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Mr. Collins: Will the Minister therefore address himself to the issue originally raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) and subsequently by me? Will he accept an amendment in Committee requiring the Treasury not to take into account charging in any allocation of grant to local authorities?
I thought that that matter was covered admirably by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of
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State, who gave a categorical assurance. But if the hon. Gentleman wants to table an amendment and test the Bill in Committee, he can do so. The scheme is voluntary for LEAs, and there will be no cuts to their budgets on the basis of their participating in it.
Mr. Jamieson: Not at the moment as I want to complete my remarks on the hon. Gentleman's contribution. He said that there is no cross-party agreement in the House on this Bill. That may be right, but I have to tell him that there is considerable cross-party agreement outside it. He will doubtless have read with great care, as I have, the proceedings of the Select Committees that examined this issue, both of which I appeared before. When Councillor Raymond Wilkinson, from Cambridgeshireas I understand it, he is a member of the hon. Gentleman's own partywas asked on 12 May whether he would participate in the scheme, he said:
"Cambridgeshire went through their cabinet system two weeks ago and they said that we would be bidding for one of the pilots."
So although there might be no cross-party consensus in this House, there certainly is in local government. We expect the Liberal Democrats to say one thing here and another on the doorstep, but now the Tories are doing precisely the same.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) made a considered speech that dealt in particular with children with special educational needs, the safety of their transport and concerns about checks made on drivers. According to the current instructions given out by the Department for Education and Skills, all drivers of such vehicles should be properly checked. If his authority is not doing so, he should raise the matter with that Department, and perhaps with mine as well. Ofsted will inspect education authorities fairly regularly in this regard, as it is an issue that it takes into account in such inspections. Indeed, my hon. Friend might want to look at the last inspection to see whether his authority is complying with the regulations.
There is also a problem with taxis, particularly in London. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire introduced a very good Bill on this issue, but a loophole has been found in respect of certain taxi providers. Those providing limited services for education or social services needs, for example, are slipping through the net. The road safety Bill that we hope to introduce in the next Session will, I trust, address some of these issues.
The hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) began by saying that this is a dangerous Bill, but his own councillors out in the country do not agree with him. He ought to tell them that in his opinion we are doing something very dangerous, because they certainly do not seem to agree. Of course, the important point that he did not address is that children who live just under the 2-mile or 3-mile limit currently get no help whatever. The Bill offers the opportunity for such assistance to be provided. Local authorities could also help children to whom there is no statutory obligation to provide assistance. I am thinking of children from faith schools for whom there is a nearer, suitable school. What the hon. Gentleman proposed today provides no particular
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flexibility whatever. The other group, of course, is children who have special educational needs, but do not have a statement. There is currently no statutory obligation to assist those children, but the Bill provides an opportunity for that to happen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) made a good speech, calling on us to be bolder. He spoke with very good sense, as he always does, and he pointed out to the House what was confirmed by the subsequent contributions of Opposition Membersthat there were no ideas emerging from the Opposition Benches. My hon. Friend and others made the point that the Bill will provide opportunities for children to do more out-of-school activities and for schools to have a longer school day. Particularly in rural areas where children have to travel longer distances, it provides extra opportunities to assist those beneficial activities.
The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire, described as the Cliff Richard of the Opposition Benches, made a consensual speech that had much good sense in it. He talked about the flexibility of the voluntary approach in the Bill. We welcome his comments. After he spoke, we noticed a dash round to find one or two Conservative Back Benchers who would speak against the Bill. They succeeded in the end.
We have taken a number of steps to encourage walking and cycling. In June, my Department published a walking-cycling action plan, which set out 42 practical actions that can be taken to increase levels of cycling and walking, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will note that that should help to improve the position. He spoke about seat-belts, but I am glad to say that there have been very few crashes involving school buses. When LEAs frame their contracts, they have the ability to build that particular safeguard into them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford also made a considered contribution to the debate. He highlighted issues such as pollution in schools, road safety and congestion, and the Bill provides an opportunity for us to deal with them. He also made the very important point that, under current legislation, 90 per cent. of children get no help whatever with their journey to school. The Bill will also address that problem and it should particularly help children on shorter journeys in rural areas.
The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) made a good contribution to the debate, raising important issues connected with Wales. The Bill will help with problems surrounding Welsh language schools. Currently, there is no obligation with respect to Welsh language purposes if a suitable and nearer school is available.
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We have had a good debate. The hon. Member for Christchurch talked about the loyal and gullible Government Back Benchers who spoke in favour of the Bill. Well, I can tell him that there are many loyal and gullible councillors in his party out in the country who support the Bill. It is a good Bill. It will help to get children out of the car and get them walking, cycling or using the bus. I commend this good Bill to the House.
Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:
The House divided: Ayes 248, Noes 130.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Orders [28 June 2001 and 6 November 2003],
That the following provisions shall apply to the School Transport Bill:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Standing Committee.
Proceedings in Standing Committee
2. Proceedings in the Standing Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on 11th November 2004.
3. The Standing Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
4. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
6. Sessional Order B (programming committees) made on 28th June 2001 shall not apply to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading.
7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.[Vernon Coaker.]
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