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Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill

Overview

This Bill aims to make sure dedicated school transport services must have seat belts fitted.

School authorities are responsible for making sure that the vehicles provided have seat belts. This means one belt per seat.

A school authority means:

  • an education authority
  • the managers of a grant aided school
  • the owners of an independent school

A dedicated school transport service means:

  • between home and school
  • school trips

You can find out more in the document provided by Gillian Martin MSP that explains the Bill.

Why the Bill was created

The aim of the Bill is to improve road safety for school children. It aims to help promote the wearing of seat belts amongst children and young people. This forms part of the Scottish Government’s efforts to keep people safe from harm.

You can find out more in the document provided by Gillian Martin MSP that explains the Bill.

Where do laws come from?

The Scottish Parliament can make decisions about many things like:

  • agriculture and fisheries
  • education and training
  • environment
  • health and social services
  • housing
  • justice and policing
  • local government
  • some aspects of tax and social security

These are 'devolved matters'.

Laws that are decided by the Scottish Parliament come from:

Becomes an Act

The Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill passed by a vote of 102 for, 0 against and 0 abstentions. The Bill became an Act on 18 December 2017.

Introduced

The Member in charge of the Bill, Gillian Martin MSP sends the Bill and related documents to the Parliament.

Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill as introduced

Scottish Parliament research on the Bill 

Stage 1 - General principles

Committees examine the Bill. Then MSPs vote on whether it should continue to Stage 2.

Have your say

The deadline for sharing your views on this Bill has passed. Read the views that were given.

Who examined the Bill

Each Bill is examined by a 'lead committee'. This is the committee that has the subject of the Bill in its remit.

It looks at everything to do with the Bill.

Other committees may look at certain parts of the Bill if it covers subjects they deal with.

Who spoke to the lead committee about the Bill

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First meeting transcript

The Convener

Agenda item 2 is on the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill. On Wednesday 8 March, the Parliament agreed that the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee should be designated as the lead committee to consider the bill at stage 1. The Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill is a member’s bill that was introduced by Gillian Martin MSP, and it is supported by the Scottish Government.

To begin our scrutiny of the bill, we will take evidence from the Scottish Government officials who are providing support to the member in charge of the bill. I welcome Brendan Rooney and Kenneth Hannaway. Would one of you like to make an opening statement? We will then move on to questions.

Brendan Rooney (Scottish Government)

Good morning, convener and members. Thank you for having us. I will set out the wider context and explain how we have arrived at the position that we are in, after which I will be happy to take questions.

The Scottish Government takes safety on the journey to and from school to be a matter of pivotal importance. That is borne out in a range of measures that are taken nationally to keep pupils safe, not just in motor vehicles, but when they are walking or cycling to school.

Given that the safety benefits of seat belts are well established and internationally recognised, the proposals in the bill are seen to make a valuable contribution to those wider aims.

There is history to how the legislative proposals have developed. They are not new to Parliament—they emanate from considerations by the Public Petitions Committee some years ago. The Scottish ministers subsequently stated their intention to act, and power was devolved via a section 30 order during the previous parliamentary session. The bill follows the introduction of similar measures in Wales following the use of a comparable devolution instrument.

The fact that the intention to legislate was announced in 2014 has allowed a substantial amount of engagement with stakeholders and parties who are involved in the delivery of dedicated school transport. As such, a collaborative approach has been taken to the proposals that are before the committee.

Central to all that has been the seat belts on school transport working group, which includes key partners such as local government, the bus industry, parenting groups and regional transport partnerships. In addition, a thorough exercise has been undertaken, in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Local Government Partnership, to forecast the cost implications of the policy. Those are set out in detail in the financial memorandum, which has been submitted to the committee. The Scottish Government has welcomed the partnership working and the contribution of local government to those endeavours.

It is clear from the engagement that there is a very varied picture nationally regarding dedicated school transport. It ranges from double-decker buses that transport pupils in busy urban settings to single-decker coaches that take youngsters to school on rural A roads.

For councils, such provision is linked to the statutory duties in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 relating to how far from their school pupils live. Grant-aided and independent schools align their provision with their own policies. Local authority provision is overwhelmingly delivered via contracts with private bus operators. Those contracts vary in size, scope and specification and can be quite different across the country, depending on council needs. A local authority can stipulate various measures within a contract, such as the standard of a vehicle or on-board features such as closed-circuit television, wi-fi or, indeed, seat belts.

Councils are increasingly writing seat belts into those contracts. Recent returns show that 18 councils already do so on all dedicated school transport, and the bill aims for that practice to become universal as a matter of law. It would apply to all dedicated transport vehicles, such as buses, coaches, minibuses and taxis, including those that are owned by local authorities and school transport providers.

Dedicated school transport is quite distinct from the public bus service, which some councils use to meet their statutory duties by giving pupils season tickets or paying for individual journeys. Extending the legislative measures in the bill to that provision would be outwith the scope of the powers that are devolved to Holyrood on the issue.

The bill’s proposals do not mandate specific measures to be taken in respect of individual vehicles, such as retrofitting existing buses or coaches with seat belts, or a private operator renewing or reordering its fleet. Such decisions will be for private bus companies. The industry regularly shows flexibility and adaptability to meet shifting contractual considerations.

The grant-aided and independent school sector reports that its dedicated school transport is almost universally provided with seat belts at present.

Existing UK law means that, since 2001, all new buses and coaches on UK roads that are not designed for what is classed as “urban use” have to have seat belts fitted. Therefore, as older vehicles are taken off the road because of wear and tear, or just generally retired from the fleet, the ones that replace them are more likely to have belts fitted.

With regard to young people with additional support needs or those who might need adjustable straps because of their height, the bill’s provisions have been drafted to allow for that. The statutory definition of seat belt that is used aligns with UK laws, which stipulate that special belts or restraints can be used in their place, for instance for a young person who has mobility issues or is in a wheelchair.

The law on seat belt wearing on dedicated school transport remains a reserved matter. However, the bill represents an opportunity to promote successful approaches and wider awareness of the issue. Councils and schools use a variety of methods to regulate behaviour on school buses and to encourage seat belt wearing, and 18 councils have already implemented the measures that the bill provides for. Extensive dialogue has taken place with local government, parenting groups and other stakeholders. That will continue so that we can produce non-statutory guidance that will help to promote good practice on seat belt wearing to go alongside the bill, if it is enacted.

The Scottish Government conducted a three-month public consultation on the proposals last year; an analysis of it is before the committee for consideration. It garnered feedback from organisations and people across civic society, such as parents and schools, with the respondees overwhelmingly stating that such legislation would be a useful contribution to road safety.

We would welcome any questions that you have.

The Convener

Thank you, Brendan. Stewart Stevenson will ask the first question.

Stewart Stevenson

I want to ask a couple of questions along the lines of “Why the bill?” and why the Government supports the bill. To underpin that, can you tell us how many children are injured travelling in school transport who would be affected by the proposed legislation?

Brendan Rooney

Figures are not collated on the number of schoolchildren who are injured on dedicated school transport. The number of children up to the age of 16 who are injured on buses and coaches in Scotland is around 45 a year. That is the figure for all provision, however—it is not the figure for dedicated school transport. It is not possible to extrapolate from the figures the precise number of children who are injured on dedicated school transport.

Stewart Stevenson

Do you have anything to indicate to the committee what proportion of those 45 children would not have been injured if seat belts had been available to them?

Brendan Rooney

An analysis of that has not been done. It is worth noting that those are children who were on a bus. If a child had been injured just after disembarking, they would be counted as a pedestrian, in statistical terms.

Stewart Stevenson

Yes, indeed—that is clearly a different issue. It could be as many as 45, but we can expect it to be rather fewer.

Let me come at this from a slightly different angle. Can you tell us anything about the nature of the injuries that the 45 suffered? In other words, were they comparatively minor ones, were they significant or were they a mixture of the two?

Brendan Rooney

Of that average annual number, three were serious and 42 were deemed “slight” in statistical terms.

Stewart Stevenson

So, basically, we have the statistical underpinnings. I have constituents who have been on the case of the bill for a long time, and I have supported them in that, but given the progress that seems to be being made and the numbers that you have given us, why is the Government supporting the bill?

Brendan Rooney

The Government’s stated intention for the proposed legislation goes back a number of years, to the previous Administration in the previous parliamentary session. As I have stated, seat belts are a well-established safety mechanism, and the Government feels that they would be a useful contribution to road safety on the school run.

The Convener

We can take up that point with Gillian Martin when she comes before us.

I have a question. Could you explain to me why the implementation dates are 2018 for primary schools and 2021 for secondary schools? Why was it decided to make that differentiation?

Brendan Rooney

The proposal is for the measures to be phased in, with the legal obligation for primary school vehicles to come in in 2018 and the obligation for secondary school vehicles to come in in 2021. There has been extensive dialogue with those who deliver the provision—that is, the bus industry and councils. The transition that is needed is greater for the vehicles that are used for secondary schools. More of those are not currently fitted with seat belts. The timescale was arrived at in consultation and collaboration with those who deliver the provision.

We got feedback that accelerating the process would put significant pressure on councils and the bus industry and could lead to contracts being broken, which could greatly increase the costs for local government.

The Convener

I understand that, but one of the questions that Stewart Stevenson asked you was to do with injuries. You indicated that the 45 injuries recorded, of which I think you said that two were serious, were among people under the age of 16. You were unable to say what the split was. It might be that more secondary school pupils than primary school pupils are injured on buses. Therefore, there might be an increased need to accelerate the measures on secondary school transport. Was that considered prior to the bill’s introduction?

Brendan Rooney

Yes, that was considered. Implementation dates were discussed and a range of options were looked at. There is a balance to be found. With the statistics that we have, we cannot differentiate between secondary and primary. I cannot give you the split.

The Convener

I might pursue that question with Gillian Martin.

John Mason

You said earlier that the measures do not cover registered bus services. I understand that. Am I right in saying that the bill does not cover school trips, either? I am a bit puzzled by that—if children were brought to school on a compliant bus, why could they be taken to the swimming baths, for instance, on a non-compliant bus?

Brendan Rooney

You are correct to say that the bill as drafted does not cover school trips. School trips are subject to quite stringent and robust risk assessment. The duties that are placed on what is called the group leader—which, in effect, is usually a teacher—stipulate that there should be seat belts on the buses that are booked. There is quite a distinction in provision, in that home-to-school transport is organised at local authority level on a local authority-wide basis, whereas a school trip often involves a teacher booking a bus for their individual class. There is guidance in place that promotes seat belts and stipulates that there should be seat belts on the buses that are booked.

12:15  



The Convener

That is an interesting point. Although the guidance for teachers says that they should book buses with seat belts, there is no obligation on them to do that—there is no legal requirement for buses that are used on school trips to have seat belts. Is that what you are saying? I think that parents would find it difficult to understand the different approaches, as John Mason said.

Brendan Rooney

That is right. There is not a legal obligation on teachers, or group leaders, to ensure that buses with seat belts are used for school trips. However, the feedback is that, in practice, that is universally done and the guidance is well adhered to.

Mike Rumbles

I would like to follow up on the convener’s line of questioning. Is it a devolved power to legislate to ensure that seat belts are used on school trips, where they are provided, or does that authority lie with the UK?

Brendan Rooney

No. That is devolved—

Mike Rumbles

So we could do it now. We could do it in the bill.

Brendan Rooney

Technically, I believe that that is the case.

Mike Rumbles

Okay. Perhaps an amendment could be lodged.

The Convener

We can consider that further.

Richard Lyle will ask the next question.

Richard Lyle

Good morning. If I take my grandkids to school, I have got to have two seats in the back with seat belts, and I have got to ensure that my grandkids are well fastened in. There are 32 councils, of which 18 already require all dedicated transport to be fitted with seat belts; 14 do not. A further six stipulate that some contracts—for example, those for services for primary school pupils or those that involve a particular type of vehicle—require seat belts. Mr Rooney made an interesting comment about new buses coming on, but there are still 110 buses that have not been fitted with seat belts. With the greatest respect, I would contend that most of those buses are quite old—they spew out diesel fumes as they go along the road. John Finnie will be interested in that.

This issue has been on the go for a number of years. Why do the other authorities not insist that there are seat belts on the buses in question? Is it because the people who tender still have ancient buses and they do not want to spend money bringing them up to standard, or is it because we have not insisted that they get it sorted?

Brendan Rooney

There are a couple of points there. The issues vary from council to council. It is a fair assumption that some of the buses will be older vehicles. As I said, since 2001, any new bus that comes on to UK roads must have seat belts fitted, unless it is designed for urban use and has standing room. Double-deckers, for example, are designed for urban use, and some single-deckers that are used on commercial bus services do not have seat belts fitted. It is the stipulation relating to standing room that means that a vehicle is designed for urban use. Larger coaches, which are often used in more rural authorities, given the faster roads and the more rural environment, are more likely to already adhere to those wider UK laws.

Since the ministerial announcement in 2014, an increasing number of councils have been stipulating the use of buses with seat belts in preparation for the legislation. Given that we knew that powers were being devolved via a section 30 order, there was a good amount of time to engage with councils and the bus industry to help them to get ready for the legislation and make the transition. That is borne out in the feedback that we have had that it is increasingly happening in the run-up to the legislative measures.

Richard Lyle

You are basically saying that the buses in which seat belts have been fitted are those in rural council areas. I am interested in what happens near my area—in Glasgow, South Ayrshire, East Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire, which are covered by Strathclyde partnership for transport. Why do buses in those areas not have seat belts fitted? Are bus companies in the SPT area particularly averse to that?

Brendan Rooney

I do not know whether the committee is going to take evidence from SPT. It contracts for a number of local authorities in the west of Scotland and runs an extensive number of contracts with various bus operators. The feedback from SPT to us is that it is increasingly writing a seat belt stipulation into those contracts as we move towards legislation. However, I cannot talk categorically about the decisions that it makes on individual contracts—like any local authority or regional transport partnership, it has the option of writing a stipulation for seat belts into those contracts. It might depend on provision in the area and on what bus operators are offering, but I cannot vouch for the decisions that SPT makes.

Richard Lyle

What will the bill mean for SPT? Is SPT pushing the operators to fit seat belts, or is it not doing that because it does not want to rock the boat? Can SPT require the operators to fit seat belts only as the contracts come up for renewal?

Brendan Rooney

Yes, I think that that will be done when contracts are renewed, as it could be difficult to change the terms of a contract midway through it. The feedback to the Scottish Government has been that SPT is increasingly writing such a requirement into contracts and is phasing seat belts in as we progress towards legislation. SPT has a large number of contracts for various local authorities, and I understand that although it does not require all the operators to fit seat belts, it is increasingly moving towards that.

Richard Lyle

Thanks very much.

The Convener

Mike Rumbles has questions on enforcement.

Mike Rumbles

I say first that I think that it is right to have seat belts on school buses. The committee’s work now is to scrutinise the bill and see whether it is fit for purpose. Correct me if I am wrong, but if we pass the bill and require school transport to have seat belts, we will still not be requiring that they be used. Is that correct?

Brendan Rooney

Do you mean that we will not require that they be worn?

Mike Rumbles

Yes.

Brendan Rooney

That is still a reserved issue.

Mike Rumbles

We cannot legislate for that.

Brendan Rooney

We cannot place a duty on a driver—

Mike Rumbles

When I asked you whether we could legislate for the use of seat belts on school trips, you said that we had the power to do that.

Brendan Rooney

I am sorry: I was, perhaps, not clear. The Scottish Parliament cannot legislate on wearing of seat belts, but legislation could be passed that would require them to be fitted—

Mike Rumbles

We cannot legislate for their use on school trips, either.

Brendan Rooney

No.

Mike Rumbles

Okay. That is clear now. The bill is purely about getting seat belts fitted. Is that the right way to go about it? I think that everybody is supportive of the process. Has the Scottish Government asked the UK Government to use its legislative power to pass a bill that would allow us to enforce fitting and use of seat belts?

Brendan Rooney

To my knowledge, the Scottish Government has not done so, but I could write to the committee on that. I am not certain. There may well have been reluctance to devolve beyond what is already—

Mike Rumbles

I am not talking about devolving; I am talking about the Scottish Government asking the UK Government to legislate on the issue. I fear that although we are spending time on the legislation—which I want to be effective—in committee and Parliament, we might put a big tick in the box and say, “Job done,” only to find that kids are still being injured. I want whoever legislates for this to have the best solution. It would be helpful, therefore, if you could let the committee know in writing whether the Scottish Government has asked the UK Government to legislate, so that we do not go off at half-cock, as it were.

The Convener

Is it a legal requirement to wear a seat belt on a bus in the United Kingdom?

Brendan Rooney

Kenneth Hannaway will answer that.

Kenneth Hannaway (Scottish Government)

That comes back to Mr Rumbles’s point. There is a fairly intricate set of statutory provisions that cover the wearing of seat belts. The short answer to your question is no. There are various exceptions and exemptions, examples of which include children under 14 and particular types of eco-coaches. There is a related EU directive under consideration that has not been implemented by the Department for Transport. There is a framework, but it is not universally applicable.

I could help to clarify a point for Mr Rumbles—I do not know whether it was adequately clarified—about the question of what is reserved and what is devolved. We are doing a particular thing with the bill in relation to school transport between home and school, and I think that your question was whether that could be widened out to include school trips during the day and so on. The answer to that question is yes, because a section 30 order effectively devolved power over the

“arrangements for persons to travel to and from the places where they receive education or training”.

What we are doing is in the specific category of travel between home and school, but that could be widened out to school trips.

Mike Rumbles

It is about the fitting of seat belts, not wearing them, so there would be no enforcement.

Kenneth Hannaway

That is exactly right. It would be a requirement that education authorities would have in their contracts that buses that are used for that type of provision have seat belts fitted.

The Convener

I understand what you have just told me. I will look at the matter from the perspective of someone whose child is on a bus. Let say that something horrific happened and the child was injured on the bus. That person would turn round and say that the Scottish Government had made it law that seat belts had to be fitted on the bus. There would be no requirement to wear a seat belt, so the onus would be on school teachers to make it acceptable practice to wear seat belts on the bus. The Scottish Government would be saying, “Fit seat belts. School teachers have to encourage children to wear them. Job done.” Parents in Scotland will not feel that that is right. I wonder whether that is a question that we should ask the minister. Is that your point, Mike?

Mike Rumbles

It is. We have a series of unfortunate questions, but they are legitimate. What I take from the answers from the officials is that, in legislative terms, there will be no enforcement. As I understand it—correct me if I am wrong, but this is coming to light only now—the bill is purely about the technical aspect of having seat belts fitted. It is not about any other issue related to whether kids are safe travelling to and from school on buses that have seat belts fitted. If we are to take legislation through, we should be comprehensive and attack the potential problem that we all see, rather than go off at half-cock—if I can use that expression—with a bill that does not cover people’s worries.

The Convener

I probably jumped the gun by making my comments, as we will have two evidence sessions with witnesses and can reasonably ask such questions.

Richard Lyle

On the convener’s point, it is not school teachers who are on a bus at 8 o’clock in the morning; it is bus drivers who take kids from the furthest away point to school. It would be the bus driver who would need to say to kids, “Put your seat belts on,” and who would need to stop perhaps every two minutes to check that people had their seat belts on. The points that Mr Rumbles and the convener made are quite valid. Who will be liable for enforcement, if there is to be any enforcement?

The Convener

I am not sure that the two gentlemen on the panel can give us the answer. Perhaps that is something that we can take up with the minister. Do you want to give us a short answer to the question? Is what Richard Lyle said correct?

12:30  



Brendan Rooney

Yes. The legal measures on seat belt wearing are reserved to Westminster and are overseen by an EU framework. In practice, councils have various ways of monitoring and improving behaviour on school buses. Some use bus monitors and some use prefects or older children, who help the youngsters to put their belts on: it is not always the bus driver who must do such things. We have had a lot of engagement with local government on the issue, and some innovative measures seem to be in place. As I said, we envisage comprehensive guidance that will help us to look at the best approaches, but it is fair to say that legislation on use of seat belts is outwith the scope of devolved powers.

John Finnie

The officials have obviously been charged with doing a job and are doing it thoroughly. I sense the frustrations that you and Mike Rumbles feel, convener, so it might be appropriate for the committee to seek devolution of the necessary powers. There may be a range of frustrations about the situation, but I presume that that is an option that we could pursue.

The Convener

The critical thing that the committee needs to consider is whether the bill will achieve what it has set out to do, which is to safeguard children.

Mike Rumbles

May I comment?

The Convener

I think that John Mason wanted to come in.

Mike Rumbles

It is just a technical point. You said that good practice in local authorities is to have somebody on the bus. Could we amend the bill to place a duty on local authorities to have someone on buses to ensure that the children wear seat belts? Is that within our legislative powers?

Brendan Rooney

I would have to write to the committee on that point. It is a different issue from the section 30 instrument that devolved power on the fitting of seat belts. It is something that we would have to look at more widely.

Stewart Stevenson

My question is on the same subject, but I want to engage directly on the drafting of the bill. Maybe Rhoda Grant’s question should precede mine.

Rhoda Grant

My question is about the duty of care. Although there is no legal responsibility, people send their children to school and hand them over to the authority, which is in loco parentis. If a child was in an accident and was not wearing a seat belt, one would imagine that the parent would come back against the authority, because it had not ensured that the child was being cared for appropriately. Might there be a comeback under health and safety or negligence legislation?

The Convener

Brendan Rooney looks as if he wants to consider that and write to the committee before our evidence session. That is a key question that runs through the themes in the points that other members have made.

Brendan Rooney

We will certainly take those questions away and write to the committee.

Stewart Stevenson

I am addressing my question to the officials because I presume that the drafting of the bill lay in their purview. Of the six sections, there are two active sections—sections 1 and 4. I take it from the commencement arrangements that those two sections would be commenced at a later date, to be chosen by ministers. Section 1 is commendably brief. It states:

“A school authority must ensure that each motor vehicle ... has a seat belt fitted to each passenger seat.”

That is fine, but section 4, on the face of it, appears to introduce some doubt, because it would require each school authority to provide an annual compliance statement on whether it has done what it must do under section 1. I wonder whether the secondary legislation that would introduce the transitional savings provision will show that the “must” element is not immediate, but is phased. Am I making a correct hypothesis?

Kenneth Hannaway

I think that that is right, Mr Stevenson. There are the high-level dates and there is, as you say, the section 1 duty. You will recall that there is no intention at this stage to require authorities to break contracts, so the nuts and bolts of the transition will, I think, be as you say.

Stewart Stevenson

So, the whole point of section 4—which, if one were to read simply section 1, appears to be pointless—is that because we expect fitting of seat belts to be phased, the bill requires authorities to produce annual reports so that Parliament can monitor what is going on.

That leads me to a modest supplementary question. I presume that, at some point, when all the authorities are reporting 100 per cent compliance, we will be able to suspend the requirement in section 4, rather than for ever more receive from authorities reports that tell us what we already know.

Kenneth Hannaway

I will note that. Thank you. That is helpful.

Stewart Stevenson

Good. Thank you.

The Convener

We move on to finance. John Mason will start on that.

John Mason

As I understand it from the financial memorandum, we are talking about a cost of £8.92 million. Part of me wonders why there is any cost, given that 18 local authorities have achieved seat belts on buses—I presume that that is just because buses have gradually improved in that regard, as they have done in terms of disabled access and lower emissions. There have been a whole lot of improvements on buses in general. Why do we feel that we have to give anybody any money to improve buses in this way?

Brendan Rooney

The costs are essentially the knock-on effect of increased contract costs and local government outlays. More stipulations in a contract generally leads to a cost increase—extra stipulations mean that contract costs go up. That is how the figures have been arrived at. It is quite challenging to isolate the precise costs, because a range of options are open to private bus operators to meet a contract. Essentially, the figures are based on previous increases for contracting authorities—councils—being applied to future contracts. They are based on forecast increased contract costs in the future.

It is fair to say that, as we have discussed, some buses may well go out of service anyway and some may not. The Scottish Government has an understanding with local government that any new burdens are costed and looked at robustly in financial terms. That is the exercise that we undertook with local government, which arrived at the figures.

John Mason

It appears that the bill would reward the bad authorities that have not done what they should have done already: 18 authorities that have found the money—I presume by trimming their library services or something else—would lose out. If my maths is correct, £8.92 million equates to £89,000 per bus, if there are 100 buses.

Brendan Rooney

It has not been worked out on a cost per bus. It is a yearly annual increase.

The money will not be distributed only to the 18 councils that John Mason mentioned. COSLA and the SLGP negotiate on behalf of all their members; it would not have been fair for councils that have already done the work not to receive some financial recompense for it. The figure is the national figure for local government and not a breakdown between 18 councils. The precise distribution will be worked out, as all local government funding is, in negotiation with the local government representative bodies, and it will be looked at in the block grant. We do not have a breakdown council by council.

John Mason

I will leave it at that.

The Convener

I feel that you might be asking that question again at a future evidence session, John.

Rhoda Grant

How will the additional money be distributed? John Mason talked about councils that have good practice being penalised. However, it may be that councils have not done the work because they cannot afford to do it. If the money goes into the block grant, everyone will get a share, but some councils will be out of pocket through having to recontract for a higher price. I suppose that this is fraught with unfairness because it involves either penalising some authorities or not fully compensating others.

Brendan Rooney

We are transport department officials, so it is fair to say that we are not immersed in the nuances of local government financing. However, the financial memorandum covers local government as a whole. My understanding about the settlement and distribution is that exactly how much is apportioned to individual local authorities is decided between local government and the Scottish Government in the round of the block settlement. We are not in a position to give a detailed breakdown of what money will go where. The overall costs in the financial memorandum make a forecast of the national figure for local government. At this stage, there is not a breakdown of what will go to individual councils.

Rhoda Grant

Would we be able to get that for our consideration of the bill? Obviously that issue will be raised with the committee.

Brendan Rooney

We will certainly see what we can give the committee. We will endeavour to give you as much information as we can on how the money will be distributed.

The Convener

Richard Lyle has the final question, and has promised that it will be a quick one.

Richard Lyle

It will be quick. When I was a local authority councillor I could never get this, and I still cannot. If a contractor wants to provide a bus to run children to school, that contractor should provide the seat belts. Why should that be a cost to the council? If someone wants a contract, should it not be a cost to them?

Brendan Rooney

I suppose that that question is better directed at councils and private contractors. Our understanding is that stipulating extra measures in a contract leads to increased costs. There is not a specific unit cost for that. With any contract, things such as competition and the amount of provision in an area are factors. In an area where there is a lot of competition, those who bid for contracts will have to be more competitive and will seek to keep their prices down.

Richard Lyle

However, as somebody said earlier, you are stipulating that it will be a couple of years before the bill’s provisions come into force for primary schools and then a further number of years before they come into force for secondary schools. By that time all the contracts should be out of date and new contracts will be coming in. Local authorities should then say, “Bring your new bus and you can have the contract.” Is it not that simple?

The Convener

Richard, your point is well made. Gillian Martin and the other stakeholders may be able to answer that when they come to the committee.

We will stop there. We will have two further evidence sessions, which will include evidence from Gillian Martin. I thank the witnesses for attending the meeting. The clerking team will be in contact with you to request further information on a few matters. I would be grateful if you could let us have that as soon as possible.

12:42 Meeting suspended.  



12:43 On resuming—  



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Second meeting transcript

The Convener

Item 7 is evidence on the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill. I welcome George Mair, director, and Paul White, communications manager, from the Confederation of Passenger Transport. I also welcome Alex Scott, bus services manager, and Alan Hutton, team leader for schools, from Strathclyde partnership for transport, and Gary McGowan, who I am told—I hope that I get this right—is the chairman of education transport at the Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers. Have I got that right?

Gary McGowan (Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers)

That is correct.

The Convener

I apologise to you all for the slight overrun on the timings that you were given at the outset. I am afraid that we have had quite a lot of business to deal with this morning.

I ask members to keep their questions as tight as possible. I also ask witnesses to keep their answers as tight to the questions as possible, please. If there are any questions that we struggle to get through, we might ask for your opinion at a later date.

Stewart Stevenson will kick off the questions.

Stewart Stevenson

I will compress what I am going to ask, although there might be more than one issue in it.

Do you support what is proposed? Are there any other non-statutory ways in which we could proceed with the policy? Do you think that we have constructed a bill that is capable of implementation? Perhaps you can answer in turn from right to left, starting with George Mair.

George Mair (Confederation of Passenger Transport)

Sorry—I thought that you meant my right.

Stewart Stevenson

I beg your pardon. I meant my right, but it does not matter.

The Convener

Maybe I can help, as the convener. Let us hear from George Mair first.

George Mair

We have supported the work throughout the process, from conception to where we are now. We have been part of the working group that was set up to deal with it, which involves local authorities and various others. There was a point when I wondered whether it was necessary to go down a statutory path to deliver the policy, but as we have gone on, I have concluded that it was probably wise to do that rather than try to get a collective agreement across 32 different local authorities. There were different views on different things. We have supported the work, and we will continue to support it and to play an active part in the process.

Alex Scott (Strathclyde Partnership for Transport)

Like the CPT, SPT has been engaged in the work of the working group since the outset, and I echo George Mair’s comments. Anything that improves safety on public transport—particularly school transport, because of the client group—is to be welcomed.

In its own way, legislation raises the profile of the issue. At the outset of the meetings, I flagged up to the civil servants who were handling the bill the importance of messaging, which is perhaps the most important aspect of the process. Children—particularly secondary school children—are a tough audience to convince to wear seat belts, and that will be a continuing challenge. Everyone has a part to play in that, and we have involved parents in the working group.

We support the bill as a key component of overall safety.

Gary McGowan

I echo the statements that have been made by George Mair and Alex Scott. ATCO has been involved from the start of the discussions and we support the measures, which will improve safety on school transport.

As Alex Scott said, however, the difficulty will be in getting the message out there. We would like to see educational measures or the dissemination of information to schools and children, including those at secondary school, to try to get them to wear seat belts. Getting children to wear seat belts is probably the biggest issue for the councils that have implemented the policy.

The Convener

The next question is mine. Do you think that the requirement for seat belts to be fitted to all dedicated school transport is the best way to improve the safety of school transport? If not, what would you like to see happen? I went to a primary school on Monday, where I was told that one of the best ways to improve safety was for teachers and parents to tell the children to wear the seat belts, rather than to just have them fitted. Is there anything else that you think ought to be done, or is fitting seat belts the most important thing?

Gary McGowan

I agree that we need to have some educational development, which should cover schools, parents, teachers and parents associations, to enforce and to establish or re-establish the wearing of seat belts on school transport.

Alex Scott

It is important. It is a constantly changing situation, because the audience—if you like—is constantly changing. Kids start school and leave school. Continuing that messaging will have to be seen as a long-term project.

Culturally, if we can encourage the primary school children to get into the habit of wearing seat belts, perhaps that will seep through as they progress to secondary school and they will be less loth—because of peer pressure or whatever other reason—to wear seat belts.

There needs to be a suite of options to encourage kids to do that and to get the message out there. There are examples in our area of operators taking buses to primary schools and encouraging kids by giving them hands-on experience of fitting the seat belts themselves. That is part of the bigger, wider message that we all have a part to play in getting across.

Paul White (Confederation of Passenger Transport)

If we look at how other transport modes, such as cycling, have done things, this might be a good opportunity. Cycle safety classes address safety but also allow familiarisation with the mode, which encourages further use. Familiarising primary school age children with public transport will have effects that go beyond the use of seat belts and beyond secondary school. It will encourage more use of sustainable and active transport as they move on to being fare payers in adult life. There is a real opportunity.

Gail Ross

So the issue is more about encouragement and education than it is about enforcement. Who would be responsible for ensuring that the seat belts on the bus were used? Would that be anyone’s responsibility, or would we just hope that they would be?

George Mair

There are a couple of things to mention. First, the minute a seat belt is available on a coach, it is a legal requirement for children of 14 and above to wear it. If they do not wear it, it is an offence, and it is an offence that they can be fined for. If they are between three and 13, it is a different situation. That is currently being looked at by the Department for Transport. We hope that that will be resolved. Work has been done on the issue; I think that officials indicated that when they appeared before the committee a couple of weeks back.

However, in the age band of 14 and upwards, it is a legal requirement to wear a seat belt if it is available. If someone is caught not wearing a seat belt, it is classed as a criminal offence.

Gail Ross

So the legal responsibility falls on the individual who is not wearing the seat belt and not on, for example, the bus driver or a monitor.

George Mair

Duties are placed on the driver, and there are four options that an operator can use. The driver can make an announcement at the start of the journey or as soon as possible after that. On Citylink services and some other inter-urban coaches, the drivers make an announcement at each stop, so that people who get on are aware of the legal requirement.

The points that Alex Scott and others have made about a partnership approach show that it is a key issue for the industry. Draft guidance documents are being drawn up as part of the current work. Those need to set out clearly the key responsibilities that are placed on drivers, operators of vehicles, schools, parents and everybody who is involved in the process.

Gail Ross

Given that wearing a seat belt is a legal requirement and there is an onus on everybody who is on the bus, including the driver, if there is an accident and someone is hurt, is the driver somehow culpable?

George Mair

At the start of a journey, the driver will indicate that seat belts are available and that it is a legal requirement for people to wear them if they are aged 14 or above, but he cannot monitor the situation while he is driving the vehicle. If he were to do so, that would perhaps put the folk on the coach in greater danger than would not wearing the seat belts, so we have to be sensible about it.

We encourage kids to wear seat belts through the different methods that everybody has mentioned: working with schools and with kids themselves to get across the message that, in the event of the vehicle being involved in a collision, wearing a seat belt will reduce the risk of them being injured. Everybody has a duty to try to get that message across to the kids. The way to do that is to say that their parents would not put them in a car without getting them to put a seat belt on. They will then do it themselves and get into the habit of doing it. The approach should be a collective one that sets out the responsibilities of each individual.

Some of those responsibilities are already in place through the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) (Amendment) Regulations 2006, which set out some clear and specific responsibilities on individuals, drivers and operators of vehicles. There is some legislation there. For children who are a bit younger—those aged three to 13—the position is a bit vague, but we hope that the DFT will come up with some additional clarification on that in the weeks and months ahead.

The Convener

I think that Mairi Evans wants to push a wee bit more on that.

Mairi Evans (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)

I do. I also want to follow on from Gail Ross’s last question and to clarify something. If there was an accident and a child had not been wearing a seat belt, would that be the individual’s own fault? Are they the one who is considered to be at fault rather than the driver?

George Mair

I am not a solicitor, so I cannot answer that question from a legal point of view, but the legislation sets out in quite clear terms that, if a person is aged 14 or above, they have a legal responsibility to wear a seat belt where one is available.

Mairi Evans

Okay.

The Convener

I understand that there is a legal responsibility. Does that make the parents culpable if somebody of that age is not wearing a seat belt or can the person be held culpable themselves?

George Mair

Again, I am not—

The Convener

I just wanted to know whether you knew the answer.

I am sorry—Mairi Evans has some more questions.

Mairi Evans

I want to talk a bit more about the rules governing the use of seat belts by pupils travelling on school transport. There are lots of different restrictions depending on whether they are travelling on a coach, a small minibus or a large minibus. Do you think that those rules need to be simplified? If so, do you have any suggestions to make in that regard?

The Convener

George, before you answer that, I am keen to bring in other members of the panel—although you are giving very authoritative answers, for which we are grateful. Would anyone else like to come in before George answers?

Gary McGowan

The law is slightly different for minibuses, taxis and so on anyway. There is an existing legal requirement for passengers to wear seat belts in those smaller vehicles, so I suppose that your question is about larger vehicles that do not currently have seat belts. Large vehicles such as coaches are required to have seat belts and people are supposed to wear them anyway if they are travelling on them, so it is only the vehicles that do not currently have seat belts that would be brought into the legislation.

Mairi Evans

Would anyone else like to answer?

The Convener

George, would you like to come in, as I cut you off earlier?

George Mair

I have lost my line of thought; it might come back to me.

Mairi Evans

I have another question. You talked earlier about the work that needs to be done to educate children into wearing seat belts, but are there any specific actions that you think the Scottish Government should be taking to promote the use of seat belts by children at whatever age? Do you have any specific recommendations?

12:45  



Alex Scott

The bill is moving through the Scottish Parliament. If and when it is passed into law, there will be a real opportunity to have a publicity campaign to raise awareness. If the Scottish Government were to work with parent groups and bus operators, that would assist greatly. Parents are invested in ensuring that their children are safe, as we all are. As George Mair said, there is a legal responsibility on those over 14 to wear seat belts anyway, but it is clear that more work needs to be done on the younger ones.

There is no silver bullet or magic answer to this. There will have to be a lot of serious partnership working between all the stakeholders—the schools, the local authorities, the Scottish Government and anyone else who can bring anything to this matter.

Mairi Evans

I have a final question. Do you have any concerns about the enforcement of the duty on school authorities to operate school transport services using vehicles that are fitted with seat belts? Could that have implications for bus operators and their staff?

The Convener

George, that is probably your domain.

George Mair

If you look at the situation—this picks up on some of the previous discussion about coaches taking kids to school—you will probably find that the vast majority of coaches that are used for that type of work have seat belts. Having been the managing director of a bus company, I know that some of the schools were very pedantic about the safety features that they wanted to see in coaches that transport kids. In the majority of cases these days, a coach will turn up at a school to take kids to activities, and in many cases it will be the same coach that transported them to school in the morning.

The important thing for operators and staff is that we try to operate one set of guidance. Let us not have two sets of guidance—one that is linked to the legislation and a separate one for the dedicated school bus. For the benefit of the staff, it will be far better to have one guidance document that everybody can work to. That is a more sensible approach. That has been my plea throughout the process: let us not duplicate things. If there is already guidance, it should be refreshed and made suitable to cover both eventualities so that, if kids travel on a school bus in the morning, we have the procedures to be followed and they have to wear their seat belts, and the same applies if the same bus or coach comes back to take them to the swimming baths.

The Convener

I think that Alex Scott wants to come in, and then a point that you made there, George, will lead me neatly on to the next question.

Alex Scott

I echo what George Mair said. In the SPT area, we are responsible for transporting approximately 37,000 kids every day to and from school. Most of our local authorities had already started the move towards fitting seat belts before the bill process began, so it is not as if there is a huge mountain to climb, at least from the point of view of the bus operators. However, as George Mair said, clear and uniform guidance would be helpful.

At one of the meetings of the working group, I made the point that, whereas dedicated home-to-school transport would be covered by the requirement for seat belts to be fitted, the same child who arrives at school in a dedicated bus might then be taken to the swimming baths or another educational establishment for vocational training, and there would be no requirement for seat belts to be fitted for that. My concern is that that dilutes the message about the importance of wearing seat belts.

