Clause 54

Part of Local Transport Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:33 pm on 6th May 2008.

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Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (Yorkshire and the Humber), Minister of State (Department for Transport) 5:33 pm, 6th May 2008

I refer back to the point that I made in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley, which referenced his new clause, which would require operators of community transport services to check that everybody driving a vehicle on their behalf is not registered on the sex offenders register. I want to make it clear that the Bill does not provide for that, but I emphasise the existing safeguards and checks on community transport drivers. Much of the work of community transport organisations will be done under a contract to a local authority or other public body, which can make it a condition of contract that the drivers used have all been subject to a criminal record check. Where necessary, that check can be to the enhanced level of enclosure to provide all the information to the Criminal Records Bureau.

In addition, the Government are now implementing the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, which obtained Royal Assent in November 2006, and which was introduced specifically in response to recommendation 19 of the Bichard inquiry report. The Act provides the legal framework for the new independent safeguarding authority scheme. Under the SVG Act, those who exclusively transport children and/or vulnerable adults are subject to the requirements of the new scheme. The ISA’s role will be to consider all relevant information relating to the risk of harm posed by persons seeking to work with children or vulnerable adults in either a paid or voluntary capacity, and to bar those considered unsuitable for such work. The scheme will be launched in October 2009; that will allow systems to be developed and legislation laid, and it will give organisations time to prepare for the introduction of the most robust and thorough vetting and barring scheme.

I will ensure that the Home Office is aware of the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley about drivers of community  transport. As I said, new clause 1 is not included in our debate, but I shall ensure that the Home Office is aware of what has been said.

As for amendment No. 243, moved by the hon. Member for Wimbledon, I can tell him that safety is obviously an important consideration in the operation of community transport. However, we have to consider whether there is a problem and if so whether what he proposes is the right solution. Section 22 operators are a relatively rare breed, and we obviously cannot draw many conclusions about their safety record from that small sample. When we consider the much larger body of community transport that operates under section 19 permits, which includes both paid and unpaid volunteer drivers, there is no evidence that volunteer drivers are unsafe compared to those driving similar vehicles commercially.

Road accident statistics are generally based on vehicle type rather than usage. The minibus category is split three ways—between purely private use, the voluntary sector and the commercial sector. The safety record is pretty high across the board. Only recently did it become a legal requirement for commercial bus drivers to undergo formal training, as distinct from passing the appropriate driving test, although the requirement does not come into force until September. At the moment, therefore, we do not have much evidence about its effect on road safety.

I accept that the amendment would not require the full rigours of the commercial training regime to be imposed on voluntary drivers, although that would be the logical outcome of the arguments being put forward. The voluntary sector itself provides a great deal of training. For good reasons, it has always done so. Apart from the question of public safety, it would not be sensible to put rather expensive vehicles into the hands of incompetent drivers.

I am not opposed to training, but the question is one of proportionality. We have to bear in mind that if we were to require the community transport sector to undertake what could be fairly rigorous training, it would place quite a burden on it. We must put that in the context of the later part of the amendment, which is about a scheme being not for profit.

The existing regulation-making power could be used to impose a training requirement on the drivers of vehicles used under section 22 permits. That is already in the Bill, so that part of the hon. Gentleman’s amendment is unnecessary for technical reasons. Although I am rejecting the amendment, I assure him that I do not rule out the introduction of a driver training requirement if a real need for it is identified in future.