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Clause 64 --

General duties of Secretary of State and of new authorities

Amendment made : No. 82, in page 56, line 2, clause 64, after access' insert (including access for recreational purposes)'--[ Lord James Douglas Hamilton .]

Clause 65 --

Codes of practice for new water and sewerage authorities

Amendment made : No. 184, in page 56, line 42, at end add ( ) The authority shall take such steps as appear to them appropriate to inform customers and potential customers of the contents for the time being of their code approved by virtue of this section.'--[ Mr. Stewart .]

Clause 74 --

Maximum charges for services provided with help of new authority

Amendments made : No. 83, in page 60, line 12, clause 74, leave out water supplies or sewerage services provided to' and insert the supply of water to, the provision of sewerage to or the disposal of sewage for' ;

No. 84, in page 60, line 15, leave out supplies or sewerage services are provided to' and insert

is supplied to, sewerage provided to, or sewage disposed of for' ;

No. 85, in page 60, line 20, leave out services' and insert which is, or facilities for the disposal of sewage which are,' ; No. 86, in page 60, line 26, leave out services' and insert ,or with facilities for the disposal of sewage,' ;

No. 87, in page 60, line 27, leave out those services' and insert the sewerage or facilities' ;

No. 88, in page 60, line 28, leave out services' and insert or of such facilities'--[ Mr. Stewart .]

Clause 77 --

Liability of occupiers etc. for charges

Amendments made : No. 89, in page 62, line 22, leave out sewerage services' and insert

the provision of sewerage, and the disposal of sewage,' ; No. 90, in page 62, line 23, leave out provided to' and insert provision to, or as disposal for,' ;

No. 91, in page 62, line 31, at end insert

; and such supply of water, provision of sewerage or disposal of sewage are referred to in subsection (2) below as "relevant services".' ;

No. 92, in page 62, line 35, after for' insert relevant'--[ Mr. Stewart .]

Clause 79 --

Power to demand and recover charges not to affect duty to maintain domestic water supply etc.

Amendment made : No. 93, in page 64, line 20, leave out Subsection (1)(b) of section 73 of this Act is' and insert Subsections (1)(b) of section 73 and (1), (3) and (4) of section 78 of this Act are'--[ Mr. Stewart .]

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Clause 81 --

Arrears of charges : restrictions on voting

Amendment made : No. 94, in page 65, line 25, at end insert (5) In subsection (1) above, "joint committee" has the meaning given by section 235(1) of the 1973 Act.'--[ Mr. Stewart .]

Clause 92 --

Preparations for transfer of functions etc. to new authorities

Amendment made : No. 95, in page 74, line 34, leave out in Chapter 2 of Part I' and insert by virtue of section 96'--[ Mr. Stewart .]

Clause 96 --

Staff : application of Chapter 2 of Part I etc.

Amendments made : No. 185, in page 76, line 10, after second and' insert

, subject to subsection (1A) below,' ;

No. 186, in page 76, line 13, at end insert

(1A) Subsections (2A) and (3) of section 8 of this Act shall apply as respects such employees of the Board or of an islands council as are transferred to a new water and sewerage authority as those subsections apply as respects employees of a regional council who are so transferred (subsection (4) of that section applying to an order made by virtue of this subsection as that subsection applies to an order made by virtue of subsection (1) above).'--[ Mr. Stewart .]

Clause 109 --

Vesting of certain supply pipes

Amendments made : No. 158, in page 83, line 9, leave out from supplied' to shall' in line 11 ;

No. 159, in page 83, line 13, at end add

as shall any apparatus used wholly or mainly in connection with that supply pipe ; and a supply pipe in so far as so lying is, together with any apparatus so used in connection with it, referred to in the following provisions of this section as a "relevant supply pipe".' ;

No. 160, in page 84, line 8, after whether' insert -(a)' ; No. 161, in page 84, line 9, leave out from unjustified' to pipe' in line 10 and insert

;(b) apparatus is used wholly or mainly in connection with a supply pipe ; or

(c) on a specified day a relevant supply'--[ Mr. Stewart .]

