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Lord Triesman: The amendment seeks to provide that school travel schemes may include arrangements to ensure the safety of transport under the scheme, adding to the general categories of arrangements that could be covered by a school travel scheme, listed under paragraph 2(2). As that paragraph stands, there are:
I agree with both noble Lords who have spoken that the arrangements for the safety of transport are an extremely important issue. There can be no doubt about that. However, the amendment is unnecessary because safety is already a requirement. Paragraph 1 of the schedule refers to arrangements which the scheme authority considers it appropriate to make. The arrangements could not be appropriate if they were not safe and it could not be appropriate for someone to endorse them if they were not safe.
Safety has a prominent role in the objectives that were outlined in the prospectus. The guidance states that "best value" is not only the cheapest but that safety issuesfor example, spot checks by VOSA, which does not rely on annual checks to enforce safetyhighlight best practice. There are certainly authorities that make vigorous checks to ensure that day-to-day safety is enhanced. Cheshire is one of those.
It is open to all local authorities not to accept the lowest tender. In several areas where yellow buses have been introduced, local authorities have introduced enhanced provisions. They pay rather more for the quality of the vehicles and fund parents who are willing to pay for better standards. Hebden Bridge is an example of an authority that has taken that route.
I have tried to say a little about what those would be in this case. A number of control mechanisms are built into the system. Apart from annual roadworthiness, there is in-year inspection by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, and any licensed operator not complying with the terms of the licence, which include properly maintaining vehicles, risks losing his licence.
It is genuinely disturbing to hear that there may be scandals, such as people changing the tyres. Although I stand to be corrected, I think that that would be a criminal act. I cannot believe that it would be lawful to
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have a vehicle tested with tyres that met legal requirements and then replace them with tyres that did not. In those circumstances, I think that criminal prosecution would be just and merited.
Of course, no one pretends that absolute safety exists in any transport system, but safer arrangements can be achieved by various means. For example, with dedicated buses contracted for LEA use, LEAs and transport operators consider whether escorts are necessary, and I am aware of some cases in which schools and LEAs work together to use support staff as bus escorts. Other safety enhancements can be achieved by providing safe parking bays at schools, by making rules for the driver about when to drive off and, of course, by teaching children how to behave in and around the bus.
In practice, the prospectus deals with many of those matters concerning the Bill. Although I am sure that the Committee will not expect us to reproduce the road safety legislation in the Bill, we must of course insist that it is fully met. If there are scandals in Oxfordshire or anywhere elseI was not familiar with that example until the noble Lord spokethey must be drawn to the attention of officials, and I will certainly do so.
Lord Hanningfield: I want to ask the Minister about what he said about enforcing parking regulations outside schools. Also, we are all obviously concerned about safety in schools. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the Minister said, but this all costs money. We have 600 schools in Essex and there is no way that we can enforce parking outside them all. Most of them are rural schools in villages that have not seen a policeman, let alone anyone else, for five years.
If we are to do that through the local authority system, it will require quite a lot of investment. Is that investment expected to come from charging? Everything that has been said today will cost local authorities money that they do not have. It is all new money. Where does the Minister imagine that that money will come from? Will it come from the pilot schemes? If it does, there will be no income from them because it will all be spent on enforcement of safety or parking and all kinds of other issues.
The Minister spoke about the amount of money being invested in safe school transport schemes. It is peanuts. We need almost billions of pounds of investment to get proper schemes for children to walk or cycle to school. Will the Government comment on where the real money will come from for the investment about which the Minister talked?
Lord Triesman: We may be using different terms of reference. I also mentioned the money available for
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enforcing far more restrictive speeding areas. It is also true that enforcement could in part be funded from revenue derived from scheme proposals. None of the schemes under the Bill is intended to save money. I have no doubt that we shall return to that point. I understand that community police in Shropshire are engaged in enforcement in the countryside because it is felt that that is a useful way to deal with an issue that they have chosen to prioritise.
I return to the central point: local education authorities want to pilot those schemes. Knowing the costs and some of the consequences, they still want to pilot those schemes, because they believe that, overall, they will be of benefit.
I conclude by making a point that I hope has not been lost, because I think that we agree about it. In my view, whether it is a school bus that goes through a test with one set of tyres before worse, defective tyres are put on, or whether it is a lorry or a car, that is a criminal act that should be policed. We cannot have vehicles that pass tests on one set of criteria careering around in a defective state. Those are all issues of the cost of policing in the case of any kind of vehicle, although I fully accept that we want to prioritise children's safety.
Lord Hanningfield: I thank the Minister for that reply. I think that we all agree about safety: that it should be more policed or enforced and that buses should have legitimate tyres. I do not want to talk about Essex County Council again, but we now spend £30 million a year on school transport. We have very little opportunity to police what we do. We now have 60 community policeman dotted around the county. They would not have a chance to enforce parking outside schools. They are all far too busy doing their various jobs. If we are to try to do some of those things, with much more enforcement and protection of the whole system, we need new people. The current system does not have the capacity to do that.
We all agree that safety is paramount. I hope that the Government will reflect on how we can make certain that that is reflected in the Bill, so that people are not always looking for cheap options. We must make certain that the quality of buses and other transport used is right. I think that we all agree about that. I hope that the Government will reflect on that as the Bill passes. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) A school travel scheme must include arrangements to ensure that any person engaged in driving or escorting a child with special educational needs or a disability to and from school shall be required to have an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau check before they start work.
( ) A school travel scheme must include arrangements to ensure that any person engaged in driving or escorting a child with special educational needs or a disability to and from school shall be required to receive appropriate disability equality training."
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