The Convener

That is exactly the point that Rhoda Grant picked up on. I think that she wants to come in on that.

Rhoda Grant

Yes. The bill only covers travel to school. It does not cover school excursions and the like. Does that throw up anomalies or can that be dealt with in guidance? If it can be dealt with in guidance, can the aim of the whole bill be dealt with in guidance? Does it cause a problem to have two different systems?

George Mair

Yes, I think that it causes a problem. To go back to my previous comment, I guess—and it is a guess; I have no statistics to back it up—that a fairly high percentage of the vehicles that are used to take kids to swimming or other activities already have seat belts. The issue is the need for one set of procedures.

Coaches have been required to have seat belts since 2001, which is 16 years ago. I believe that the number of coaches that are older than that, and might therefore not have seat belts, is quite low. As time passes, it is likely that the coach fleet in Scotland will move towards being fully fitted with seat belts. The legislation would therefore say that, if a seat belt is available, people should use it. It is important that the guidance flows through those two scenarios. If coaches without seat belts are still being used, that is confusing for kids.

The Convener

Does anyone else want to come in on that?

Alan Hutton (Strathclyde Partnership for Transport)

To pick up on that point, there is a potential problem in having two different types of trip. We organise trips on behalf of some of our councils to swimming baths, and there are consortium and vocational journeys as well as home-to-school trips. It depends on councils’ individual needs. If individual councils are aware that seat belts are required on home-to-school trips, they might decide to introduce that requirement for journeys during the day, which might reduce the potential for conflict.

I suppose there might be a difficulty when individual councils do not control the provision. Such schools might not have been given the same type of guidance—which George Mair mentioned—to say that they need to ensure that there are seat belts in their vehicles, and that, as vehicles are brought in, schools should ensure that they are fitted with seat belts.

Perhaps the message needs to be extended to cover other transport requirements during the day. As I said, councils may actually begin to introduce such a requirement. Even though many of the current contracts do not specify the provision of seat belts, the operators are providing them. They have been moving forward as certain councils’ contracts have changed, so in other councils’ contracts they are providing seat belts over and above the statutory requirement.

Rhoda Grant

You said that there are occasions on which transport is not the responsibility of the school. I would have thought that any transport from school to school activities would always be the school’s responsibility.

Alan Hutton

I am sorry; I was referring to a school that is not within the local authority. In other words, who arranges that contract? Is it the school or the local authority, or is it a private school? That relates to who draws up and controls the contract, and the need to ensure that they build in guidance so that it is part of the process.

Rhoda Grant

I want to ask about the lead-in time. The date of implementation is 2018 for primary schools and 2021 for secondary schools. Does that give operators enough time to make the changes that are required and to ensure that all buses have seat belts? Are any contracts already in place that run beyond that term?

George Mair

We have been keeping the industry up to date from the outset of the project in 2014. Among the 18 authorities that are already there, a third are in the SPT area. Keeping authorities that have multiple contracts informed allows them time to work through the process and renew the contracts. The operators who tender for work in the areas in which the scenario is new will deal with the requirements through the tender price and such like. We have been warning people for two or three years already that the change is coming, and we have told them when it is likely to come into effect.

The Convener

Before we move on to a question from another member, which I think leads on from something that George Mair said, may I clarify something, so that I fully understand it? Is everyone on this panel saying that they would prefer to have the same laws for transport from home to school and transport from school to activity? That appears to be what you all said, and it is important that the committee logs that. Can I take that as an affirmative?

Gary McGowan

Yes.

Richard Lyle

We have 32 councils, of which 18 ensure that seat belts are fitted. That leaves 14, of which six might be doing that. Why are some authorities doing it already? I was a councillor in North Lanarkshire Council for 36 years—very boring—and we brought up the issue several times. We have been talking about having seat belts on school transport for seven, eight or nine years, and we still have not done it, although we are steadily moving towards it. Why have some councils done it while others have not?

Alex Scott

Alan Hutton will correct me if I am wrong but, as of this year, all our authorities will specify seat belts—I see that Alan is nodding. It has been a gradual process over the years. We organise transport for 11 local authorities in our area and, over the years, authorities have variously decided to specify seat belts. We advertise the tender specifications based on what the authorities instruct us to do, but I cannot speak for the councils themselves.

George Mair

I admire Richard Lyle’s tenacity, because 36 years as a local councillor is a long time, with many challenges. You have obviously risen to a greater level—

The Convener

Steady on, George.

Richard Lyle

Greater heights. [Laughter.] Maybe the council wanted rid of me. I do not know.

George Mair

Richard Lyle asked why some authorities specify seat belts and some do not. There could be a number of factors. I suspect that the additional cost might have been enough to make local authorities think that specifying seat belts would be challenging. In the early days, there were significant issues when councils said, “Yes, we want to do it but we are uncertain about the type of seat belt to use” and got into legal debates about the implications of using the wrong type. It might have looked a bit too difficult.

I have not heard anyone among those who are doing it now being negative about the approach. They might say that they went through some pain to get there, but it is working reasonably well. Over the next few years, we will see the rest of the local authorities pick up the approach and run with it.

Richard Lyle

You referred to coaches, but in the SPT area double-deckers are used—that is what I mostly see serving schools. Is that maybe why there has been resistance? Some of the double-deckers are not six years old; they are a wee bit closer to being 14, 15 or 16 years old.

George Mair

There are technical issues with fitting seat belts on certain types of double-deck bus, particularly in the upper saloon. Some of them have been got round and the required standards have been met; other local authorities have moved from double-decks to high-capacity 70-seat coaches. There are a variety of options at operators’ disposal.

At the end of the day, the council will set the spec, and if the operator wants to tender for the contract, he will have to come up with a solution. If that means investing some money in changing the seating or fitting seat belts, that will undoubtedly be reflected in the price that he puts in his tender. I am not sure about the double-decks. Alan Hutton might be able to answer that one, but in the six SPT areas where it has been done, the operators will have met the tender specification. If you do not meet the spec, you do not get the work.

13:00  



The Convener

Before we move on to our last question, I am happy to let Alex Scott and Gary McGowan come in briefly, if they have something to add to that.

Alex Scott

I cannot really add anything to that. There should not be an issue if the operator meets the specification and the seat belts are Department for Transport approved.

Gary McGowan

As the chaps have said, a reason for the delay has been the perceived cost of fitting seat belts to certain vehicles. The councils that relied heavily on having a large quantity of double-deckers to move volumes of children might have been concerned about moving away from those vehicles.

In addition, as George Mair said, since 2001, the law has been that all coaches must have seat belts. Therefore, the availability of seat belts in the fleets has been greater. Changes in transport are often incremental and fairly slow moving, so the fitting of seat belts has probably happened over time. On one hand, there was a bit of resistance from the councils to move on; on the other hand, there are operators with newer fleets or fleets that have seat belts.

The Convener

John Mason has a final question.

John Mason

The financial memorandum tells us that the estimated cost of implementing the bill’s proposals is £8.9 million. That is quite a high figure. We are also told that there are only 110 buses in operation that do not have seat belts and that the vast majority of those are in Strathclyde. If I heard the evidence correctly, all the Strathclyde authorities are committed to phasing out those buses. Why do we need to spend any money? Do we need the bill at all? If the bill is necessary, is the £8.9 million an overly generous amount?

The Convener

Would Alex Scott like to answer that? John Mason’s argument is that £8.9 million is to be spent on just over 100 buses. Is that correct?

John Mason

Yes, and the vast majority of those buses will not, I think, be operating after the summer.

Alex Scott

That is correct. I am not entirely certain where that figure came from, although I presume that it was produced by Transport Scotland officials. As I have said, bus operators have been aware—probably for some time—that this was the general direction of travel on the seat belts question and, over the years, they have gradually been refreshing their fleets. This year, all our local authorities will specify that seat belts are a requirement.

During the information-gathering exercise, we were asked by civil servants whether we had seen considerably increased tender costs. The cost will vary from area to area, but in the SPT area there are a large number of operators, so the competition is fairly healthy, and there was no noticeable uphill struggle in that regard.

The Convener

George, do you want to justify the figure?

George Mair

I thought the figure to be fairly ambitious, but I note that the allocation period is up to 2031. I have heard that some local authorities have made the change and that it did not turn out to be as costly as they had expected it to be. Other than that comment, I do not want to justify the figure, thank you.

John Mason

That is helpful. We will probably reflect on that point when we question the member or the minister on the bill.

Mike Rumbles

We are talking about a lot of taxpayers’ money. What has come out in this morning’s evidence is that—unlike what we were led to believe, as the convener mentioned—a lot of local authorities do not have this programme to come. Is it possible to get an update on which local authorities are—if I can call it this—lagging behind? Is the bill necessary if the councils are signed up to the measure anyway?

Alex Scott

I do not really know, so I would not want to pronounce on that. All our local authorities are acting to comply in advance of legislation—

Mike Rumbles

Are all 32 local authorities in the same position?

Alex Scott

I can only provide information on the 11 local authorities that we deal with.

Mike Rumbles

Are they on track?

Alex Scott

Yes.

Mike Rumbles

It would be helpful if we could find that information.

The Convener

Yes, we will look at that issue. We will try to include information on that point in the briefing for the next evidence session.

Stewart Stevenson

The bill does not apply simply to local authorities. I take it that your evidence has not covered private schools.

Alex Scott

No.

George Mair

One of the officers indicated in their response that the vast majority of private schools are using coaches with seat belts.

Stewart Stevenson

Sure. I am just making the observation that another sector is involved.

The Convener

It is an interesting point on which we might want to seek clarification.

I thank the panellists for coming to give evidence. I apologise again for keeping them waiting.

That concludes today’s business. After the recess, we will continue to take evidence on the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill, and we will get an update from the Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe, Mike Russell.

Before I close the meeting, on behalf of the committee, I thank Mairi Evans for her work on the committee and wish her well in her move to her new committee. I also thank members for the work that they have put in this morning.

Meeting closed at 13:06.  



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Third meeting transcript

The Convener

Item 4 is evidence on the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill. I welcome Cian Gullen, convener of the Transport, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee of the Scottish Youth Parliament; Joanna Murphy, chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland; and Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. Members have a series of questions to ask the witnesses.

Stewart Stevenson

This is a broad-brush question. We have received feedback on the bill from the SPTC and the Scottish Youth Parliament already, but, in broad terms, will the bill bring any benefit to safety in school transport?

Eileen Prior (Scottish Parent Teacher Council)

The principle is absolutely right that when parents send their children off to school and entrust them to the local authority, the local authority is in loco parentis. I cannot take my children anywhere in the car without strapping them in, and it is completely unreasonable to suggest that local authorities should be in any other position. Our children should be strapped in when they are on school transport. In fact, we said in our submission that, given that in many areas service buses take young people to school, there is an argument for extending the provisions to those buses. However, children certainly should have seat belts in school transport and we should take co-ordinated measures to encourage them to wear them. The Scottish Youth Parliament’s evidence on that is interesting, but we know that there are ways to influence behaviour and encourage young people to make safe choices, and we should do everything we can to do that. The fact that young people might rail against the adults who are trying to impose the wearing of seat belts on them is no reason not to make sure that there are seat belts and to do everything we can to make young people use them.

Joanna Murphy (National Parent Forum of Scotland)

I hope that the bill will bring some benefit. A lot of plans are already in place in school transport. Although I agree with Eileen Prior, I feel that we are in a position now to start communicating with young people and their parents about what is already in place and what will come into force through any changes, so that those things are not seen as an imposition that young people will rail against and that they understand why they are being asked to put on a seat belt in the back of a bus or car.

The Convener

Does Cian Gullen want to add to that? Do not worry about pushing the buttons on your console; the gentleman on your left will make sure that the light comes on at the critical moment.

Cian Gullen (Scottish Youth Parliament)

Joanna Murphy talked about young people railing against adults who tell them to put their seat belts on. It is about making sure that people are working with young people, rather than just doing something to them. It is about partnership. Perhaps a task force made up of young people, parents and teachers could work at the national level, feeding down to local authorities, so that there would be a national minimum standard of safety for young people and an understanding throughout Scotland that young people need to wear seat belts. Rather than saying, “We’re telling you to wear your seat belt”, it is a case of saying, “We want you to wear your seat belt; will you tell us why you are not doing so?”

The Convener

According to the review of responses, nearly 69 per cent of people were in favour of wearing seat belts, so the issue is how we convince the others to do so.

Stewart Stevenson

I have a specific question for Eileen Prior. I got a hint from what you said that you might be in favour of quite stringent enforcement measures. The most stringent measure that I can think of—I emphasise that you did not suggest this—would be to deny transport to people who will not wear a seat belt. I imagine that that is an option, although it is not necessarily one that you would pursue.

I have a more general question for the other witnesses. Does the issue increase awareness of the need for personal safety in school transport? There might be other, more exciting ways of putting oneself at risk, in environments where the consequences might not be so severe.

Eileen Prior

I would not say that I am in favour of stringent rules. I entirely agree that this is something that we should do with young people, not to them. Schools, local authorities, parents and young people need to work together on the issue, so that seat belt wearing becomes the norm. Thirty years ago, smoking was the norm; it no longer is. In the same way, seat belt wearing should become the norm. That will not happen quickly, but we can work together to change behaviour. We have to use a wee bit of a carrot and a wee bit of a stick to achieve that.

The Convener

Does Joanna Murphy or Cian Gullen want to comment?

Joanna Murphy

Not really. I agree with what Eileen Prior said.

The Convener

You do not have to comment, but if you want to add something, feel free to do so.

John Mason

I was struck by Ms Gullen’s point about the need to work with and persuade people. Do we really need a bill? Surely we could work with local authorities, most of which are already doing what we want them to do. Do we need a bill at all?

Joanna Murphy

Yes. There is always a need for legislation where there is any dubiety. A lot of different local authorities and companies are involved in school transport, and where there is ambiguity that can be seen as a way out, legislation is needed.

For a parent—and for the young person, of course—the most important thing is that a young person who goes on a bus to school is safe in the event of an accident. We cannot mess about with that. If the approach is not working without legislation, there needs to be legislation to make it work better.

Mike Rumbles

Should we simply make it a requirement for local authorities to specify in their contracts for school transport that seat belts should be fitted? Why would we need legislation?

The Convener

Does Eileen Prior have a view on whether legislation is needed or whether the issue could be dealt with as part of the contracting process? What would you rather see?

Eileen Prior

I had not thought of that. Let me tell you about the responses that we had. We use social media a lot to communicate with parents. When we talked about the bill, it was interesting that quite a number of parents said, “I thought that that was in place already.” Parents have the impression that there are already seat belts on school buses.

11:45  



I am not a policy person and do not know the ins and outs of all the legislation but, however we do it—whether there is a simple requirement in the contract or we have legislation—we have to be certain that seat belts are in place, both for our young people and our families. I am afraid that you are the folk who will have to tell us the best way to do that. I completely get Joanna Murphy’s point that often, sadly, if there is no legislation, the game in every walk of life is to find a way round the rules. It may well be that legislation is required.

The Convener

I may have got this wrong, but I think what the committee is gently trying to probe is this. If a law is passed to require seat belts on buses, that will not require children to wear them. We are trying to understand whether the requirement for seat belts should be achieved through the contract, or whether—I do not want to put words into your mouth—you think that that does not go far enough and that we should seek to make it a legal requirement that people have to wear a seat belt on a bus.

Cian Gullen

Legislation could be more useful than putting a requirement into a contract, particularly if young people, parents and teachers had to be consulted on how to implement a requirement to wear seat belts. The bill does not require young people to wear seat belts, but I understand that you can legally require local authorities to consult young people on better ways to implement such a requirement. If a seat belt is provided, a person aged 14 or above is responsible for wearing it. We should make young people aware that that is already in place and that, legally, they must wear a seat belt if one is provided. Perhaps we could consider including in the bill that schools should ensure that young people are aware of that responsibility.

John Mason

I will answer Mike Rumbles’s point. The point of the legislation is to make local authorities put the requirement in their contracts—it is not either/or; it is the two together. My colleagues will come in on who should wear seat belts.

Service buses have been mentioned—they are the normal buses that we all use every day and which do not have seat belts. Is there any point in dealing with the buses that the schools use in contracts if we do not have seat belts on service buses?

Eileen Prior

A lot of young people in rural areas, such as the area where I live, get to school on extended service bus routes—the bus goes its normal route with a dog-leg to school. A lot of young people from outwith towns travel to school on service buses. There is an argument that a company that provides that service should provide seat belts, so that we are not saying that some kids are safe but others on service buses are dispensable.

As a nation, we need to think about how safe bus passengers are. I do not know how often members travel on buses, but there are times when I wish that there were seat belts on them.

The Convener

I think that there is a certain amount of empathy with that point.

Peter Chapman

Thankfully, there are few injuries to kids on buses on the way to school. Given that fact, is a requirement for seat belts the best way forward to improve safety? Should we consider doing something else—and if so, what?

Joanna Murphy

When I brought up the subject with members of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, they started to talk about a code of conduct for young people and parents. The bus service has been withheld from young people who persistently misbehave—they are put off the bus. I do not think that that is the best way to go, but it happens.

As we are all in agreement, we need to work with young people themselves, the bus companies, parents, schools and communities so that young people understand the whole safety aspect and why we are proposing these measures. We are not trying to restrain their civil liberties in any way; we just want them to be safe on their journey, as people are when they have their seat belts on in a car.

The Convener

I will follow up on that. Should we do something more to cover when young people get off the bus, cross the road and so on? This is your chance to tell the committee that we should be considering more than what is in the bill, if that is what you think.

Eileen Prior

You will know about the cases of young people who have been knocked down as they crossed the road to get home after getting off the bus or whatever. Speed is the big issue, of course. I live in a rural area, and folk use some rural roads as a race track. If there is a straight, the foot goes down. There is an education process—it is carrot and stick.

There is only so much that you can do as a committee and that the Government can do. As regards legislation, if I put children in a car, I need to strap them in. Legally, it is my responsibility to ensure that my passengers are strapped in. I do not think that it is unreasonable to expect bus companies and drivers to ensure that young people are at least able to strap themselves in, and that is what we encourage young folk to do.

Peter Chapman

Joanna Murphy has referred to this. Sitting in your seat with your seat belt on is the safest option, but sitting in your seat without a seat belt on is certainly a far better option than running up and down the aisle, for example, if the bus has an accident. There is an issue about behaving on the bus, over and above the question whether there are seat belts. You have reflected on that, and we need to think about that issue, too.

Fulton MacGregor

I have a question—I appreciate that I might have missed the point in previous evidence. Do parents in general just assume that there are seat belts on buses? When I have told folk that the bill is going through the Parliament, many of them have said, “Do we not have seat belts on school buses?” I know that that is anecdotal, and perhaps those people do not have kids at school or of school age. However, I was struck by the number of people who just assume that there are seat belts on school transport. Have the witnesses come across that?

Eileen Prior

Absolutely. That was the feedback that we got: people were taken aback that that was not the situation as it stands.

The Convener

I notice that you were all nodding at that. That is a yes: everyone thinks that there are seat belts already on school buses.

Jamie Greene

I will pick up on a point that Eileen Prior made. One of the things that has cropped up quite a lot in the discussion relates to who is responsible for ensuring that children wear seat belts. I say “children” in the loose sense, because that could mean younger children, those under 16 and those over 16. I ask Eileen Prior to confirm that she thinks that the drivers should be responsible for ensuring that seat belts are worn. Drivers would be representing the bus company that had the contract with the authority. Another school of thought is that it would be up to someone at the school at either the beginning or the end of the journey. Other people think that it should be up to the children themselves or their parents.

It is perhaps a controversial or contentious issue, but are there any further views on who should be responsible, and therefore legally liable, if something happened in cases where seat belts were not worn?

Eileen Prior

It is indeed a contentious issue, and I can completely see where the different perspectives come from. Young people’s behaviour is influenced by all those parties. My sense is that younger children will respond to an adult telling them what to do, and they will generally respond favourably and will do what they are required to do. The challenge comes in the teenage years, as young people are expressing themselves and getting a sense of self. With that group in particular, you get into the territory of peer influence and of modifying behaviour through consultation, discussion and setting a good example. I am trying to get out of answering your question, because it is really hard.

The Convener

I suspect that you will get a second bite at answering it in a minute, because John Finnie has a question along the same lines. It might be appropriate to bring him in now.

John Finnie

Good morning, panel, and thank you for your input. This is a lawmaking forum, and we are keen to make good law. I seek your views on whether you feel that, were the bill to become law, it would be compromised if children chose not to use seat belts.

The Convener

That is a really difficult question.

Joanna Murphy

I suppose that that comes back to enforcement. Everything will be compromised if people choose not to do that. It also comes back to discussions in schools, at whatever level. I remember that, when I was a girl, we had the green cross code, all the adverts on the telly, the squirrel thing and all the rest of it, which helped us to learn. I had already walked about and crossed roads with my parents, and they helped me to learn the dangers, although that was back when there was much less traffic. It comes back to education for young people so that they understand and realise why we wear seat belts in cars.

Sometimes, it is just about expressing some of the consequences, particularly as young people get older. Obviously, we would not want to show wee ones videos of things that have happened but, when they get older, if they choose not to do something, sometimes they have to see part of the consequences. Perhaps that could involve talking to people who have been in accidents, or perhaps the Scottish Government could put out information for young people through parent councils and the pupil voice in schools. Those might be ways of targeting and combating the peer pressure that kids experience about everything nowadays. Particularly when they are older—secondary school age—it is about trying to work with young people so that they fully understand. Knowing what it is like to be in an accident is outside the scope of most people’s knowledge—thankfully, very few of us are in accidents. However, if someone is in one, they do not want to say later, “I wish I had worn my seat belt that day.”

The Convener

Does John Finnie want to come back in?

John Finnie

Yes—I will maybe just supplement my earlier question, although I think that Eileen Prior was going to come in.

I was going to move on to the issue of promotion. Were the bill to proceed, would you see a role for the Scottish Government, specifically, and for pupils and parents in promoting it? I appreciate that you do not speak for all pupils and parents, but would you engage with the Scottish Government in creating promotional material? How should the promotion be progressed were the bill to proceed?

Eileen Prior

We would absolutely engage.

To return to your previous point, whatever legislation we are talking about, if people choose to ignore it, it could be compromised. There would need to be a carrot and a stick. The stick would be the legislation, but a lot of work could be done to address behaviours. That is done in other realms, such as road safety, drug or alcohol use and knife crime. There are lots of examples of really good work going on to address behaviours. We have to use that work as an example and ask what we can do on the issue of seat belt wearing. Funnily enough, teenagers will automatically put on a seat belt when they get into a car—well, the ones I know will, anyway. They do not even think about not wearing their seat belt. That is in their head—they already know that that is what you do. I do not think that it would be a massive leap to get them to do that when they are on a school bus.

Cian Gullen

On promotion, if you get young people involved—for example, if the videos that you make have young people talking rather than an adult or a teacher—the older ones will respond better. The issue is that a lot of the behaviour on buses, such as not wearing seat belts or maybe messing around, probably involves older pupils, from fourth year to sixth year. They have maybe got a bit too confident on the bus and they see it as not being their responsibility to wear a seat belt, if there is one. If there are no seat belts, they do not see something to keep them in their seat, which is why they get up and walk around.

12:00  



This is about ensuring that the older young people know that they need to set an example for the younger ones. When the younger ones no longer see the older young people messing about, they will learn the correct behaviour of sitting on the bus with their seat belt on. That is where working with schools comes in. It might involve establishing a group of older young people who travel on the school bus and asking them to check that everyone is wearing their seat belt, in the sense not of telling them what to do, but of simply saying, “Look—you need to wear your seat belt for these reasons.” It is not a punishment—it is about encouraging, rather than punishing, young people. Any punishment would just turn things completely the other way; as young people get older, a punishment makes them feel more resentful rather than wanting to work in partnership.

The Convener

Does John Finnie want to come back on that?

John Finnie

No, I have concluded my questions.

The Convener

Does Joanna Murphy feel that the other witnesses have covered the points?

Joanna Murphy

Certainly.

The Convener

Okay. Rhoda Grant can ask the next question.

Rhoda Grant

We have touched on how we could enforce the wearing of seat belts. Eileen Prior said that parents must ensure that children wear seat belts in cars, so surely bus drivers could do the same on buses. I wonder whether that is workable or whether somebody else would be needed on the bus, given that the bus driver would have more than three or four people to monitor. I can imagine the situation, and I would sooner have bus drivers concentrating on driving than on monitoring what is going on behind them on the bus. Does the bill need to be strengthened by ensuring that there is a person on the bus to keep an eye on things?

Eileen Prior

I completely understand what you are saying: the driver’s attention needs to be on the road. We know that distractions—car phones or children fighting in the back of the car—do not do much for people’s driving abilities. The same applies to bus drivers. If there is a pattern of behaviour among young folk such that they are not wearing seat belts, there must be some sort of intervention. However, I do not know how that would work or who would do that job—it might be a member of school staff, for example. In many rural areas, school staff travel on the same buses as the young people but do not have a specific role during travel time. I would be interested in exploring what such a solution would look like and who could take on that responsibility.

Joanna Murphy

That brings us back to the need to ensure, rather than enforcing the wearing of seat belts, that young people understand why they should wear seat belts. We have talked about parents and young people in schools. This is partly about the involvement of bus staff—the people who run the bus, the drivers or whoever. That is another important group among the various people who are involved.

It would be interesting to find out—as, I am sure, the committee already has—what those people think, not in the sense that they might say, “We don’t want to do it and we wash our hands of it”, but to find out what they think would be the best option. As has been said, a parent could stand at the bus stop and safely strap the young person in—although I would hesitate to do that with teenage children; the last thing that any of them would want would be to have their parents anywhere near them. However, parents could be there to strap children in safely and then get off the bus, but the young person could have their seat belt off before the parent had even turned the corner. We have to get back to the reasons why young people would want to keep their seat belts on. Perhaps schools need to think of schemes that reward young people for keeping seat belts on, rather than schemes that punish them for taking them off. We need to be imaginative and perhaps move in a different direction.

Cian Gullen

On a scheme that would reward young people, my school dealt with littering around the school grounds in that way. A pupil who was seen putting their litter in the bin was given the chance to win a prize in a raffle—they were given a ticket, and they could win vouchers for shops in town. We could have something like that, although maybe not on such a large scale, that acknowledges young people wearing their seat belts. Pupils in younger age groups are often quite competitive about getting praise and so on; pupils in secondary 1 and S2 often like to be told that they are doing really well with something, whereas with older pupils it is maybe more about giving them a sense of responsibility about wearing a seat belt, and making it something that they do more for themselves rather than to stop the bus driver getting on at them.

Rhoda Grant

As it stands, the legislation only makes it clear that seat belts should be fitted on buses—it says nothing about wearing them, because that is a reserved matter. We spoke to Scottish Government officials and asked about people being in loco parentis, and about where responsibility would lie if there was an accident in which children who were not wearing seat belts—which is not required by the legislation—got hurt. The response was that that would need to be tested in the courts. Do we need to strengthen the bill or are you happy that the bill is strong enough on that matter?

The Convener

The question of where responsibility lies is very difficult. I am mindful of what has been said about parents thinking that because there are seat belts on the buses the school might be considered to be in loco parentis.

Eileen Prior

In terms of managing risk and so on, the contract is between the local authority and the bus company, so it seems that it is a local authority responsibility to ensure that buses are to a standard. In our written evidence, we talked about maintenance of school transport being an issue that comes up regularly. Local authorities have a responsibility to ensure that companies maintain their buses properly and provide seatbelts. It seems to me that it would be the case that, if there were an accident, the local authority would have responsibility—not that anyone will like that answer—because the bus company is contracted to the local authority.

The Convener

Does anyone want to add to that? It is quite a tricky question. Joanna Murphy is raising her eyebrows—I am not sure whether that means that you want to add to what Eileen Prior has said.

Joanna Murphy

It goes back to thinking outside the box a wee bit—thinking more imaginatively about why a person might not want to put on their seat belt. Everybody knows that if there is a seat belt available, wearing it is the safest option. We need to try to think differently. The local authority has a part to play—it cannot just say, “We contract the buses, so it is up to the bus companies.”

In some rural areas, kids are on the bus for quite a long time. There needs to be a way of engaging them and keeping them safe for an hour on the way to school and an hour on the way back—and making it not just because we say so. Other things make seat belt wearing a secondary issue. It is not great to put a seat belt on and then to have nothing to do for an hour but sit and look out of the window at the rain; having a carry-on is a much better option.

The answer in some cases may be that local authorities need to have somebody on the bus.

Jamie Greene

I will keep my question brief, in the interest of time. The bill specifically applies to commuting to and from home and school and does not apply to excursions, school trips and anything that happens during the school day. Should such journeys be included, or are you happy for them to be left out?

The Convener

That matter is worrying the committee.

Joanna Murphy

Such journeys should be included. I have experience of going out as a parent helper on coaches taking young people to events, and I cannot remember a time when there were not seat belts on coaches. I get the point: because those journeys take place during the day, there are school staff and parents on the bus in the ratio that is needed for safety. One of the things that a parent helper does is ensure that every person has their seat belt on, and if a pupil cannot put on their seat belt, we help them.

The Convener

Would you like to add to that, Cian?

Cian Gullen

Those journeys should be included. It is the same age group of young people on those journeys as are getting on the bus to school. Seat belts need to be worn. Such journeys are often longer—for example, they might be travelling all the way to Edinburgh, rather than just going down the road to school. The approach should be more about making sure that all bases are covered: we would not want a little loophole that would allow schools to get a cheap bus in order to save money on the school trip. Such journeys need to be covered in order to make sure that young people are safe, that they know their rights, and that they know their responsibility to wear a seat belt. It might encourage young people to wear their seat belts if they were told by staff on school trips that they should be wearing them.

Eileen Prior

I agree. Again, it goes back to the principle that the school is in loco parentis: it has to look after my children.

The Convener

Thank you. All three of the witnesses agree.

Mike Rumbles will ask one further question, then we will conclude the discussion.

Mike Rumbles

We are told in the bill’s policy memorandum that there are about 110 buses without seat belts in Scotland. In fact, the vast majority of local authorities already require seat belts. Strathclyde partnership for transport has told us that its local authorities are already moving along with that. From your experience, or from feedback from people across the country, can you give us any insight into how local authorities in which seat belts on buses is already the norm have dealt with wearing of seat belts? How are the local authorities that already have that requirement dealing with the issue of safety, and has it improved safety?

The Convener

Eileen—I am very happy to accept brief answers or, if you have no experience of that, just say so.

Eileen Prior

I am sorry, but I do not have direct experience of that.

The Convener

Joanna?

Joanna Murphy

No.

The Convener

Cian?

Cian Gullen

When we were doing our report, I asked a couple of young people who took school buses whether there are seat belts on the coaches that they take to school. They said that often young people sit at the back of the bus and do not put on seat belts and mess around, which schools still need to address. If there were to be legislation under which local authorities were more legally liable for young people not wearing their seat belts, or for not encouraging them to wear them, they might be more willing to take steps to make sure that bus drivers and young people make sure that seat belts are being worn.

The Convener

Thank you. Those are all the questions that we have. It has been a very interesting and informative session for us. On behalf of the committee, I thank the Scottish Youth Parliament for the research that it has done. There is also a list of primary schools that came to Parliament and contributed, through the education service. Various other people submitted responses that we have read in our committee papers.

I thank our three witnesses for taking the time to come in. It is always very interesting to hear the views of people who will be working with the legislation and who have seen the situation on the ground. I suspend the meeting briefly, to allow for a change of witnesses.

12:13 Meeting suspended.  



12:15 On resuming—  



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Fourth meeting transcript

The Convener

Item 2 is consideration of the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill at stage 1. I welcome to the meeting Gillian Martin, who is the member in charge of the bill; and, from the Scottish Government, Brendan Rooney, road safety policy officer, and Annie Cairns, legal adviser.

We will go straight to questions, the first of which will be from the deputy convener, Gail Ross.

Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

Good morning, panel. My first question is for Gillian Martin. Why do you think that we need this bill, and why do you think that legislation will be more effective than non-statutory measures in improving school bus safety?

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

As the committee will know, 18 local authorities have already taken these measures voluntarily in the contracts for their dedicated school transport and are ensuring that that transport has seat belts. I am convinced that those authorities have done the right thing, and I would like all local authorities to take the same measures.

I am a parent of children who go to school in Aberdeenshire, where the council is one of those that have taken the voluntary approach. Most of the parents to whom I have spoken on this matter assume that the same thing is happening across Scotland; of course, that is not the case. Indeed, half the local authorities do not have those measures in place. I want all parents to have the same peace of mind that I have when I send my children to school in knowing that seat belts are available on dedicated school transport.

In short, I am taking this forward as a member’s bill because I feel that all local authorities should be doing this to give parents across Scotland peace of mind. I want to ensure that the provision and the peace of mind that I enjoy as a parent in Aberdeenshire are available across the whole of Scotland.

Gail Ross

Can you summarise the consultation that was carried out? How did you address any concerns that were raised?

Gillian Martin

A working group has been in place since 2014, when it was first mooted that powers to put in place such measures might be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Last year, a public consultation was carried out from March to June. There has been broad support from all quarters for the measures in the bill, but I will pick up on one particular issue that came out of the working group, which included representatives from local authorities, the bus industry and parent groups. The issue was that bus companies may have to adapt their fleet, retrofit or perhaps provide newer models of buses. We therefore made adjustments to the thrust of the bill around the lead-in time for councils to have in place a requirement on seat belts in their contracts with bus companies. You will notice that the implementation date for primary school buses is earlier than that for secondary schools. One thing that came out of the consultation was that more of the buses that are used for secondary schools currently do not have seat belts on them, so more of a lead-in time is required to allow companies that bid for the contracts to comply.

The Convener

You will be asked further questions on that point about dates.

Gail Ross

As a follow-up, what has the feedback been from bus companies and local authorities? Do they feel that their concerns have been addressed?

Gillian Martin

Yes, very much so. In fact, the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which appeared before the committee a couple of weeks ago, has been hugely helpful and supportive and is fully behind the bill. It has been a great source of advice to me and to the working group in general.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Some of the respondents to the consultation questioned the safety benefits of the measure, given the low level of incidents and injuries. Are you confident that your proposals are appropriate and proportionate?

Gillian Martin

Yes, I am, and I will tell you why. You are correct that there has been a low level of injuries involving children on buses—I think that, in the past five years, there have been around 42. However, we should bear in mind that half of the local authorities already have seat belts in place. It is possible that the fact that half of dedicated school buses have seat belts has kept the figure quite low. Seat belts are proven to reduce injuries when there is a collision of any type.

It is a relatively low amount of injuries, but a bill should not necessarily be reactive; I would like it to be proactive. I think that 42 injuries is 42 too many, and I would not like to be introducing a bill because we have had a terrible accident on a school bus that had no seat belts, which meant that the injuries were more severe. The bill is a preventative measure. To go back to my earlier answer, it will give peace of mind to many parents as they put their children on school buses. It is an appropriate measure and one that we should take.

John Finnie

At least one council is considering putting in place an upper age limit for buses and coaches, having already put one in place for minibuses. Did you consider that in the course of progressing the bill?

Gillian Martin

We did not want to dictate to local authorities what they should do, other than that they should have seat belts on school buses. There needs to be flexibility in how they do that. I know that the council that you mentioned—I think that it is North Ayrshire Council—has stipulated that it wants only buses that are under a certain age to be used. I applaud that measure, but it might not be suitable for other local authorities. Similarly, other local authorities might have looked at measures such as bus monitors or having closed-circuit television on buses. Councils should be allowed the flexibility to decide what measures they want to put in place in their contracts that may improve safety on buses. We do not want to dictate what those should be. As a member for the Highlands and Islands, you will appreciate that some areas are very different from others and that local authorities should have the flexibility to decide how they want to make the journey to school safer.

John Finnie

Thank you.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

The bill is about fitting seat belts in buses, but there is nothing in the bill that enforces the wearing of the seat belts. What measures need to be in place to make sure that young people wear their seat belts?

Gillian Martin

I want to mention a couple of things around that. The bill is in keeping with the powers that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. You are absolutely correct that, in a contract between a local authority and a bus company, there will be a stipulation that a bus that is to be used for dedicated school transport should have seat belts fitted. The powers around road safety in general and the wearing of seat belts in particular are still reserved to Westminster. There is a European Union directive concerning the wearing of seat belts on buses by three to 14-year-olds, but that has not yet been implemented by the United Kingdom Government. The Scottish Government has been discussing it with the UK Government—I know that the committee has had sight of Humza Yousaf’s recent correspondence with the UK Government about the situation—but there do not seem to be any imminent plans to implement that directive.

As it stands, the bill cannot be about the wearing of seat belts. However, the Scottish Government will provide guidance to local authorities on how they can ensure, as far as is possible, that young people wear their seat belts on the buses that local authorities run. There are two precedents. The devolved Assembly in Wales has already put in place the requirement for seat belts in school buses, and we can look at the guidance that was provided to local authorities in Wales. Also, there are the 18 local authorities in Scotland that have already voluntarily insisted on having seat belts on their school buses, and the guidance that they have given to their schools and pupils—there are some educational programmes around that.

We can look at best practice from Wales and from the local authorities that already have seat belts, and the Scottish Government will provide guidance to local authorities on a range of measures that they could choose to put in place to ensure the wearing of seat belts. However, guidance is what it will be—it will not be statutory. It cannot be in the bill because we do not have the power to do that in the Scottish Parliament.

Rhoda Grant

I have two questions that follow on from that. When someone sends their children to school, the school takes over the parental responsibility for the children. The committee wrote to the minister about where that kicked in, and the response came back that that would have to be tried in court, for example if a parent wanted to sue a council that had not insisted that their child wore a seat belt and the child was injured in an accident. It seems inadequate to me that parents would have to take the matter to court. Could the bill have a direction to councils that they would need to take steps to ensure that young people wear seat belts through the Scottish Government’s powers to direct councils, rather than under the road safety legislation?

Gillian Martin

There is an absolute duty of care for local authorities to ensure the safety of children when they are in their schools, and when they are on the route to school. There is a duty of care covering an awful lot of safety aspects of a child’s experience at school—not just the wearing of seat belts. That duty of care comes through the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 and through the Schools (Safety and Supervision of Pupils) (Scotland) Regulations 1990. We think that there is already enough in those regulations for them to extend to the wearing of seat belts.

Remember that there is a stipulation in the contract that buses should have seat belts. There are two things. There is guidance on the wearing of the seat belts and an educational programme to be undertaken in schools that are not already doing it. There are also duty-of-care expectations on local authorities to address issues where a child might do anything unsafe while they are at school, and the same expectations would apply to this.