Clause 116 --

Directions in the interests of national security

Amendment made : No. 96, in page 87, line 4, leave out or sewerage services' and insert

, the provision of sewerage or disposal of sewage'--[ Mr. Stewart .]

Clause 122 --

Power to require local authorities and assessors to supply information to the new authorities

Amendment made : No. 162, in page 89, line 20, leave out from date' to 27' in line 21 and insert

--(i) "local authority" means an authority constituted under section 2 of this Act or a residuary body ; and (ii) "assessor" shall be construed in accordance with section'--[ Mr. Stewart .]

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Clause 124 --

Interpretation of Part II

Amendment made : No. 98, in page 89, line 42, at end insert "local authority" means, subject to section 122(3), an authority constituted under section 2 ;'--[ Mr. Stewart .]

Clause 136 --

Transfer of staff, property etc. to the Administration

Amendment made : No. 187, in page 93, line 44, leave out subsection (1)--[ Mr. Stewart .]

Clause 140 --

Denominational schools : proposals under section 22D of Education (Scotland) Act 1980

Amendments made : No. 99, in page 96, line 13, at beginning insert in subsection (2)(a), for the word "the" there shall be substituted "an" ; ( )' ;

No. 100, in page 96, line 32, leave out from pupils' to as' in line 33 and insert belonging to the area of another education authority' ;

No. 101, in page 96, line 37, after other' insert public' ; No. 102, in page 96, leave out lines 38 to 40--[ Mr. Stewart .]

Clause 141 --

Provision of school transport and other facilities

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale) : I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 97, line 11, at end insert

(aa) in subsection (1) at the end there shall be inserted " ; provided that any motor vehicle used for the conveyance of pupils pursuant to this subsection shall be equipped with seatbelts for the use of any passengers travelling in it.".'.

I want to start by stating the obvious--that this amendment is about education and that its competency is wholly relevant to education in Scotland. It seeks to make compulsory the fitting of seat belts in all vehicles transporting children to and from school. The Minister seems to think that this is a matter for the Department of Transport rather than for the Scottish Office. He is wrong, and I hope to persuade the House why it is so important that we provide protection for children travelling to and from school.

9 pm

There is a legal obligation on parents to send their children to school. It is therefore not unreasonable for them to expect the Government to provide legislation to ensure that their children are transported safely. My amendment would ensure that the legislation provided such protection. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State--the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James

Douglas-Hamilton)--together with the Minister for Roads and Traffic, whom I am pleased to see in his place, have argued that we cannot legislate without impinging on the competency of the European Commission and that seat belts can be made compulsory only by means of Europewide legislation. The Select Committee on European Legislation, of which I am the Chairman, is currently inquiring into the competence of member states in respect of all issues of road safety. We hope, by the summer recess, to have taken evidence from the

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Commission and from both Ministers. I have not so far been persuaded of the validity of some of the Government's arguments. However, I shall not try to anticipate the Committee's conclusions. Not long ago, we sat many hours during the course of which the Prime Minister himself sought to convince the House--in particular, his own Back Benchers--on the question of subsidiarity. If the protection of children travelling to and from school is not a matter for subsidiarity, what is ? I want to read into the record a Commission statement dated 8 February. In that statement, Commissioner Bangemann outlines the approach that he intends to adopt to improve protection for bus and coach passengers, especially against the risk of ejection in the event of an accident : "In the meantime, as the Commission has previously indicated, member states may still, within the limits set by Community law, introduce legislation regarding the use of certain categories of vehicles to transport members of the public--for example, motorway coaches or school buses."

