Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Berkeley: Will my noble friend respond to my question?

4 p.m.

Lord Filkin: I very much hope that I can. It was about clarification on what Clause 32 specifically meant, was it not?

Lord Berkeley: If it would be helpful, I could speak on the matter again when I move Amendment No. 8.

Lord Hanningfield: We had this sort of debate last week on special schools, where young people are often from many different authorities. Some authorities may be piloting the schemes and some may not, and so there could be confusion. Does the Minister envisage that all authorities that support the special school will be consulted in respect of the scheme? It could also happen with denominational schools on the border between local authorities. You can get pupils from three or four local authorities going to one denominational school. Do the Government accept that there could be a variety of different charges and schemes for children attending one special school? I hope that the Minister will agree that all authorities sending children to a school should be consulted about it, as some might have violent objections to it.

Lord Filkin: I agree, for reasons that we touched on in part last week. Local authorities clearly have a direct interest in the school and so they should be consulted as part of that process.

I thank my noble friend Lord Berkeley for holding his killer question until later in our proceedings.

Lord Rix: I thank the Minister. I have both hearing aids in this afternoon and, listening between the lines, I think that I got the answer for which I had hoped. I shall obviously consult the Special Educational Consortium and others concerned. If there are any further points that I should raise, I shall probably take the opportunity of writing to the Minister.

Lord Filkin: I thank the noble Lord. Sometimes Ministers are slightly inhibited by processes of timing in
7 Mar 2005 : Column GC193
terms of the degree to which they can give commitments. If I am in a position to give a stronger commitment in a day or two, I shall write to the noble Lord.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: The Minister said that the pupils themselves would undoubtedly be consulted about some of the changes. However, at the moment paragraph 14 of the current prospectus—the one that is on the web—containing the appropriate list, does not include consultation with pupils. It is appropriate that pupils be consulted, so it would be good to see them there.

Similarly, the Minister mentioned councillors from minor authorities. I put in a plea that, although the authority itself is bringing in the measures, it is important that, in these days of executive Cabinets and so on, it makes a bit of an effort to ensure that the councillors who cover the local area are included in the consultation. There is a tendency for Cabinets to work with the offices and railroad things through rather than always to carry out appropriate consultation.

We are grateful to the Minister for indicating that the principle of consultation may well be included in the Bill. We recognise how all Ministers dislike long lists in Bills. In so far as the prospectus and the regulations are the statutory guidance, it would be good if they mentioned the broad consultation with councillors covering the area.

Lord Filkin: I am shocked to hear what Cabinets are up to; I find that very surprising. I take the noble Baroness's point. We must ensure that Back-Benchers have an opportunity to comment as well, and we shall look at that. With regard to pupils, I hoped that I signalled clearly and positively that the schools forum would be the prime focus for consultation. I went slightly further by signalling that I would expect a responsible authority to listen to any pupil who wished, in addition and of his own volition, to write and give his views on whether he thought something was a good or a bad idea.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I do not believe that pupils have any formal role in schools forums. Basically teachers and governors have a role in them.

Lord Filkin: We seem to have conflicting views within the Room at this point. I shall draw a veil over the matter and we shall return to it speedily with a letter.

Lord Hanningfield: We have had an interesting exchange of views. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that basically he accepts that there should be something in the Bill about consultation. We shall wait to hear what comes of that.

I am still concerned about situations where a special educational school or denominational school supplies education for an area wider than one local authority or where it covers the whole authority because it is a school with particular special needs. I was interested to hear the recent exchange on this matter but the schools forums have a long way to go. Obviously the Government have
7 Mar 2005 : Column GC194
bigger ambitions for schools forums than is currently the case. Speaking from my own experience, I would still want professional associations to be consulted in order to obtain a representative view of teachers. The schools forum is fairly amateurish. It is well intended but, as yet, it is not fully representative of everyone in the education community. It might develop, but obviously the Government have big aspirations for it.

I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said about involving local members. In these days of executive decisions and financial restraint, it is important to obtain the views of locally elected members on these issues, and I support that. However, the Minister said that he has taken all these points on board and we shall wait for him to come back to us. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Berkeley moved Amendment No. 3:

(d) arrangements to make a charge on those who use a motor vehicle within a specified distance from the school where paragraph (a) applies"

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 3, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 14, which also stands in my name. Perhaps I should start by suggesting that the Bill may almost become the law of unintended consequences with regard to people driving their kids to school. There are some good things in the prospectus, even if I did not understand it all—but I am not an educationalist; I have spent my life in transport. However, some of the objectives are good—for example, to increase the modal share of walking and cycling, which has health and social benefits, and arrangements to provide cost-effective alternatives to the family car. I also support the fact that the prospectus states that schemes must aim to cut car use on the home-to-school journey.

That is all very well, but when people discover that they will be charged for sending their children to school by bus whereas previously it was free, I think that there will be a terrible tendency for them to say, "Oh well, I'll drive the children to school". I hope that that does not happen, but at present there are certainly plenty of parents driving children to schools in cars, causing fairly severe congestion outside schools and with some people displaying the most appallingly bad driving behaviour.

Before I turn to the detail of the amendment, it may be worth reminding the Committee how many children are killed or seriously injured each year. PACTS, the Parliamentary Advisory Committee for Transport Safety, has provided me with figures which show that in 2002 more than 4,500 children aged 15 or under were killed or seriously injured in road accidents. Of course, we have the highest proportion of such accidents in the whole of Europe. Therefore, I suggest that we should be a little careful that these good intentions—or mostly good intentions—in the Bill do not bring about the wrong consequences.

My Amendment No. 3 would allow education authorities to include arrangements to charge those who use a motor vehicle within a specified distance.
7 Mar 2005 : Column GC195
That might be difficult to envisage, and some people may have no alternative but to drive to school. It would not hurt if they dropped the children off half a mile away from school in some suitable place and made them walk. First, it would be safer and, secondly, it would give them some exercise. A specified distance needs to be included therefore. I believe that a way could be found—if they charge people for going on the bus they could find a way of charging people for travelling by car.

The other issue, which is the substance of Amendment No. 14, is that there are cars and there are cars. As regards the safety of cars, one sees that when people are driving their Chelsea tractors with little Johnny inside protected like a cocoon—wonderful. But if one goes on to the European New Car Assessment programme website, you discover that, with the exception of a Volvo, all the large off-roaders have the lowest pedestrian rating test of all cars. There are about a dozen in that category. It is one star and the Suzuki has no stars at all. However, they score highly for the interiors.

There is no reason why there should not be a variable charge dependent on the type of car used for taking children to school. That would send a message that is good for road safety and the message that if you have to drive your children to school, you either drop them off a certain distance from the school or you pay a charge that is commensurate with the equivalent bus charge which might be introduced by the Bill or a variable one depending on the safety of people outside the car. It does not matter about the inside because any collisions will be low-speed and the injury will be to pedestrians and accompanying people outside. The charge should also cover the emissions, which could be the case if the Government introduced the variable vehicle excise duty. They have the information and could make that charge already.

I hope that this will never have to happen but—should many more people drive their children to school as a result of the Bill, for all the disincentives contained in it—it would be a useful provision for the LEAs to discourage people driving children so close to the school. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page