10:15  



It is not appropriate to be so heavy handed as to have a ministerial intervention because there are procedures already in place. Councils have committees of elected representatives who scrutinise what goes on in our schools. We feel that that is enough. I come back to the fact that the 18 local authorities that already have the scheme have not had any situations where there needed to be any kind of intervention.

Rhoda Grant

I assume that there has been no intervention because accidents involving school buses are relatively rare—that does not mean that there is 100 per cent compliance by pupils on those buses.

Gillian Martin

It comes down to the reserved and devolved powers. There is no law that says that three to 14-year-olds have to wear the seat belts. However, in the local authorities that have already voluntarily stipulated that the buses must have seat belts, we have found that there is absolute buy-in from school pupils, parents, teachers and schools.

I point to the example of Aberdeenshire Council—I know it the best because it looks after my children—where the programme has been very successful, with buy-in from many different parties. Children learn the behaviour in primary school and when they get on to a school bus they put a belt on automatically. That early education and getting into the habit of doing it means that they continue to do so when they go to secondary school.

There has been very good compliance across the 18 local authorities that have already introduced the measure—there have been no problems at all.

Rhoda Grant

Have studies been completed to see what the compliance is, or is that evidence anecdotal?

Gillian Martin

Local authorities and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities have been involved in the working group. I know that some local authorities have also made submissions to the committee. All the evidence coming from the working group has led us to the conclusion that there has been very strong buy-in in the councils that have taken it up voluntarily.

The Convener

That leads us on neatly to questions from Fulton MacGregor.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

Thank you for attending the committee today, Ms Martin. You have talked quite a lot about the local authorities that have already taken up these measures on a voluntary basis, but can you expand on that? Are you able to say more about how it is working in those authorities, particularly in Aberdeenshire Council and North Lanarkshire Council in my constituency, in comparison with those councils that are not doing it?

Gillian Martin

I cannot talk about every local authority and what it is doing, but—if you forgive me—I can talk about what was done in Aberdeenshire to get schoolchildren to wear the seat belts when the council made the decision to introduce them. There was a programme of education: the local authority gave guidance to the schools and the schools had a programme to educate school pupils about what was expected of them when they were on school transport.

I can pick up on two schools that I know well for family reasons. Two of the academies in Aberdeenshire involved the house captains, year heads and senior pupils in taking on the responsibility for helping to implement the programme among the younger children, who might forget that they had to wear the seat belt. There was a sense of peer management as well as teacher involvement. That was very effective because it allowed the house captains to exercise a bit of responsibility and to keep an eye on the younger children and remind them to put their seat belts on. Other local authorities have taken other measures, but that approach worked very well in Aberdeenshire.

I know that the committee had someone from the Scottish Youth Parliament talking about how seat belts are uncool and that we must ensure that there is consultation with young people as we go forward. I believe that that is key.

I was recently at a primary school in Penicuik, launching the bill, and it was apparent that the kids had complete buy-in. They were looking after each other, making sure that they each put their seat belts on. When I was talking to them about the importance of wearing a seat belt, they were trotting out all the health and safety information that I could ever need. They could be sitting before the committee telling you why it is important to wear a seat belt. That education and peer mentoring works very well. It works better than some other measures, which are more about having adults on the bus ensuring that kids wear their seat belts.

Fulton MacGregor

You have already covered a lot of ground about what local authorities can do and some of the ideas that have been expressed. You have already spoken about bus monitors. Could you expand a wee bit on how that might work in different local authority areas, and on the idea of a parent-pupil charter, which links in to what you have just been saying? I appreciate that you have touched on these subjects already.

Gillian Martin

Thank you for reminding me about the parent-pupil charter, which is something that Aberdeenshire Council has also done. A lot of schools have a parent-pupil charter on a lot of behavioural issues in general. Having one on the wearing of seat belts is a way to promote it. That also gets parent buy-in.

On monitors, I guess that it comes down to the fact that the member’s bill is about having seat belts on school buses. We do not want to dictate to local authorities how they monitor or implement the wearing of seat belts. As you appreciate, the areas of Scotland are very different. Pupils in the Highlands and Islands, for example, might have an extremely long school bus journey. Having a monitor on from half past 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning or whatever means a very long journey for them to get to the furthest away point to start picking up all the children on the way to the school. That might not be appropriate for them. Other local authorities, on the other hand, might think that having a bus monitor is appropriate for their situation.

I do not think that it is a good idea to dictate across the board what local authorities should do. They should make decisions based on their situation, I imagine in consultation with pupils, parents and teachers, who will have their own ideas on how things can best be done.

The Convener

That might be the perfect lead on to Peter Chapman’s question.

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

It is great to have seat belts fitted, but the issue is getting kids to wear them. We have heard evidence from witnesses that shows—unlike your evidence, Ms Martin—that, although seat belts may be fitted, they are not regularly worn. Who might be liable if a pupil under the age of 14 chose not to wear a seat belt and they were subsequently injured in an accident?

Gillian Martin

I might defer to Anne Cairns on some of the legal points. It is not against the law not to wear seat belts on buses. It is not a legal obligation to do so—such laws do not exist as regards three to 14-year-olds wearing them.

There are certain stipulations, however. For example, a three to 14-year-old cannot be at the same level as the bus driver and not wear a seat belt. They must sit behind the driver. You will also have heard evidence from the Confederation of Passenger Transport about its feelings on the wearing of seat belts and how that is managed by bus drivers. However, there will not be any liability on the bus driver.

Anne Cairns may be able to explain the legal detail around that.

The Convener

Before you come in, Anne, could I ask you to clarify something? There is a difference between the requirement for an under-14-year-old and the requirement for an over-14-year-old. Perhaps you could highlight that in your answer.

Anne Cairns (Scottish Government)

Sure. Over-14-year-olds should wear seat belts if they are fitted. It depends on the vehicle but, generally speaking, in a large bus or coach where seat belts are fitted, an over-14-year-old should wear theirs. There is no requirement for three to 14-year-olds in large buses and coaches to wear seat belts.

To answer the question about liability, broadly speaking, as Ms Martin touched on earlier, the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 provides that, when organising school transport, local authorities must have regard for the safety of children. Ms Martin also mentioned the Schools (Safety and Supervision of Pupils) (Scotland) Regulations 1990. They have a broader application than just to school transport, but, generally speaking, they require that local authorities have regard for the safety of children.

Beyond that, all schools, including independent, grant-aided and local authority schools, are subject to a common-law duty of care. Whether a school or a local authority would be liable would depend very much on the individual circumstances of the case and the accident—for example, on whether dangerous driving was involved. I can point members to the broad legal framework, but the specifics would depend on the individual circumstances.

Peter Chapman

We know that there is concern about kids who are aged under 12 having to use adult seat belts. We are told that, sometimes, that is not appropriate. How are we going to square that circle? We might have no idea what kinds of seat belts will be fitted on buses, yet we will have kids aged from five upwards travelling on them. The buses might have in place seat belts that are not appropriate for a child of that age.

Gillian Martin

I am sure that the committee will have heard the CPT’s answers on that. The issue is about primary school-age children, and most primary schools use minibuses. If minibuses have been contracted in by a local authority that is used to transporting primary-age kids, they will have adjustments on seat belts that are appropriate for the ages of the children who will wear them. Brendan Rooney might have some other information on that.

Brendan Rooney (Scottish Government)

The working group has been looking at such issues since 2014, so we have had a lot of dialogue on them with councils who have implemented such measures. There are 18 councils that have done so.

For smaller children, measures such as booster seats and adjustable straps are used. There is a range of mechanisms on the market that will fit smaller children. In practice, a local authority will tell a bus operator what provision it needs, as it signs the contract. If the provision is for smaller children, it will say that the measures need to be appropriate for them, just as it would for children with additional support needs who might be in wheelchairs or have mobility issues and need specialist provision. That already happens in practice. Councils tell companies what they need on buses, so it is not a case of arbitrarily putting the same seat belt on every bus. The bill does not say what particular belt should go in, but flexibility exists and has been used to good effect by councils who already do that.

Peter Chapman

You are saying that, in many cases, if booster seats are required, they are already on the bus.

Brendan Rooney

They are. Booster seats are one option. Also available are adjustable straps that go up and down, which can be adjusted to the height of the child. Councils are well used to putting in place provision for children of different sizes and with different needs.

Gillian Martin

It comes down to what I have talked about a couple of times previously—flexibility and not dictating to local authorities the stipulations that should be put in place. We say that dedicated school transport should have seat belts on it; that is the narrowness of the bill.

During the consultation period and in the working group, we were conscious of the fact that local councils were coming in. COSLA is involved and wants to be able to give councils the flexibility to make their own stipulations around matters such as the types of seat belt, whether transport has CCTV or monitors and how they implement the rules. Some councils might want to stipulate in their contracts for minibuses the types of measure that they want operators to take. There is nothing preventing their doing so. The bill is solely about having seat belts on dedicated school transport—that is the narrowness of it.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I suspect that Anne Cairns might have to answer this question. Do the current construction and use regulations specify the type of seat belt that is required? I ask that because most buses on which I find myself travelling are fitted with lap belts rather than diagonal ones. I wonder what the legal position might be on what is required. For younger children, the difficulty is mainly with the diagonal belt rather than with the lap belt.

10:30  



Gillian Martin

One of the first questions was about some of the things that came out in the consultation and through the working group. It was decided early on that we would not—we could not—stipulate what types of seat belt should be available, for many reasons. You have alluded to one reason for that. Anne, would you like to give some detail on that?

The Convener

Can you keep the technicalities as brief as possible?

Gillian Martin

I would be happy to.

The Convener

We understand the point about the lap belt and the three-point linkage.

Anne Cairns

If you would like specific details, we can write to you in relation to that particular question.

The answer to the question is in the construction and use regulations for road vehicles. The regulations are technical and detailed, and they set out a table of various vehicles including cars and all the different buses and coaches. There are specific rules within the regulations about the kinds of seat belt that can be fitted.

The Convener

If you are happy to send us information on the technicalities in a letter, that would be helpful.

Gillian Martin

The type of belt that should be fitted is also still a reserved issue.

The Convener

Thank you, Gillian. It would be useful if the committee could have a note on that as soon as possible, because we will draft our report shortly.

Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

Ms Martin, have you discussed how the Scottish Government intends to promote seat belt use among pupils prior to the enactment of your bill?

Gillian Martin

There are two parts to that. First, there is how I am personally going to promote the wearing of seat belts, as I am the member in charge of the bill. Secondly, there is what the Scottish Government will do prior to implementation.

In introducing my member’s bill, I am trying to get as much press and buy-in as possible. You must remember that the idea has been in the ether since about 2014, so there has already been quite a lot of publicity around it. If my bill is successful, we will have until 2018 to get people used to the idea that the legislation will be in place.

We do not want too much publicity about the bill too early, because people would be fed up with it by the time that it came to implementation. There will be guidance from the Scottish Government, and the working group will be in existence throughout the entire process as well.

Richard Lyle

You have partly answered my next question. The committee has been told that pupils need a greater awareness of the safety benefits of wearing a seat belt and should be involved in the development of education programmes and guidance. Do you consider that to be important?

Gillian Martin

I think that it is highly important. One of the reasons why I wanted to introduce the bill was to increase awareness among young people of the importance of wearing a seat belt. If young people are not involved in the process of education about that, the buy-in will not happen. I have alluded to the children in Penicuik and Aberdeenshire. For them, it is almost second nature to wear a seat belt when they go on a school bus, because those schools and local authorities have involved young people in the whole process.

Richard Lyle

In my local area, North Lanarkshire, most buses that are used for secondary schools are double-decker buses, and some of them are quite old. Some councils have found that removing double-decker buses has improved behaviour on buses. Will you stipulate in the bill the types of bus that are to be used for dedicated school transport? You have said that you do not want to tell councils what to do, but will you put in a condition to remove double-decker buses?

Gillian Martin

No, we will not. As you have just said, we want to give local authorities the flexibility to decide what school transport is right for them. We are simply stipulating that all buses that are dedicated school transport should have seat belts on them, whether they are double-deckers or otherwise.

Richard Lyle

Thank you.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

My question might be better directed at Brendan Rooney, from the Scottish Government. We keep hearing that 18 councils are making seat belt provision a requirement in their contracts, on a voluntary basis, but a witness from Strathclyde Partnership for Transport told us last month that far more councils are doing that. To date, how many of the 32 councils do it on a voluntary basis, through their contracts?

Brendan Rooney

The figures that are before the committee were arrived at through local government, in an exercise in collaboration with the Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers. A representative of ATCO appeared before you, along with SPT, at the meeting that you are talking about.

Eighteen local authorities are doing it on all contracts and a further six do it on some contracts—for example, for primary school provision, for additional support needs provision or on certain routes. We conducted the exercise in late 2016 and early 2017 and got the returns from local government—you will appreciate that we are at the mercy of the information that we receive from local government. Those are the latest figures.

SPT contracts for a number of local authorities. It is in a transition phase of moving from nought to contracting, so I am not sure whether there is a slightly shifting picture in that regard.

Mike Rumbles

That brings me to the nub of the question. By the time the bill gets through the Parliament—if there are councils that are not doing what we want them to do, the bill should get through the Parliament—will all the councils be doing it anyway?

Brendan Rooney

For a number of years, the powers have been devolved via a section 30 order. The transition has been taking place since 2014, when ministers made a public announcement that measures would be taken forward at some point in the future, and the Government has been working with local government to move forward on that basis. It might well be that councils will be doing it—I suppose that it is a good thing that they are getting ready to meet the new legislative requirement. However, it is not the case that a new approach will come in in 2018; a transition period has been going on for a number of years.

Mike Rumbles

Do you expect councils to have completed the work by the time the bill finishes going through the Parliament?

Brendan Rooney

I cannot say, as it is hypothetical. A number of councils are moving towards that.

Gillian Martin

Brendan Rooney is absolutely right in saying that none of this is coming out of the blue for the bus industry or for local authorities. The possibility of doing what we are doing was mooted in 2014, when the powers were in place, and it has been prudent of some local authorities to start to implement the approach. Will it all be done by the time the bill is passed? It is difficult to say, but I think that it is highly unlikely.

The Convener

It is partly supposition. One would hope that the bill will be overtaken by events, but it is a catch-all.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

It has been fascinating to hear evidence on the issue over the past few weeks. I am not a parent, so I do not send kids off to school on a bus in the morning, but, if I did, I would want people to ensure that they got to school and home again safely. I commend Gillian Martin for what she is trying to achieve.

I have questions to do with enforcement. There are two parts to enforcement. If the bill is passed and the deadline for implementation has been reached, what measures will the Scottish Government take to ensure that councils comply with the legislation? How will the situation be monitored to ensure that contracts comply in the future? What will happen if bus companies do not comply with the terms of the contracts? Will there be any recourse to the Scottish Government in financial or other terms?

The other side of enforcement is about enforcing the wearing of seat belts, which I appreciate is perhaps outside the remit of the bill and the powers of this Parliament. The bill does not contain enforcement provisions of great note. How might it be enforced?

Gillian Martin

On the issue of non-compliance, in the case of a contract between a local authority and a bus company that says that the buses must have seat belts, it will all depend on how the local authority monitors the situation. For example, some authorities will carry out inspections. The point is that, in all such contracts, local authorities will have procedures in place to ensure that their stipulations are being adhered to, and these contracts will be no different. If a bus company were picking up schoolchildren in dedicated school transport that had no seat belts, that would be a breach of contract and the council would be able to take action, as it would with any such breach. Of course, a council itself is scrutinised by its councillors and, if it is found to be deliberately not contracting buses with seat belts, it will be answerable for that to its own committees.

I suppose that those are two layers of dealing with non-compliance. There is, of course, a third layer: if a council is found to be breaking any law—as this would be—that kind of non-compliance issue can be taken to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. I can bring in Anne Cairns to give you more detail on that.

I suspect that you may have further questions about the wearing of seat belts. As you have said, that is a reserved matter and we have no power over it, although I would suggest that it comes down to educating children on the importance of wearing seat belts. It is always better to get buy-in and to ensure that people do these things from habit rather than from fear of breaking the law. The voluntary approach has been largely successful; indeed, it has been very successful in Wales. The Welsh have the power to seek legal recourse on issues of non-compliance with regard to councils ensuring that buses have seat belts, but, although that power has been in place for a number of years, it has not been used once. I hope that the situation will be no different in Scotland.

If you want any more legal detail, I can ask Anne Cairns to respond.

Jamie Greene

You mentioned the three layers of recourse, the third of which was the ombudsman. Would the Scottish Government itself have any recourse through, say, being able to withhold funding from any council that was found to be non-compliant or that was not applying the law?

Gillian Martin

I ask Anne Cairns to give you more detail on that.

Anne Cairns

Are you asking whether the local authority’s funding would be affected?

Jamie Greene

I am asking whether that might be one way of seeking recourse. There might well be others.

Anne Cairns

I do not think that that sort of thing could be done.

The Convener

As a follow-up, the deputy convener would like to ask a question about the practicalities of seat belts.

Gail Ross

Does the bill contain any proposals on the servicing of seat belts to ensure that they work at all times?

Gillian Martin

Anything to do with the safety of a bus—or, indeed, transport in general—comes under—[Interruption.] I am trying to remember the abbreviation. Is it DVL or something?

Brendan Rooney

As with cars or, indeed, any vehicle, buses have annual roadworthiness checks, and the UK-wide legal framework in that respect is overseen by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. The bill will not affect that, because the powers are reserved, but any vehicle on a road is regulated by those roadworthiness checks. That means that buses in operation will have to be checked annually, and internal features such as seat belts will be looked at as part of what you might call a bus MOT.

Gail Ross

Thanks.

The Convener

I believe that the next question is mine. From a lot of the evidence that we have heard, it seems that parents actually believe that children wear seat belts on school buses, and some have been surprised that the bill has had to be introduced. What has surprised me—and, indeed, some parents—is that, although the bill seeks to regulate buses that take children to and from school, it does not do the same for those that take children on trips in the course of the day. Why have those buses been excluded? That seems like a serious omission, and people do not seem to understand it.

10:45  



Gillian Martin

I know that that issue has been raised with the committee. I guess that that shows the power of committees, and I want to thank the committee for highlighting an issue that I should say we have looked at.

Given that the provision of seat belts on buses that are used for school trips featured in the committee’s evidence taking, we are looking into whether we can draft an amendment around that. There are already strict regulations around school trips; health and safety assessments have to be carried out for the trips, which include the issue of seat belts on the buses that are used.

The bill does not cover that, because we wanted it to cover contracts between local authorities and the bus operators that provide buses for transport to and from school. The difference with school trips is that they are organised by individual schools. We are reaching out to the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, teachers unions and schools to gauge whether they would like school trips to be included in the bill, because that would affect the workload of individual schools. We are also engaging with Education Scotland on that. The issue might be added into the inspection process so that when the inspectors look at health and safety in schools, they ask whether there are seat belts on the buses used for school trips.

I thank the committee for raising the issue. We are looking into it and we are engaging with a lot of interested parties on it. We will feed back to the committee what we hear from them. We might draft an amendment to cover school trips.

The Convener

Another anomaly is that bus services that are used to transport not only children but fare-paying passengers who are not going to school seem to be exempt, too. I cannot speak for the committee, but it seems to me that that is another serious omission that parents would expect the bill to cover. Will you address that?

Gillian Martin

It relates to the flexibility of local authorities and what they deem the most appropriate transport arrangements for them, given their locality. A lot of urban local authorities will use service buses and will have an arrangement with the companies that run them that schoolchildren can access them to go to school.

For a number of reasons, we do not want to tell local authorities that they cannot use service buses and that they must have dedicated school transport. The first reason is congestion. In urban areas there are a lot of buses already on the roads. Adding dedicated school transport into the mix would increase congestion and have an environmental impact.

There is nothing to stop local authorities going down the dedicated school transport route, but we do not want to tell them that they cannot use service buses, because that arrangement might suit them.

Brendan Rooney

The definition of “dedicated school transport service” in the bill was arrived at after consultation with those who are involved in delivery on the ground. It is about the general national picture and what is workable and straightforward for councils to interpret. There are nuanced arrangements, particularly in more remote areas where there might be an adult or two getting on a school bus. Stakeholders’ strong view was that the definition should be workable and easy to interpret. It was framed to cover vehicles that are used for the sole purpose of taking children to and from school, which is the working definition that a lot of people in councils and the bus industry are used to. Some nuanced arrangements can be tricky, but the bill has been framed to capture the general picture across the country.

Gillian Martin

Including the other buses would have a large financial implication.

The Convener

Having heard what you have said, I accept the position on shared transport, but as a parent—albeit that my children are now beyond school age—I would find it surprising if children were asked to go on a bus without seat belts as part of a school trip. I ask you to look at that again, as you suggested that you would.

Gillian Martin

Some local authorities might take that decision.

Jamie Greene

On the technicalities of what has been said, I appreciate that the purpose of the bill is to manage the relationship between local authorities and the bus providers that they contract with—that makes sense—and that school trips during the day normally involve separate individual contracts between a school and a bus operator. The two are very separate contractual arrangements.

The feedback from our evidence sessions was that, when children are picked up from school, the parents’ expectation is that the duty of care is with the school, not with the local authority until they reach the school gates and with the school then taking over. There is a lack of understanding of where the duty of care ends and starts. The feedback was that parents want their kids to leave the house safely and arrive safely, regardless of whether they are commuting to the school or going off on a separate trip. Also, trips tend to be staffed and monitored; parents or teachers are more likely to be on the bus during a trip, and less likely to be there on a commute.

Is there any explanation on the duty of care issue? I am not sure where it starts and stops.

Gillian Martin

You are right about the lack of understanding of where the duty of care lies. The local authority takes that very seriously. We have mentioned that the Schools (Safety and Supervision of Pupils) (Scotland) Regulations 1990 are very stringent and put a duty of care on the local authority that contracts the dedicated school transport to get children to and from school. That adds an extra layer of safety to the provision.

There is a difference between that provision and school trips, which are organised by the schools. As you rightly point out, teachers, and some parents, tend to be on the buses for school trips.

I appreciate what you say about service buses. In consultation with working group partners, it came out that local authorities would find it quite restrictive not to use service buses, particularly in the financial climate. I return to the congestion issue; we do not want to add more buses to urban streets.

Peter Chapman

You mentioned that the proposal is for the bill to come into effect for primary school kids from the beginning of school year 2018 and for secondary school kids from 2021. How did you arrive at those dates? Are you satisfied that they are the most reasonably practical dates to kick this off?

Gillian Martin

The dates were arrived at in consultation between the working group and COSLA, local authorities and bus companies. Richard Lyle alluded to one of the reasons why there is a difference between the two dates. In our assessment of the scale of the task of providing seat belts on buses, possibly by retrofitting, there is more of a task for secondary school buses; for example, more double deckers are used for secondary schools. Primary schools tend to use more minibuses, which already have seat belts.

At the start of the session, I mentioned the time that will be needed for bus companies and local authorities to get up to speed, so that the task is not onerous. That is why there are two implementation dates.

Peter Chapman

The lead-in period seems fairly long—2021 is four years away. However, if that is the general consensus, I accept it.

Gillian Martin

It is a case of making implementation workable. Nothing says that it cannot be incremental; it will not all happen on those dates—they are just the dates by which the provision has to be made, without putting too much unreasonable pressure on local authorities and bus companies to comply.

The Convener

That leads neatly to the issue that John Mason will raise.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

If you have looked at any of the previous evidence, you will have seen that I have been asking about the money side. The bill is somewhat unusual: most committees that I have been on previously have argued that not nearly enough money has been proposed for such bills by the Government, or by the member who has introduced the bill, and that there should be more. With this bill, it is the other way round, in a sense, because £8.9 million seems quite a high figure, given that we are told that only 110 buses are operating currently without seat belts and that, from what we have heard, that number appears to be falling. Dividing the £8.9 million by 110 gives a figure of £81,000 per bus. Perhaps you can give us a few comments on the financial side.

Gillian Martin

Your approach does not surprise me, because you are an accountant by trade. I will give you the headlines on the figure, but Brendan Rooney will provide more detail on how it was worked out.

We cannot simply divide £8.9 million by 110 to get a figure for each bus, because the money is expected to be spread over a 14-year period. In addition, since 2014, a lot of local authorities have voluntarily installed seat belts in buses, so the money will go to them as well and not just to the councils that have not done that voluntarily but will do it from now on. The 14-year period covers a two-contract cycle of contracts being negotiated with local authorities and arrangements being made between them and bus companies.

Brendan Rooney

As Ms Martin said, the Government accepts that the figure should cover a period beginning in 2014, when the intention to legislate on the matter was announced. The money therefore covers not just the 110 buses that are currently without seat belts, but the period that predates the legislation. The amount of money involved annually will start at about £200,000 and will rise to about £800,000, over a number of local authorities.

There is an established mechanism by which the Scottish Government and local government work out how a new statutory obligation will fall on local government. That process was used to arrive at the current figure. Independent consultants looked at the issue back in 2013 and priced it up, and the current figure is within the window that was expected from that forecast. However, it is fair to say that there are no individual breakdowns of binary units. The analysis has not been done on a cost-per-bus basis, given that there are different levels of competition in different areas and that there might be more or fewer bus operators; in some areas it might cost more and in other areas it might cost less.

In essence, the figures that have been arrived at were worked out in consultation with local government and were based on forecasts by those who contract delivery.

John Mason

I am not surprised that local government would like more money and I accept that the member and the Government have been very generous to local government on the financing. However, the majority of local authorities—18—have already introduced seat belts and I presume that that was done at minimal cost. I also presume that, just as buses’ emission targets are improving, the standard of seats is improving and seat belts are being put in as standard now, unlike previously. If 18 local authorities have done that for nothing, why should we give them any money and why should we give any money to the other 14 authorities?

The Convener

John Finnie has previously asked a question on that, so I will bring him in before the witnesses answer John Mason’s question.

John Finnie

My question, which was along the lines of John Mason’s, was about whether we are rewarding failure to act. Further, who is actually getting the money? The local authorities are contracting with bus operators that are likely to be private concerns. I appreciate that the money will be spread over 14 years, but who will be the recipients?

Gillian Martin

I might bring in Brendan Rooney again to talk about the process. John Finnie asked whether we are rewarding failure, but we are doing the opposite of that. That is why we are giving money to the local authorities that have voluntarily introduced seat belts since 2014, which was not done at zero cost to them.

Negotiations will take place between local authorities, COSLA and the Government on who gets what money and why. I cannot comment on that as those negotiations have not happened yet and I will not be involved in them. However, it is important to say that both COSLA and the Scottish Government have agreed that £8.9 million is the right figure and they are satisfied that it is appropriate.

11:00  



The Convener

May I push you a bit? John Finnie asked who will get the money, and I am not sure that I heard an answer to that question. Perhaps Brendan Rooney can clarify that.

Brendan Rooney

Given the way in which local government is financed, it will be part of the block grant. The money will go to local government because the increased contract costs will fall on local government.

The Convener

The money will go both to those areas that have complied with the legislation and those that have not complied with it.

Brendan Rooney

Exactly. It will be distributed across all local authorities. A certain amount will go to those that have already complied with the legislation and to those that have not.

John Finnie

Is there an expectation that any bus operator that, thus far, has not seen fit to install seat belts will get public money to install them? If so, why?

Gillian Martin

Schools in some local authority areas might be served by a bus company that has only one or two buses but which has provided the service for a long time, and the company might be required to bid a higher rate in order to comply with the legislation. That may be the case particularly in areas where there is not a lot of competition, availability or choice of bus companies. I hope that that answers your question slightly.

John Finnie

It does—slightly. However, I cannot envisage that there will be any impetus for bus companies to install seat belts if there is the prospect of their getting public money with which to do that.

Gillian Martin

Perhaps Brendan Rooney can help me out. The reason that I cannot answer your question fully is that there will be negotiations involving the local authorities, which will assess the companies that bid for the contracts and the increase in the bids that may be predicted. Local authorities will have those negotiations as part of the settlement.

Brendan Rooney

When a council puts any stipulation in a contract—such as that there must be seat belts or closed-circuit television, or that the vehicles must be of a certain age or standard—that affects the price of the contract. At the moment, public money is going from councils to the bus industry because of changing stipulations in contracts. Because a new statutory obligation is being placed on councils, the Government is using the established mechanism of costing what central Government funding will be required to make up the shortfall.

The Convener

John Finnie is still looking perplexed. Mike Rumbles has a follow-on question that will perhaps clarify the matter.

Mike Rumbles

I am genuinely puzzled by this. I cannot understand why £9 million of public money will be given to private contractors to upgrade their buses with seat belts when it will be a legal requirement that they do so in order to meet the terms of the contract. When a council puts a contract out to tender, the individual companies have to meet the requirements of the contract. It is up to them to meet those requirements—it cannot possibly be up to the Scottish Government to give local authorities £9 million to give to the individual bidders for the contracts.

Gillian Martin

Perhaps I can help out. Whenever there are changes to any legislation, a business impact assessment is carried out. It is only right and proper that that is done in this case, given that we are putting in place a stipulation that could affect some businesses. We have to take that into account when we undertake our cost analysis.

As Brendan Rooney mentioned, an independent cost analysis was undertaken in 2013, and we did not leave it at that—we undertook another cost analysis last year. Those analyses largely came up with the same figure. COSLA has agreed the cost analysis and the Scottish Government has agreed that it is fair and that, over the 14-year period, it is essential that that money is put aside in case there are increased costs for businesses. That is particularly important for areas where there is not a lot of competition for bus services.

If we had not done the cost analysis, we would be in a situation where there might be local authorities without the funds to be able to comply and to still provide dedicated school transport.

Mike Rumbles

That is why I do not understand—

The Convener

I do not think that John Finnie or Mike Rumbles have had the answers that they were looking for. Mike, as we are running short of time, could you put your and John’s points and allow them to be answered?

Mike Rumbles

It is a fundamental point. I do not understand, because most local authorities have done it already. The contracts are out, bids have been made and the contracts have been given. Why are we giving millions of pounds of public money to the local authorities for something that has already happened?

The Convener

Do you want to add to that, John?

John Finnie

I am very keen to see the maximum protection for all bus passengers, but I am also keen for public money to be properly expended.

I am trying to imagine that Richard Lyle and I are an individual bus operator in a rural area. We would say, “We’re not getting seat belts installed because they’re going to pay for them anyway.” That is regardless of whether a bus operator is a single operator and whether there are challenges for school transport. I represent an area where there are significant challenges. I do not get that part of it.

Gillian Martin

Perhaps I did not answer as clearly as I could have done your earlier point about rewarding failure. We do not think that it should just be the local authorities that have not implemented the provision that get the funding to do it. There are local authorities that have done it voluntarily and have had increased costs as a result. The money will be spread across the local authorities that have already implemented the measure to make up for the increased costs that they have had to bear since 2014 as a result of their voluntary action. The money will not just go to the local authorities that have not done it.

The Convener

I am not sure that anyone has received the answer that we need on that, but we will move to the final question before we get too embroiled in whether Finnie and Lyle Transport is the right way forward.

John Finnie

It is a workers’ co-operative, of course. [Laughter.]

John Mason

My understanding is that, if the local authorities do not have to pay any more for a contract, they will be able to keep the money, which sounds like a good thing. However, my question is about whether there is enough money. What about the cost of publicity, guidance, information packs and so on? Is that included in the costs in the financial memorandum?

Gillian Martin

No, it is not. Those costs will be borne by the Scottish Government. Brendan Rooney will be involved with providing the guidance, so perhaps he can give us some more detail. The guidance costs will be met from the safety budget and Road Safety Scotland—part of Transport Scotland—has a budget available for school safety in general. The seat belts guidance will be part of that.

John Mason

So it will just be taken from existing budgets and there will not be any extra costs as a result of the legislation.

Brendan Rooney

That is correct. It will be absorbed within road safety campaign education and awareness-raising budgets that are already in place in the Government.

John Mason

That is fine. Thank you.

The Convener

That concludes this morning’s session and our evidence on the bill at stage 1. I thank the panel for coming. Gillian, thank you for your time—I know that you have pushed the bill very hard. Anne and Brendan, we have seen you before so I thank you for coming back again.

11:08 Meeting suspended.  



11:13 On resuming—  



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Fifth meeting transcript

The Convener

Item 2 is the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill. Last week, the Minister for Transport and the Islands sent correspondence to the committee detailing a technical issue regarding seat belts on school transport. This morning we will receive an update on that issue.

I welcome Gillian Martin, who is the member in charge of the bill; Humza Yousaf, who is the Minister for Transport and the Islands; Brendan Rooney, who is a road safety policy officer; and Anne Cairns, who is a legal adviser to the Scottish Government. Minister, I ask you to make a short statement, please, on the correspondence that you sent to the committee.

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

Good morning, convener. Your emphasis has been noted. First, I put on record my appreciation for the diligent work that the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee has undertaken on the bill. You will be aware that the Scottish Government supports the legislative measures that Ms Martin has brought before the Parliament.

We of course consider road safety to be an issue of utmost importance, particularly when considering children and young people. I have been following stage 1 consideration and the evidence sessions, and it is heartening to see the support around the committee table and across the chamber.

You will be aware that last week I wrote to inform committee members that the Scottish Government has taken the view that the provisions in the bill should now be notified to the European Commission. Such notification is of course done by the United Kingdom Government, as the European Union member state, on behalf of the Scottish Government, rather than something that Ms Martin would do as the member in charge of the bill.

We are conscious that that administrative process will have an impact on timetabling, and we will look to engage with the committee on that. However, subject to your agreement, I contend that the timescale that was set out in my letter seems a sensible way forward. Notifying after stage 2 consideration appears to have the least bearing on the committee’s work plan, and it also mitigates the situation whereby there is a need to notify again because significant amendments are accepted.

Previously, the Scottish Government had taken the legal view that notification was not necessary. Such matters are of course always kept under consideration and under review as legislation passes through the process. The predominant reason for a change was consideration of the ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union on the municipality of Palmela case in February. That considerably lowered the threshold for notification, and not notifying could risk the bill being unenforceable.

Thank you for the opportunity to make an opening statement. I welcome any questions.

The Convener

Thank you, minister. I will start off. Are you aware of the law in Wales requiring seat belts to be fitted on school transport?

Humza Yousaf

Yes.

The Convener

Can you confirm when that bill was passed?

Humza Yousaf

I have that in writing, and I will double-check for you. That measure on school bus safety was in 2010.

The Convener

I think it was 2011, but I will go with your figure.

Humza Yousaf

Perhaps it got royal assent in 2011, or that might have been the year of commencement.

The Convener

Gillian, did you scrutinise that measure when you introduced your bill?

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

The Welsh bill went much wider than the bill that I have introduced. There were quite a lot of recommendations in that bill about things other than seat belts: it also covered closed-circuit television and bus monitors. The compelling thing was that the type and size of vehicles used were specified. That had quite a large bearing on it.

It is important to mention that nothing came back from the European Commission when Wales made that submission to it—sorry; keep me right with my terminology here—

Anne Cairns (Scottish Government)

Notification.

Gillian Martin

Yes, notification. Sorry—I forgot the word just for a second. Nothing came back from the European Commission when the notification was put in. We considered the Welsh aspect, in that there was a precedent for seat belts. However, we were not going down the route of implementing all the other measures, which was one reason why notification was not considered to be necessary.

The Convener

It was quite clear from considering the measure in Wales that the Welsh had worked out very early on in the process that notification of the European Commission would be needed regarding seat belts. I am totally confused. What made the Scottish Government and indeed you, Ms Martin, as the member in charge of the bill, believe that it would not have to go to the European Commission? I am sorry, but I am confused by your answer. I am not clear why you thought that that would not be the case.

Gillian Martin

As you will know, when a member pursues a member’s bill, they take their advice from the Scottish Government legal department. It might be a good idea to ask Anne Cairns to explain why the Government did not deem it necessary at that point for us to get that European—I have forgotten the word.

The Convener

It appears that the minister wants to jump in with some advice on that.

Humza Yousaf

I, too, will defer to Anne Cairns from the Scottish Government legal department. I will also correct myself on the record. The Welsh Government’s notification of the bill was in 2010, but you are right, convener, that the bill was indeed passed in 2011.

Just to add weight to what the member in charge has said, it would be wrong to think of the Welsh bill simply as a seat belts bill. There were other things in it. It contained provisions for the description of vehicles, provisions for the recording of visual images or sound—CCTV—provisions for driver training, and provisions for safety risk assessments of learner transport. The directive examines whether the other requirements on the product, in this case a bus—seat belts, CCTV and everything else that I have mentioned—would significantly influence the composition or nature of the product or its marketing.

I will let Anne Cairns come in after this, but the Scottish Government’s legal department did not deem that Ms Martin’s bill would significantly alter the composition of the product—again, a bus—whereas the Welsh bill was much wider in scope, as it went much wider than just seat belts. It would be incorrect to assume that it was just about seat belts; it was also about the other things that I have mentioned, and indeed there were some things in that bill that I have not mentioned. Therefore, the Welsh chose to notify, whereas, given the narrow, single-issue scope of Ms Martin’s bill, the SGLD did not feel that the Scottish Government needed to notify. The game changer, or the predominant reason why that changed, was the municipality of Palmela case in February this year.

The rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union come out, and they often have an effect on proposed legislation that is going through the legislative process. That is why the matter was kept under review. Perhaps Anne Cairns wishes to come in to expand on that, in case I have—

The Convener

Before Anne Cairns comes in, Rhoda Grant wishes to ask a question, and it might be appropriate to bring Anne in after that.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I am slightly confused. When we were taking evidence on the bill, one of the things that we considered was whether the UK Government was going to implement the EU directive on bus safety. That would have superseded the need for the bill. It seems that Europe has already issued a directive on the issue, suggesting that seat belts should be on buses. Now you are saying that we have to go back to Europe and check that what we are doing is okay. It seems very circular to me. Surely, if Europe is saying that we should be doing this, it does not need to sign off the fact that we are actually doing it.

Anne Cairns

To answer Rhoda Grant’s question, there are two separate directives. The directive that we were talking about on 26 April is the seat belts directive, which is about the safety equipment that is fitted on vehicles. We are now talking about the technical standards directive, which is more related to the principle of the free movement of goods in the Common Market.

Essentially, if someone is going to impose technical specifications that might have an impact on the free movement of goods across the EU, they are supposed to notify the European Commission. We are talking about two completely separate issues.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I just want to check a couple of things. I have got the court decision in front of me, and it is clear that the decision about technical standards in relation to a play park in Palmela was referred by a Portuguese court to the EC. The specific thing that seems to be important is that the court has changed the game in its decision by broadening the reach to include technical standards. My key question is this: if we do not refer the issue to Europe, are the 18 Scottish councils that have contracts that essentially already require what we are going to require all other councils to do at risk of the European Union taking action against them because technical standards permission was not given and the rules have changed?