I quote that comment for the purpose of stopping the nonsensical suggestion that the protection we seek cannot be provided by the House of Commons-- that it can come only from Brussels. I do not accept that, and the words that I have just quoted prove our point. The Government make a case about cost. They say that the cost of the compulsory provision of seat belts would be too inhibiting. It is nonsense to talk about cost in the context of children's lives. But let us get the matter into perspective. Like many other people, I argue that the cost involved here is not great. Seat belts could be fitted to a 53-seat coach for no more--probably less--than it takes to put a stereo cassette and a video unit in a coach. In that light, what we are talking about takes on a different meaning. If seat belts had to be fitted in all buses, the cost would obviously come down. Lo and behold, it might also be possible to give jobs to the unemployed. When people talk about cost, let them compare like with like. In this situation, cost should not be an issue. In any case, it is estimated that the implementation of the Bill will cost up to £700 million. In that context, what is the relevance of questioning the cost of protecting children on their way to and from school ?

Mr. Foulkes : I assure my hon. Friend that he has not only my support but that of my constituent Dorothy Wilson, whose son Christopher was tragically killed last year in a school bus at Auchinleck. Christopher's mother has set up a group to argue the case that my hon. Friend is putting forward so eloquently. My hon. Friend will have the eternal gratitude of Dorothy Wilson and her whole family if the Minister and the House accept his amendment.

Mr. Hood : I thank my hon. Friend. I have indeed met his constituent, and it was a tragic case.

Twenty-two children have been killed in coach accidents in the past 28 weeks--almost one child a week. We do not have time to equivocate or pontificate about where competence may lie. Our children are in daily danger of being killed as they travel to and from school. We have the power to stop that ; I hope that the Minister will take action tonight to do just that.

I ask Conservative Members and Ministers to put themselves in the place of a bereaved parent and to think long and hard before voting against the amendment.

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On 17 February this year at 10 o'clock in the morning, I received a phone call from my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths), telling me that he had just heard on the news that a child had been killed in a school bus accident in Biggar. A few minutes before I had phoned my wife at home, and she told me that my daughter had left for Biggar high school on the school bus. For a few minutes, therefore, I did not know whether the child who had been killed was my own daughter. I shall never forget the feeling of despair and anquish I experienced as I phoned home to find out from my wife whether my daughter had been killed. Fortunately she was able to tell me that it was not my daughter who had been involved in the accident.

My feeling was one of relief, immediately followed by guilt because I was relieved to learn that someone else's child, not mine, had been killed. I have since met the parents of the two children who died--another child died some time after the accident. I am determined to put in place legislation to protect our kids.

I should like to record my thanks to the Minister for the courteous way in which he received the parents who came to present a petition bearing 46,254 signatures. I have read press comments to the effect that the signatures came from all over Scotland ; in fact most of them came from my constituency. That means that well over 60 per cent. of my constituents must have signed the petition.

The Minister knows what is required now--indeed, I suspect that he supports the amendment. I know from my discussions with him that he is sympathetic and supportive. I hope that he will give us good news tonight. We must adopt seat belt legislation as a matter of urgency. Certainly, the supervision of school buses, coach design, traffic management and the installation of seat belts are all important parts of the overall solution, but seat belts are the most important. The Government have three options. They can support my amendment, as I hope they will ; or they can tell the House that they intend to return later with legislation to make seat belts compulsory on school coaches ; or they can turn their backs on the problem and walk away. I very much hope that they will not turn their backs on it.

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South) : I thank my hon. Friend and congratulate him on what he is trying to achieve tonight. He will be aware that in a parliamentary answer to me, the Minister has already said he would disregard for capping purposes any expenditure incurred by local authorities. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not enough, because it does not make seat belts compulsory on school buses ?

Mr. Hood : My hon. Friend raises an important point. While I welcome the measure, and acknowledge that the Government's initial response was helpful, we still need legislation. We cannot have discretion when we are talking about saving children's lives. We cannot have a discretion which may be taken up in one part of the country but not in another. If it is at the discretion of expenditure for local authorities, priorities will take over and we will not achieve the safety that we require.

Therefore, it is important to have legislation to make it compulsory to have seat belts in school buses and I hope the Minister supports that tonight.

