Meeting date: Thursday, November 9, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 09 November 2017
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Global Entrepreneurship Week, Business Motion, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Writers to the Signet Dependants’ Annuity Fund Amendment (Scotland) Bill: Preliminary Stage, Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Global Entrepreneurship Week
- Business Motion
- Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time
- Writers to the Signet Dependants’ Annuity Fund Amendment (Scotland) Bill: Preliminary Stage
- Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
- Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill
- Decision Time
Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill
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
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—
Will the member take an intervention?
Yes, I will.
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.
I remind members to always speak through the chair, please.
I am sorry, Presiding Officer.
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.
That the Parliament agrees that the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill be passed.
I call Humza Yousaf. You have up to six minutes, minister, but I would appreciate brevity.15:57
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
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.
That was your cunning plan.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
As a colleague of Clare Adamson on the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, I say that her move is long overdue. [Laughter.]
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.
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.
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?
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.
Please wind up, Mr Johnson.
I will. I had lost track of how much time I had.
That is understandable.
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
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
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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.
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?
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.
Thank you. I call Peter Grant—I am sorry; I appear to be marrying Peter Chapman to Rhoda Grant.16:44
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
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.
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?
I can give you a little extra time if you need it, minister.
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
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.
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.]
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.
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”?
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.