I note that Palmela was fined €10,000 and €100 in costs, and although that would not be devastating, it is still a financial implication. I seek confirmation that there would be a wider advantage in protecting the 18 councils if we refer the bill to Europe with a significantly tighter interpretation of the 1983 regulations.

The Convener

We will go straight to Anne Cairns on that, because it sounds like a legal question and I am not sure that Gillian Martin will want to answer it.

Anne Cairns

On the risk to the 18 councils, the answer would be no. The technical standards directive means that a member state that is proposing a new legislative measure that might introduce a new technical regulation as it is defined in the directive has to notify the EC. The Palmela judgment will not have an impact on our councils because our measure is only at the notifiable stage at the moment. It is just a draft.

The Convener

I just want to go back on that before the minister comes in again. I am a little bit confused by that answer. You say that the measure is a draft, but surely the councils have written it into their contracts as a requirement. Are they therefore in breach of the law? Yes or no?

Anne Cairns

The answer to that would be no, because the technical standards directive is not about contracts; it is about Government legislative measures and the laws of the land, as it were. It can be wider than that, but it is not about private contracts.

Humza Yousaf

It would be fair to say—and we can seek clarification from Anne Cairns, although I suspect that members will know this—that local authorities probably also engage their own legal directorates and departments, as well as, potentially, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, to look at such issues.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

I will take a slightly different angle, if I may. In a sense, the need for the bill is reducing because more and more authorities are gradually taking part anyway. We had 18 taking part originally, and Strathclyde partnership for transport gave a commitment that all the Strathclyde authorities will comply this year. We are now talking about a further three-month delay in the bill because of the directive. Do we really still need to go ahead with the bill?

Gillian Martin

When we proposed the original timescale for the bill, it would have been passed by the end of the year. We had discussions with the committee members and clerks about the committee’s work programme, and there was an agreement that we would bring the bill process forward so that we could get the bill through earlier and so that the committee could have time to scrutinise it before your work programme became quite onerous.

I suppose that you could call it a delay, but I would like to think of it as the bill going back to its original timetable. Humza Yousaf is right that, if we get it through to stage 2 without any difficulty, before stage 3 there will be a break when we get the notification organised. I do not think that there will be any issues with the notification itself, and it is important to mention that we are erring on the side of caution. That is the advice we have been given. It is prudent for us to take the notification forward because of the Palmela ruling so that we do not get into difficulty later.

09:45  



Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

Given that the bill does not include technical specifications and parameters, I fail to understand the link between the bill and the EU directive that is causing a hold-up in its progress through the Parliament. Are you frustrated that positive progress seems to have stalled as a result of onerous or unhelpful EU directives?

The Convener

Let us deal with the first point, on the technicalities. Will Anne Cairns or the minister pick up on that?

Anne Cairns

Technical regulations are notifiable to the Commission, and there are basically three limbs to the test for what is a technical regulation. Jamie Greene is right to say that one of those is technical specifications; the second is about “other requirements” and the third is about prohibition of use. The bill falls within the “other requirements” category.

The Convener

Okay. I bring in Gillian Martin on the delay.

Gillian Martin

I want the bill to be watertight, and if notifying the EC means that it will be watertight, I am not frustrated. I want the bill to go through the proper channels. I am glad, not frustrated, that the issue has been flagged up quite soon after the Palmela ruling, so that we can ensure that issues do not arise later.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

It is interesting that we are talking about frustration. I have been trying to get witnesses to give us up-to-date information on the number of councils that are moving towards having seat belt provision in their contractual arrangements rather waiting for a legal basis for action. In answer to points that I made at our previous meeting, the Scottish Government has said again that 18 local authorities stipulate seat belt provision in all their contracts and a further six have the stipulation in some contracts, but that is the information that we had three months ago.

When the committee heard from council officials, we got the impression that all councils are moving towards making seat belt provision a contractual requirement. Given that the bill’s provisions will not take effect for secondary schools until 2021, my simple question is this: have we got enough information on how many councils are about to put the stipulation in their contractual arrangements? To me, that is fundamental to whether we need legislation. What is the point of passing a law if everyone is doing it anyway?

Humza Yousaf

Ms Martin will pick up on the substance of your question, as we are talking about her bill, but I will make a couple of points. I will look again at the information that we have from councils and ensure that you get the most up-to-date information, Mr Rumbles. I do not know whether the local authority elections have had any bearing on the matter—possibly not—but in the aftermath of the elections we can go back to the 32 local authorities and see whether there has been any change.

Although councils are doing it now, it is important to future proof. There can be changes of Administration, cost-cutting exercises or whatever—there might be 101 reasons for a council reneging on the approach and choosing not to put the requirement in a contract when it had been there previously, although I think that that would be a deeply unpopular move. That is why legislation can be important. I suppose that that takes us back to Mr Mason’s point. Whether 18, 20, 25 or all 32 councils are doing it, do we have a guarantee that that is future proofed? No. The bill gives that guarantee, I hope.

Gillian Martin

As I said to the committee previously, I want all children who go to school in Scotland to enjoy the same safety standards that my children do in Aberdeenshire. That is why I introduced the bill. We cannot leave it to the timetables of individual councils; I want the measure to go forward.

People are talking about a delay, but the commencement of the bill’s provisions was always going to be in 2018, and a three-month delay in taking the bill to stage 3 will not have much of an impact on that.

Mike Rumbles

Can I ask a follow-up question, convener?

The Convener

Yes.

Mike Rumbles

The commencement date is 2018 for primary schools but it is 2021 for secondary schools, is it not?

Gillian Martin

Yes.

Mike Rumbles

That is four years away. I imagine that you must be proud of the fact that your bill has initiated action by all 32 councils—if all 32 councils are taking action. I would think that that is a good thing to have done. However, I would question whether we need the legislation if all the councils are already taking such action. What you have done so far is admirable, and we are all supportive of the bill’s thrust, but what is the point in spending time on creating legislation if all councils are going to do what it requires anyway? I agree with the minister that it would be ridiculous for councils to backtrack on their contracts.

Gillian Martin

There is no guarantee that every local authority will take action if it is not put into law.

The Convener

I do not think that there are any further questions. It is laudable that you are keen on ensuring that the process is 100 per cent correct, Gillian. The committee was somewhat surprised to see that the bill was being referred back when a belt-and-braces approach would have suggested that it should have gone straight to the European Commission at the outset. Nevertheless, the committee will consider the evidence that it has heard today and we will get back to you and the minister on whether we have decided to take the bill forward or to wait for the decision from the Commission.

I thank you for giving evidence to the committee and suspend the meeting as we take a moment to change witnesses.

09:51 Meeting suspended.  



10:06 On resuming—  



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15 March 2017

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29 March 2017

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19 April 2017

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26 April 2017

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10 May 2017

Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee Committee's Stage 1 report 

What is secondary legislation?

Secondary legislation is sometimes called 'subordinate' or 'delegated' legislation. It can be used to:

  • bring a section or sections of a law that’s already been passed, into force
  • give details of how a law will be applied
  • make changes to the law without a new Act having to be passed

An Act is a Bill that’s been approved by Parliament and given Royal Assent (formally approved).

Delegated Powers and Law Reform committee

This committee looks at the powers of this Bill to allow the Scottish Government or others to create 'secondary legislation' or regulations.

It met to discuss the Bill in public on

14 March 2017:

Read the Stage 1 report by the Delegated Powers and Law Reform committee published on 17 March 2017.

Debate on the Bill

A debate for MSPs to discuss what the Bill aims to do and how it'll do it.

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Stage 1 debate on the Bill transcript

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-05655, in the name of Gillian Martin, on the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.

14:57  



Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to open today’s debate on the general principles of the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill. The measures follow the devolution of the relevant competence, and it is particularly heartening to bring legislative proposals to the chamber that take forward new powers that have been acquired for Scotland.

Every weekday morning around Scotland, parents and carers wave their children off to school. Rightly, they expect robust measures to be in place to keep those young people safe not just in the classroom but on the journey to and from school. Speaking about the safety of young people is particularly poignant on this terrible day and we might all find the debate quite difficult.

As a representative of a rural community, I am acutely aware of the distances that some pupils travel to school and of the importance that is given to such journeys. Additionally, as a parent, I know what it is to entrust my child’s safety to the care of others. The responsibility to keep young people safe is something that we all share—from teachers and education providers to those of us in elected positions who set the national legal and policy direction.

The bill that is before Parliament will make important strides in those endeavours. Seat belts can play a vital role in the event of a road traffic accident, as is borne out through a wealth of internationally recognised research. We also know that encouraging children to buckle up has the benefit of fostering productive and positive lifelong habits in relation to road safety.

It is welcome that much of local government shares those sentiments—18 councils already voluntarily stipulate the need for seat belts in all dedicated home-to-school transport contracts. However, I want the practice to become universal across every local authority in Scotland as a matter of law. My local authority, Aberdeenshire Council, was one of the first to insist on seat belts on all dedicated school transport in awarding contracts, and I want every parent to have the same peace of mind as I have. The powers to legislate for a stipulation in contracts for school transport have now arrived in this place, and many local authorities have been moving towards implementation in preparation for a new legal duty coming in.

Before I move on to key points from the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s report, I thank all those who contributed to the call for evidence and the witness sessions. I also thank all members of the seat belts on school transport working group and the Government ministers and officials who have advised and assisted me.

I welcome the committee’s support for the general principles of the bill and its constructive comments and recommendations. That support chimes with public feedback. A national consultation in 2016 showed that respondents overwhelmingly thought that such measures would contribute to road safety, and many questioned why a law had not been implemented sooner.

I turn to the detail of the measures. The bill will place a legal duty on local authorities, grant-aided school providers and independent school providers to ensure that vehicles that are used for dedicated school transport have seat belts fitted. That includes taxis, minibuses, coaches and buses. Some of those vehicle types are already covered by existing United Kingdom laws that require seat belts, so it is the larger coaches and buses in which changes will be required.

Members will be aware that, unlike some countries, Scotland has no bespoke model of vehicle that is used for dedicated school transport. A wide range of vehicles is used, especially in local authority provision, from double-decker buses that are designed for urban use to single-decker coaches that are associated with longer-distance travel.

Grant-aided and independent schools report that their dedicated school transport is already universally supplied with seat belts, so it is in local authority provision that the transition has to be made. Collaboration has been key to ensuring that the measures will be clear and workable. That is why the seat belts on school transport working group has been so important. The group was set up in 2014 as the Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedule 5) Order 2015, which devolved power in this area, was being processed.

The group’s formation has allowed for extensive dialogue with stakeholders, experts and delivery organisations such as local government, the bus industry and parenting and education groups. The proposals that have been brought to Parliament have therefore been shaped and influenced by those whom they will affect, which will ensure that the bill’s contents are practical and fit for purpose.

It is important to put in place a considered and reasonable implementation timescale that does not put partners under undue pressure. In 2018, the legal duty will come into force for vehicles that transport primary school children, and in 2021 it will be introduced for vehicles that carry secondary school pupils. The lead-in time will help local authorities and bus operators to adapt to the change, and it will mean that no contract should have to be broken as a result. I am glad that the committee has endorsed that approach in its report.

An assertion that comes through strongly in the committee’s findings is that the measures should extend to vehicles that are used to take pupils on excursions during the school day, such as trips to the swimming pool, in addition to those that are used for home-to-school transport. I welcome the committee’s comments on that and the views that witnesses have expressed in recent committee evidence sessions.

The logic of such an extension is not hard to see, but the practical implications will require consideration. The two kinds of transport are distinct in terms of organisation and administration. One type is generally arranged through three to five-year council-wide contracts, while the vehicles that are used for school trips can be booked singly and ad hoc, and they are organised by individual schools.

However, school excursions are already covered by robust risk assessment guidance that stipulates that seat belts should be fitted in the vehicles. Initial discussions with our stakeholders have revealed that that guidance is rigidly adhered to. I have no objection in principle to putting that stipulation on a statutory footing, and I am working with the Scottish Government to gather views and see how that could work on the ground. Since hearing the committee’s views on that suggestion, I have made contact with teaching unions, local government and other stakeholders, and I will consider the matter closely ahead of stage 2.

One of the undeniable traits of school transport in Scotland is that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for delivery. There are approximately 2,500 schools in the country, which are spread across a range of diverse geographies in our nation’s local authorities. We are talking about everything from pupils being driven to school on a double-decker bus in a bustling urban centre to pupils in remote areas, such as my constituency in Aberdeenshire, travelling relatively long distances in coaches on country roads.

Any attempt at a top-down diktat on how the legislation should work will hamper flexibility and restrict councils’ ability to implement the type of school transport that works best for them and their school pupils. It is therefore welcome that the committee recognises and agrees with the need to maintain that flexibility. I firmly believe that individual local authorities should use the methods of implementation that suit them.

I am aware that methods such as using adult bus monitors or supervisors were considered during evidence sessions. Likewise, committee members highlighted how some local authorities stipulate a maximum age of vehicle in their contracts. The bill does not restrict school authorities’ flexibility on such matters. We will point out options in guidance, and we will also point to different areas of local authorities’ good practice. However, making any single measure a statutory requirement could hinder the legislation’s effectiveness and could ultimately be counterproductive.

The issue of flexibility brings me to the consideration of young people who have additional support needs and smaller children, whom a normal seat belt might not fit or be effective for. Those issues have been looked at in detail with stakeholders and the bill has been drafted to consciously allow such pupils to be catered for. The bill does not mandate a specific type of belt, and it leaves options open for school authorities to use adjustable straps, booster seats or lap belts for smaller children.

In practice, young people who have additional support needs are often transported in taxis or minibuses, in line with existing equalities and support for learning duties on school authorities, and the bill does not restrict that. I welcome the committee’s recognition of the benefits of that in its report.

I turn to an issue that has come through strongly in consultation with people and stakeholders, which is how we ensure that children wear the seat belts. The laws that cover the wearing of seats belts are reserved to Westminster, but the bill represents an opportunity to promote successful approaches and raise wider awareness among young people of the safety benefits of wearing seat belts.

That is why comprehensive guidance as well as publicity and educational materials will be created to accompany the new legal duty. We have had dialogue with parenting, education and youth group stakeholders, as well as Road Safety Scotland. We will ensure that young people are involved; I know that the committee supports that approach.

It is crucial that we take a positive approach to instilling safety messages and allowing young people to see the benefits of good habits. Correct behaviour is not unique to the school bus. There is the same need to promote good behaviour in the classroom and when representing the school in the community at lunch time, for example. Approaches are taken to ensure good pupil behaviour every day in schools across Scotland.

Stakeholders at the evidence sessions used the analogy of society’s changed views on smoking or wearing seat belts in cars. I whole-heartedly agree that habits change and practices become second nature. That does not happen overnight but, through consistent and concerted effort, we can achieve the desired outcome.

Let us not forget that, although Wales does not have devolved powers over the liability for wearing seat belts, it has successfully implemented similar measures on seat belts, and so will we.

Aberdeenshire Council has been proactive on school transport. That council and other local authorities can give many successful examples to draw from as we refine good practice nationally.

Stipulating an additional feature, such as seat belts, in a contract with private bus operators can lead to a cost increase. That happens regularly as contracts end and are renewed, such as when councils add new requirements for vehicles to have CCTV, to be of a certain standard or to follow new routes.

In helping with the new statutory duties that will fall on councils, the Scottish Government has worked with local government to forecast the cost implications, which are set out in the financial memorandum. The committee has commented on that exercise and the overall estimates—which cover a 14-year period from 2018—and we will look at what can be done to explain further the detail of those figures. I have asked the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to provide a representative to give a fuller explanation of how the cost analysis was completed and I have written to the convener and the deputy convener of the committee to advise them of that, since COSLA could not attend the committee session that it was invited to.

I repeat my thanks to the committee for its support for the principles of the bill and the helpful recommendations that it has made.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Edward Mountain to speak on behalf of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.

15:10  



Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

First, on behalf of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, I welcome the opportunity to summarise our findings on Gillian Martin’s Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill. I thank all those who gave evidence to the committee. The evidence that we received came from a wide range of people—parent groups, councils, transport operators and the Scottish Youth Parliament, to name but a few. We also received evidence from school pupils: I thank the Parliament’s education outreach service staff for helping to gather that information during school visits. I also thank the committee’s members and clerks, who have worked diligently on preparing our report, which I believe is a helpful report.

The bill has a single purpose—to introduce a legal requirement that seat belts be fitted on all dedicated home-to-school transport in Scotland. The committee notes the broadly positive responses that have been received from stakeholders and witnesses, who are all keen to improve the safety of children.

There was, however, among those from whom we heard about the bill’s purpose, some disquiet expressed about its being too specific and narrow. Before I speak about our key findings and recommendations, I would like to make a general comment. The committee heard that the position across Scotland is mixed regarding provision of seat belts on school transport. It appears that in excess of 18 councils—more than half the councils in Scotland—already demand seat belts on school transport.

Furthermore, we heard that the number of councils that are demanding that seat belts be fitted on dedicated school transport is increasing, as is the number of councils demanding that seat belts be fitted on transport that is used for school excursions. Thus, it appears that the bill may be overtaken by events, in that the aim may well be achieved before the staggered implementation dates are reached—a point that may be picked up in the open debate.

To turn to our key findings, the committee was surprised that the bill covers only home-to-school journeys but not school trips or excursions. We heard repeatedly from witnesses that that is a failing. It is felt that not having seat belts available on all school transport would send out a mixed message and dilute the safety message that the bill is trying to achieve.

We also heard that wearing seat belts on school trips, on which there is greater supervision, would encourage children to continue to wear seat belts on home-to-school commutes, on which there are fewer adults present. In response to the committee’s stage 1 report, the Scottish Government has indicated that officials have been in touch with teaching unions, local government and other stakeholders to ascertain the practical implications of extending the legal duty to transport for school trips. I heard Gillian Martin’s words on that. The committee, however, is clear on the matter and strongly recommends that the bill’s provisions be extended to cover excursions or trips that are organised by schools. The committee looks forward to hearing the outcome of discussions, with an amendment possibly being lodged for stage 2.

As far as wearing seat belts is concerned, the committee fully understands that the bill will make it a requirement that seat belts be fitted in dedicated school transport. It is important that everyone understands that that is very different from a requirement that seat belts have to be worn. It became evident during the committee’s consideration of the bill that its purpose is limited to fitting seat belts on school transport. Many witnesses were concerned about whether seat belts, once fitted, would actually be worn. Indeed, the committee heard that children under the age of 14 are not required by law to wear seat belts on buses. As Gillian Martin said, that is not a devolved issue: it falls under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom Government. As a result of questions that were asked in the committee, the Scottish Government raised the issue with the appropriate UK minister, who was not able to support a change in the law but understood the point that was being made. The committee will look to the Scottish Government to progress the issue after the election.

We heard examples from witnesses of ways in which wearing of seat belts is being encouraged. They include bus monitors, prefects, educational programmes and closed-circuit television. We are convinced that pupils need greater awareness of the safety benefits of wearing seat belts and that young people need to be involved in creating the guidance. We also heard that the guidance needs to be based on positive action rather than on a disciplinary approach. We heard from the Scottish Government that it intends to work with young people to create the guidance, which the committee supports.

On non-statutory guidance, the committee heard that some children may choose not to wear seat belts when they are fitted, and believes that that needs to be addressed, as I mentioned briefly earlier. We believe that a package of guidance and practical support should be provided to supplement the bill’s provisions. It is clear that there will need to be behavioural change in schools to encourage children, in order to make wearing seat belts on school transport as natural as wearing them in the family car. The committee believes that the Government must also seek to clarify where the duty of care lies so that bus drivers, teachers and all others who are involved know where responsibility for making children wear seat belts sits.

The committee also heard about servicing of seat belts. There is a statutory annual testing requirement in UK legislation. The committee feels that that is the bare minimum and that more regular checks should be done on school transport. We also believe that guidance should be given to operators on what to do should seat belts be found to be defective when they are checked in the morning.

The financial memorandum, which has been mentioned briefly, probably raised more questions for the committee than any other subject. The memorandum suggests that requiring that all dedicated school transport vehicles be fitted with seat belts would result in increased costs for bus operators, mainly through retrofitting seat belts, purchasing new vehicles and increased maintenance costs. The Government anticipates that the costs will be passed on to local authorities through higher contract prices. The financial memorandum estimates that the total cost between 2018 and 2031 will be £8.92 million.

The Government is not clear how that money would be paid to all the local authorities, or that the money would be ring fenced to achieve the aim for which it is to be paid. The committee heard that the money could be seen as a reward to operators that have not already fitted seat belts and could undervalue those that have. Furthermore, the committee heard evidence from the transport industry that fitting of seat belts is becoming viewed as a minimum standard anyway.

On European Commission approval, we had our first evidence session on the bill with Scottish Government officials on 15 March, but it was not until last week that we heard that the bill has to go before the EU for approval before it can be passed. That surprised the committee, given that the Welsh Assembly passed a bill in similar circumstances in 2011.

The committee supports the member’s bill and welcomes the response to its final report, which we received on 19 May. Although we have reservations about fitting of seat belts on transport for school excursions and about the financial memorandum, we support the general principles of the bill and recommend to Parliament that they be agreed to.

15:19  



The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

I associate myself with the remarks that Gillian Martin made at the beginning of her speech. Some people will be wondering why Parliament is continuing to sit, but it is important that we continue Parliament’s business in defiance of those who seek to disrupt our lives. Also, there can be no more important issue for us to work on collaboratively—for individuals, MSPs, committee members, and for committees and the Government—than the safety of children. In today’s debate, we perhaps feel that responsibility more heavily than ever before.

Road safety is an issue on which we place the utmost priority, so we are taking forward a raft of measures across Scotland to reduce risks as we move towards the ambitious casualty targets that are set out in our road safety framework to 2020.

Members will be aware that the Scottish Government fully backs the legislative proposals, which are not new to the Scottish Parliament—indeed, they emanate from considerations at the Public Petitions Committee in a previous session. Subsequently, in 2014, the Scottish ministers announced their intention to legislate following confirmation from the UK Government that it was willing to transfer competence through a devolution instrument that would be drafted specifically on the issue, just as it had done for Wales. The Government has been able to undertake significant in-depth work with stakeholders to ensure that there has been a collaborative approach to formation of the proposals, so it has been very pleasing to see Ms Martin utilise that work and build on it in refining the proposals that are being considered here at stage 1.

I convey my thanks to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. I follow its proceedings closely and have seen at first hand the thoughtful scrutiny that its members have given the bill. My gratitude extends to all those who gave evidence, whose contributions will greatly aid Parliament’s ability to give the matter due consideration. I will touch on some of the themes that the convener touched on and the committee’s reservations. We will continue to work with COSLA to explore whether more robust evidence on costs in the financial memorandum can be found, and what can be done to look again at the costings. I will address enforcement later in my speech.

The committee’s report notes its surprise—which the convener reiterated—that there are no UK laws that create liability for ensuring that youngsters between the ages of three and 14 wear seat belts that are fitted on buses or coaches. As the convener said, it is a reserved issue. The Scottish Government has been pressing the UK Government on the matter for some time, but the UK Government has said that it has no plans to create such legislation. However, on the committee’s recommendation I will pursue the matter again, after the general election.

We welcome the committee’s recognition of the need for greater flexibility in seat belt specification. The bill will not be able to stipulate the type of seat belts that are to be fitted—for example, whether they are to be three-point belts or lap belts—because that is beyond the scope of the competence that has been devolved. However, local authorities have reported that greater flexibility in such matters would be very welcome.

The committee also commented on seat belt maintenance, so it may be useful if I set that in the wider context. Vehicles that are used for dedicated school transport are subject to a roadworthiness testing regime, which is a reserved matter that is undertaken on behalf of the UK Government by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. In addition to the scheduled vehicle-inspection cycle, DVSA officers and the police have powers to undertake unannounced roadside vehicle inspections of buses and coaches.

Local authorities also have the option to employ or appoint their own vehicle inspectors to monitor buses or coaches that are used for their dedicated school transport contracts. Additionally, school authorities can make vehicle standards or maintenance a condition of contract and can include punitive measures for any breaches. We will seek to highlight in guidance best practice in checking and maintenance of seat belts, as per the committee’s suggestion, which I hope gives the committee some comfort.

On European Commission notification, I noted the committee’s surprise when I answered questions on that during my committee appearance with Ms Martin a couple of weeks ago. I reiterate that the bill is different from the Welsh bill, which was wider in scope. Nonetheless, I thank the committee for agreeing to the amended timetable, which proposes that stage 2 proceed before notification takes place, with stage 3 scheduled for after the summer recess.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

I invite the minister to address an issue that the committee has raised repeatedly, but on which we have not yet had an answer. When the bill was introduced, we were told that 18 local authorities had a seat belt stipulation in their contracts: therefore, the rest did not. We have asked repeatedly for up-to-date information on how many local authorities have, or are about to have, such a requirement in their contracts, but we still do not have that information.

Humza Yousaf

I will try to get that information for Mike Rumbles and will respond to him, if I can, in my closing remarks.

I asked for the latest information from local authorities. In January 2017, it was estimated that there were 110 vehicles in which seat belts had still to be fitted, compared with 323 in 2014. That shows that councils are moving towards compliance. As far as we can gather, that number has not changed—110 vehicles is still the latest estimate.

I say to Mr Rumbles—I think that I made this point in committee—that even if all 32 local authorities were stipulating in their contracts that seat belts must be fitted, it would still be necessary to legislate to future proof provision of vehicles with seat belts, because there would be nothing to stop local authorities rolling back on that. I admit that, politically, it would be incredibly difficult for them to do so, but the bill will be important in future proofing such provision.

I have touched on the financial memorandum. We will re-examine that with COSLA, now that council administrations—and COSLA itself—are taking shape.

I look forward to listening to the debate and to hearing about people’s concerns and reservations, but I hope that there will be broad support for Ms Martin’s very good bill.

15:26  



Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I echo the sentiment that has been expressed in the chamber today: there can be no better subject matter for us to be discussing than the safety of children.

I am pleased to open this stage 1 debate on behalf of my party, and I thank Gillian Martin for bringing the issue to Parliament. As a member of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, I, too, have sat through many evidence sessions on the bill over a number of weeks.

The Scottish Conservative position on the bill is that we are largely supportive of its aim—in that regard, we have a common ambition. However, we share some of the concerns that members have voiced before and might voice again today. I will take each of them in turn.

The first concern relates to liability and enforceability. Although we appreciate that the legislation on the wearing of seat belts is not a devolved matter, it was originally quite unclear whether a third party would be liable if an incident occurred. We had concerns about whether any responsibility could fall on a driver, a prefect, a monitor, a teacher or even the local authority in the unfortunate event of an accident. Some clarification on that point is necessary.

We are disappointed about the possibility of the bill’s progression being delayed because of the need for it to be approved by the European Union on the grounds of competition law under its technical standards directive. We are aware that a similar case arose in relation to legislation that went through the Welsh Assembly in 2011. Although that situation was not exactly the same, it has some parallels with the situation here. With foresight, the delay might have been avoided. Nonetheless, due process must be followed, and we look forward to the outcome of that decision.

I turn to the financial components. As has been mentioned, it is estimated that the total cost of fitting seat belts on 110 buses and coaches could come to £8.92 million, which, in effect, will be covered by the Scottish Government. It is, of course, entirely normal for the financial repercussions of a bill to form part of its scrutiny, and although that figure might be a worst-case scenario, there seem to be some unanswered questions about the allocation of the subsidy.

For example, will all local authorities get a portion of the budget? If so, how will it be carved up? Will any historical payments be made to local authorities that previously spent funds on ensuring that seat belt provision was part of their school transport contracts? Will any funding that is made available to local authorities by the Scottish Government for that purpose be ring fenced for that purpose alone, or will it simply be allocated through block grant and on a trust basis? In our view, clarity on the funding elements of the bill is required as we progress through the stages of its consideration.

That leads me to my next point, which is a more fundamental one: the Scottish Parliament will need to consider whether there is a need to legislate at all on the matter. Given that at least 18 of our 32 local authorities currently stipulate the need for seat belts in dedicated school transportation, that seems to be the general direction of travel. According to MVA’s research, in 2013, 85 per cent of dedicated school transport already had seat belts fitted. Best practice is welcome, but is intervention the only way to ensure that it happens across 100 per cent of local authorities and 100 per cent of vehicles concerned? We are open minded about the need for a bill, but only if it is a bill that is adequately structured, impactful and offers good value for public spending.

My final point is one that members will no doubt hear much of in the debate, because it is around the bill’s inclusion or, rather, exclusion of other school-related trips on buses. As it stands, the bill will not cover school excursions, field visits or other trips and will apply only to dedicated school commuting, which makes very little sense to us. Surely the duty of care should be applied to all circumstances where a child is on board a school bus. I appreciate that that point opens up a separate debate around the fact that schools often contract directly with operators for ad hoc trips, but we should not avoid having that debate. My colleagues will go into more detail on that and other points that they want to raise.

I agree in principle that tackling the issue of seat belts on school buses will make a difference. The World Health Organization published statistics recently showing that seat belts substantially reduce the risk of minor injuries and can reduce fatalities resulting from collisions by up to 25 per cent. However, the fitting of seat belts is just a cog in the wheel of a much wider road safety campaign, and the Scottish Parliament should also consider the issue of education and responsibility. We believe that education is absolutely key to the success of schemes such as putting seat belts in school buses. Children should want to wear a seat belt on a bus in the same way that they do, without hesitation, in their family car. The tone and method of the education and enforcement message is vital to changing mindsets, especially among older pupils.

I thank Gillian Martin for her enthusiastic pursuit of the bill, but we feel that it has many loose ends that need to be tied up before we progress to stage 2. We will support the general principles of the bill, but we would like to see the inclusion of trips and excursions in the bill’s scope as a baseline for progress on the bill. I therefore request that Gillian Martin and, indeed, the Scottish Government carefully consider many of the comments and concerns that will be shared in the debate today. We will monitor the bill’s progress carefully.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Neil Bibby—up to seven minutes, please.

15:33  



Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

At the outset, I acknowledge the work of Gillian Martin in bringing the bill to the Parliament and I thank the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee for its stage 1 report. As the committee’s convener, Edward Mountain, said, in addition to the usual committee pattern of scrutiny and evidence taking, members also found the time to visit schools and gauge the opinion of young people. At this point, I commend the Parliament staff who made those external visits to schools possible and I welcome the input of all those young people who participated. The bill affects them more than anyone else, so it is only right that they are given the opportunity to have their say.

The bill marks a step forward. It might be a small step, but it is a step forward, nonetheless. Thankfully, according to what evidence is available to us, there are very few injuries involving children travelling on school transport, with just 45 children injured per year on buses and coaches. However, when it comes to preventable injuries on transport to and from school, I am sure that we would agree across the chamber that any injury that brings harm to a child is one too many. It is therefore only right that we collectively consider what preventative steps we can take to make school transport safer.

Although the focus of the bill is narrow and specific, it raises a number of wider issues relating to the safety of school transport. In its report, the committee addressed some of those issues alongside the specific provisions of the bill; it considered not only the merits of fitting seat belts on school transport but the behavioural changes and wider legislative changes that might be required in order to protect young passengers.

For that reason, in addition to endorsing the general principles of Gillian Martin’s bill today, I welcome the wider debate that has been initiated about the use of seat belts and the safety of children. It is important that we consider what changes could be made at stage 2. The bill could be broader and more ambitious. Rather than echoing the Government’s intentions, it could stretch further. We could have used similar legislation to that which applies in Wales as the starting point for our proposals. In Wales, every bus that is provided or secured by a relevant body and used for the purpose of learner transport must have a seat belt fitted to every seat. Service buses that are used for dedicated learner transport, even if the majority of their journeys are not for such transport, need to be fitted with seat belts.

That is not to detract from the merits of the proposal that is before us, but simply to point out to the Parliament that the bill could be different. As has been acknowledged, for example, it does not cover dedicated transport that is used for school excursions or trips. The committee recommends that it be extended to cover such transport, and we agree. Why should there not be the same protection for a 20-minute journey home after school and a school trip that could take children further from home and last 60 minutes, 90 minutes or even more?

As members will be aware, the bill requires that seat belts be fitted but not that they be worn. The fitting of seat belts does not in itself make school transport safer—a point that the Scottish Parent Teacher Council made in its written evidence. There needs to be a concerted effort to change behaviour, to promote safety and responsibility on school buses and to ensure that seat belts, which are already widely fitted anyway, are properly used.

I note that secondary pupils are described in the committee’s report as a

“tough audience to convince to wear seat belts”.

That was certainly the case on my school bus when I was a child. At one of the high schools that were visited during the consultation,

“74% of pupils said that they were ‘not at all likely’ or ’unlikely’ to wear seat belts”.

That is a clear illustration of how far we still need to go with some age groups to change behaviour. If the safety of children is paramount, we need to look at a range of issues in changing that behaviour. We also need to look at the role of escorts, who have performed an important role in ensuring safety on school buses.

The committee also makes the sensible recommendation that the Scottish and UK Governments work together to ensure that all children aged three to 14 are covered by a legal requirement to wear seat belts. In doing that, the Scottish Government could begin to consider who should be responsible for ensuring that such a requirement is met. Is it the school, the local authority or the driver? That is a different matter from the one that is before us today but, nonetheless, it demands our attention. The Scottish Government might also wish to consider requirements relating to nursery transport, given the expansion of the early years sector.

In its written evidence to the committee, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said:

“We ... support the fitting and wearing of appropriate restraints on all methods of transport including school transport.”

However, it points to evidence that adult-style three-point seat belts and lap belts are not necessarily appropriate for children under 12. I seek an assurance from the Scottish Government that attention will be paid to the society’s concerns.

There has been some debate already regarding the financial memorandum on the bill. The cumulative cost of implementing the provisions in the bill is estimated to be around £8.92 million, but the committee says that it is “unconvinced” by that figure. Meanwhile, evidence from Strathclyde partnership for transport and the Confederation of Passenger Transport suggests that the costs involved in tendering for the necessary work will not be as high as anticipated. Clarity is needed.

The Scottish Government has indicated that it will work with stakeholders to assess whether further work needs to be done to refine the forecasts. Whatever forecasts it settles on, however, it is important that councils have time to plan for any changes that could increase their costs and that there is certainty about any contribution to those costs that might come from central Government.

It is important that, ahead of stage 2, the Parliament understands not only the purpose of the bill but its limitations. It could be different and it could go further. If implementing the provisions for secondary schools is the right thing to do, we should consider whether we should do it sooner than 2021. Also, it must stand alongside measures to drive a change in behaviour because, alone, it is not enough.

The bill represents a modest proposal, but it is one that we are prepared to support.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr Greene and Mr Bibby, for finishing well within time. We are already over time, so I ask for speeches of absolutely no more than five minutes.

15:39  



John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

The starting point has to be that there was widespread support for the bill at committee because, I think, all of us saw it as a way of trying to improve safety for young people on their way to school.

The question was whether the bill was actually necessary. We were told that 18 local authorities out of 32 already require seat belts on school buses, and that Strathclyde authorities are expected to follow suit after the summer. The financial memorandum refers to 323 buses not having seat belts in 2014, and we understand that that figure recently went down to 110, so the number has fallen quite dramatically.

Would full implementation happen without legislation? We probably cannot say for sure, and it may well be that the promise of legislation is spurring on the other local authorities. My feeling is that we are better to be safe than sorry, and that having the proposed legislation gives us a belt-and-braces approach.

We quickly came across the issue that, even with the proposed legislation, seat belts would be available to some pupils but not to others. Many young people travel to school on service buses, and they clearly do not have seat belts. The bill cannot affect that, although there could be a change on buses for school trips, and I would support that, too.

It is one thing to ensure that there are seat belts on the buses; it is another to ensure that young people actually wear them. We understood from the evidence that, for some young people, it is not cool to wear a seat belt. Clearly, there will have to be guidance and educational materials on that.

Committee colleagues will go into more detail on the committee’s thinking on all those points, but the issue that I wish to concentrate on is finance. Because of the tight timescale, the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, rather than the Finance and Constitution Committee, examined the financial memorandum, as is explained in paragraph 89 of our report.

We were immediately struck by the potential cost of £8.9 million, given that we had been told that there were only 110 buses operating without seat belts. That seemed an extraordinarily high cost of more than £80,000 per bus to get seat belts fitted retrospectively. However, we were then told that that was not how the figure had been calculated. In fact, the figure is based on all local authorities receiving a payment, whether or not they have compliant buses, and on potential increases to contract prices with bus operators over the next 14 years. We also heard that the figure had been agreed by COSLA.

I will take those points in turn. First, I take the point that, by paying all local authorities for the changes, councils that have been proactive and have already had seat belts fitted are not losing out. As paragraph 96 of our report says, funding will be distributed

“subject to the established Settlement & Distribution process”,

and, therefore, not according to the needs of particular councils. On other hand, given the relatively small number of buses not meeting the standard, it seems to be a huge amount of money to be paying. As the money is not ring fenced, any local authority will be able to use any excess for any good purposes, and, although I am sure that none of us would begrudge local authorities a bit of extra money, I do not think that that was the aim of the bill.

Secondly, the financial memorandum gives a lower figure of £2.35 million purely for changing the non-compliant buses. That was based on a number of 323 buses, so the amount could well be considerably lower for 110 buses. I am not clear why that figure is not being used as the planned cost.

Furthermore, we got the impression from witnesses that, where contracts had been renewed and included seat belts, the increase in contract cost had been pretty minimal, as paragraphs 93 to 95 say.

Thirdly, COSLA and local authorities agree the figure of £8.9 million—I think that they produced it themselves. I have to confess that that sets alarm bells ringing for me. If those are the figures that COSLA and councils submitted, I wonder whether they are a bit on the high side. Committees have often been concerned that the proposed cost of a bill in the financial memorandum was too low, and that councils or other organisations might be left footing any extra. However, this time, we seem to be in the slightly odd situation where those incurring the cost seem very happy with it, and it is the committee that is concerned that it is not good value for money. As the report says,

“The Committee remains unconvinced that the £8.92m cumulative costs of implementing the Bill’s provisions, as outlined in the Financial Memorandum, are justified.”

I am very happy to support the bill, even though it is possible that buses will all have seat belts fitted anyway. I would also support any amendment to widen the coverage of the bill. However, my key concern is the proposed cost and whether £8.9 million is really necessary to achieve the end of safer bus travel, which we all support.

15:45  



Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

I welcome today’s stage 1 debate on the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill and join my colleagues across the chamber in supporting the legislation in principle.

There is no doubt that failing to wear a seat belt exposes people to unnecessary danger. I accept that the provision of seat belts on school buses can help children to develop good habits, which ultimately translate into greater safety. Accordingly, the bill is a commendable attempt to improve children’s safety, and I am comfortable in voting for the bill’s passage at stage 1.