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The Government do not have the option of walking away. If they walk away, turn their backs and allow the carnage of children being transported in buses that are then involved in crashes, deaths in school bus crashes will continue. In amendment No. 3 we have the opportunity to stop that carnage, so I hope the Minister will take the opportunity tonight and support the amendment.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : I intervene in the debate because today we have had the announcement of the final figures for road casualties in Scotland, England and Wales for 1993.

The good news is that since the Department of Transport set a target of cutting casualties involving deaths and serious injuries by one third by the year 2000, it has virtually achieved that target. That is a staggering achievement which covers the whole of Great Britain. It is one for which most other countries in Europe, and certainly countries in North America, would give their eye teeth. One of the more impressive interpretations is that if we accept that road traffic has increased by virtually 40 per cent., the rate at which people are killed and seriously injured has halved. That is dramatic. We have not had the same change for slight injuries, but those do not matter so much.

For the number of deaths to have come down from an average of 5,600 to just over 3,800 is a tribute to road engineers, vehicle engineers and those who use the roads--motor cyclists, cyclists and car users--have all contributed.

As the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) rightly pointed out, there are still 3,800 deaths a year in Great Britain. We know the causes and the consequences of the crashes.

The whole House will agree with the hon. Gentleman that the time will come when all organised transport for children to and from school will have seat belts and the law will require that they should be used.

I have not been able to track back through the amendment, which will amend the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, to find out whether it would affect private transport as well as organised transport by the school, but I do not want to make nit-picking points. Getting it right will reduce risks and avoid some of the consequences when there is a crash.

As Esther Rantzen showed in her "That's Life" programmes in 1986, a child in a crash is more at risk of severe injury and we should accept that by being belted up in a car, a child reduces that risk by half or two thirds. That is a significant improvement. The improvement for a passenger in a bus or coach is less, but it is probably still significant ; the improvement for a passenger in a minibus is probably the same as if they were in a car, so we need to work for all those improvements.

No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will make a formal response to the amendment, put it in context and say what the Government may be able to achieve. If the House takes action which moves people from organised transport to parents' cars, we shall increase the risk by two or three times. A passenger in a private car is at two or three times the risk of someone in a bus or a minibus. We should be slightly careful about saying that a blanket change will instantly reduce the risk for those who travel on organised transport. I think that we will need to work out how to reduce the risk, while encouraging those who are putting

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out contracts for transport to introduce safety provisions at a certain time--perhaps now or at a specified time in the future. I say to both my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that the time has come to abolish the out-of-date habit of allowing education authorities to put three teenagers in seats which are meant for two. Anyone who looks at 13-year-olds nowadays and pretends that three of them can be squeezed safely into a bus seat made for two is wrong. Responsibility in this area is shared by the Department of the Environment, the Treasury, the Department of Transport and the territorial departments. They should respond to the recent tragic vehicle accidents by abolishing that provision at once.

9.15 pm

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) : I support the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood). As he mentioned, between August 1993 and February 1994 we have seen 21 school children and three adults die on our roads. Five people have been seriously injured and 105 school children have been hurt.

In Scotland, we are particularly concerned about the incident in Biggar involving two pupils, Francis Scorgie and Tony Cousins. In the discussions we have had with parents' groups and others since then, the message has come across that only national legislation will secure compliance with real safety requirements and will guarantee the central Government funding which is necessary in order to implement them. If that were the case, bus companies, schools or local authorities could no longer pass the buck and continue to confuse parents with the finer details of contractual law. The national Government need to help local government to combat the problem. The hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) mentioned the three-for-two rule. The Lothian region has abolished that rule and contractual arrangements make sure that the three-for-two rule does not apply. In Strathclyde, it will be abolished from the 1994-95 session. Strathclyde has also made an immediate commitment to spend £4.35 million on seat belts. Its total commitment will be £10.29 million over the next two years.

We are looking for a financial commitment from the Government to help local authorities with this problem. The Government can help in a number of areas --for example, vehicle identification for minibuses. A pilot scheme was conducted in my constituency of Dumbarton involving fitting to vehicles a sign on the nearside sun visor in the down position. The local authority has undertaken that scheme, but we need a commitment from national Government to reaffirm that that is the right way to go.

