a motorway. Are not those both examples of yet more accidents waiting to happen?

Mr. McNulty

It is entirely unlike the nationalists to make cheap points about something as important as child safety. A range of matters is under ongoing consideration. The point about live animals and children is not accurate, as the hon. Gentleman knows. Special yellow school buses are being used in various pilot schemes in England and Wales. They have operational features such as dedicated drivers, allocated seats and timetables for pick-ups. There has been exhaustive research into the three-for-two regulations, which are on the way out anyway under the post-1998 regulations. The matter is taken very seriously: the assessment of and research into safety for children on buses are of paramount importance in the Department.

Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

My hon. Friend will be aware that children with special educational needs very often are transported between home and school by minicab. There have been problems, including in my area, with securing the right Criminal Records Bureau checks on both drivers and escorts. Will my hon. Friend seek an urgent meeting with the Minister for Children to address that issue, and to see how we can increase protection for that most vulnerable group of children?

Mr. McNulty

My hon. Friend raises an important matter. Between the greater regulation of private minicabs in London and the discussions that I shall happily undertake with the new Minister for Children, I hope that we can resolve the situation, but it goes wider than travel for special needs children.