In my remarks, I will highlight three areas that, before stage 2, might benefit from greater reflection. First, there is the issue of enforcement. We were all schoolchildren once, and we know what school buses can be like. It is hard enough to get some children to sit down, let alone to get them to put on a seat belt. As Moray Council stated in its submission to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee:

“Seatbelts are not seen as cool or necessary by many young people, particularly when they move up to secondary school and face new peer pressures.”

As we have heard a few times in the debate, the bill covers only home-to-school transport and not school trips or excursions. That means that, for example, minibuses might not be fitted with seat belts. Indeed, a whole tier of transport could exist on which seat belts are not mandated. I was pleased to hear Gillian Martin say that she is working on that issue, including its messaging. However, I have a concern. If we are saying to children that seat belt fitting is mandatory as it is so important for safety, but we have an entire subset of transport on which seat belts are not mandated, we risk diluting the message to such an extent that seat belts will not be used where they have been fitted.

Secondly, I have concerns about costs and the clarity of the bill. With nearly 95 per cent of dedicated school transport fitted with seat belts, is there not a risk that the Scottish Government would be hit with an £8.9 million bill while rewarding the small percentage of bus companies that have not fitted seat belts?

I, too, am a little bit concerned about whether the £8.9 million figure is the absolute figure for the retrofitting and would prefer a more detailed breakdown. I was glad, again, to hear Gillian Martin’s comments in that regard, but where will that almost £9 million come from? In an era of tight public finances, which budget might need to face cuts in order to fund the provision? The figure does not even take account of the on-cost and responsibility of maintenance. Imagine—I ask that members run with me on this line of thought—if the seat belts were fitted but did not work in an accident. Who would be liable? Would it be the operator, the council or the Government? Furthermore, given that the funds might not be ring fenced, would that put pressure on hard-pressed and underfunded councils?

The final point on which I want to reflect is that the bill’s policy memorandum highlights that local authorities are increasingly moving towards stipulating the need for seat belts in their dedicated school transport contracts voluntarily. National guidance already states that seat belts should be fitted as a condition within dedicated school transport contracts. As we have heard, nearly 95 per cent of dedicated school transport has seat belts fitted and 18 local authorities—up from four in 2009—require the provision of seat belts in all dedicated school bus contracts. A further six local authorities require seat belts on some contracts.

As John Mason mentioned, is there not a strong possibility that, by the time the bill becomes law—in 2018 and 2021—all buses will have seat belts fitted as a function of councils’ demanding seat belts as part of their contracts? If so, there must be a risk that we are legislating for legislating’s sake. I understand John Mason’s thinking on that issue; it is an interesting debate. Bringing in legislation often simply succeeds in making compliance more difficult. An excessively crowded legislative landscape can hinder economic activity, create burdens for individuals, businesses and communities and obstruct good government. I simply pose the question that Jamie Greene asked earlier: is adding to the legislative jungle the best and most effective way of achieving the endgame?

I reiterate my support in principle for the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill, but prior to stage 2 a period of reflection is in order, particularly on whether a bill that does not cover all school transport is sufficient to promote the wearing of seat belts, whether the Government is inadvertently rewarding those companies that have not yet fitted seat belts and whether we really need more legislation to achieve something that would be more appropriately achieved in other ways.

15:49  



Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

Like many other members, when I heard that Gillian Martin was introducing a member’s bill to ensure that seat belts are fitted on dedicated school buses, my first thought was to wonder why that had not been done already. It turns out that some local authorities already require seat belts to be fitted. As we heard, that is the case in 18 local authorities, and a further six require seat belts on some routes and vehicles. That progress is good, but we have 32 local authorities, so there is a long way to go.

I want to give members a bit of background to the bill. In 2007, Lynn Merrifield brought a petition to the Scottish Parliament on school bus safety, on behalf of Kingseat community council. The petition called on the Scottish Government to make provision for every school bus to be installed with three-point seat belts for every schoolchild passenger. It was unfortunate that the Scottish ministers could not compel local authorities to do that, because the law in that regard was reserved to Westminster.

However, the power was devolved to the Scottish Parliament in 2015, and we are debating the measure, here in the Scottish Parliament. This is a proud moment, and I thank Lynn Merrifield and Gillian Martin from the bottom of my heart. I am a mother, and nothing in this world is more important to me than ensuring that my son is safe. The presence of seat belts on school transport is a vital part of that, for many parents.

When I was a child I took a bus to and from school every day. There were no seat belts on school buses then, and no seat belts in the backs of cars—[Interruption.] It was not that long ago. As a result of changes to legislation over time, we have come to realise what an essential part of travel seat belts are. When I get in a car, the first thing that I do is put on my seat belt—I do that automatically; it is a habit. The aim is to make that the first thing that kids do when they get on a bus to or from school. It is about awareness, education and reinforcement. I say to Liam Kerr that being safe is cool, and seat belts keep us safe.

The big question is how schools and local authorities ensure that when seat belts are fitted they are actually used. The committee scrutinised every aspect of the bill and took evidence from a number of experts. The Scottish Youth Parliament gave a powerful account from young people and advised that guidance be prepared with young people. Young people need to have ownership of the approach, whether that is done through bus monitors, mentorships or educational events. Many different, successful schemes are in place in schools throughout the county, and we should look at those schemes.

During the committee’s deliberations, I raised the maintenance of seat belts. I have travelled all over the Highlands on buses and I have encountered seat belts that do not work. Under no circumstances do we want to find that children and young people are not wearing seat belts because belts are broken or they are unable to use them. I was told that seat belts are covered by the bus’s MOT and will be checked regularly. We must encourage frequent and thorough checks and maintenance. We must also ensure that young people are comfortable with telling the driver or other responsible person on the bus that a seat belt is out of action. The guidance that local authorities are given should emphasise that all seat belts must be in working order. I welcome the minister’s commitment in that regard.

According to the policy memorandum to the bill, in each year from 2010 to 2015 an average of 42 children were slightly injured while travelling by bus or coach in Scotland and a further three children were seriously injured. Luckily, no children lost their lives while travelling on buses or coaches during that period. The proposed safety measure cannot wait any longer. Legislation needs to be in place. Neil Bibby was correct when he said that one injury is one too many.

Some members of the committee questioned whether the bill is needed, if all local authorities are planning to have seat belts fitted on school transport. I have talked to a few of my colleagues since then, and one said, “We have been trying to get our local authority to do this for years and they keep putting it off. There is no guarantee that it would happen if they were not forced into doing it.” That is why we need legislation. We simply cannot base our children’s safety on a “what if?” scenario.

I have been consulting locally. I thank William Gilfillan, head of community services at Highland Council, and all the teachers who replied to me. Their responses were extremely useful, and every teacher to whom I have spoken is in favour of the bill. I have supported the bill since its introduction, but the responses have strengthened my resolve to see it pass. We owe it to our young people, as a Government, as a Parliament and as a society.

15:54  



Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

This debate is fundamentally about child safety. On a day such as this, it is difficult not to think about the tragic events in Manchester last night. One of the most difficult things that we can do as parents is to step back and give our child the space that it needs to explore the world. Undoubtedly, a child’s first concert is one of those important milestones, so I cannot even begin to understand what parents are going through who have lost children or do not know where their children are. Our thoughts go to those families and are with those 22 lights whom we have lost from the world.

Today we are talking about seat belts and school transport in Scotland, which in a sense is about that parental trust. There is a “duty of care”, as Edward Mountain put it, and it is vital that we explore every safeguard and every feature that we can put in place to protect our children; nowhere is that more so than on the journey to school. I thank Gillian Martin for introducing the bill, which is an important step forward. I remember that when she mentioned that she was doing so, on the steps of the garden lobby, I was one of those people who said, “You mean it is not the law already?” This is an important step to close the loopholes and take the additional steps so that we can honour the trust that parents put in us. It also touches on the wraparound school day, because increasingly parents work—we do not have stay-at-home parents who are able to take their children to school. The journey to and from school touches on the wraparound care that we need to work towards, whether it is breakfast clubs, after-school clubs or school transport.

I ask whether the bill goes far enough, and a number of members have already raised questions about that. Gillian Martin said that the bill could not go further in the interest of “flexibility” and “effectiveness”. As the bill proceeds through further stages, it would be good to hear more about her concerns, so that we can explore the full scope and possibilities of this law. We need to look at the context; we have already seen significant improvements in the safety of minibuses and coaches, with the legislation that was brought forward in 1997 and 2001. The points about school excursions are extremely well made; it is because of the tragic accident on the M40 in 1993, when several 12 and 13-year-old children returning from a school excursion lost their lives, that the bill that required seat belts in minibuses was introduced in 1997. In 2001, legislation required seat belts in coaches as well.

Given that coaches built from 2001 are required to have seat belts, what change are we talking about? As John Mason pointed out, the number of coaches that are old is 110. Why do we take our children to school in old buses that no longer meet current standards? John Mason’s lesson in the mathematics of the costs was useful. We should question the costs carefully: £8.9 million divided by 110 gives £80,000 per bus. Surely with £80,000 we could upgrade those buses or maybe buy new ones. Let us probe the costings and look at what we can do. Should we give those moneys directly to bus companies to pay for the upgrades, rather than give them to local authorities? Those are the questions that we need to ask and the issues that we need to explore.

Although we have come so far on road safety, progress has often been slow. The first three-point seat belt was installed in a car in 1958; the UK legislation to install seat belts in new cars came forward only in 1967; the requirement to wear seat belts came in only in 1983; and the law required seat belts to be fitted in the back seats of cars only in 1987. We cannot tolerate such tardy, slow progress when it comes to road safety. We cannot tolerate any complacency about safety when it comes to the transportation of our children.

When we consider the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill at stages 2 and 3, I urge members to think about how we can improve it. The bill is welcome and an important step forward, but we must ask whether it can go further. We cannot afford the complacency of the past and we must do everything that we can to protect our children.

15:59  



Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

Sometimes we legislate to fix a problem; sometimes we legislate to prevent a problem; sometimes we legislate to reform or simplify; sometimes we legislate to create opportunity; and sometimes we legislate for the benefit of institutions or individuals. The reasons why we legislate are many and diverse—my list is far from complete. Each bill must stand on its merits or fall because of its shortcomings. The Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill lies in the territory of fixing a problem and of preventing one. As a member’s bill, it is, of necessity, relatively limited in its scope.

Why this bill and why now? My late constituent Ron Beaty from Gamrie turned his attention to the safety of school transport after his granddaughter was severely affected by an accident after alighting from a school bus. I have met Ron Beaty’s granddaughter, and I met Ron not long before he died, as did Gillian Martin when she discussed the prospective bill with him.

Ron Beaty was one of those dogged campaigners that Scotland—perhaps Scotland in particular—throws up. He understood that there were no simple or quick solutions. For more than a decade, he attended Public Petitions Committee and other committee meetings and parliamentary debates—wherever road safety was being discussed. Even if the issue was likely to be given only procedural consideration, the odds were that Ron had made the journey of four-plus hours to Edinburgh to show us all that he was holding us to account.

The bill is not the limit of what Ron Beaty campaigned for but it is a useful part of it. The power to require the fitting of seat belts on school buses is one that we can now exercise, but it is currently beyond our powers to require the wearing of seat belts. However, because we can do only a little—because we cannot do all that we want to do—we should not choose to do nothing. We can and should persuade people to use seat belts. As we have been reminded in the past couple of days by one bus company, even when every bus is fitted with seat belts, we need legislation in place to maintain that for the future, for everyone, for ever.

Let us consider the value of seat belts in our road transport system. Members have already mentioned some of the relevant dates and I will not repeat them. However, I will say is that thousands of lives have been saved by seat belts. The United States Department of Transportation has estimated that, in one of the early years after seat belts were fitted there, 12,000 lives were saved.

I first fitted seat belts to my car in 1964, after seeing the brain damage suffered by a patient for whom I was a nurse. I have worn them from that day onwards. More recently, I came upon an urban collision at comparatively low-impact speed in which a driver had not been wearing a seat belt and was scalped. It was not a pretty sight. I could tell members more but I shall not.

We have all but normalised the wearing of safety hats by cyclists, which shows what can be done. We now need to achieve the same breakthrough in the wearing of seat belts on buses, which, according to a fully referenced Wikipedia article, became a legal requirement in the Czech Republic in 2004 and in Finland in 2006. It is also a legal requirement in France, Germany, Japan and—from last year—even Burma.

The relevant regulations are the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) (Amendment) Regulations 2006. I had a quick look at them in light of remarks by Liam Kerr and Gail Ross. Regulation 3 appears to suggest that seat belts must always conform to regulations. I take it that seat belts therefore have to be kept in working order. They will be checked at the MOT—that is for sure—but there is a legal obligation to keep them in working order.

Like lots of legislation, legislation in this area is complex and amends other legislation. The regulations require the driver to tell passengers to wear their seat belt. They also require a blue sign on every seat. I have seen that sign many a time and did not know what it meant. I wonder whether it is particularly effective, but, again, it is something that needs to be done.

I very much welcome the bill and am happy to support its general principles. I wish the bill bon voyage.

16:04  



Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

Just as it is impossible to be against apple pie and motherhood, it is impossible to be against the bill. It is a simple and focused bill that aims to legally require seat belts to be fitted to all dedicated home-to-school buses in Scotland. Despite its simplicity, however, there are shortcomings in the proposals. [Interruption.] Sorry about my microphone, Presiding Officer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

I can always hear you, Mr Chapman.

Peter Chapman

There you go—one should always project, I say.

The most significant and obvious shortcoming is that the bill, in its current form, makes no provision for the same level of care to be provided to schoolchildren on school trips during school time as would be provided to schoolchildren on home-to-school trips. That is a serious and concerning omission. Following discussion between stakeholders and Gillian Martin—the member responsible for introducing the bill—it was agreed that there would be a more in-depth look at that issue, with the possibility that the bill would be amended to include a provision to deal with it. That is vital, as the issue must be addressed.

The committee heard that there are serious difficulties in persuading young people aged over 14 to wear seat belts when fitted; that issue must be urgently addressed, too. In evidence, it was highlighted that older pupils were cynical about the wearing of seat belts on school transport, with one young respondent even stating:

“No one puts seat belts on on my school bus as it’s ‘uncool’ and if the driver comes round and tells people to wear them, they just get taken off again once he’s driving.”

The consultation found that 74 per cent of young people were “not at all likely” or “unlikely” to wear seat belts. However, as First Bus said, if the issue is tackled correctly, we will have an opportunity to educate children and explain to them the benefits of seat belts and the need to use them.

In its written submission, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland raised the lack of clarity surrounding who will be responsible for ensuring that belts are worn. The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee heard that it was impractical for the bus driver to monitor the situation while driving the vehicle. Regardless of who has the duty of care, guidance and mentoring will need to be put in place.

Another matter of paramount importance that ought to be confronted is the type of belt that is fitted. There are issues with shoulder-type three-point belts, which are inappropriate and unsafe for children who are aged under 12 years old and those who are under 135cm tall. It appears that booster seats would be required in some cases. It is clear that discussions must take place between local authorities and bus operators regarding the most suitable type of belts to be fitted.

A further anomaly is the fact that children who are travelling to school on service buses that are open to fare-paying passengers will not be covered, as there is no requirement for those buses to have seat belts fitted. We believe that the option of using service buses needs to remain, because it is the most cost-effective option in built-up areas and can reduce congestion and pollution levels. However, the kids who use them will not have the same level of protection on their way to school as kids who use other bus types. During the committee’s debates, there were no real answers to that problem.

The final issue that I have with the bill is the £8.92 million of cumulative costs that we have heard about from several members. Given that 18 local authorities have already fitted seat belts on their school fleets and that others are in the process of doing so, I remain unconvinced that that sum of money is necessary. Indeed, the authorities that have already fitted seat belts report that the additional costs were negligible. The costs appear to have been absorbed as buses were renewed and as new contracts were put in place.

The provisions will not come into force until 2018 for primary schools and 2021 for secondary schools, and some committee members expect that, by those dates, all local authorities will already have in place contracts that require seat belts to be fitted. If so, the bill will be obsolete by the time that it comes into force.

Although I agree that the bill is a positive step forward for the safety of our children, I urge the Scottish Government to go further and address the pressing, unanswered questions that many members have raised today.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call John Finnie. I will possibly call Mike Rumbles: I put out a Rumbles alert.

16:09  



John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I support the bill’s aims, which are laudable, and congratulate Gillian Martin on taking it this far. The Scottish Green Party will support its general principles at decision time. It is important to start with that positive, because I will go on to the financial aspects.

The key phrase in the executive summary of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s report is that the committee “remains unconvinced” about the bill’s £8.92 million costs. Members understand that the committee has the important role of scrutinising and understanding who benefits and why.

I looked at the financial memorandum, whose purpose is to set out

“the best estimates of the cost implications associated with implementation of the Bill ... the best estimates of the timescales over which the costs implications are expected to arise”—

projecting forward, rather than looking back—

“and an indication of the margins of uncertainty in these estimates.”

I am keen to understand, as the committee was, the element of retrospection. We hoped to get some clarity on that from the transport policy road safety team, which says in a letter to the convener:

“Just as there is not a standard cost-per-pupil or cost-per-journey for local authorities across Scotland, it is not possible to count individual binary units in terms of buses to quantify the financial impact of the Bill. The most appropriate way to calculate this is to use professional expertise”—

I will come back to that phrase—

“to estimate the impact on the overall future contract costs borne by the school authority.”

The transport policy road safety team goes on to say:

“it is not possible to isolate the precise role that a new seat belt requirement would play in affecting every future contract across Scotland using the cost of upgrades for individual vehicles.”

At paragraph 22, the financial memorandum says:

“Existing dedicated school transport contracts between school authorities and bus companies are commercially sensitive and therefore cannot be scrutinised individually in order to provide case studies. Additionally, given the fluctuating nature of contract prices and the number of requirements within them, it is not possible to definitively calculate how they will change in future years. As such, the best estimates have to be based on forecasts from local authority professionals with contracting experience”.

That takes us back to the professionals again.

Further on, the financial memorandum talks about what could be included in tables, saying:

“These include vehicle manufacturing costs, vehicle maintenance, part replacement and drivers’ wages. The MVA model then estimates to what extent these costs are likely to feed through into school bus contract costs.”

If it had not been for the particularly large sum of money that I mentioned, I doubt that I would have looked at that, as others did. Indeed, the letter from the transport policy road safety team specifically responded to a question that my colleague John Mason posed.

At paragraph 28, the financial memorandum says:

“Due to confidentiality arrangements with local authority finance directors, CoSLA was unable to share forecasts broken down by individual local authorities or to share the specific methodology each had used to calculate its figures.”

I find that quite damning. That said, I take reassurance from the fact that, as has been said, a further explanation will come from COSLA. The minister talked about “more robust evidence”, which is very important.

I do not know anyone who does not support the bill’s aims. Modest devolution has facilitated its introduction. Some concerns about construction and use that I have heard colleagues express, including many of the factors that Mr Stevenson referred to, could be addressed if matters were devolved.

Societal change will drive the issue. There have been changes in relation to smoking and the wearing of seat belts. Many years ago, I was involved a serious road accident, and I would not be here if it were not for seat belts. I am therefore a big fan of them.

The rural implications have been taken on board, and community and dual contracts have been touched on. Gillian Martin talked about tailoring practice, which picks up on the issue of rural communities and fare-paying passengers not missing out.

Gillian Martin told us that school excursions are covered by robust risk assessments. The reality is that everything should be covered by a risk assessment.

We need to understand the financial implications, but I am very happy to support the bill.

16:14  



Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

First, I congratulate Gillian Martin on introducing the bill. As we have heard, it has a single purpose: to introduce a legal requirement for seat belts to be fitted on all dedicated home-to-school transport in Scotland. That is a commendable aim; I am only astonished that it was not already a requirement for all dedicated school transport and that it has been felt necessary to introduce a bill to make it the law of the land.

All 32 local authorities in Scotland enter into contracts for school transport. As I said, it is astonishing that all 32 councils have not already made seat belts a requirement in their contracts with individual operators. On introducing the bill, Gillian Martin informed the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee that only 18 councils have so far made seat belts a requirement in all their contracts for home-to-school transport, while another six require it for some contracts only.

It would seem that our local authorities have been somewhat slow, to say the least, to ensure that their contracts contain a requirement to have seat belts fitted on dedicated school transport. However, as I said earlier when I intervened on the minister, every time the committee has tried to get up-to-date information about how many local authorities stipulate such a requirement in their contracts, and—more importantly—how many intend to do so, we seem to draw a blank. We have asked the Scottish Government for that information, and so far it has not been forthcoming. I simply do not understand why that should be so, and I was heartened to hear the minister say in response to my intervention that he would have the information available in his summing up. I would be very surprised if it is, but it would be delightful if he could provide it.

As we have heard, the committee also flagged up the issue of the financial costs of the legislation. The financial memorandum states that the Scottish Government believes that, if the bill is passed, it would cost up to £8.92 million. That is £8.92 million of public money for a bill that would simply incorporate into law a requirement that may already be implemented across Scotland by the time that that law comes into force.

Like John Mason, Jamie Greene and others, I question whether it is a good use of public money to spend such a sum unnecessarily. I am sure that other members will outline further concerns about the level of public money that would be allocated to the process.

Jamie Greene

Will the member give way?

Mike Rumbles

Of course.

Jamie Greene

I just want to clarify for the record that I am not questioning whether any Government money is spent on the bill—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am being told that the member is Finlay Carson, but it is Jamie Greene—there is a bit of a dispute up here. I must not get names wrong again, Mr Greene—I will be rebuked by Adam Tomkins. [Laughter.]

Jamie Greene

It must be the beard, Presiding Officer—but mine is not grey.

Members: Oh!

Jamie Greene

I have forgotten what I was going to say; I apologise for taking up the member’s time. I want to clarify that I was not questioning whether any money should be spent in addressing the issue—it is important that child safety is paramount. It is simply a question of how the money is spent.

Mike Rumbles

Absolutely—I agree with that entirely. I am not questioning that there might be a need for some money if there are still buses that require seat belts, but I am questioning the amount of money, at £8.92 million, that is to be spent on the bill. It seems odd that that is necessary. I support the bill, but if its aims have already been achieved, that should be a real success in itself.

At this point, I must comment on a report about the bill in this morning’s Press and Journal, in which I am quoted. The quote is taken from the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s very first evidence session on the bill on 15 March, at which I questioned the two Government officials who were supporting Gillian Martin’s bill. I put it to them that

“the bill is purely about the technical aspect of having seat belts fitted. It is not about any other issue related to whether kids are safe travelling to and from school on buses that have seat belts fitted. If we are to take legislation through, we should be comprehensive and attack the potential problem that we all”,

right across the chamber,

“see, rather than go off at half-cock ... with a bill that does not cover people’s worries.”

My colleague on the committee, Richard Lyle, then said:

“The points that Mr Rumbles and the convener made are quite valid. Who will be liable for enforcement, if there is to be any enforcement?”—[Official Report, Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, 15 March 2017; c 47.]

In this morning’s P and J, Gillian Martin is quoted as saying that she was “shocked” by my stance, and that

“I am both relieved and pleased that his words have been met with no support”.

She should listen to the debate.

Gillian Martin

If Mr Rumbles had read the whole article, which I am sure he did, he would know that I received a letter from a supportive coach company that provides a lot of dedicated school transport in Aberdeenshire, which he also represents. The company echoed my concern about Mr Rumbles’s point that the bill does not need to progress because fitting seat belts is a foregone conclusion and will happen organically. The company wrote to me to support the matter being legislated, and it shared my shock.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That was a long intervention, Mr Rumbles, so do not fash yourself; you are getting that extra minute.

Mike Rumbles

It is very strange that the paper reported two months after the date of the committee. I also find it strange that Ms Martin takes that position; she can hear members around the chamber and I am only echoing what every other member seems to be saying. There are issues with the bill.

I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues support Gillian Martin’s bill and congratulate her on it, despite what she said about me in the P and J this morning. There is much room for improvement, and that is the whole point of the stage 2 and stage 3 processes. I hope that she will reflect on members’ concerns, as expressed in the committee and in the chamber today, and lodge amendments to improve the bill. That is what we are talking about. We want the bill to pass, but we want to improve it.

This is all about the safety of our children and we have to get it right.

16:21  



Maree Todd (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

I start by echoing other members and offering my condolences to the people who were affected by last night’s events in Manchester. I also commend the emergency services for their response.

I also congratulate Gillian Martin on introducing the bill.

Before I travelled down here last night, I was thinking about what to say in today’s debate. I have three children who get the bus to school every day, so I decided to ask them for their thoughts at the dinner table

The first thing that I was told was, “Nobody uses seat belts.” They told me that children get teased for wearing seat belts on the bus and that it is not socially normal to wear a seat belt. My children would not dream of travelling in a car without wearing a seat belt, but it turns out they would not dream of wearing a seat belt on a bus.

My dad happened to be down visiting us, and the thought that nobody uses seat belts, even where they are available, really got to him. My dad used to be a fireman in Ullapool—part of the retained service that covers so much of the Highlands and Islands. He told us about an accident that he attended more than 30 years ago, when a tour bus went off the road. It had swerved, probably to avoid a sheep or a deer. It landed on its side and people were thrown free of it because they were not wearing seat belts. Unfortunately, the men from Ullapool had no equipment to lift the bus so all they could do on that occasion was wait for the team from Inverness to arrive, and comfort the people involved. Seven people died in that accident. It was one of the worst my dad attended in a lifetime of service. He was horrified that my children thought that seat belts are not needed on a bus.

It is a simple truth that wearing seat belts can and does save lives. I have no doubt that we as lawmakers should try to ensure that seat belts are available and used wherever possible.

Of course, it is clear that seat belts on buses are not always used, even when they are available, and that is where we need to change the social norm. We need to get to the point at which, as in a car, it is unusual not to wear a seat belt on a bus.

We will all acknowledge that no single piece of legislation will change such a social norm, but legislation has a role to play. It has helped to bring about such changes in the past. When I was a child, the norm was not to wear a seat belt in cars. That changed incrementally with legislative changes. It was not until 1983, when I was 10 years old, that it became law for folk in the front of a car to wear a seat belt. Even then, seat belts were not often fitted in the back of cars. That only became law in 1986, and the law changed to make people use them in 1989.

When I was growing up, it was pretty common to have five or more kids in the back of our car, and none of us were wearing seat belts. When I was really young, my personal favourite spot in the car was standing between the two front seats, chatting to my parents with my dad, the fireman, driving.

That shows how things can change. That social norm has completely reversed and because of the developments in technology since the change, we cannot not wear seat belts in the car any more because, if someone is not wearing their seat belt, the car bleeps endlessly and irritates them into wearing it.

I think that the questions over how to enforce this law are fair. Bus monitors and technology may both have a role. Ultimately, though, I think that the bill is about changing a social norm.

In rural areas such as the Highlands and Islands, which I represent, there is a much higher risk for children travelling on buses. Often the bus journeys that kids take to school will be significantly longer, on roads with higher speed limits, than in more urban areas.

I think that all parents would agree with the executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council when she stated that the principle of the bill

“is absolutely right that when parents send their children off to school and entrust them to the local authority, the local authority is in loco parentis. I cannot take my children anywhere in the car without strapping them in, and it is completely unreasonable to suggest that local authorities should be in any other position.”—[Official Report, Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, 19 April 2017; c 34.]

16:25  



Alexander Burnett (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)

I echo the words of other members in the chamber and send my condolences to those affected by the recent attack in Manchester. As the Prime Minister said this morning, Britain’s spirit

“has never been broken and will never be broken”.

I welcome this debate on the bill. It is great to see that we are finally starting to debate issues that are within the jurisdiction of this Parliament and which can have a positive impact on people’s lives.

I think that we all, across the chamber, are in no doubt about the unnecessary danger that drivers and passengers put themselves in by not wearing a seat belt. Indeed, it was a Conservative Government that made wearing seat belts the law back in 1983. It seems unthinkable today that seat belts were not compulsory in all vehicles back in the 1980s and I think that we will all look back to school buses with the same feeling in the coming years.

This is a vital bill that will protect children from serious injury, so it is important that we get it right first time. That is why, on this side of the chamber, we support the bill in principle. Unfortunately, Ms Martin’s bill has severe limitations and some major omissions, as has already been discussed.

First, the bill will cover only school transportation between homes and primary education. Anyone who has children at school, including me, will know that a major part of travelling in education is done outside those two locations.

Gillian Martin

Will the member take an intervention?

Alexander Burnett

No, there is not enough time.

For example, any after-school curricular activities—which are now chargeable thanks to reductions in sportscotland funding—will include bus journeys to facilities. How can it be the case that child safety on the same roads changes depending on their final destination? Are we seriously saying that the risk on the same stretch of road can change if someone is travelling for a different purpose? That is simply unacceptable and quite ludicrous drafting. It is a major blunder in the writing of the bill, which puts passengers at unnecessary risk.

It is no wonder then that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents was clear in its submission to the consultation that the legislation should apply to all school journeys and I hope that this commonsense approach is picked up by the member.

Secondly, the cost for implementing the policy should not be a hindrance. It is vitally important that, unlike when the Labour Welsh Government introduced similar legislation, extra funding be given to local authorities for the necessary changes. Local authorities in Wales had to fund those costs at a time when council budgets were being cut. Scotland’s councils can ill afford the same fate.

We know that it is normal Scottish National Party practice to make promises that others have to pay for, but I think that councils across Scotland would like to hear from Ms Martin where they should find this money.

My final point on this policy is on education on the importance of seat belt usage. Just because the seat belts are available does not guarantee that pupils will wear them. That is why I am glad to see that my own council, Aberdeenshire, has a school transport leaflet for parents and pupils, which includes a section on the responsibility of each passenger to properly wear a seat belt at all times.

In summary, I welcome the bill as far as it goes, but it is clear that it has not been properly thought through. I hope that Ms Martin can give consideration to all those points before the next stage.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Rhoda Grant to close for Labour. I ask Ms Grant perhaps to convey to Neil Bibby, who opened for Labour, that it is disappointing not to have the pleasure of his presence for the closing speeches. No doubt he will send an appropriate apology to the Presiding Officers.

16:29  



Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I, too, congratulate Gillian Martin on the bill, and I associate myself with some of the comments that members have made about the difficulty of having the debate today. However, debating children’s safety is probably our best response to the events in Manchester.

We can all agree on the need to protect children as they travel to school, and there has been very little argument about the general principles of the bill. Mike Rumbles and many other members asked why it has taken so long to propose legislation for school buses, when we have had legislation for cars, which has been a lifesaver, and we have built and improved on that with legislation on baby seats and booster seats. It must be strange for children to have that level of protection in their family cars but none on school transport.

Therefore, there has been no opposition to the bill, although we have debated some of the issues surrounding it and its limitations. As many members have said, the bill is dedicated to school buses that take children back and forth to school and does not cover school trips or children using public transport to get to school. My colleague Neil Bibby suggested that it should go a lot further, perhaps along the lines of the Welsh legislation.

Another concern is that, although the bill will ensure that school buses have seat belts, there is nothing in it to say who has responsibility for ensuring that children wear those seat belts. Although in normal circumstances it is the driver’s responsibility, that is obviously impossible for the driver of a school bus, because someone cannot drive a school bus and check seat belts at the same time.

Daniel Johnson said that the bill does not go far enough, and many members echoed that. It seems strange that the bill will ensure seat belts on transport to and from school, but not on transport for organised school trips. The Scottish Government’s response to that—it says that more rigorous risk assessments take place for school trips than for normal school transport—is a bit disappointing.

At stage 2, we need to address the issue of who has responsibility for ensuring that seat belts are worn. Neil Bibby pointed out that, as well as the fact that no one has that responsibility, there is nothing in the bill to say that seat belts should be worn at all. Liam Kerr talked about behaviour on school buses. Looking back to my school days, I know what behaviour on school buses used to be like, but we had evidence that young people now have smart phones and that, rather than creating a riot on the school bus, they are more likely to be texting, probably someone who is a couple of seats away.

We asked the Scottish Government about councils’ role in loco parentis and the duty of care in relation to wearing seat belts. The Government acknowledged that councils have a duty of care but said that it would be for the courts to decide whether a council would be liable if a child was injured because they did not have a seat belt on. That is not good enough. Councils, parents and pupils need to know whose responsibility that is. We need clarity on that at stage 2.

We heard from the Scottish Youth Parliament that, rather than something being done to young people, they should be encouraged to be proactive. Young people should be educated and informed about the benefits of wearing seat belts from an early age because, that way, there would be no need for supervision as they would deal with their safety proactively. A lot of members, such as Maree Todd, talked about changing social norms. That has happened in the past and it can happen again.

Many members asked whether the bill is required at all. Nobody is against the general principles, but it is clear from the evidence that the majority of councils have already made provision of seat belts on school buses a stipulation of their tender documents and that those that have not done so are working towards that. Therefore, it is likely that all councils will have that stipulation in their contracts prior even to the enactment of the bill. That is why there is a question whether the bill is required at all.

There are also concerns about the financing of the bill and the financial memorandum. Daniel Johnson talked about a figure of £80,000 per bus. That was a new figure to me, but it kind of sums up the concern that we heard in committee about the cost. Financial memorandums that the Parliament has considered have often underestimated rather than overestimated the cost of bills.

There is widespread support for the principles of the bill, but it may not be required at all. I look forward to strengthening it at stages 2 and 3 to make a better bill that will make a real difference for our young people.

16:35  



Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Many members have spoken about the poignancy of debating the bill today. We should also not forget that it comes hard on the heels of a lot of the debate that we have had about the safety of school buildings. It reinforces parents’ right to think that their child will always be safe and that their parliamentarians will always be guardians of that principle.

I come to the matter slightly differently, as somebody who is a regular driver of school minibuses and who has seen all the improvements that have taken place in school transport since the 1980s, when I first secured my minibus licence. Although virtually all those changes have been very much welcomed, progress has been somewhat gradual, as Daniel Johnson said. Therefore, it is important that this debate takes place to ensure that all school transport and all children are safe, and I thank Gillian Martin for making us think carefully about exactly what that means.

I also thank Stewart Stevenson, who posed the question about the rationale behind our wanting to legislate. In placing a duty on our local authorities to ensure that a seat belt is fitted to every passenger seat in every motor vehicle that is used to provide a dedicated school transport service, there is a presumption that there will be a universal requirement, backed by law, to make the necessary changes. That is why the Scottish Conservatives, like other members, have been supportive of the principles of the bill. We also believe that the bill will have benefits in educating children about the importance of wearing seat belts. Maree Todd gave us a special reminder of the considerable danger of not doing so.

Notwithstanding that support for the bill’s principles, we have some concerns about its basic provisions and consider that some key points have perhaps not been thought through. First, the bill should go much further and cover school excursions, not just daily commutes between home and school. As somebody who drives a school minibus, I would be concerned if I felt that the safety requirements were slightly different simply because of the circumstances in which I was driving children—because I was not taking them to and from their school. That is a major concern.

It is my understanding that the definition in the bill would not cover an educational excursion and that taking pupils to undertake extracurricular activities—as we hope they will do—either before or at the end of the school day would not be covered by local authority legislation because it is not core educational provision. The Scottish Government should look again at the method by which its road safety consultation seeks to adjust that legislation, as we will have to ensure that the bill is compliant with it; otherwise, we will be in danger of creating problems.

I am grateful to John Mason for explaining his concern about the costings for the bill. In the light of what Mike Rumbles and one or two other members have said, we must be clear not only about what the costs are but about the modelling of those costs. I would be much more comfortable if I felt that we could get the right information. I believe that the minister is going to look into the matter in more detail and provide us with some additional information—although, quite frankly, I think that we ought to have had that at stage 1.

Another point that I will address quickly is the fact that although the bill specifies the responsibility of grant-aided independent schools, greater clarity is needed about the transport used by special schools and to carry children whose schools have different governance structures. For example, special schools might have independent governance but might be used by local authorities, and there would be a big question mark over where liability for the vehicles that they used lay. Technical equipment, such as specialist wheelchairs, could be used not only by children attending the grant-aided or independent school, but by children who attend local authority schools. If I was driving such a minibus, I would want to know where the responsibility lay; I am not sure that that has been explained.

I know that my time is up, Presiding Officer, so I will just say that although we are very keen on the basic principles of the bill, we have quite a few concerns. Some of its provisions need to be thought through to make it compliant with other legislation and consideration needs to be given to what opportunities might exist to ensure that we cover all the possible loopholes, which I think are quite considerable.

16:40  



Humza Yousaf

I thank those who have contributed to what has been a very constructive, helpful and useful debate. The purpose of such debates is to highlight concerns and to get the member in charge of the bill—or the Government, if it is a Government bill—to provide more robust evidence and to consider other issues. I will do my best to whizz through some of the issues that have been raised. A number of key themes have been mentioned by almost every member who has taken part in the debate, and I will try to address some of them.

Liam Kerr asked why the bill is important—Mike Rumbles followed the same theme—given that many councils already stipulate the provision of vehicles with seat belts in their contracts for school transport. I reiterate that although that might be the case, a number of councils have still not got there. For Mike Rumbles’s information, 18 is still the number of councils that stipulate the provision of vehicles with seat belts in their contracts, and six councils—Dundee City Council, East Lothian Council, Orkney Islands Council, West Lothian Council, Renfrewshire Council and West Dunbartonshire Council—are looking at some of the bill’s provisions. However, I add the obvious caveat that we have just had local elections, with the result that new administrations with new leadership are coming in in some areas. I do not imagine that councils would have any desire to roll back on a commitment to ensure that seat belts are fitted on school transport, and those are the latest figures that we have, but it is important that the bill future proofs the provision of seat belts on school transport.

As I said, the debate has been constructive. Another key theme was the provision of seat belts on vehicles that are used for school trips, too. I welcome the view that the measure should cover vehicles that are used for excursions during the school day, too, as Liz Smith mentioned a moment ago—I did not know that she had a minibus licence; next time we have a Parliament day out, we know who will be driving the bus. As I have said, such trips are covered by stringent risk assessment guidelines, which stipulate the provision of seat belts, and the feedback is that those are rigidly adhered to. However, I see no objection in principle to the intention to legislate further on the issue of school trips. Many members across the chamber favour that, as does Ms Martin. I know that from discussions that I have had with her, although she will speak for herself shortly.

Scottish Government officials have been in touch with teaching unions, local government and other stakeholders to ascertain the practical implications of extending the legal duty in this area. We continue that dialogue, and Parliament will be kept appropriately informed.