Within the context of the European Union, Strathclyde has also undertaken preparatory work on legislation to make mandatory the fitting of signs saying "Front" and "Rear" to all school transport vehicles. The Government could make identification mandatory for school vehicles. If that can be done in every town and city in America, it can be done in the United Kingdom.

Strathclyde and other local authorities are looking to central Government to consider, within any national guidelines and school transport provisions, the fitting of vehicle signs and the illumination of school buses while pupils are embarking or disembarking.

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Above all, we require national guidelines about home-to-school transport. The Secretary of State for Scotland should address the full range of parental concerns regarding home-to-school transport by devising a set of national guidelines for implementation and resourcing local authorities through central Government.

I ask the Scottish Office Minister responsible for education to form a national working group of interested parties to devise these guidelines. That group should include parent representatives from, for example, the Scottish School Boards Association and the Scottish Parents Teachers Council.

We are masters in our own country when it comes to European legislation. The British Government are at liberty to name their own rules in relation to seat belts. I contacted the House of Commons Library today and I was informed that the United Kingdom can pass legislation that seat belts must be worn, but it cannot independently pass legislation that belts and anchorages must be fitted. I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House agree with my hon. Friends that if the Government give a sign that they will pass such legislation, that will reassure thousands of parents throughout the country that the Government are serious. We ask the Government to make a genuine response tonight.

At the beginning of my speech, I mentioned the tragic fatal accident at Biggar involving two young people. The mother of one of them, Shona Cousins, said recently that she felt like walking into the Houses of Parliament and yelling, "Get a move on." We endorse that sentiment. We will not yell, "Get a move on," but we make a heartfelt plea on behalf of Shona Cousins and other parents who have tragically lost their children that the Government get a move on and legislate immediately.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), whose speech was moving, eloquent and passionately argued. I cannot understand the delay. Voices north of the border are legitimately asking why Scottish Office Ministers seem to hide behind the fact that this issue is not their responsibility--that the Department of Transport is the lead Department. That may be the case--and it is a welcome sign to see the Minister for Roads and Traffic in his place to hear these important discussions. However, it is weak-kneed in the extreme of the Scottish Office to say the matter has nothing to do with it and that action must await an already long -awaited report. I understand that the report is much more superficial than people expected, given the length of time taken to produce it.

I cannot understand the continuous and continuing delay. It is incumbent on the Government to take this evening's appropriate opportunity to make a clear statement. A clear statement in principle would do. If they will say, "We are committed to this in principle," we could argue about the time scale, funding and the relationship between central and local government in future. All that could be discussed, and it would be sensible to take time to get those aspects right.

At present, we are missing a clear statement that the Government have the political will to address the issue with the seriousness that it deserves, in the way that the hon. Member for Clydesdale did. I entirely subscribe to the argument that discussions should embrace the question of three pupils to two seats, and supervision should also be

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reviewed. Proper provisions may cost money in the long run, but they are absolutely essential. The lives of 22 young children have been lost in 28 weeks, and that is a frightening statistic. There is not a lot of time. There are questions urgently to be addressed. The Government have the power to legislate, and I fail to understand how Conservative Members could possibly be persuaded to vote against the amendment. It would take a strong argument from the Treasury Bench to persuade me that it would be right to do so. The Government have the power to legislate, but they are not exercising it. The people of Scotland are right to ask why.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth) : With the indulgence of the House, I shall make a brief contribution. If we wait for Europe, we will wait a long time. The Government have been talking to the European Commission for years about this matter, and there is not much enthusiasm from many member states for protecting their children in the way that we want to protect the children of this country. I see no reason why we should not go it alone. At present, local education authorities or school governors can tell their contractors, "You will not bus our children unless seat belts are fitted in your vehicles." They could do that immediately. With all the publicity that has been given to the issue, many local authorities are debating it now. As contracts are usually renewed in September, they will tell their contractors that from now on, their vehicles must be fitted with seat belts.