On the issue of enforcement and compliance, the requirement to publish an annual compliance statement and to put it in the public domain by putting it on a website or including it in a report to a council committee provides transparency but remains proportionate. There are already established recourse mechanisms that would be applicable in the event of a failure to comply with the legal duty, such as referral to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, which has confirmed that investigating the matter would be within its remit in relation to local authority schools, and civil legal action. Given that stipulating the provision of seat belts is already seen as good practice for school authorities and that there are clear precedents for how that can be implemented, those measures should be proportionate.

Liz Smith

In the discussions that he has, will the minister agree to look at where the liability would lie, particularly in relation to schools with different governance structures? My information is that that could be a problem.

Humza Yousaf

I was just coming to that. The point about independent and grant-aided schools raises a question that we will come back to. We will examine the matter, but it was a point well made by Liz Smith and we are aware of it.

One of the other key themes that has come out of the debate is that of costs. We have heard what the committee had to say on that and have heard what members across the chamber have said. We have written to COSLA about having a discussion to see whether we can get a more robust case around some of the finances involved. However, it is not quite as simple as dividing how much money exists by the number of vehicles—the 110 that still require to have seat belts fitted.

Daniel Johnson

Can the minister say why it is not as simple as that? What exploration has he made of whether there might be direct grant possibilities to ensure that the old buses are brought up to spec?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Minister, you have an extra minute.

Humza Yousaf

Thank you.

I will tell the member why it is not as simple as that. Given that the vehicles are mainly provided through contracts with the private sector, a range of commercial influences might have to be considered. For example, in a more rural area or in different areas across the country, there might not be as much provision through private providers as there would be in urban settings. For example, it is perhaps easier in Edinburgh and Glasgow to get private contractors than it would be in more remote areas. The idea that a linear formula can be applied is therefore incorrect. That is not to say that Daniel Johnson does not make a good point, as other members across the chamber have done, in saying that the costs must be tested and further analysed.

John Mason

The financial memorandum states in paragraph 29 that the cost of retrofitting would be

“£2,000 to £12,500 per bus”

The figures are not the same, but they are pretty clear.

Humza Yousaf

I thank the member for all his helpful contributions. [Laughter.] I said that with all sincerity.

The costs are estimated at £202,000 per year from 2018, rising incrementally to £765,000 per year in 2021 and continuing at that level until 2031. That is the cost envelope, and it should be said that independent consultants gave us that cost envelope as well—when the previous Minister for Transport and the Islands and I took the bill forward, we engaged the services of independent consultants, who gave us that cost envelope. However, let me not take away from what members have said, be it John Mason, Daniel Johnson, Liz Smith, Mike Rumbles, John Finnie or the committee convener, Edward Mountain, who have all said that they have concerns about the financial memorandum.

We will work with COSLA and see what can be done about the costs. I would encourage COSLA, once it is up and running again after the elections, with new council administrations and spokespeople in place, to engage with the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee directly on the matter. I hope that we can get to a position whereby everybody is finally comfortable with the financial memorandum.

I thank the committee for its consideration of the bill and Ms Martin for taking the bill forward. I also thank members across the chamber for agreeing to support the bill at stage 1.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Gillian Martin to close, please. I can give you until 4.57, or thereabouts.

16:48  



Gillian Martin

It has been an interesting debate and I think that we can all agree that the provision of seat belts on school transport is necessary and desirable. We all want to do the best thing for Scotland’s young people and keep them safe on their way to school.

As a relatively new MSP who has been taking forward their first member’s bill, which I hope will be enacted, I want to thank everyone, across the chamber, who has spoken to me about the bill over the weeks and months. I have had some tremendous support from people from all parties and some great chats about their experiences in their areas, which has informed my thinking on the bill as I have taken it forward. I particularly want to mention Dave Stewart from the Labour benches, who I had a great chat with, Jamie Greene from the Conservative benches, and Tavish Scott. I hung about in the members’ tearoom when I was trying to get members to sign up to the bill in the first place and I recommend that tactic to any member who wants to take a member’s bill forward.

I have also been overwhelmed by the amount of public support for the bill. I echo Daniel Johnson’s point, because more or less everyone I have spoken to about the bill has said the same thing as he said to me in the garden lobby that day: “I thought that that was already law.” It turns out that because quite a few local authorities do this already, there is an expectation that it is being done throughout Scotland. That, I think, is the issue here.

It is incumbent on those of us who are lucky enough to have a local authority that is way ahead of the curve and has addressed the matter on a voluntary basis—which means that we enjoy peace of mind when we put our kids on to school buses, because they have seat belts—to understand that it is just luck that we live there. It is incumbent on those of us who have that peace of mind to work to ensure that school transport throughout Scotland has seat belts.

I particularly thank members of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee for their constructive comments. The issue of school trips came up quite a lot in the debate—as I expected it to, because it came up quite a lot in the committee, too. Although rigorous risk assessments are in place for school trips, I am 100 per cent behind looking at including them through an amendment at stage 2. However, it is important that we speak to and engage with people, including teachers, as we did around the single issue of having seat belts fitted on school buses.

Liz Smith

I make the point that the risk assessment is not normally something that has legislative backing to it.

Gillian Martin

I was going to say that in considering amending the bill to include school trips, it is important that I explore the issues, including the ones that Liz Smith has mentioned. Enforcement has a bearing on the bill as it stands and I would like to get feedback from teachers and their unions on that proposal as well, just to find out their thoughts on it. So far, they have largely been very supportive.

I tried to intervene on Alex Burnett to correct him slightly on something that he said: he said that the bill covers only primary schools, but that is not the case. I put on record the fact it covers both primary and secondary schools already.

To me, the stand-out speech in the debate came from Maree Todd. I think that we are of a similar age, and she talked about the practices of kids in the—dare I say it?—1970s, when we travelled in our parents’ cars and were not belted in at all, because there were no seat belts in the back. Actually, I am old enough to remember there not being seat belts in the front, either.

Gail Ross

Never. [Laughter.]

Gillian Martin

Yes, I know.

Now, it is unthinkable that people would get into the front seat of a car and not automatically put their seat belt on. I remember seat belts coming in for seats in the back. There was a period of time when people had to remind their kids to put their seat belts on in the back, but we do not have to do that any more. The teenagers who were mentioned, who said that it is uncool to wear seat belts on buses, would not think twice about putting them on in the back seats of cars. Of course, it would be terrific to have the powers to make laws about that. We do not, but we do have the opportunity to educate more young people about the importance of wearing seat belts on buses.

I come to the issue from a certain perspective, as I have a friend who is a head trauma specialist who has told me many times of the effects on people who have suffered head trauma in car accidents. For the whole time that I have been taking the bill forward, I have been cognisant of some of the stuff that she has told me. This is not just about cuts and grazes; it can be about something an awful lot more serious than that.

I want to pick up on some of the comments that members have made about implementation. In my area, we have a lot of road safety issues. It is a rural area and we are constantly working with our teenagers to make them aware of road safety. For example, many members will have heard of the safe drive, stay alive project. Aberdeenshire Council and its schools have done a fantastic job in getting secondary pupils, when they get on a bus, to have the knee-jerk response of putting their seat belts on—they have worked with pupils so that it becomes the norm. One of the ways that the council and its schools have done that is by having senior pupils on the bus take responsibility for double-checking that younger children are putting on their belts. That is done with year heads or the head boy or head girl, for instance—or with prefects, as they used to be called. We put that in the guidance as an option.

Some people have mentioned bus monitors, which some local authorities insist on having. However—and to return to what Daniel Johnson was asking me about—we have heard that, in some cases, having a bus monitor can almost be counterproductive. In some areas, it has been found that schoolchildren have almost rebelled against the bus monitor. In addition, having a monitor is often not suitable for very long journeys in rural areas. They might have to be on a bus from half past 5 in the morning to get to an outlying area before coming back in, which is not really practical.

That is one of the reasons why I do not want to be too heavy handed in what we stipulate that local authorities must do. We must be able to give each local authority the flexibility to decide what is right for it, in partnership with schools and taking on board what they want. There is nothing stopping local authorities putting in place extra measures.

Peter Chapman said that this is a bill that it is “impossible to be against”. Peter and I have gone up against each other many times in political debates and it is great to hear that, finally, I have said something that he kind of agrees with. That is a personal achievement of mine, and I will go away from the debate with a skip in my step.

We must pay tribute to the people who went to the Public Petitions Committee. Stewart Stevenson, my friend and colleague, mentioned Ron Beaty, who came to see me as I was working on the bill in its initial stages. I thought that he was going to give me a row about everything that the bill was not—I was preparing myself for that, as I knew what a vociferous campaigner he has been for all types of road safety. Actually, he just wanted to say thanks, and that the bill was a step in the right direction—although, being Mr Beaty, he said that it did not take all the steps that he would like it to take. I was glad to have had the chance to meet him before his untimely death.

Lynn Merrifield was mentioned by my friend and colleague Gail Ross. Lynn initially came up with the idea that we should have seat belts on dedicated school transport.

How much time do I have, Presiding Officer?

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

It is really time to wind up now, Ms Martin.

Gillian Martin

That is great, because I really do not have much else to say.

It comes across loud and clear that seat belts help to protect children, and many people are surprised that there are not laws on this already. Their opinions were reflected in the views of the general public on the Scottish Government’s consultation. The Scottish Parliament now has the powers to act in this area and there will, quite rightly, be an expectation that we get on and take action on it. In my view, it would be remiss of us not to do so.

Vote at Stage 1

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Vote at Stage 1 transcript

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

There is one question to be put as a result of today’s business. The question is, that motion S5M-05655, in the name of Gillian Martin, on stage 1 of the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill, be agreed to.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill.

MSPs agreed that this Bill could continue

Stage 2 - Changes to detail 

MSPs can propose changes to the Bill. The changes are considered and then voted on by the committee.

Changes to the Bill

MSPs can propose changes to a Bill  these are called 'amendments'. The changes are considered then voted on by the lead committee.

The lists of proposed changes are known as a 'marshalled list'. There's a separate list for each week that the committee is looking at proposed changes.

The 'groupings' document groups amendments together based on their subject matter. It shows the order in which the amendments will be debated by the committee and in the Chamber. This is to avoid repetition in the debates.

How is it decided whether the changes go into the Bill?

When MSPs want to make a change to a Bill, they propose an 'amendment'. This sets out the changes they want to make to a specific part of the Bill.

The group of MSPs that is examining the Bill (lead committee) votes on whether it thinks each amendment should be accepted or not.

Depending on the number of amendments, this can be done during one or more meetings.

First meeting on amendments

Documents with the amendments considered at this meeting held on 28 June 2017:

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First meeting on amendments transcript

The Convener

Item 4 is stage 2 consideration of the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill. We will start the formal procedure now.

Section 1 agreed to.

Section 2—Meaning of “dedicated school transport service”

The Convener

Amendment 1, in the name of Gillian Martin, is grouped with amendments 2 to 4.

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

The committee’s stage 1 report recommended that

“no distinction should be made between travel on dedicated home to school transport and that on a school excursion”

and stated that the committee would welcome an amendment to the bill to the effect that the duty to ensure the fitting of seat belts be extended into such provision.

As the committee knows, I consider the safety of children on school transport to be an area of the utmost priority. As I intimated at stage 1, I share the committee’s sentiments that extending the scope of the legislation to cover school trips aligns with the ethos of what we are all trying to accomplish with the bill. Amendment 1 and the other amendments in the group achieve that aim.

I think that the committee is aware that in practice, vehicles that are used for school trips are almost universally supplied with seat belts already. That is because robust national risk assessment guidance advocating that already exists. Feedback from stakeholders is that that is rigidly adhered to by those who book such transport—they are often teachers, who belong to a closely regulated profession. However, we have listened to the views of the committee, parliamentarians and other stakeholders who feel that creating a legal duty for seat belts on home-to-school transport means that equivalent practices for school trips should be put on a statutory footing.

Amendment 1 replaces the previous definition of a “dedicated school transport service” in section 2 and adds the new element of transport that is used for school trips or excursions, which is defined in subsection (3) of the proposed new section as a “school trip transport service”, to the existing coverage for home-to-school transport. Again, the vehicles are those that are provided for the sole purpose of carrying school pupils. As with home-to-school transport, public bus services would not be captured as they are outwith the Parliament’s legislative competence.

There are different kinds of school trips, so the new definition of “school trip transport service” captures journeys that begin and end at the school on the same day, such as trips to a local swimming pool, as well as trips that take place over a number of days or weeks, such as skiing trips overseas.

The intention is that the commencement dates for school trip provision would be the same as those for home-to-school provision, which are 2018 for primary schools and 2021 for secondary schools.

The bill, as amended, will incorporate existing statutory definitions of “school education” from the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, as amended by the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, which can include early learning and childcare provision. Therefore, the legal duty, as amended, will extend to nursery classes in schools, whether they are provided by local authorities or by independent or grant-aided schools. However, we anticipate little or no change in practice in that regard. The general use of minibuses, which already have to be fitted with seat belts under existing United Kingdom regulations, and the common approach of using specialised restraints for very young children mean that that should not require great transition on the ground.

Amendments 2 and 3, which are consequential to amendment 1, reflect the new definition of a “dedicated school transport service”. The effect of the amendments is to delete the terms “primary education” and “secondary education” from section 3(2), as they will no longer appear in the bill, and to replace them with the term “school education”, which has the meaning that is given in section 135 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.

Amendment 4, which is consequential to amendment 1, amends the long title to reflect the expansion of the bill’s coverage.

I move amendment 1.

John Mason

I cannot speak for the whole committee, but I think that many of us are enthusiastic about the amendments, as we spent quite a lot of time in previous meetings discussing the question of school trips. We felt that, logically, they should be included so I am glad that Gillian Martin has been able to find a wording that fits.

I witnessed something on 8 June when I was visiting a school on polling day. The school choir was heading off to sing at a church and the pupils were going in a double-decker bus, which I found interesting. I suspect that it did not have seat belts—although I did not check—and that showed me that there is a need to include school trips along with other travel.

My main question, which perhaps Gillian Martin can answer in her summing up, unless she would like to intervene, is about the phrase

“to or from a place where the pupils receive education or training”

in subsection (3) of the proposed new section that would be inserted by amendment 1. Would that include the likes of trips to Alton Towers or to church, if pupils were going to take part in a service? Those events in themselves do not appear to be “education or training”.

Mike Rumbles

This is a major change to the bill and I congratulate Gillian Martin on lodging the amendments. They make the bill much more effective and I will support them.

Jamie Greene

My only comment, which can be addressed in summing up or via an intervention, is about the inclusion of what happens between drop-off at and collection from school. There was general consensus about that being equally important when it comes to safety on buses. However, one of my concerns throughout has been around any legal requirements that that may put on schools that contract with bus operators or private coach companies.

11:15  



In other words, if an excursion takes place for whatever reason, whether it is an educational or training visit, or indeed a social visit, will any changes to include such excursions in the bill place additional legal requirements on schools—public or independent schools and so on? That point has not quite been addressed. There may be a legal issue that needs to be discussed in more detail.

I would not like the inclusion of the provision to create unintended consequences for schools that have direct contracts or take out ad hoc or one-off contracts with bus hire companies, because that was never really the intention of the bill; it was more about local authorities ensuring the safe transport of children on buses.

Stewart Stevenson

As John Mason said, the member has included the definition of a “school trip transport service” in subsection (3) of the proposed new section. Would the member be minded to extend that definition at stage 3 beyond “education or training” to include participating in a sports event on behalf of the school?

The world has changed a bit since I went to school, but my reason for saying that is that I went to what was probably the biggest school in Scotland and, on a peak Saturday, we had 42 separate sports teams. About half of those teams would be travelling to participate in sports competitions with other schools and about half of them would be receiving teams from other schools. We had 15 rugby fifteens, 12 football elevens, 12 hockey elevens and three cross-country teams. There are fewer teams today, but that will still be an issue. Having addressed the issue of school trip transport, I wonder whether the provision should be extended to include such events, which are of a similar character.

The Convener

The deputy convener and Christine Grahame both wish to comment. I ask you both to be brief.

Gail Ross

I will be very brief, convener, thank you. In her summing up, I ask Gillian Martin to address the financial memorandum and whether amendment 1 makes any changes to it.

Christine Grahame

I would caution against adding a list to the definition of a “school trip transport service” for “education or training” to include sports purposes, for example. I ask the member to consider putting something in proposed subsection (3) that would have some flexibility—for example, “to receive education or training or for usual purposes connected with school activities”—rather than including a list in principal legislation.

The Convener

Would the minister like to say anything at this stage?

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

Thank you for the opportunity to give the Scottish Government’s response to amendments 1 to 4. We welcome the work that the committee has done on this issue and the work that Gillian Martin has done. I congratulate Gillian Martin on getting congratulations from Mike Rumbles. It took six or seven committee appearances for me to get such praise from him and she has done it in just a couple of appearances.

We very much welcome the committee’s contention that the bill should be extended to cover school trips. That aligns with the Scottish Government’s overall aim to keep children safe while travelling in vehicles to and from school. Given the different nature of the provision from that which is used for home-to-school transport, some investigative and preparatory work was needed ahead of stage 2 to scope what such extension would mean on the ground. I welcome the detail that Ms Martin gave in her opening remarks and the reflections, wise advice and commentary that have been given by members.

The Scottish Government very much stands ready and willing to help with implementation following the passing of the bill. The committee will be aware that we intend to work very closely with Ms Martin, young people themselves and a range of stakeholders on the creation of guidance to accompany the commencement of the act.

We have heard that national risk assessment guidance already advocates vehicles with seat belts being used for school excursions. However, we will consider any alterations or additions that are needed as a result of the new element of provision that the bill would cover.

Again, I welcome the committee’s call for the proposals in amendment 1 and Ms Martin and the bill team’s work in bringing it before Parliament. The Scottish Government strongly supports all the amendments in the group.

Gillian Martin

I thank all members for the constructive comments that they have made throughout the process and for the useful contributions that they have made to the debate on these amendments. I will address the points that members made in reverse order, because that is the order in which I wrote them down.

Gail Ross asked about the financial memorandum. If this group of amendments is agreed to, a new financial memorandum will have to be looked into between stage 2 and stage 3, because the scope of the bill will be wider than it was when the bill was introduced. I hope that that answers her question.

I turn to the points that Jamie Greene made. After the committee suggested amending the bill in this way, which I was keen to do, we reached out to the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland and the teaching unions to get their feedback on just how onerous the change would be for schools. We heard that it was absolutely the right thing to do, so I really do not have any concerns in that regard. We heard overwhelming evidence that schools were already doing this, so they did not envisage much change to their practices. However, whenever we make amendments to a bill, it is important that we reach out again to stakeholders, from whom, in this case, we got full support.

Jamie Greene

I thank Gillian Martin for letting me intervene briefly. I accept that the majority of schools are already doing this—I think that we expected that to be the case. My question is more a technical one. If we include in the bill excursions that are made during the school day, will that place an additional legal requirement on schools that have individual contracts with bus operators, outwith local authority contracts? Will any finance that is being made available to local authorities to meet the requirements be made available to individual schools that face an additional financial burden in meeting the requirements of the bill?

Gillian Martin

I refer you back to my answer to Gail Ross. There will be a new financial memorandum, which will take into account all the issues that you address. We will be able to look at that at stage 3.

I want to pick up on the comments that Stewart Stevenson, John Mason and Christine Grahame made about types of trips. The bill covers all trips. Under curriculum for excellence, there is a broad definition of education. Schools make decisions about the type of trips that they see as being good for their pupils, and the definition of educational lies with schools. Perhaps we would not all agree that going to Alton Towers is educational—I have my own thoughts on that—or that going to sports events is educational, but all such trips will be covered as school trips. If the school sees fit to have a school trip, that comes under education. I agree with the point that Christine Grahame made about that: it would be problematic to start drawing up a list of what is covered. The umbrella definition covers all school trips. I hope that that answers members’ questions.

There are many nuances around how school transport is delivered across the country, so we need to allow flexibility—in many ways, that is the characteristic that will make this bill succeed. I welcome the acknowledgement in the committee’s stage 1 report that flexibility is key and should be retained for many elements of school transport provision.

I invite the committee to agree to amendments 1 to 4, and I press amendment 1.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Section 2, as amended, agreed to.

Section 3—Meaning of other key terms

Amendments 2 and 3 moved—[Gillian Martin]—and agreed to.

Section 3, as amended, agreed to.

Section 4—Annual compliance statement

The Convener

Amendment 5, in the name of Rhoda Grant, is grouped with amendment 6.

Rhoda Grant

When we took evidence, the issue arose that it is the responsibility of the driver of a car to ensure that their passengers, including children, are wearing seat belts. However, it is clear that that responsibility could not be borne by a bus driver—that would simply be dangerous.

Further, road traffic legislation is reserved, so the bill cannot legislate on the wearing of seat belts, which is why the bill covers only the fitting of seat belts. There are also concerns about the duty of care and where that falls with regard to the wearing of seat belts. The Scottish Government responded to those concerns by saying that it would be for courts to decide where the duty of care falls. Therefore, the bill is not clear about who needs to promote the wearing of seat belts. It is simply not right that that should need to be tested in court after an accident.

My amendments 5 and 6 would ensure that the Scottish Government must issue guidance on what authorities’ expectations should be with regard to the wearing of seat belts. It might be that the Scottish Government could recommend that there should be monitors to ensure that seat belts are worn, but it could ask authorities to engage in an education programme with young people to promote wearing of seat belts. The Scottish Youth Parliament thinks that that is a good idea, because it feels that young people should be proactively involved in wearing seat belts rather than being forced to wear them by a third party.

Amendments 5 and 6 would ensure that the Scottish Government must issue guidance on how to promote use of seat belts and on how to monitor their use. That would mean that, when the act has come into force, it would be evaluated to determine whether it is having the intended impact. If it is not, we can look at the legislation again and prevail on the UK Government to act on reserved legislation.

I move amendment 5.

Stewart Stevenson

Rhoda Grant suggested that local authorities might engage monitors. Amendments 5 and 6 both use the phrase

“to monitor the wearing of seatbelts”.

I think that there is a bit of ambiguity regarding the distinction between engaging monitors and monitoring the wearing of seat belts. Would that involve statistical monitoring? I think that the phrasing is ambiguous, as it is constructed.

Rhoda Grant has said that the intention of her amendments 5 and 6 is to ensure that we get the best possible practical outcomes, and that local authorities keep an eye on those outcomes. I can absolutely sign up to that, and I suspect that others can, too. However, I am just not entirely certain that the construction of the amendments fully and unambiguously addresses that need, and I wonder whether that goal can be achieved in a different way, rather than simply by putting something in the bill. I would be particularly interested to hear what the member in charge of the bill and, perhaps, the minister have to say on that.

Jamie Greene

Amendment 6 would insert into the bill the following subsection:

“(2) Before issuing such guidance, the Scottish Ministers must consult—

(a) each school authority,

(b) such others persons as they consider appropriate.”

I have a slight concern about that. Is the intention that every school or local authority must be consulted before guidance can be issued? That would place a burden on the Government. Further, I find phrase

“such others persons as they consider appropriate”

to be very vague. I am a little bit uncertain about those two points.

11:30  



Humza Yousaf

First of all, I thank Rhoda Grant for lodging amendments 5 and 6. It is clear that she shares our commitment to making safety on school transport a top priority, and our view that we have a collective responsibility to do all that we can to keep our young people safe.

The Scottish Government shares the sentiment that I think the member is trying to express in amendments 5 and 6. As we have committed to creating non-statutory guidance, and education and awareness-raising materials to accompany the commencement of the legal duty, we have no issue with the principle of school authorities looking at Scottish ministers’ guidance. However, we know that school authorities take child safety very seriously and pay great heed to good practice in that respect, so it is questionable whether statutory guidance would be necessary.

Additionally, there are, as Stewart Stevenson and Jamie Greene have picked up, specific issues with amendments 5 and 6 as drafted that might cause difficulty. Committee members should be aware that because amendments 5 and 6 relate to the wearing of seat belts, which is—as Rhoda Grant mentioned—a reserved matter, legislative competence restrictions might need to be examined more fully and further legal consideration needed before we would be comfortable with supporting such changes to the bill.

On the detail of amendments 5 and 6, I agree with Stewart Stevenson’s point about the use of the term “monitor”. Added to that, its use in amendment 5 has the potential to cause difficulties with interpretation. It is very close to the widely used and accepted term “bus monitor”, which stakeholders in dedicated school transport are familiar with. Therefore, there is a risk of the amendment being interpreted as creating a legal duty to have bus monitors on every journey, which is an issue on which, in its stage 1 report, the committee said that flexibility should be retained.

Subsection (2)(a) of the proposed new section that would be inserted by amendment 6 would create a duty on Scottish ministers to consult “each school authority” in the creation of guidance. I would add to what Jamie Greene has said by pointing out that the Scottish Government has already had in-depth discussions with local government and the grant-aided and independent school sector in creating the measures, and that discussion will continue in the production of guidance and during implementation. However, there are about 100 independent schools in Scotland, many of which are not represented by the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, and it might prove to be not feasible or workable to compel Scottish ministers categorically to consult every school authority in the country. As I have said, we will continue our dialogue with that sector, but we need to proceed carefully.

I am prepared to commit to looking again at statutory guidance and to working with Rhoda Grant on that before stage 3. If we conclude that it is possible to set out in primary legislation a guidance duty that falls within legislative competence, we will work with Rhoda Grant to address the detail of the wording in order to produce an amendment that will achieve that. However, we might well conclude that putting statutory guidance in place instead of issuing non-statutory guidance would create too much risk. If we conclude that such an amendment would be difficult for legislative competence reasons, we will of course let Rhoda Grant know of our conclusions before stage 3.

With those reassurances, I invite Ms Grant not to press her amendments 5 and 6 at this stage. I assure her that we will seek to work with her on these matters with a view to lodging an amendment at stage 3 that meets our mutual aspirations.

Gillian Martin

I thank Rhoda Grant for lodging amendments 5 and 6. Ensuring that people actually wear fitted seat belts has been a crucial concern not just for the committee but for us all as we have moved forward with the bill, and I welcome the useful ideas that Ms Grant has set out in relation to future guidance.

However, I agree with the minister’s comments about specific terms in amendments 5 and 6. In particular, I reiterate the point that he made about the use of “monitor” in amendment 5. From discussions with stakeholders, it is clear that, in relation to school transport, the term is commonly understood to mean a person who acts as a supervisor on a bus. I appreciate that that is not what Rhoda Grant means, but any such interpretation could be at odds with the committee’s conclusion in its stage 1 report about there being flexibility. We know that school authorities can and do use bus monitors, but they also have the freedom to choose other methods.

I simply repeat the minister’s reassurance about our willingness to work with Rhoda Grant on the issue ahead of stage 3, and I, too, ask her not to press amendment 5.

Rhoda Grant

I should make it clear that if I had been referring to bus monitors I would have said so in amendments 5 and 6. I suppose that instead of using the word “monitor”, we could say “assess” the wearing of seat belts, which is what is meant.

In addition, amendment 5 does not say that people should employ bus monitors. It would be up to the Government and local authorities to decide how best to encourage the wearing of seat belts. Amendment 5 is clear in that regard.

Jamie Greene and the minister talked about consultation with a “school authority”—school authorities are the local authorities in charge of education, plus the independent schools. I accept that the consultation would be quite wide, but one assumes that the Scottish Government has a mailing list and that it emails school authorities when it makes changes, so I do not think that the approach would be onerous.

However, I have listened to people’s concerns. I want consensus about the proposed approach, and I do not think that members are at all at odds on it. I will not press amendment 5; I hope to work with the Government and the member in charge of the bill to produce amendments in a form with which everyone will be happy, and which will achieve the aim that I am trying to achieve.

Amendment 5, by agreement, withdrawn.

Section 4 agreed to.

After section 4

Amendment 6 not moved.

Section 5—Commencement

The Convener

Amendment 7, in the name of Peter Chapman, is in a group on its own.

Peter Chapman

Amendment 7 is a simple amendment, in my opinion. It is fair to say that members of the committee agree that it is right to support the aims of the bill. School transport is safer if seat belts are fitted and worn. I think that it is important that the measures be brought in as soon as possible. Therefore, rather than bring them in for primary school children in 2018 and for secondary school children in 2021—which seems to be a long time to wait—I propose that the measures be implemented for primary and secondary school children before the end of 2018. That would still leave the Government flexibility to implement the bill at any point in 2018 and the discretion to commence the act at different points for primary and secondary pupils, as long as the new approach was brought in before 31 December 2018. I just think that 2021 is a long time away. If we agree that it is a good thing to have seat belts on school transport, as we all do, why not bring in the measure quicker?

I move amendment 7.

Richard Lyle

I do not accept amendment 7. Over a number of years when I was a councillor, my council tried to bring in seat belts on school transport. I can see where Peter Chapman is coming from, but the Scottish Government had extensive stakeholder engagement during the process, and the feedback was that the transition in relation to secondary school provision will be greater, perhaps because more double-deckers are used.

A longer timescale should prevent the need to break contracts. We must remember that people have entered into contracts, and breaking them could cost more and have a significant financial impact on school authorities—in particular, councils. The Scottish Government has been consistent with its dates, so I say with the greatest respect to Mr Chapman that amendment 7 is not required. I will vote against amendment 7.

Rhoda Grant

I have a question for clarification, which is probably for the member in charge or the minister. The committee heard in evidence that a lot of local authorities have already implemented the approach for which the bill provides and that authorities that have not done so are in the process of doing so.

Will Peter Chapman’s amendment 7 cause any of the unintended consequences that Richard Lyle talked about, or do you expect that the proposed legislation, or the intentions of the proposed legislation, would be in place by that date? Are you aware of cases in which that would cause a problem and in which local authorities would not be able to comply?

The Convener

I am sure that the member in charge of the bill will address that.

Mike Rumbles

I support amendment 7. The evidence that was presented to the committee was quite clear that local authorities are already pursuing the measure, regardless of legislation. We originally questioned whether we needed the bill, because local authorities were moving so quickly to adopt the practice. However, it is a good thing that the bill has been introduced because it encourages local authorities to ensure that it happens. In my bones, I think that sending a message out that we want to delay implementation until 2021 is wrong. Peter Chapman’s amendment is a sensible suggestion. As I understand it—correct me if I am wrong—2018 is the deadline for primary schools that is already in the bill.

Peter Chapman

Yes.

Mike Rumbles

We should move forward on that basis. It does not provide any excuses for local authorities to be slack in finishing the work to achieve the 100 per cent coverage that we require.

Jamie Greene

The 2018 date was the original deadline for primary schools; I feel that it would not present any problems for secondary schools to meet the same deadline. We should be ambitious with the target, so I will support amendment 7.

The Convener

Minister—would you like to say anything at this stage?

Humza Yousaf

Yes, convener. I will let Gillian Martin speak about the commencement of the legislative measures that she has brought before Parliament, but it might be helpful to outline the approach that the Scottish Government took in reaching out and bringing stakeholders with us as the devolution process for the powers was undertaken.

A wide range of stakeholders and agencies are involved in school transport—from parents, teachers and pupils, to local government and the bus industry. Early on, we took the view that a partnership approach to shaping the bill’s proposals would be key, which is why we set up the not-so-imaginatively-titled seat belts and dedicated school transport working group.

My predecessor Keith Brown announced the plans for legislation in 2014 and ministers were clear about the implementation dates of 2018 for primary schools and 2021 for secondary schools. Those were committed to and that is what our partners have been working towards, so I take some exception to the word “delay” that Mike Rumbles used. Implementation is not delayed; there is a timetable that was agreed at that time. Accelerating those dates could lead, as Richard Lyle and others have suggested, to contracts having to be broken, which could lead to significant practical difficulties for councils and, as Rhoda Grant suggested, to unintended consequences.

Rhoda Grant

Will the minister take an intervention on that point?

Humza Yousaf

Yes.

Rhoda Grant

You said “could”, but my question was “will it lead to unintended consequences”. Do you know of cases in which the change would cause a problem?

Humza Yousaf

I do not have that information to hand, but I am more than happy to hand over either to Gillian Martin or one of the officials if they have that information, or to provide the information in the future. I do not know whether there are local authorities that would have to break their contracts; I am simply suggesting that that could be an issue. However, I respect Rhoda Grant’s desire to get a bit more information and certainty on that point.

Mike Rumbles

Will the minister take another intervention?

Humza Yousaf

Of course.

Mike Rumbles

I talked about a delay of four years, but I take the point that you have been working towards that date, so it is not a delay, as such. I agree that it is an important bill and I congratulate Gillian Martin on introducing it. My point is that if it is such an important bill—which it is—why wait until 2021 to have it implemented? It is an important bill and Gillian Martin has done a lot of work on it, and we, as a Parliament, should make sure that we advance the date from 2021 to 2018. I accept that that is not a delay; I am talking about advancement of child safety on our buses.

11:45  



Humza Yousaf

Sure—and I will mention that very point towards the end of my remarks, to try to give some assurance—

Richard Lyle

Would the minister take a brief intervention?

Humza Yousaf

Yes, of course.

Richard Lyle

Councils have different contracts and some might be coming up for renewal in the next couple of months. The intention is to set an implementation date of 2021, but am I correct to say that that does not prevent councils from bringing in the measures more quickly, knowing that the law will come into force?

Humza Yousaf

Yes, that is my understanding.

I have a feeling that there is another intervention coming, and I am happy to accept it.

John Finnie

If the suggestion is that amendment 7 could have contractual implications, I would have thought that you would have information on that to hand. Clearly, the work of a law-making establishment such as this one cannot be shaped around the potential implications that proposals may or may not have. We make decisions in good faith and shape the law. I am no expert in contract law, but I presume that contracts will reflect that. That in itself should not hinder the work of this establishment.

Humza Yousaf

I thank the member for that contribution. My point is that contractual difficulties could arise, and we will try to get some more certainty for the committee on that, as has been requested.

My other point is that a lot of work has been done on the date, so it was not arbitrarily plucked out of the air. My predecessor’s predecessor, Keith Brown, brought together a working group involving the industry, local authorities and others to work through the practical issues. Ms Martin will touch on the fact that, for high schools, there are of course more school buses, which is one reason—although not the only one—why there is to be a later commencement date for those.

I want to give some reassurances and commitments on the issue, because we all share the ambition. First, it is worth remembering that the committee’s stage 1 report described the commencement date as “reasonable and practicable”, and that is what I am talking about—I am talking about what we are able to do practically. It is important that we do not forget what the stage 1 report said. It is hard for me to understand what has changed between the stage 1 report and stage 2. However, I completely understand the motivation behind Mr Chapman’s proposals. As I said, we all have a shared ambition on the issue.

To that end, I am more than happy to give a commitment that I will engage further with local authorities to ascertain whether the practical issues that led to the two-phase approach to commencement dates are still as stark as they were previously. If local authorities can give me more detail and certainty on commencement dates, I see no reason why we cannot work through bringing those dates forward. With that commitment to re-engage with local authorities in mind, I invite Mr Chapman not to press amendment 7. In advance of stage 3, I will let him know what we get back from local government. If he is satisfied, we can move together on the issue and, if not, he of course has the opportunity to bring it back at stage 3.

Gillian Martin

As the transport minister has just said, the implementation dates were decided on for a number of good and practical reasons and in consultation with stakeholders. With any new legislative measures, an element of having to adapt to and absorb the changes that are being implemented is to be expected. In preparation for the powers being devolved, the Scottish Government did the right thing by listening to the views of those whom the measures will affect and coming to a general consensus on some of the specifics.

To answer Rhoda Grant’s point, which is legitimate, local government has told us that some councils have already signed contracts up to 2021 based on the 2021 commencement date for secondary school transport. Richard Lyle is absolutely correct that we do not want to force councils into a situation where they have to break contracts—

John Finnie

Will the member give way?

Gillian Martin

Sure.

John Finnie

Do you know whether contracts would be broken?

Gillian Martin

Councils told us that they have agreed contracts up to 2021. I assume that some of those contracts are with bus companies that do not have seat belts fitted, so that probably would be the case. However, given what the minister said, we are willing to ask councils about that specifically and to re-engage with our stakeholders to see whether the position has changed.

Mike Rumbles

I am not a lawyer but, as I understand it, contracts cannot be broken if the law has changed. For a contract to be legal, it must comply with the law. It is as simple as that.

Gillian Martin

The bus companies are some of the stakeholders that we have engaged with. We have to recognise that some of the strong voices supporting the bill are the bus contractors, who have been working towards the 2021 date. Given that some businesses might have plans in place to bid for the contracts in 2021, it would be unfair of us to move the goalposts in that regard. However, if we find out that there is not a problem—

Stewart Stevenson

Will the member take an intervention?

Christine Grahame

Will the member take an intervention?

The Convener

Two members asked to intervene. Gillian, you can choose who you want to take first.

Gillian Martin

I think that Stewart Stevenson had his hand up first. I will take his intervention first, then Christine Grahame’s.

Christine Grahame

I will not bear a grudge.

Gillian Martin

I might regret that decision in the chamber.

Stewart Stevenson

Can Gillian Martin tell us whether contract law is part of the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament? Is there a risk that we could be seen to be affecting contracts that have been made in good faith in a legislative area for which we are not responsible?

Richard Lyle

Is there a lawyer in the house?

Gillian Martin

There is, but I am not sure that she is allowed to speak.

The Convener

We have to be careful, because officials cannot speak during the debate. It is up to the member in charge to answer questions.

Gillian Martin

I will try to read Anne Cairns’s writing. The bill, when it is in force, would supersede contracts, so the contract would have to be looked at again. I refer you to my comment that some of our key stakeholders in this process have been the bus operators. We have had consultations with people around the table in our working group and the date that has been talked about is 2021.

The Convener

I do not want to force you to take interventions, Gillian, but Christine Grahame offered to intervene. I do not know whether she still wants to do so or whether you want to take her intervention.

Christine Grahame

I am not a contract lawyer—I am not a practising solicitor. I am quite sympathetic to what Peter Chapman said, but I do not think that I am in a position to take a view on it until I have received clarification that what is proposed would not be practicable, because you do not have information from all the local authorities. It is up to Mr Chapman whether he proceeds with his amendment, but my understanding is that the member in charge of the bill has given an undertaking to the committee to come back prior to stage 3 with up-to-date information about whether the date suggested is practicable, given all the contract stuff, for secondary school transport. Is that what the member is undertaking to do?

Gillian Martin

I ask Peter Chapman to withdraw amendment 7. All stakeholders have been working towards the 2021 date. If we agree to amendment 7 without consulting them, that would not be a good place to be.

Jamie Greene

Why is there a one-year delay between primary and secondary? It is very unclear.

Gillian Martin

It is not a delay.

Jamie Greene

Why is there a differential? Why is there a one-year difference?