We have a dilemma. One cannot just fit seat belts. Bus and coach operators have been here today with lap belts and seats down in Dining Room B. The problem is that the front forward-facing seats that are exposed--the two front seats on the opposite side to the driver, and the middle seats at the back--must have seat belts now by law. Usually, the loading is 10G. The question is whether 6G is acceptable on other seats ; if not, a great deal of structural alteration to the floors has to be made, because not all the seats go into chassis metal members.

It is very important that the Government give us the conclusions of the technical and cost report that they have on the table at the moment, because once we have that and get some technical guidance we will not need Government money or any great incentive ; the coach operators are waiting to fit them. In fact, many of them have ordered them by the thousand and have them on the shelf waiting to fit, but cannot do so ahead of the conclusions of the report, which we hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will be able to announce shortly. I do not see why, as the majority of trips are made by schools. The voluntary people with their own bus could have a fund-raising event and fit their own. They could go ahead and do it tomorrow, but we need the technical information.

That is why I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), on the Opposition Benches, will be able to withdraw his amendment if we get the right answers tonight. [Interruption.] Yes, he is a friend. I like him.

If the Government show us that they are really going for it and we are to go it alone, we can get on and do it almost immediately. The coach operators wish to do it. The school governors want it. Many voluntary organisations want it, but we must have the technical know-how to ensure the

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correct loading on the belts. They are not just pretty belts to put around people. They must have an impact loading. That is the important thing.

I implore my hon. Friend to try to give us some guidance. If he cannot do so tonight, he should promise it within a few days so that the coach operators know the loading and what structural alterations have to be made.

Mrs. Ewing : In supporting the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), I make two personal points : first, I am a former pupil of Biggar high school and, although I did not know the youngsters involved or, indeed, the families, it touches one's heart when one thinks about the circumstances. I am very concerned about the pupils. Secondly, as a member of the Select Committee on European Legislation, I sit with the hon. Member when we deal with that aspect of legislation.

I started writing to the various Departments involved in the issue some time ago. It might be useful to remind the House that we are not looking for a knee-jerk reaction to a particular incident, but for legislation that will be effective and long term. When I first started taking up the issue, it was because parents in my constituency were writing to me about their concerns, because I represent a rural area, as does the hon. Gentleman, where youngsters have to travel long distances to reach their school.

I wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport and to the Minister for education and housing in the Scottish Office a considerable time ago and raised the issue of seat belts on minibuses. I made four points : what freedom the UK Government have to implement legislation pertaining to seat belts in minibuses and coaches ; whether the Government have any facility to assist financially any owners or companies wishing to install them ; what is the practice of our European Union partner countries ; and what European directives and regulations have been issued on such matters.

To be fair, both Departments responded fairly quickly. The Minister for education and housing at the Scottish Office mentioned the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, which has already been referred to. But there is also the issue of regulation 3(a) of the Schools (Safety and Supervision of Pupils) (Scotland) Regulations 1990 for pupils when under their charge and under common law. As we have seen in the Aberdeen Evening Express , if we go ahead with the legislation, it could cost Grampian regional council £2 million. That is part of the difficulty that many local authorities face. If our local authorities are to implement effective regulations that will ensure that children travel to school in safety--from whatever corner of the community they come--the Government must recognise that they have a duty to assist authorities in implementing those regulations. The responsibility must be placed firmly with them.

In a letter dated 22 February, the Minister wrote :

"We are currently reviewing the full technical and cost implications of seat belts in these vehicles. Until this review is complete and we have full reports on the recent tragic accidents we feel that it would not be wise to consider making further regulations in this area."

We desperately want to know when the reports will be forthcoming : until we see them, we shall not know whether the Government are making any commitment to introduce the appropriate safety legislation.