Gillian Martin

There is a staged implementation; 2018 is the implementation date for primaries and 2021 is the implementation date for secondaries. As has been pointed out, a lot of local authorities are already working towards that and many have already done so. There are a lot more buses and different types of buses for secondary schools, whereas the majority of primary schools use minibuses. That is certainly true in my constituency. The type of coach involved in transport for secondary schools might include double deckers, as Richard Lyle pointed out, which are not generally used for primary school transport. That is why there is a three-year staged approach.

To answer Christine Grahame’s point, I note that we have made an offer to look at that, but we would not want to make a recommendation on it until we have spoken to stakeholders about whether it is possible and to what degree contracts might have to be broken. I therefore invite Mr Chapman not to press amendment 7.

The Convener

I call Peter Chapman to wind up and to press or withdraw amendment 7.

Peter Chapman

I listened with great intent to what has been said. In our discussions on the bill, we learned that over 50 per cent of local authorities have already put the measure in place. That is where I start from. The second point is that I cannot see why it is more difficult for secondary schools than it is for primary schools to put the measure in place. If it is okay for it to be in place for primary schools in 2018, I remain to be convinced as to why that would be more difficult for secondary schools.

I heard what Richard Lyle had to say about the breaking of contracts. That is possibly the case, but the point that we are talking about—the end of 2018—is still 18 months down the road. I would argue that there is time to do this and put it in place. I welcome the support that I got from Jamie Greene and Mike Rumbles.

As we have seen, there is a division in the committee. I am minded to press amendment 7.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 7 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)

Against

Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Grahame, Christine (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 6, Against 5, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 7 agreed to.

Section 5, as amended, agreed to.

Section 6 agreed to.

Long title

Amendment 4 moved—[Gillian Martin]—and agreed to.

Long title, as amended, agreed to.

The Convener

That ends stage 2 consideration of the bill and concludes our meeting. Thank you. I ask committee members to wait behind briefly.

Meeting closed at 11:58.  



Bill as amended at Stage 2 Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill 

Stage 3 - Final amendments and vote

MSPs can propose further amendments to the Bill and then vote on each of these. Finally, they vote on whether the Bill should become law

Debate on the proposed amendments

MSPs get the chance to present their proposed amendments to the Chamber. They vote on whether each amendment should be added to the Bill.

Documents with the amendments considered at this meeting on 9 November 2017:

Video Thumbnail Preview PNG

Debate on proposed amendments transcript

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The next item of business is stage 3 proceedings on the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill. In dealing with the amendments, members should have to hand the bill as amended at stage 2, that is, Scottish Parliament bill 7A; the marshalled list; and the groupings.

For the first division of the afternoon, the division bell will sound and proceedings will be suspended for five minutes. The period of voting for the first division will be 30 seconds; thereafter, I will allow a voting period of one minute for the first division after a debate. Members who wish to speak in the debate on any group of amendments should press their request-to-speak buttons as soon as possible after I call the group.

Section 3—Meaning of other key terms

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Group 1 is on commencement of section 1 duty. Amendment 1, in the name of Gillian Martin, is grouped with amendment 2.

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

The legislative measures in the bill have been arrived at using a partnership approach. The Scottish Government and I have consulted and listened. I am sure that, to all those members who are in the chamber, the term “school transport” appears to be a straightforward phrase that does exactly what it says on the tin. However, as I and, I am sure, the members of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, can attest to, this is a deceptively nuanced area with various overlapping factors and delivery bodies.

I will let the Minister for Transport and the Islands outline in more detail the significant engagement that the Scottish Government undertook during the devolution of powers that have allowed the introduction of this bill. Collaboration has been key to ensuring that the legislative proposals are practical and fit for purpose. What we heard loud and clear was that a phased approach to introduction was necessary. It became apparent that it would take longer for councils to adapt and absorb the changes for secondary school transport. In general, secondary schools use more double-decker buses, which are exactly the type of vehicle without seat belts that the bill aims to target. That is why Scottish ministers announced implementation dates of 2018 for primary school transport and 2021 for secondary schools. School authorities have been working towards those timescales and councils have in good faith signed contracts based on them.

At stage 2, we were aware that accelerating implementation dates for secondary provision could lead to contracts having to be broken or renegotiated. Inevitably, that would lead to significant practical, financial and, potentially, legal consequences. We have now canvassed local government and know that five councils find themselves in such a situation: Falkirk Council, Glasgow City Council, West Lothian Council, Stirling Council and Clackmannanshire Council have all signed contracts beyond 2018. Given the lack of precedent of having to renegotiate or to break and retender such contracts, it is not straightforward to forecast the cost implications. However, we are aware that there would be stark and troublesome ramifications for those concerned.

Over the bill's parliamentary passage, we have listened to the views of MSPs that cost forecasts with regard to other elements were too high. The Scottish Government therefore helped to prepare the supplementary financial memorandum, which addresses those concerns and places a formal review period to help mitigate costs. Therefore, to accelerate commencement dates and force such uncertain and problematic consequences does not seem necessary or sensible to me, especially in times of challenging resources for local government. While I absolutely understand the motivation for implementing these safety measures for young people as quickly as possible, it is incumbent on us to be mindful of the wider backdrop. That is why I am moving amendment 2 to allow for a long-stop date for commencement in 2021 for school authorities that have entered into such contracts. The amendment is specifically to address the issues that I have outlined, rather than being intended to offer any sort of catch-all exemption for such school authorities. As such, it has been deliberately drafted as narrowly as possible to allow regulations on commencement to make only a limited exception to the general 2018 commencement that was agreed to at stage 2.

Members may remember that we listened to the views of Parliament on the importance of the legal requirement that covers vehicles that are used for school trips. My amendment on that gained approval at stage 2. Under my amendments today, vehicles that are used for school excursions would still be subject to the 2018 commencement date. The exemption here applies only to home-to-school transport.

Amendment 2 would not allow school authorities to enter into further contracts beyond the date on which the bill receives royal assent that do not meet the new legal requirement in section 1 to have seat belts fitted. There is no possible loophole for school authorities, and the exemption relates only to pre-existing contracts at royal assent. Furthermore, the amendment relates only to transport for secondary school, meaning that provision for primary school transport will not be exempt and will therefore be subject to the accelerated 2018 commencement date. Consequentially, amendment 1 reinstates the term “secondary education” in the list of definitions in the bill taken from the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.

Members may remember that the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s stage 1 report endorsed the commencement dates that were originally committed to for the bill as “reasonable and practicable”. Now that we know the blatant implications of those dates for a number of local authorities, there seems to be an even more compelling case for that approach and for a phased commencement of the bill, but with that phasing being carefully limited, as I described, and with an ultimate deadline of 2021 in order to respect the decision that this Parliament took at stage 2.

I move amendment 1.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

Throughout the first two stages of the bill, when both officials and the Minister for Transport and the Islands appeared before the committee, I and other members of the committee repeatedly asked how many local authorities already had contracts in place to ensure that our schoolchildren travelled to and from school in buses with seat belts. Throughout stages 1 and 2, the necessary detailed information was not forthcoming, and it has not been forthcoming until now.

Now, we find that five local authorities have contracts with transport providers that have not insisted that seat belts are fitted. Those contracts run, we are told, until 31 August 2021. The lack of that detailed information from the Scottish Government led some of us on the committee to believe that the bill might not actually be necessary at all. I certainly could not understand why the Scottish Government could not provide us with that information before now.

As it turns out, the bill is indeed very necessary, as are the two amendments that Gillian Martin has lodged, because five councils out of the 32 have been far too slow to act. The last thing we want is for those five councils to be held liable for what would be illegal contracts if her two amendments are not passed. For that reason, therefore, I can confirm that the Liberal Democrats support Gillian Martin’s amendments, but it is a poor show that that information was not made known to members considering the bill in committee at stage 2.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

We do not live in a perfect world. If we lived in a perfect world, we would not need this legislation, which is pragmatic, as are amendments 1 and 2. As Mike Rumbles has said, they are necessary as a transition. There is nothing to stop operators fitting seat belts, and I hope that they will do so, but the amendments are pragmatic. I note, significantly, the exclusion of primary pupils from the exemption, so the Scottish Green Party will certainly be supporting the amendments.

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

I am glad that, at stage 2, my amendment to bring forward the date for the requirement of seat belts on secondary school buses was agreed to. However, Gillian Martin’s amendment today falls short of my intentions at stage 2. I think that it is right and proper that all school transport, irrespective of contracts, should have seat belts fitted by the end of 2018. We accept that there may be contracts that are in place before royal assent that run to August 2021 and that they may have to be adjusted, but we believe that there will not be many and that making those adjustments is a small price to pay for schoolchildren’s safety and parents’ peace of mind.

There is £8.9 million set aside in the bill’s financial memorandum, and we believe that that is an ample amount for the additional cost implications of changes to existing contracts with bus companies. We believe that amendment 2 impedes the progress of ensuring that seat belts are compulsory on secondary school transport by the end of 2018, so we will be voting against the amendment for those reasons.

15:15  



Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I find myself in the same place as Peter Chapman in that I am unable to support amendment 2. During the committee’s scrutiny, we heard that the financial costs of the bill had been estimated and that they would be paid to local authorities without being ring fenced or accounted for separately. It appears from the evidence that we have recently received that only five of the 32 councils have not had seat belts fitted on secondary school transport, which means that 27 councils that have gone the whole hog and had seat belts fitted to such transport will be penalised or will not be seen to have done as well as they have done because five councils have not performed. It appeared to me, when questioning Gillian Martin, that we did not know what the costs would be of ensuring that there would be seat belts on school transport for secondary schools. However, as we have heard from Mr Chapman, £8.9 million has been set aside for the costs. I will give way to Gillian Martin if she can explain exactly what the costs will be for each of those five local authorities, so that I can understand that. Can I give way, Presiding Officer?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Yes, it is up to you and Gillian Martin.

Gillian Martin

I am happy to intervene. Mr Mountain asked about the costs, but I am unable to give an answer on that. What I have to clarify, though, is his statement that only five councils do not have contracts for school transport with seat belts, because that is not the case. We are talking about five councils that would have to break their current contracts before 2021. At the moment, 24 councils have contracts in place that have stipulated that school transport must have seat belts. I think that there has been a bit of confusion here. We are talking about five councils that would have to break a contract in order to fulfil what Mr Chapman’s amendment sought at stage 2.

Edward Mountain

I thank the member for that answer, but this is the problem that we have met right the way through the scrutiny process: no exact costs can be given. The member is unable to give me a cost today. If I pushed the member to say how many of those five councils have entered into contracts since the bill was first mooted, could she say? I have to say that I cannot agree to delay the provision of seat belts on secondary school transport for a moment longer than we have to. I do not believe that the people of Scotland will go away after this afternoon’s debate and understand why having seat belts on school transport for secondary schools has to be delayed a moment longer than it needs to be. God forbid that we have an accident involving secondary pupils in 2019 on a bus that does not have seat belts.

Members: Oh!

Edward Mountain

I am sorry—members might sigh, but I feel this personally and I believe that the people of Scotland will feel the same as I do on the matter, so please do not mock me for having an honest opinion. I cannot support amendment 2, because I could not live with myself if any accidents happened because seat belts were not fitted to school transport.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I think that we all agree that the bill is a good thing and that seat belts should be fitted on school buses as soon as possible. However, we are concerned that, if amendment 2 were not passed, there would be financial penalties for councils. I wonder whether the Scottish Government will sit down with the five councils concerned and their contractors to see whether they can have seat belts fitted earlier than the contracts currently allow, if there is good will on both sides. I ask the Scottish Government to take that forward.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

Does the member know, with regard to the current financial memorandum and the numbers that have been given to us in the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, whether the costs include or exclude the potential costs of breaking those contracts? That point is entirely unclear to us.

Rhoda Grant

The evidence that we received in the committee was that the money indicated in the financial memorandum was to be distributed to councils under the normal formula, which meant that those councils that had been proactively ensuring the fitting of seat belts were not going to be unduly penalised compared with councils that had decided not to do that at an early date. I do not think that I could suggest that councils that had not ensured the fitting of seat belts would get financial assistance that councils that had already done so would not get, nor that we could impose further cuts on councils that had already been forced to cut services because of austerity. We will therefore reluctantly support amendment 2, because we think that it is a pragmatic way forward, while pushing for an early resolution to the matter.

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

As members are aware, there is some history to the measures that we are debating. As Ms Martin said, they came about following the devolution of competence on the issue via a section 30 order. They take forward aspirations that were first presented to the Public Petitions Committee and, in that vein, are a compelling example of how a kernel of an idea has progressed through our democratic system towards legislative change.

The Scottish Government made good use of the time taken to progress the legal and administrative procedures for devolution of competence. We used that time to engage with partners and undertake appropriate groundwork to prepare and shape measures that would be workable on implementation.

As Ms Martin outlined in speaking to the amendments, there is no uniform model for the organisation of dedicated school transport. Indeed, there is not a bespoke model of vehicle such as the iconic yellow school bus in the United States. To a large extent, it is that flexibility that makes the system work. Scotland’s 32 local authorities are a diverse patchwork. By allowing school authorities, particularly councils, to tailor their provision, we ensure that they are best able to meet the needs on the ground in their area.

Mike Rumbles

This is a contentious point. Throughout stage 1 and stage 2, other members of the committee and I asked repeatedly how many councils had contracts in place already, but we were not given that information. For that information to come forward now at this late stage, when we are finishing stage 3, is not satisfactory. Will the minister reflect on that?

Humza Yousaf

Yes, of course I will reflect on that. I get the point that the member is making. We have a good constructive relationship with our partners in local authorities and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, but we cannot force them to give us that information if it is not forthcoming. I will reflect on the member’s point that it would have been better to have had that information at stage 2. That is a valid point, but we are where we are and we now have the information that Ms Martin has provided about the five councils.

The variety of provision on the ground has meant that collaboration has been key to ensuring that the legislative proposals are practical and fit for purpose. That is why, from an early stage, the Scottish Government undertook such close engagement with groups such as local government, the bus industry and parenting and education bodies. The seat belts on dedicated school transport working group was established in 2014 and it enabled such discussions. Through that dialogue, it became clear that a phased introduction period would be a sensible and prudent approach.

When my predecessor Keith Brown announced plans for future legislation in 2014, ministers were clear that implementation dates of 2018 for primary school transport and 2021 for secondary school transport would be in place. We have heard from Ms Martin what the glaring consequences of accelerating those dates could be.

Looking back at the parliamentary passage of the bill, we can see that one of the issues that we have spent most time examining and revisiting in committee sessions and in the chamber is costs. To add a measure that could significantly drive up the financial implications seems at odds with the broad thrust—

Jamie Greene

The minister talked about the glaring consequences of bringing forward the implementation of the legislation, but no one in the chamber has heard the specific costs associated with doing that. A risk has been identified, but no cost has been associated with it. What is the cost?

Humza Yousaf

The costs are in the financial memorandum, but if the member is asking specifically about the cost of breaking contracts, I have to say that, if the contracts have not been broken, it is difficult to quantify a cost. The point that Ms Martin is rightly making is that there clearly would be a cost. I do not know anybody who has ever broken a contract without a cost being attached to that. Mr Greene’s colleagues sitting on his left and his right know, as businessmen in their own right, that if they broke a contract, there would be a financial implication. Mr Greene is absolutely right to ask what the cost might be, but let us not break the contracts unnecessarily to increase the financial burden on those councils, as Rhoda Grant rightly said.

Edward Mountain

Will the minister give way?

Humza Yousaf

Let me make some progress.

I agree with the sentiment that has been expressed by members, including Mr Chapman and Mr Mountain, that all of us in the chamber would like to see the proposals implemented as quickly as is practicable. Indeed, since the bill was introduced I have heard many people question why this was not law already, as John Finnie said. However, we cannot ignore the practical implications on the ground.

I will take forward Rhoda Grant’s suggestion about the Government being involved in facilitating discussions on the basis of good will. We will have to be wary in the sense that obviously the Government cannot renegotiate contracts, although that is not what Rhoda Grant was asking, but if we can facilitate such discussions, I do not see why we cannot look to do so.

As we have heard, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee endorsed the plans for phased commencement dates in its stage 1 report. Since then, we have learned of the potentially stark consequences for the five councils involved. Taking that together with the history of consultation of local government and the industry, I think that there is a compelling case for a limited and narrow exception to the full accelerated commencement of the bill, as Gillian Martin has requested. That is an important point and is why the Scottish Government strongly supports amendment 2.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Gillian Martin to wind up and press or withdraw amendment 1.

Gillian Martin

I move my amendment—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

No. You need to wind up and then tell the chamber whether you are pressing or withdrawing your amendment. I was trying to be helpful, but I obviously confused you.

Gillian Martin

As you will know, Presiding Officer, this is the first time I have done this. I would like to press amendment 1. I do not need to make a winding-up speech.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 1 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

There will be a division and, as this is the first division at stage 3, I will suspend the meeting for five minutes.

15:25 Meeting suspended.  



15:31 On resuming—  



The Deputy Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 1 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Smith, Elaine (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Scott, John (Ayr) (Con)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Mitchell, Margaret (Central Scotland) (Con)
McKee, Ivan (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
Mackay, Derek (Renfrewshire North and West) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lockhart, Dean (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Lochhead, Richard (Moray) (SNP)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lamont, Johann (Glasgow) (Lab)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Haughey, Clare (Rutherglen) (SNP)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Harper, Emma (South Scotland) (SNP)
Hamilton, Rachael (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Griffin, Mark (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Gougeon, Mairi (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Freeman, Jeane (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Forbes, Kate (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)
Fee, Mary (West Scotland) (Lab)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Fergus (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Denham, Ash (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Crawford, Bruce (Stirling) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Constance, Angela (Almond Valley) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Briggs, Miles (Lothian) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Bibby, Neil (West Scotland) (Lab)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Beamish, Claudia (South Scotland) (Lab)
Ballantyne, Michelle (South Scotland) (Con)
Balfour, Jeremy (Lothian) (Con)
Baker, Claire (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Allan, Alasdair (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
Adamson, Clare (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 98, Against 0, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Section 4—Annual compliance statement

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to group 2, which is on the promoting and assessing of the wearing of seat belts. I ask members to settle down.

Amendment 3, in the name of Neil Bibby, is grouped with amendments 4 to 8. Mr Bibby knows what he is doing—at last, someone does—and will move amendment 3 and speak to all the amendments in the group.

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

When Rhoda Grant lodged similar amendments at stage 2, her intention was to make clear who needs to promote the wearing of seat belts by pupils on school transport, given what was thought to be some uncertainty over where that part of a school’s legal duty of care towards pupils should fall.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Wait a wee minute, Mr Bibby. I want to hear what Mr Bibby has to say, even if some members do not, which is very rude of them. Proceed, Mr Bibby.

Neil Bibby

Rhoda Grant was assured that, although there were technical legal difficulties with the amendments that were proposed, the Scottish Government did not object to the proposed changes to the bill in principle. Therefore, we have worked with the Scottish Government and with Gillian Martin to revise the drafting of the amendments to answer their concerns. I will explain the amendments individually.

Amendment 8 would insert a new section after section 4, creating a duty on the Scottish ministers to publish statutory

“guidance about the steps which a school authority may take to promote and to assess the wearing of seat belts by pupils carried by the authority’s dedicated school transport services”

and a corresponding duty on school authorities to

“have regard to such guidance.”

That would leave it to the Government, in consultation with school authorities, to decide how best to encourage the wearing of seat belts and to use the guidance to cite good examples of the procedures that schools should have in place to do so.

As Rhoda Grant said at stage 2, the guidance could recommend that, if the resources are available, there should be monitors on buses

“to ensure that seat belts are worn”.

Alternatively, it might

“ask authorities to engage in an education programme with young people to promote wearing of seat belts.”—[Official Report, Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, 28 June 2017; c 52.]

In the amendment as it was drafted for stage 2, the word “monitor” was used regarding the wearing of seat belts, which was queried as potentially implying the need for bus monitors on each journey. That has been replaced in amendments 6 and 8 with the word “assess”, which, as Rhoda Grant suggested during the stage 2 proceedings, is what was meant by school authorities monitoring the wearing of seat belts by pupils.

The minister’s concerns at stage 2 over the practicality of consulting every school authority have been remedied with a requirement to consult representative bodies before publishing the guidance. That would mean, for instance, the Government consulting the Scottish Council of Independent Schools rather than having to consult every independent school in Scotland.

The added discretion to consult others as appropriate means that the Government has the ability to consult, among others, young people themselves. As the Scottish Youth Parliament made clear to the committee at stage 1, it is far more effective for young people to be proactively involved in promoting and assessing the wearing of seat belts than for them to be forced to wear them by a third party.

Amendments 5 and 6 add an extra requirement to the self-reporting duty in section 4. Section 4 obliges school authorities to publish an annual statement on compliance with section 1—the duty to have seat belts fitted on dedicated school transport services. The extra requirement created by amendments 5 and 6 is that school authorities should also include information in that statement on what they have done to promote and assess the wearing of seat belts by pupils on their dedicated school transport.

Amendments 3, 4 and 7 are consequential amendments that rename the compliance statement a seat belts statement, as it will now cover information broader than just compliance with the bill.

I move amendment 3.

Jamie Greene

I should say from the outset that the Conservatives support the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill. We welcome the constructive approach to the issue that there has been not just in the chamber but in the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.

We considered Neil Bibby’s amendments carefully, and I am pleased to say that we will support them. There were initially some reservations about the wording, particularly of amendment 8, which inserts quite a substantial number of words into the guidance on the wearing of seat belts. Paragraph 2 of the proposed new section says:

“A school authority must have regard to such guidance.”

The wording is perhaps weak in that it does not specify what additional duties would be placed on schools. Are those duties to be on teachers, headteachers, bus drivers, monitors or senior pupils? There is some ambiguity there, and I would welcome it if Mr Bibby were to define how he thinks that might manifest itself in practice.

That said, we have absolutely no problem with the overall concept that Scottish ministers must publish guidance on the steps that schools must take to promote the wearing and use of the seat belts that will have to be fitted as a result of the bill. For the above reasons, we will support all of Mr Bibby’s amendments.

John Finnie

The Scottish Green Party will support all of Neil Bibby’s amendments. I agree with Jamie Greene that there has been very constructive engagement.

Our party’s view is that it is unfortunate that we could not include enforcement in the bill, because we do not have those powers. Education is key to the issue, however, and, for the reasons that Neil Bibby outlined, young people play a significant role.

Humza Yousaf

I thank Neil Bibby for lodging the amendments and for working with the Scottish Government on them. It is clear from Labour’s endeavours that it shares my and Ms Martin’s aspiration that Scotland’s schoolchildren should wear seat belts, and the Parliament has gone to the trouble of ensuring that they will be fitted as a matter of law.

Keeping our young children safe on the journey to and from the classroom and on school excursions is not a partisan issue. I am sure that all of us in the chamber want the best for school pupils on those journeys. The work that was undertaken by Rhoda Grant on her stage 2 amendments, which led to the amendments that are proposed by Neil Bibby today, shows how that consensus can take us forward.

Many times throughout the scrutiny of the bill, the matter was raised that any legal requirement for children between the ages of three and 14 to wear seat belts on larger buses and coaches would be a reserved issue. The Department for Transport previously indicated a desire to transpose relevant elements of a European Union directive that would create such a law. If the UK Government chose to act, there would be such a law. However, going by the most recent correspondence that I have had, the likelihood of that is not particularly high.

We have been clear that the bill represents a great opportunity to raise awareness of the safety benefits of seat belts, and we plan to implement guidance to help to facilitate the wearing of them. Scottish ministers are therefore prepared to accept the explicit requirement for them to publish such guidance that would be created in amendment 8. It is right that there should be a corresponding duty on school authorities to have regard to such guidance, as the issue of pupil safety on transport is something that school authorities treat as a matter of the utmost importance.

We fully intend to engage widely in the creation of the guidance, on which I understand that Ms Martin will give more detail. Therefore, the Scottish Government is willing to accept the consultation requirements in amendment 8.

Amendment 6 requires school authorities to publish details of the steps that they are taking to promote and assess seat belt wearing. We think that the wording is clearer than the wording of the amendment that was lodged at stage 2 in that it avoids the ambiguity that is associated with the word “monitor”.

I welcome all the work that the committee has done in considering the bill. In particular, I commend Rhoda Grant and her Labour colleagues for their willingness to work with us to reach a mutually agreed approach. The Scottish Government will support the amendments in the group.

Gillian Martin

I, too, welcome the sentiments behind Neil Bibby’s amendments and I thank him and others in his party—in particular, Rhoda Grant—for their work in helping to shape the bill.

As the transport minister says, the Scottish Government appears willing to accept the legal duties that the amendments in the group would place on the Scottish ministers. In the context of that consensus, I reiterate the importance of our continuing to work together to ensure that young people wear seat belts on dedicated school transport. Although it is not in the gift of the Parliament to change the law on reserved matters, we should not allow that to lessen our aspirations.

It is often said that the wearing of seat belts in cars has become second nature to youngsters. Indeed, that came through in the Scottish Government’s public consultation on the measures. We know that the habit of wearing seat belts can be further encouraged if schools, parents and carers take an active role in promoting seat belt use from an early age, including in lessons and through road safety education events. That is why I regard the bill as not a narrow legal instrument but a key piece in the wider jigsaw of road safety initiatives in schools. It will act as a catalyst that gets seat belt wearing and the safety benefits that it brings up the agenda.

I am aware of a raft of measures that are being adopted across the country to reduce risk on the school run, such as reduced speed limits around schools, safer routes to school programmes and bicycle safety training for pupils. The measures in the bill and better practice in getting pupils to wear seat belts can make a vital contribution to those efforts.

Extensive dialogue is taking place with local authorities, parenting groups and other stakeholders about guidance, publicity and educational materials. Road Safety Scotland, which produces materials that are available to every school in Scotland, has also been engaged. There is a wealth of good practice and innovation in Scotland, not least in the councils that already require seat belts on all dedicated school transport. The Scottish Government will use that good practice as a basis on which to work with stakeholders and come up with effective materials and approaches.

Councils can and do implement measures such as closed-circuit television monitoring of journeys and codes of conduct for pupils and parents to sign, and the requirement in Neil Bibby’s amendments to consult various school authority sectors and others will be key to exploring such issues. If the options that are open to school authorities are set out, and if good practice that people might want to implement is highlighted, it will be possible to come up with innovative and tailored solutions.

In all of this, there is a group that we must not forget to consult: the young people themselves. I am aware that the Scottish Government intends to undertake such engagement soon, and I welcome the fact that Neil Bibby’s amendments allow for that. I will support the amendments in Neil Bibby’s name.

Neil Bibby

I thank the minister and Gillian Martin, with whom we worked on the amendments in the group.

As Gillian Martin and John Finnie said, we do not have the power of enforcement, but we can take measures to promote the wearing of seat belts on school transport.

On Jamie Greene’s point about the guidance that is provided for in amendment 8, it will be for the Government, in consultation with school authorities and local authorities, to decide how best to encourage the wearing of seat belts and how to use the guidance to cite examples of good practice and procedure in schools.

I press amendment 3.

Amendment 3 agreed to.

Amendments 4 to 7 moved—[Neil Bibby]—and agreed to.

After section 4

Amendment 8 moved—[Neil Bibby]—and agreed to.

Section 5—Commencement

Amendment 2 moved—[Gillian Martin].

15:45  



The Deputy Presiding Officer

The question is, that amendment 2 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

There will be a division.

For

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Smith, Elaine (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
McKee, Ivan (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Derek (Renfrewshire North and West) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lochhead, Richard (Moray) (SNP)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lamont, Johann (Glasgow) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Haughey, Clare (Rutherglen) (SNP)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Griffin, Mark (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Gougeon, Mairi (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)
Freeman, Jeane (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)
Forbes, Kate (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)
Fee, Mary (West Scotland) (Lab)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Fergus (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Denham, Ash (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Crawford, Bruce (Stirling) (SNP)
Constance, Angela (Almond Valley) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Bibby, Neil (West Scotland) (Lab)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Beamish, Claudia (South Scotland) (Lab)
Baker, Claire (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Allan, Alasdair (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
Adamson, Clare (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

Against

Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Scott, John (Ayr) (Con)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Mitchell, Margaret (Central Scotland) (Con)
Lockhart, Dean (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Hamilton, Rachael (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Briggs, Miles (Lothian) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Ballantyne, Michelle (South Scotland) (Con)
Balfour, Jeremy (Lothian) (Con)

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 67, Against 25, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 2 agreed to.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That ends the consideration of amendments.

Final debate on the Bill

Once they've debated the amendments, the MSPs discuss the final version of the Bill.

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Final debate transcript

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

As members will be aware, at this point in the proceedings the Presiding Officer is required under standing orders to decide whether, in his view, any provision of the bill relates to a protected subject matter. Put briefly, that is whether it modifies the electoral system and franchise for Scottish parliamentary elections. If it does, the motion to pass the bill will require support from a supermajority of members. That is a two-thirds majority of all members, which is 86.

In the case of this bill, the Presiding Officer has decided that, in his view, no provision of the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill relates to a protected subject matter. Therefore, the bill does not require a supermajority in order to be passed at stage 3.

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-08706, in the name of Gillian Martin, on stage 3 of the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill. I call Gillian Martin, the member in charge of the bill, to speak to and move the motion.

15:49  



Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

It has been a privilege to bring the bill before Parliament and to progress this important issue to stage 3 proceedings. I thank all those who have contributed in different ways to the legislative scrutiny, particularly members of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee for their detailed consideration and constructive and helpful recommendations.

The safety of Scotland’s young people is a responsibility that we all share. It transcends party interests, and it has been heartening to witness support for the measures from across the political spectrum. I am particularly grateful to all those who took the time to contribute oral and written evidence to the committee sessions. That input is vital to effective parliamentary scrutiny, and it is clear that those in the wider society share this chamber’s aspirations on the measures.

Presiding Officer, you will be aware that the Parliament secured competence in this policy area through a Scotland Act 1998 order. Now that we have the powers, we have seen a clear appetite to act and legislate, just as we know that the Welsh Assembly has similarly done.

I will turn now to the detail of the measures before us. There can be few matters more pressing than the protection of Scotland’s children and young people. When parents send their children off to school every day, they rightly expect comprehensive measures to be in place to keep them safe from harm. Those considerations are not confined within the four walls of the classroom—they exist on journeys to and from school and when youngsters are out on excursions. The proposals before us are so important because we know the crucial role that seat belts can play in a road traffic accident. That role has been well established in numerous globally recognised studies.

Likewise, as a representative of a rural community, I know how seriously parents and communities take the issue of home-to-school transport. Some of the distances can be long and the need for supported journeys can be vital. The need to strive for continual improvement is self-evident.

Just as teachers and education providers take action every day to keep young people safe, those of us in elected positions also have to play a part. Our influence over law making and policy setting is just as key. Additionally, I have seen for myself how responsible school pupils can be and how they embrace measures to encourage them to buckle up. From my visit to the fantastic Cuiken primary school in Midlothian way back at the introduction of the bill, to my visits to schools across my constituency, I have been impressed and energised by the brilliant attitude of pupils to road safety initiatives.

I am sure that members are aware that the endeavours in the bill align with public feedback on the matter. I have heard loud and clear through the bill’s progress that people want it to happen and are surprised that such a law is not already in place. That view has been echoed by people from stakeholders at committee sessions to members of the public far away from the Holyrood bubble, including people I spoke to earlier today on Twitter about the bill being read. Indeed, a national consultation by the Scottish Government in 2016 showed that respondents overwhelmingly thought that the measures would contribute to road safety.

Local government has shared those sentiments. Councils have seen the importance of ensuring that seat belts are required as part of transport contracts. We know that at least 24 councils already do that on some or all of their contracts. That number will have risen to 27 by the start of the next school year.

It is very welcome that we have seen school authorities preparing for the legislation, but I want to ensure that the provision of seat belts in school transport becomes universal across all school authorities as a matter of law. That future-proofing measure means that good practice will not come and go.

The chamber will be aware that the legal duty in the bill covers local authorities, grant-aided school providers and independent school providers. It includes home-to-school provision and, following my stage 2 amendment, vehicles used for school trips and excursions. Again, I thank members who expressed their views on that matter—

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Will the member take an intervention?

Gillian Martin

Yes, I will.

Edward Mountain

I want to push a wee bit on the financial implications. You have stated that 24 councils already require school transport to have seat belts and mentioned the amendment that will ensure that buses used for school activities will have to have seat belts, too. Is there a financial cost to either of those requirements? That matter was never brought before the committee and I wonder whether you could clarify it, because it remains unclear to me.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I remind members to always speak through the chair, please.

Edward Mountain

I am sorry, Presiding Officer.

Gillian Martin

The revised financial memorandum takes into account all the measures that were agreed at stage 2. Furthermore, the changes that the committee wanted to be implemented are quite evident in the revised financial memorandum.

The legislation will cover taxis, minibuses, coaches and buses. Some of those are already covered by existing UK laws requiring seat belts. In general, it is in relation to the larger—often older—coaches and buses that changes will be required, and those are what the bill is fundamentally aimed at. However, as members who have followed the progress of the bill will be acutely aware, one thing that jumps out about school transport in Scotland is how varied the delivery is. There is no uniform approach and no one-size-fits-all formula for organisation. There are around 2,500 schools in the country, spread across a diverse range of geographies within our nation’s local authorities. We are therefore looking at everything from pupils on double-decker buses in busy urban centres to children in more rural areas—such as Aberdeenshire, where my constituency is—travelling long distances by coach on higher-speed country roads. Flexibility is therefore needed, and the bill has been drafted to allow for that. That is why it leaves open options in relation to, for example, pupils with additional support needs and why it allows for the use of adjustable straps, booster seats or lap belts for smaller children.

In the evidence-taking sessions, the committee heard about the varied and innovative measures that school authorities use to help with seat belt wearing. Again, the bill leaves the door open in relation to bus monitors, behavioural codes, closed-circuit television and so on.

The Scottish Government has pledged to offer ideas and examples of best practice through guidance and publicity. School authorities will be able to use that information to tailor the best approaches for their individual needs.

On another matter, which might answer Edward Mountain’s earlier point, I am aware that costs have been a salient point throughout parliamentary scrutiny. I think that the Minister for Transport and the Islands will outline the Scottish Government’s recent actions in more detail. However, members will be aware that a supplementary financial memorandum was tabled. It adds a review clause that alters the headline costs from £8.9 million to £3.83 million before any further financial support is automatically released. That again shows how Parliament has helped to influence the final proposals, and I therefore urge members to support the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill for the benefit of young people across the country.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill be passed.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Humza Yousaf. You have up to six minutes, minister, but I would appreciate brevity.

15:57  



The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

As the Parliament is aware, the Scottish Government supports this important and worthy bill to keep our young people safe on the journey to school. Like Gillian Martin, I extend my gratitude to the committee for its considered and detailed scrutiny. I would also like to thank the stakeholders who gave their views to our public consultation. They have played a crucial role and their endeavours have gone a long way towards aiding us as parliamentarians—their contribution is noted.

As has been said many times in the chamber, this Government will never be complacent when it comes to road safety. That is why we are introducing a raft of initiatives as we move towards the ambitious casualty reduction targets that we have set ourselves. However, there can be no group on which those efforts should be more acutely focused than our young people, and the measures in the bill will go a long way towards strengthening the comprehensive package of measures to keep them safe on the school run and, of course, on excursions away from the classroom.

Thankfully, travel on buses and coaches is comparatively safe for children. However, the statistics show that young people travelling on those vehicles are sometimes injured, and it is right that we bolster our approach. Additionally, the safety benefits of seat belts are, as Gillian Martin said, undisputed.

As I set out earlier in the debate on amendments, the section 30 order process devolving the powers that the bill exercises has given us ample time for dialogue and consultation. As such, engagement and co-production have been the hallmarks of this Government’s approach to formulating the measures. We have taken a belt-and-braces approach, and I have been encouraged to see Gillian Martin taking that foundation and moving it forward. She should be commended for the detailed consideration that she has given the bill and also for the engagement work that she has done around the country.

The seat belts on school transport working group brought together representatives from parenting and education groups, local government and bus operators. As Gillian Martin has already pointed out, dedicated school transport provision is something of a patchwork. Our pre-emptive dialogue with experts in the field allowed us to structure and refine measures so that we could introduce a clearly focused bill, and the Parliament has built on that.

We have had a conversation about the costs and the financial forecasts have been scrutinised by the parliamentary committee. We welcome that scrutiny, which has helped us to have a sharper focus. I should point out that the costing exercise for the bill followed the robust and established new burden process for calculating the financial implications of statutory duties on local authorities. That has now been put in place to ensure that councils are not left out of pocket, given that we all know that local government is not immune to the challenging backdrop of public finances.

The new burden approach has been used for other legislation, such as the Social Care (Self-directed Support) (Scotland) Act 2013 and the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016. However, since stage 2 of the bill we have re-engaged with local government and submitted a supplementary financial memorandum, which goes back for committee scrutiny. There are always challenges in forecasting cost estimates over a significant number of years. The original forecast covered a 14-year period, which accounted for two home-to-school contract cycles, whereas the document now contains a review clause after one contract cycle. The traditional new burden approach for local government finance does not involve the continuation of funding after local government stops incurring costs as a consequence of new legal duties. As such, the Scottish Government intends to review that forecast in 2023. That is why the headline figure is altered from £8.9 million to £3.83 million, without further evidence of incurred cost. It should be noted that, when taken annually and divided by 32 councils, that figure equates to just under £24,000. That will not be the model for administrating the distribution of those funds in practice. However, it provides an illustrative example of division at a local level.

There is currently no legal requirement for children between the ages of three and 14 to wear seat belts that are fitted on buses and coaches. That is a reserved area of competence. The United Kingdom Government previously indicated a desire to transpose relevant elements of the European Union directive that would allow us to create such a law. During the committee scrutiny process, I wrote to UK ministers seeking a formal clarification of any timescale for implementation and we heard that there are no fixed plans.

Nevertheless, the bill is a good opportunity to promote successful approaches to ensuring that children wear seat belts and to raise wider awareness of the issue. Extensive dialogue has taken place with local authorities, parenting groups and other stakeholders. That will continue as we develop guidance and awareness-raising campaigns to accompany any final act. Those materials will be created following consultation with school authorities and—as Ms Martin has already said—with young people. That will be shaped by the legal requirements added by the amendments passed today.

The bill successfully exercises the devolved powers that we secured on the issue. I hope that all members agree to pass the bill. The Scottish Government supports the bill and Ms Martin’s motion.

16:02  



Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I apologise for the initial confusion around amendment 1. We were happy to vote for the amendment. The confusion kept us on our toes and perhaps got some members out of their offices to listen to and participate in today’s interesting debate, which they might not have done otherwise.

Humza Yousaf

That was your cunning plan.

Jamie Greene

Indeed it was.

I welcome the opportunity to open the debate on behalf of the Conservatives. I have participated in various Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee meetings on the bill. I congratulate Gillian Martin on the constructive approach that she has taken with the committee and all the political parties to get the bill to this point. I have no doubt that it is not easy for a new member to navigate her way through the legislative process—she should be proud of her achievement.

We will vote for the bill because it will help to improve the safety of children travelling on school transport. One of the early comments that we made was that the first incarnation of the bill applied only to commuting to and from school and we felt strongly that it should also include school trips. I am very pleased that those have been included in the bill at its final stage.

We know that around 100,000 schoolchildren will benefit from the bill every day; the availability of seat belts will go some way towards encouraging good safety habits on buses.

I commend Labour members for additional work to strengthen the bill through the amendment on the production of guidance. That it is a valid and wise addition to the bill. We were pleased to support the amendment and equally pleased to see the Government accept it.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and FirstGroup, which operates bus services, agreed with those arguments in their written consultation responses to the committee. I was very pleased that the bill garnered wide support from not just industry, but many third sector organisations, parents and schools.

I draw members’ attention to a quote from Inspector Grant Edward of Tayside Police in the media in 2013. During a crackdown on the failure to wear seat belts, he said:

“It’s easy to get the impression that you are travelling safely when you are sitting comfortably inside a moving vehicle. That’s an illusion that is instantly shattered if for whatever reason the vehicle stops sharply”.

The wearing of seat belts in cars has been high on the agenda for a long time, but that has not been the case for buses. It is therefore right that we turn our attention to that. On average, between 2010 and 2015, 45 children in Scotland were injured while they were on a bus or a coach. That is 45 children too many in the eyes of us all. The World Health Organization has identified that the inclusion of seat belts reduces the risk of fatalities by 25 per cent and minor injuries by 75 per cent.

We have not, of course, been entirely without concerns in the process. The financial memorandum details the cost of the act as being around £765,000 annually following its commencement. My first reservation—I might have expressed this in the committee—was that there were no guarantees at any point in the process that any money that was given to local authorities through the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities arrangements or the existing block arrangements would be guaranteed to be spent on seat belts. Indeed, there were no guarantees that any of that money would be ring fenced specifically for the purpose of the fitting, retrofitting or future fitting of seat belts. I still have that concern, albeit that it is perhaps too late to do anything about it in the bill.

My second financial concern was about the 11th hour change to the financial memorandum, which left us very little time for further scrutiny. We are now at stage 3. If Conservative members have any ambivalence over the numbers, that is because we are yet to get any definitive figure on the potential cost liability if any existing contracts are breached or have to be broken as a result of the legislation, for example. The bill team in general should have had more knowledge and sight of that.

To end on a positive note, we support the bill despite those obstacles. It really is a step in the right direction, and it will be fundamental in improving the safety of schoolchildren on public transport. It is a clear example of what the Parliament can do when it uses the wide-ranging powers that it has been given and that are at its disposal. The bill will truly help the lives of Scots across our country, so I thank Gillian Martin for introducing it.

16:08  



Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Gillian Martin for her efforts in steering the bill through Parliament, and for her willingness to work with members across the political divide. We will all want to thank the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee for its endeavours and scrutiny, and we want, of course, to acknowledge the sterling work of the committee clerks, the Scottish Parliament information centre and other staff members who, as usual, do all the heavy lifting, which goes unseen.

I acknowledge that the bill is modest. As I said at stage 1, I would have preferred something more substantial and wide ranging, but a number of factors militate against that, not the least of which is that key elements remain reserved to Westminster. That said, the bill will make an important contribution to the safety of our children, and we can never minimise or diminish anything that does that.

As other members have done, I will declare an interest. I am the father of two young children, which has given me a heightened focus on and awareness of everything child-related, particularly safety.

As Jamie Greene said, information at stage 1 suggested that just 45 children a year are injured on school buses and coaches. As I have said previously, any injury that brings harm to a child is an injury too many. I recognise that fitting seat belts to school transport may not eliminate risk entirely, but it is very much a step in the right direction.

The bill has been improved through consideration of and agreement to amendments at stages 2 and 3. In particular, as Jamie Greene did, I welcome the fact that transport that is used for school trips will now have to have seat belts fitted. That is the right thing to do, given the significant number of such journeys that are made every year.

It is all very well having a law that says that seat belts must be fitted, but if no one actually wears them, nothing can be done about it. I referred previously to the committee’s description of secondary pupils as a

“tough audience to convince to wear seat belts”.

In one school,

“74% of pupils said that they were ‘not at all likely’ or ‘unlikely’ to wear seat belts.

I suspect that they are not untypical. Social changes such as those relating to smoking in public places or use of mobile phones when driving can take a while, but once they are accepted, they become the norm. We still have some way to go with wearing seat belts on buses—and not just among children. I have been on coaches on which seat belts were fitted and have been astonished by how few passengers actually wore them. Adult passengers should be setting an example, not just for their own safety, but for that of their children and grandchildren.

We need to educate and encourage children to wear seat belts: my amendments that were debated earlier will, I hope, address that. Although education, encouragement and the example of adults are critical, it is not enough just to leave it to choice, so those who are responsible for provision of school transport need to face up to their responsibility.

The issue of compulsion is reserved and, as the minister said, he has again pursued the matter with the UK Government. I urge him not to give up and to continue formally to press the UK Government. I would welcome publication of his letter and any responses that he has received. That would be helpful.

As other members do, I have concerns about the financial implications of implementation. However, we cannot step back from doing the right thing, so the Scottish Government must work with local authorities to ensure that the costs that will be associated with implementation are met. Although I worry about any delay in implementation, I commend the flexibility that Gillian Martin has advocated in order to try to minimise unnecessary costs that early implementation might incur through breaking of contracts.

Labour is pleased to support the bill, through which Parliament can take some small but important steps towards improved safety on school transport for our children. I therefore have pleasure in commending the bill to Parliament.

16:12  



Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

As Neil Bibby did, I congratulate Gillian Martin on introducing the bill and getting it to this stage—at which we may now reasonably anticipate that it will be passed later today. It is no small matter to promote a bill. I have taken five bills through Parliament thus far, but none of them was a member’s bill. With a member’s bill, the member has to do much of the work: for the four bills that I took forward in my capacity as a Government minister, I had a vast team to do all the heavy lifting for me, and when I introduced a committee bill in the previous session of Parliament, the team of clerks did the work. However, for a member introducing a member’s bill, the burden is substantially greater, and greater understanding and attention to detail are required. Therefore, Gillian Martin deserves very substantial thanks.

One part of the system that has not been mentioned so far, but that it is proper to mention, is the Public Petitions Committee. Over a long period, a considerable number of petitions on matters in the general area that we are dealing with today have been submitted and then considered in great detail. UK Government ministers have appeared at the Public Petitions Committee on such matters. That committee has played a significant part in digging the soil and putting in the manure where the crop that we have today has grown.

Travelling in a vehicle that is fitted with a seat belt but not using it is rather like jumping out of a plane without a parachute—it is briefly exciting, but ultimately disastrous. The one thing that we are unable to do is enforce the wearing of seat belts. Like others, I travel on buses—I am of that age: I think that I am now on my fourth bus pass, which shows how old I have got—but I do not recall ever being on a bus on which anyone bar me was wearing a seat belt.

I acknowledge and thank colleagues at Westminster for providing us with the powers to do what we are doing today. That is very welcome and it is good cross-parliamentary working. It would be affa nice if they found the time and the method to create enforcement. It is not a Scottish issue. If enforcement was created such that people would be required to wear a seat belt if the vehicle on which they are travelling has seat belts—it is that simple; that is all we need to say—that would be of equal benefit to people throughout the whole United Kingdom. I encourage colleagues of whatever political persuasion or Government to consider whether they might support such legislation being dealt with at Westminster. That would mean that it would catch up with what Wales has done and with what we expect to do this afternoon.

Briefly and finally, I note that we have had a wee bit of a debate about costs. That is so trivial that I am not prepared to join it. In matters of safety, we just do it. I will be delighted to press my button at decision time today to just do it. I say, “Well done” to Gillian Martin.

16:16  



Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I am delighted that the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill has commanded support from all parties and is widely supported by parents across Scotland. When the subject first came up, I was rather shocked to discover that such a law did not already exist and that children went to school without wearing seat belts. Like many parents, I think, I believed that when we said goodbye to our children and let them go on the bus, they would put on seat belts, as they do in the car when we take them to school. I therefore believe that the bill is entirely necessary and that voting for it today is the right thing to do. I welcome the fact that Gillian Martin introduced it and commend her for doing so.

I also welcome the fact that the Scottish Government, through the Minister for Transport and the Islands, has said that it will work on ensuring that seat belts are fitted as soon as possible. I urge the minister to do that.

I remain deeply uncomfortable with the amendment that allowed an exception to be made to the original implementation date for secondary school pupils, changing it from 31 December 2018 to 2021. It is morally unacceptable that bus companies that enter contracts with local authorities on the day before the bill gets royal assent will not be required to have seat belts fitted in their buses until 31 August 2021. I ask bus companies to reflect on whether they believe that that is acceptable, or agree with me that it is morally unacceptable and take urgent steps to have seat belts fitted. It is not just a minor technical detail. Some secondary pupils will be travelling without the safe option of wearing a seat belt until 2021. I feel strongly about that, and I ask members who meet, in their constituencies, bus companies and operators that provide such transport to urge them to consider the matter. This is no time to drag our feet.

I will support the bill at decision time, but I would like to make one more comment. During the bill’s passage, I have found it particularly difficult to follow the financial memorandum and the financial costings. As Stewart Stevenson does, I believe that the safety of children is important. That is why we voted against the amendment that I mentioned. I wish that we had found ways to ring fence the money, as Mr Greene said, for fitting seat belts on school transport. We would have done that if the memorandum had come earlier. The £3.83 million would go a long way towards providing seat belts on every school bus.

Presiding Officer, you said that you appreciate brevity. I will close by saying that, like the parents and people of Scotland, I welcome the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill, and will vote to support it at decision time. I remain deeply saddened that some secondary pupils will not have the option to wear a seat belt on school transport until 2021, but I believe that we are taking a huge step forward.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I thank Edward Mountain and other members who have applied brevity. As happens, I now have a couple of minutes in hand. I am warning everyone so that Gillian Martin does not have to spend 15 minutes summing up.

16:20  



Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. On that note, this is an excellent bill with an excellent proposition, but I have one complaint: it is difficult to fill four minutes on it.

My thought process when I was thinking about the debate was this: children are good; seat belts are good; therefore, children on minibuses wearing seat belts is good. At that point, I almost feel like sitting down, but do not worry, Presiding Officer, I will not. [Laughter.] I will try to waffle on for a little bit longer, and I might even take some of Mr Mountain’s time, as well.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Excuse me for interrupting you, Mr Johnson. It is not acceptable for a front bench to be empty when a member is making a speech. I ask that someone in the SNP group sorts out the matter immediately.

Daniel Johnson

As a colleague of Clare Adamson on the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, I say that her move is long overdue. [Laughter.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am sorry, Mr Johnson. I know that you are desperate to get talking, but I suggest that people were not really listening, because they were a wee bit surprised. If you would like to start again, I would appreciate it.

Members: Oh!

Daniel Johnson

I hold my humour in great regard, but even I do not think that many of my jokes bear telling twice, especially in Parliament. I will see how I go.

I thank Gillian Martin. It is worth noting that the bill is the first member’s bill in this session, and she has done an excellent job. As I said at the outset, the bill is a very good idea. In her opening remarks, Gillian Martin was absolutely right to say that the bill is fundamentally about child protection. It is only fitting that the first member’s bill this session addresses such an important point.

On a personal note, I note that Gillian Martin is a colleague on the Education and Skills Committee, where we have constructive and positive dialogue. We do not always end up making our arguments on the same side in every debate, but it is a great pleasure for me to support so warmly the proposition that she has brought forward. I hope that that does not sound sycophantic.

As someone who is at the early stages of developing a member’s bill, I will reflect on Stewart Stevenson’s point and acknowledge the huge amount of work that goes into a bill—not just by the member but by their staff and the various groups that support the bill. It is a huge effort to get a bill to this stage, so we acknowledge the effort of all the people who have worked on the bill.

As Neil Bibby and others have pointed out, the bill touches on personal experience that, as a parent, is hugely important. Once I have got out of the house and have the children in the car, the first practical thing that I do is make sure that their seat belts are on.

Stewart Stevenson

I do not have the benefit of being a parent, so I do not know the answer to this question. Has Daniel Johnson worked out how to persuade his 14-year-old offspring that, when they are out of sight of parental control, they should always wear a seat belt when a vehicle that they are travelling in has one? Is that something that eludes the member, as I suspect it eludes most parents?

Daniel Johnson

Presiding Officer, can I please put in the Official Report, and reassure my wife, that I do not have a 14-year-old child. [Laughter.]

Stewart Stevenson has made an excellent point that I will come to later. We must progress the bill and build on it in order to make sure that we do as he suggests. There is obviously a gap in the law. Members have raised fundamentally important points about working with the UK Government and other things that we can do to ensure not just that there are seat belts, but that people wear them.

That brings me to my next point. When I was a child, there was no law that said that we had to wear a seat belt. I am old enough to remember when the law came in, in 1989, requiring children to wear seat belts, and when rear seat belts were brought in, in 1991. The original law requiring adults to wear seat belts in cars came in in 1983.

We have come a long way, but we need to do an awful lot more. It is not just about the law; it is also about culture and behaviour. One of the things that I reflected on when preparing for the debate is that we often make changes in the law in response to tragic incidents and events, and the thing for which we have to thank Gillian Martin most is that that is not the circumstance that we are in. We are getting ahead of things. We have an opportunity today, one that we are going to take, to pre-empt tragic incidents, which is very important.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Please wind up, Mr Johnson.

Daniel Johnson

I will. I had lost track of how much time I had.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That is understandable.

Daniel Johnson

We are catching up. As other members have said, we should not use the law as a set of instructions; we must seek to move further and faster than the law. The bill is not prescriptive and we must encourage local authorities to go further. Finally, we must work with local authorities in other areas, because there are still too many exemptions and loopholes, especially for older vehicles, and we should get rid of them, as much as we can.

16:26  



John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

My colleague Stewart Stevenson alluded to the role played by the Public Petitions Committee in bringing the bill to Parliament. The background to the bill was a petition that was lodged on 9 November 2007 by Lynn Merrifield on behalf of Kingseat community council—I am sure that they will reflect on the value of this building as a law-making building. The important thing is that we make good law by scrutinising legislation intensely. As a member of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, I am grateful for the comments that have been made. A lot of scrutiny went into the bill and I make no apology for that; I think that it is appropriate.

It was also good that, in 2015, we got the power to introduce such a bill. It is disappointing, of course, that we do not have the power to compel or enforce, as that is reserved to the United Kingdom. I was happy to hear comments about that from Neil Bibby, and I hope that we will hear more of that from Labour, because we are fettered and that is another example of the ways in which we are fettered.

The bill has caused me to reflect on other parts of our role. Community safety is extremely important, as is child protection, and there is a role for the state in those areas. The UK Government, the Scottish Government, local authorities, schools, parents’ groups and individuals—we all have our roles and responsibilities. By passing the bill tonight we will send a clear message: all organisations are required to assess risk and put in place measures to address risk.

It is significant that many members have said—reflecting the views of the general public—that people thought that the measure in the bill was the law anyway. Oh, that it was. When I spoke in the debate on the first group of amendments, I said that we do not live in an ideal world. That manifests itself in some of the concerns that people have had about the bill, particularly in relation to financial matters. I was concerned that we were rewarding failure, with the authorities that had acted diligently on seat belts not receiving money whereas others might. However, a balance has been struck and a pragmatic approach has been taken.

As some members may know, I was a police officer for 30 years. During that time, I saw many improvements. I saw design improvements to vehicles, road engineering improvements and, of course, the wearing of seat belts, but the biggest change was driver behaviour, which shapes everything. The amendments that the Scottish Labour Party lodged—at stage 2 by Rhoda Grant and today by Neil Bibby—are welcome, because the bill sends a clear message about the role that education plays in road safety, and we should lead by example. Like Stewart Stevenson, I was recently on a coach and was surprised to see that I was the only person wearing a seat belt.

Besides the wearing of seat belts, another example of the changes that we have seen, to which I think Daniel Johnson alluded, is the fairly recent change on smoking in vehicles and the realisation that such behaviour has an impact on children. The Parliament passed that measure in a member’s bill in the previous session, and I hope that another safety measure—my colleague Mark Ruskell’s proposed restricted roads (20mph limit) (Scotland) bill—will gain support in the chamber, if it gets that far.

We must see increased use of public transport. There is a decline in bus user numbers. This morning I was at Alexander Dennis Ltd, which is acutely aware of that and wants innovative design to encourage young people to be the bus users of the future. They will do that if, first and foremost, they remain safe on school buses and feel that the bus is a pleasant form of transport. A lot of thought is going into the design of buses, but it will count for nothing if we do not ensure at this stage that young people are wearing seat belts. I commend Gillian Martin for the good work that she has done on the bill, and the Scottish Green Party is happy to support the motion to pass the bill.

16:30  



Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

I, too, congratulate Gillian Martin on introducing the bill and seeing it through to its final stage. The bill is about the safety of our children on school transport. However, having spoken to parents about the bill, I agree with what Gillian Martin and others have said: most people think that having seat belts on school transport is already the law. It is not, but such a law will be in place soon thanks to Gillian Martin’s efforts today and in the months prior to stage 3.

The committee worked well together during stages 1 and 2—just as a committee should—under the able convenership of Edward Mountain.

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

Sook.

Mike Rumbles

I am not normally noted for being that—I heard that comment, minister.

Sensible amendments to the bill were made during stage 2. One that has been referred to is the important amendment to ensure that not just journeys from home to school and back again but school trips are included in the bill’s scope.

When the committee took evidence on the bill at stage 1, we were told initially that there were only about 100 buses transporting children to and from school that were not fitted with seat belts and that all our councils were making very good progress towards ensuring that all school transport would be fitted with seat belts very soon. That therefore raised a question, which I asked: if every council was implementing the fitting of seat belts on school transport already, was the bill necessary? However, the bill is necessary, because we have just found out at this late stage that there are still five councils that will not implement that until 2021. Being polite, I can only call that a very poor show from those five councils, given that we are talking about child safety on our school transport.

What the bill proposes is not news to those councils, because the argument about seat belts had been going on for years before Gillian Martin introduced her bill. We are passing legislation to ensure that a law that says that all school transport must have seat belts will be enforced by 2021. I call on those companies that provide transport for our secondary school children and which will be exempted from the law until 2021 not to wait for the law to force them to comply, but to comply now, or as soon as they can.

Jamie Greene

I am intrigued by the member’s comment that safety is paramount. If that is the case, why did his party support the amendment that will delay the introduction of seat belts for all secondary school transport?

Mike Rumbles

We supported the amendment because we thought that it was sensible for the law to do what was proposed. However, there are two elements: the law that we are now making; and a moral obligation for certain bus companies. We cannot excuse those companies because the law states that they do not have to comply until 2021. I call on those companies to comply now, or as soon as they practically can and their budgets and balanced books allow them to. They should not wait to comply until the law forces them to do so in 2021. The only upside is that that situation shows that the bill is, indeed, necessary to ensure that there are seat belts on all school transport.

Again, I congratulate Gillian Martin on introducing the bill. I can confirm that the Liberal Democrats fully support the bill. We were right to support Gillian Martin’s amendment 2 because of the outstanding financial positions of some contracts. We will vote for the motion to pass the bill. However, the passing of the bill will not absolve the bus companies that I referred to from their moral responsibility to do the right thing before 2021.

16:34  



Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

Gillian Martin has come a long way since her first appearance at the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, when she answered the first set of questions that we put to her about the bill. We broadly welcomed the introduction of the bill and noted the positive responses from all the stakeholders that gave evidence in person and in written submissions. I thank Gillian Martin, her team and everyone who took part in the evidence sessions.

Some witnesses at the committee questioned the need for the bill, given that a lot of local authorities were already providing seat belts. Eighteen local authorities were doing so at the time; we have heard that 24 have now taken that step. That is good news, but there is still a lot more to do.

As has been said, we asked why the bill covered only dedicated home-to-school transport and not school trips. I am glad to say that that point was taken on board and addressed in an amendment at stage 2. We felt that it was a glaring anomaly that schools were being asked to provide seat belts on one type of journey but not on others.

The Scottish Government has provided funding for the fitting of seat belts, both retrospectively and in the future. The committee challenged the estimated costs, and a supplementary financial memorandum has now been produced that lowers the headline cost from £8.9 million to £3.83 million.

We have since learned that five local authorities with contracts already in place face financial burdens. It is right not to break those contracts, but I find myself in agreement with members across the chamber, including Rhoda Grant, who have suggested that local authorities and the Government could open a dialogue with the bus companies about that situation. I also find myself agreeing with Mike Rumbles that local authorities have a moral responsibility in that regard. I do not often admit that I agree with Mike Rumbles, but I am quite happy to do so today.

Although the law on wearing seat belts is still reserved to Westminster, Gillian Martin’s bill proposes to ensure that all dedicated school transport vehicles and those used for school trips are fitted with seat belts.

To pick up Daniel Johnson’s point, when I was a child, I took a bus to and from school every day and there were no seat belts on it. There were no seat belts in the backs of cars then, either. Over time, and with changes to legislation, we have come to realise that wearing a seat belt is an essential part of travelling safely. If my son is with me when I get in a car, the first thing that I do is make sure that he puts on his seat belt. That is automatic, and we need to get children into the habit of putting on their seat belts. The aim is to make that the first thing that kids do on a bus. There needs to be awareness, education and reinforcement. Kids need to know that being safe is cool and that seat belts keep them safe.

A big question is how schools and local authorities ensure that, once the seat belts are fitted, they are actually used. I therefore welcome Neil Bibby’s amendment 6, which will place a reporting duty on local authorities. That is important.

It is good to reflect that, in one of our evidence sessions, the Scottish Youth Parliament gave us a powerful account from young people, who advised that the guidance should be prepared with young people and that they need to have ownership of the issue, whether through bus monitors, mentorships or educational events. Many successful schemes are already in place in schools throughout the country, and they should be looked at.

The policy memorandum states that, over the period 2010 to 2015, an average of 42 children a year were slightly injured while travelling by bus or coach in Scotland, with a further three children a year being seriously injured, although no children were killed while travelling on buses or coaches during that period. Neil Bibby and Jamie Greene were entirely correct to say that one child injured is one child too many.

This is a safety measure that is nothing more than common sense. When Gillian Martin first told me that the bill was coming forward, the first question that I and many others asked was, “Doesn’t this happen already?” I have supported the bill since it was first brought to the committee. As a Government, as a Parliament and as a society, we owe it to our young people. The fact that we are now here, debating the bill at stage 3 in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament, means that this is a very proud moment. I thank Gillian Martin for all her hard work. Having seat belts on school transport is vital and keeps our children safe. On behalf of parents and young people throughout Scotland, I say thank you to Gillian Martin.

16:39  



Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

This has been a good debate with a lot of consensus. I join colleagues in congratulating Gillian Martin on introducing the bill. Although she had the support of Government officials, which is always helpful, it is still really challenging to bring a bill to the Parliament. There was a reasonable amount of consensus on the issue, but the technicalities of any bill can lose a member support, and Ms Martin’s handling of the bill ensured that that did not happen.

I also thank the clerks and the committee’s support staff who worked with us, as well as those who gave evidence as we took the bill through the committee process. I thank Jamie Greene for fessing up to getting all our colleagues into the chamber early; that provided us with some amusement, although I am not sure that they will be so forgiving. I also thank Daniel Johnson for not repeating his jokes even at the Presiding Officer’s insistence. Those are all the thanks that I will offer tonight. I now turn to the more serious matter of the bill.

Scottish Labour has supported the bill throughout the process because we have a duty of care for our young people. Their safety while they are in the care of the state must be paramount.

Neil Bibby and other members have talked about the reserved powers relating to the wearing of seat belts. Although the bill is about fitting seat belts on school transport, it does nothing to enforce the wearing of them. Implementation of the EU directive and its adoption into UK law would make wearing seat belts mandatory. I hope that that happens, and I join Neil Bibby in calling on the Scottish Government to continue its efforts with the UK Government to make it happen. Neil Bibby’s amendments to the bill will help to change the culture and ensure that seat belts are worn, but, without those powers, we have only the power to persuade young people.

Daniel Johnson talked about a parent’s duty to ensure that their children wear seat belts and how we can get the importance of that across to them. I hope that that will be replicated when children are in local authority care. We need to persuade young people to wear seat belts, and that will require education at an early stage to encourage children and young people to do so. Such education will also encourage them to continue doing it into adulthood.

Gail Ross made the point that the member of the Scottish Youth Parliament made to us—that it is really important to get young people involved in drawing up the guidelines and encouraging others. John Finnie was also right to say that we all have a role to play in changing the culture.

It is important that councils have time to plan for changes that could increase costs and that they can be certain about the contribution to meeting those costs that might come from central Government. Many councils have seen the benefits of young people wearing seat belts and have already taken the step and paid for it out of their own funds. No one can disagree with that position. Gillian Martin’s amendment 2 will ensure that no council will have to break a contract and incur additional costs. Councils are underfunded, and that is impacting on council services. We must therefore be very careful not to impose more costs on them while we continue to push for fairer funding.

Mike Rumbles

I absolutely agree with Rhoda Grant on that. However, as we have given councils an exemption until 2021 so that they do not have to break contracts, does she agree that there is now a moral duty on those who provide the transport to do something about it?

Rhoda Grant

I absolutely agree with Mike Rumbles on that point. He said in his speech that the bus companies should comply now, and I echo that sentiment. I also welcome the minister’s agreement to do what he can to bring pressure to bear on those companies so that we get the measures in place as early as possible.

Edward Mountain talked about ring fencing the money attached to the bill for councils that have not implemented the installation of seat belts on school buses and are in contracts, but that would punish those that are demonstrating good practice and making it a priority. All councils are under pressure, and we need to find ways of rewarding those that demonstrate good practice while encouraging others to follow suit.

I see that the Presiding Officer is giving me the evil eye because I have run out of time.

I welcome the bill and confirm that we will support it at decision time. I hope that it goes a long way towards making school travel and school trips much safer for our young people.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you. I call Peter Grant—I am sorry; I appear to be marrying Peter Chapman to Rhoda Grant.

16:44  



Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

There are enough scandals already, Presiding Officer.

It is impossible to be against the bill, which is a simple and focused bill that legally requires seat belts to be fitted to all dedicated home-to-school buses and school trip buses in Scotland. Gillian Martin deserves thanks and credit for introducing it.

I am pleased that my amendment at stage 2, which required the seat belt provisions to be in place by the end of 2018 for secondary school pupils, was agreed. The original intention was that the legislation would come into effect for primary schools from 2018 but that secondary schools would have to wait until 2021. I could see no valid reason for that delay or for secondary school children to be put at risk for longer than was necessary. I accept that Gillian Martin has modified that to some extent today, with her amendment 2, but I expect that there will be only a very limited number of contracts to which that provision will apply and that the vast majority of children will be covered by the end of 2018. I also accept Mike Rumbles’s point that the companies that have not installed seat belts by that time will have a moral duty to think twice.

The bill requires seat belts to be fitted on school buses, but there are difficulties in persuading young folk to wear them. In evidence, it was highlighted that older pupils, in particular, are cynical about the wearing of seat belts on school transport, with one young respondent even stating:

“No one puts seat belts on on my school bus as it’s ‘uncool’ and if the driver comes round and tells people to wear them, they just get taken off again”.

As Neil Bibby said, the consultation found that 74 per cent of young people are “not at all likely” or “unlikely” to wear seat belts. However, as First Bus said, if the issue is tackled correctly, we will have an opportunity to educate children and explain to them the benefits of seat belts and the need to use them. We hope that common sense will prevail and that youngsters will recognise that the wearing of seat belts is sensible so that, eventually, it will become second nature. Neil Bibby’s amendments today will help in that process, for which I thank him.

Another matter of importance that ought to be confronted is the type of belt that is fitted. There are issues with shoulder-type three-point belts, which are inappropriate and unsafe for children who are aged under 12 years and those who are under 135cm tall. It appears that booster seats would be required in some cases. It is clear that discussions must take place between local authorities and bus operators regarding the most suitable type of belts to be fitted. That is outwith the scope of the bill but, nevertheless, it is a detail that needs to be addressed.

A further anomaly is the fact that children who are travelling to school on service buses that are open to fare-paying passengers will not be covered, as there is no requirement for those buses to have seat belts fitted. We believe that the option of using service buses must remain, because it is the most cost-effective option in built-up areas and can reduce congestion and pollution levels. Nevertheless, the youngsters who use those buses will not have the same level of protection on their way to school as kids who use other bus types.

Given that 18 local authorities have already fitted seat belts on their school fleets and that others are in the process of doing so, the process is taking place regardless of the bill, which I welcome.

It is a good bill. The safety of children going to and from school is incredibly important; therefore, we will support the bill.

16:48  



Humza Yousaf

It has been encouraging to hear the strength of feeling in the chamber today on the measures to keep our young people safe. I remember the feeling that I had the first time I received, as transport minister, an email about a fatality on one of our trunk roads. The detail in that email was really quite stark and it weighed down heavily on me then, as it does now whenever I get one of those emails.

There can be no greater responsibility for a Government than the safety of our citizens and, especially, that of our young people. Therefore, it has been encouraging to hear the consensual nature of the debate. It has been even more encouraging to see the constructive scrutiny of the bill that the committee members from across the chamber and external stakeholders have engaged in.

I thank Gillian Martin for introducing her member’s bill. She has rightly been commended for doing so, particularly as that is not an easy thing for a new member to do. She thanked Transport Scotland officials—often unfairly maligned—and other officials behind the scenes who do a great power of work. [Interruption.] I can hear laughter—that is deeply unfair.

I will try to pick up on some of the many good points made by members. Daniel Johnson made the salient point that, too often, legislation is passed as a knee-jerk reaction to an incident, and he rightly lauded Parliament for being ahead of the curve in that respect. Many members said that they were initially surprised that this was not already law, which is a view that is certainly shared by many of the public. It is important therefore that the bill should be passed.

The Scottish Government will continue to take forward a raft of measures to improve safety on the roads, especially for children. People often ask me how we can make our roads safer. There is not one silver bullet. There is a package of measures that help to keep our roads safe for children, for example 20mph limits near our schools, support for the safer routes to school programme and funding of bikeability cycle training for young people. All those help to keep our children safe.

The bill will, I hope, pass at decision time, and I will be delighted if it does. Stewart Stevenson gave us the context for the bill, in the way that only Stewart Stevenson can. It is important to put it on the record that, as he said, the issue germinated in the Public Petitions Committee. The Government took forward the devolution of competence, and Gillian Martin picked up the mantle and introduced the bill that we see before us.

I will try to address members’ questions about scrutiny. Neil Bibby requested that I continue to push the UK Government on enforcement. If the bill passes, as we all assume that it will, I will do that on the back of the bill. He asked me to publish any relevant letters, which I am happy to do.

Edward Mountain

There has been cross-party agreement on the bus companies that, due to an amendment, are exempted until 2021 from fitting seat belts on transport for secondary schools. Will the minister join the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and the Labour Party and say that he and his Government believe that there is a moral obligation on the bus operators to bring forward the fitting of seat belts if they can?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I can give you a little extra time if you need it, minister.

Humza Yousaf

I have no problem in associating myself with those remarks. I was going to come to that very point; indeed I will take Rhoda Grant up on her suggestion that the Government should bring the players—the local authorities and the contractors—together to see whether we can find a way forward that means that we do not have to wait until 2021. I agree with Mike Rumbles; I think that we all agreed with Mike Rumbles at one point or other, which is a dangerous place to be in the Parliament. He made the salient point that there is a moral obligation when it comes to our young people’s safety. On the other hand, there is the practicality of the law. We can separate the legal obligation and the moral obligation, and I stand with Mr Mountain and other members on the moral obligation.

I accept Mr Mountain’s point that it would have been helpful to have information in the financial memorandum at stage 2. I will reflect on that for future legislation.

Gillian Martin talked about consultation on future guidance and how best to take the bill forward. We must not forget our young people in all this. There are, of course, school authorities, and parent and educational committees, but young people are really at the heart of it. Once again, I agree with Mike Rumbles, who asked me during committee scrutiny of the bill whether we need the bill. The reason why we need it is not just to do with legal and moral obligations—it is because we have to future proof. Even if all 32 local authorities made seat belts a requirement in their contracts for however long the contracts lasted, that approach would not be legally future proofed. It is important that the bill will future proof it.

We are strapped in and ready to go if the Parliament sees fit to pass the bill today. The Government backs the bill, and I urge all members to do the same.

16:55  



Gillian Martin

This has been an interesting debate, as debates in the Parliament always are, but it does not often happen that a debate is so hugely consensual and constructive. I thank everyone who spoke in it; this has been a very special afternoon for me.

Before I talk about some of the points that members made in their speeches, I absolutely have to thank Brendan Rooney, Gavin Sellar, Anne Cairns and everyone in Transport Scotland and the bill team who got me through this process. I could not have done it without them.

In particular, I have to mention my parliamentary assistant, Judith Sijstermans, who knows more about seat belts than she ever thought possible. I do not know how happy she is about that, but if seat belts ever turn up in a question on a quiz show when she is back in California, and she wins $1 million, she will have me to thank, so that is fine.

I thank Jamie Greene for quoting Inspector Grant Edward, of Tayside Police. What Inspector Edward said about the illusion of safety when one is in a fast-moving vehicle is something that I will remember.

Neil Bibby talked about collaboration across the political divide. If any member is thinking about introducing a member’s bill, as I did, I can tell them that the best thing about the process is that the member in charge of the bill has to go outwith their political-party comfort zone and really start to speak to people and get them on side, regardless of their party. That has been an invaluable experience for me: instead of just passing members in the corridor I have met them and got to know them a lot better, which is a good thing.

Neil Bibby talked about being a dad, and Gail Ross talked about being a mum. For a lot of us, that is what this issue comes down to; it is about the safety of our kids, which we always have in the backs of our minds when we get involved in subjects such as this one. My kids rode on school buses that had seat belts throughout their school lives, and what really propelled me forward was the wish to give other parents, in local authority areas where such measures are not in place, the same peace of mind that I had.

Stewart Stevenson

Might the member acknowledge that grandfathers, too, have a role in campaigning on the issue? I am thinking of my late constituent Ron Beaty, who campaigned tirelessly for safety on school buses. Ron was a very big-hearted character, whom we miss enormously. [Applause.]

Gillian Martin

I had the privilege of meeting Ron Beaty just before stage 1 of the bill, and I am very grateful that I had the chance to meet Mr Beaty, because unfortunately he is no longer with us. He came along to wish me luck. I thought that he was going to give me a hard time for not doing more—I was expecting that—but he did not do that; he just said, “Go on, get it done,” or, as Stewart Stevenson said in his speech, “Just do it.”

I agree with Edward Mountain that bus companies that have contracts in place but do not provide seat belts should do so. I hope that such companies have been listening today. Other bus companies are doing the right thing and I think that they want their fellow bus companies to do the same.

Daniel Johnson

It costs only £50 to buy an inertia-reel seat belt. That is all that we are asking bus companies to spend. Does the member agree that we should say to companies, “Just spend that money”?

Gillian Martin

The member will get no argument from me on that. I agree. Bus companies that do not have seat belts in place and are tendering for contracts for school journeys need to take a look at themselves and consider their moral responsibility.

I was about to mention Daniel Johnson, because his being told to repeat himself will live in my memory as one of the most bizarre things that happened today. I hope that he enjoyed that moment in his speech. He and Gail Ross remembered that, when they were children, there was not even a legal duty to put seat belts in the backs of cars. That shows how far we have come.

I thank John Finnie for his advice. I had chats with him throughout the whole process. I thank him for mentioning Lynn Merrifield of Kingseat community council, who first brought the issue to the Public Petitions Committee. Without her, we might not be in the situation that we are in today.

There is an EU directive to compel people to wear seat belts that could be enacted by the UK Government. I ask anyone who said today that they were worried that people would not put seat belts on to write to their MPs and see whether we can get that enacted before Brexit. If we do that, we will not have to cajole people into wearing their seat belts.

Yet again, I am agreeing with Mike Rumbles. My goodness—it is becoming a bit of a habit. I wonder how long that will last—I will not milk it. He called on companies to do the right thing, and he is absolutely right. They should do the right thing: if their buses do not have seat belts on them, they should not put them out if they are going to have kids on them. I will remember him saying that, because he was absolutely right. I will stop now, because it is getting ridiculous.

I thank everyone for all the help that they have given me in this process.

Final vote on the Bill

After the final discussion of the Bill, MSPs vote on whether they think it should become law.

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Final vote transcript

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The first question is, that motion S5M-08600, in the name of Alison Harris, on the Writers to the Signet Dependants’ Annuity Fund Amendment (Scotland) Bill, be agreed to.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Writers to the Signet Dependants’ Annuity Fund Amendment (Scotland) Bill and that the bill should proceed as a private bill.

The Presiding Officer

The final question is, that motion S5M-08706, in the name of Gillian Martin, on stage 3 of the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill, be agreed to. There will be a division.

For

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Smith, Elaine (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Scott, John (Ayr) (Con)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mundell, Oliver (Dumfriesshire) (Con)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Mitchell, Margaret (Central Scotland) (Con)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKee, Ivan (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Matheson, Michael (Falkirk West) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
Mackay, Derek (Renfrewshire North and West) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lockhart, Dean (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Lochhead, Richard (Moray) (SNP)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lamont, Johann (Glasgow) (Lab)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Haughey, Clare (Rutherglen) (SNP)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Harper, Emma (South Scotland) (SNP)
Hamilton, Rachael (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Griffin, Mark (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Grahame, Christine (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)
Gougeon, Mairi (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Freeman, Jeane (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Forbes, Kate (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)
Fee, Mary (West Scotland) (Lab)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Fergus (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Denham, Ash (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Crawford, Bruce (Stirling) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Constance, Angela (Almond Valley) (SNP)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Briggs, Miles (Lothian) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Bibby, Neil (West Scotland) (Lab)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Beamish, Claudia (South Scotland) (Lab)
Ballantyne, Michelle (South Scotland) (Con)
Balfour, Jeremy (Lothian) (Con)
Baker, Claire (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Allan, Alasdair (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
Adamson, Clare (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 102, Against 0, Abstentions 0.

The motion has been agreed to and the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill has been passed. [Applause.]

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees that the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Meeting closed at 17:03.  



Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill as passed

This Bill was passed on 9 November 2017 and became law on 18 December 2017
Find the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Act on legislation.gov.uk

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