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9.30 pm

It is wrong for Ministers to blame the European Commission and European legislators for the problem. I have a copy of the sessional documents, dated as far back as December last year ; the relevant motion was moved in the name of the European People's party, to which I believe the Government subscribe. The motion asked for individual member states to be allowed and encouraged to take over the whole idea of seat belts and roll-over bars in all new coaches as a matter of urgency. I shall send the document to the Minister if he wishes, but it is quite clear that there is a commitment to seat belts in Europe.

At the end of last year, the Government tried to blame the European Commission and the European Union for the fact that seat belts had not been installed. That is appalling. Contradictory statements were put out, which caused considerable confusion and concern to parents in my constituency and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Let me place it on record that responsibility lies with the Government : they must legislate.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross) : I will be brief. I had intended to speak for three hours, but I will speak for three minutes.

The issue seems simple to me. I cannot understand why anyone has not already legislated for seat belts to be provided in all vehicles carrying people at risk, whether they are of tender age, in old age or middle-aged. My one criticism of the amendment is that it is restricted to school children. Why should it not apply to all of us ?

I have heard the excuses relating to cost, delay and the difficulties involved in fitting seat belts. I do not recall those arguments being accepted when seat belts were introduced for motor cars. If motorists did not have them, they were in trouble. No one said, "It takes an awfully long time to fit a seat belt ; you have to measure it and fiddle around with it." Absolute nonsense! This legislation is essential, and I hope that it will be extended to every member of the population. I thoroughly commend the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) for tabling the amendment. No excuses based on cost, delay, reports, studies or any other stupid thing will convince me. It can be done tomorrow. If someone wants a seat belt for his car, he can drive along to the garage and have it fitted. Let the Government do this tomorrow.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : This is an extremely important debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) pointed out--he has been a transport Minister--the number of road casualties has fallen, but that leaves no room for complacency. There can be no walking away from the problem ; it will be given proper consideration. Indeed, it is being given urgent consideration now. As my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) said, local authorities can do much by putting into their contracts the most appropriate terms and conditions to lay down in the circumstances.

The hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) made a moving and effective speech to raise an important issue. I fully understand his concerns ; the fact that he lives in Biggar, and so shared the grief of that community following the Biggar school bus crash on 10 February, underlines his commitment to the cause. I was especially glad that he led a delegation of local parents from the

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Biggar area to see me in Edinburgh on 15 April, so that they could put forward their concerns to the Government. I listened to the powerful points that they made.

I have had several meetings with my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic, and I am glad to see that he is here for the debate. The Scottish evidence has, of course, been fed in to the process.

More recently, the whole House will have shared the grief of the families of the two cub scouts, Andrew Lyle and Richard Olsson, and of Mr. Anthony Milburn--the three people killed in the tragic accident in North Yorkshire earlier this week. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will receive a full report on that accident, too, as soon as possible.

I make it clear at the outset that the Government share the deeply felt public concern about safety standards in school transport. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the safety of children is at the forefront of our concern. However, the Secretary of State for Transport has the lead responsibility for vehicle safety matters in the United Kingdom. His Department has recently completed a review of the technical and cost implications of fitting seat belts to all minibuses and coaches, and of related safety matters. The Government will take decisions shortly on the outcome of that review.

I am sure that there will be no disagreement in the House that it is vital that appropriate steps should be taken in all the circumstances. But I hope that hon. Members will also agree that whatever steps we take must be the right ones, fully informed by all the available evidence.

I shall return to the wider issues later, but first I shall address the substance of the amendment. As drafted, it would have a damaging effect on the delivery by education authorities of a school transport service, because it would require that no buses could transport children to school unless they were fitted with seat belts. If that restriction were incorporated into the Bill, it would in practice prevent education authorities from providing school transport for most of the children presently dependent on school buses to get to and from their schools. I am sure that that is not what the hon. Gentleman intended, but that is what the amendment would do. Secondly, as I have said, the question whether seat belts should be fitted to any category of motor vehicles, including buses, is properly a matter for the Secretary of State for Transport. It would not be appropriate to introduce into clause 141 a provision on seat belts restricted to school transport in Scotland alone. Yet that would be the result of the amendment.

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