Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Walmsley: I hope that Members of the Committee will excuse the croak in place of my normal dulcet tones. I give general support to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. However, in principle, we agree with congestion charging where there is a good reason for that. In practice, what the noble Lord is suggesting might turn out to be difficult.

However, I hope that the local authorities which want to put these pilot schemes in place were listening to some of the points that the noble Lord made. He is right about the danger to pedestrians from certain models of motorcar. During the weekend, when I could not talk, I was reading the Which? report on the safety inside cars and the safety of pedestrians hit by cars. I am therefore aware of the truth of what he says.

The noble Lord has some good ideas about parents driving the children to a location half a mile, say, from the school where the local authority or school could
 
7 Mar 2005 : Column GC196
 
organise walking trains. I would have thought that pub car parks, which are certainly not used at 8.30 in the morning or 3.30 in the afternoon, could be suitable starting and finishing points for such walking trains. Therefore, although I do not believe that we can support the noble Lord's amendments, I have a great deal of sympathy and I hope that people are listening to him.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Triesman: I recall that my noble friend Lord Berkeley raised this point on Second Reading. His intention is to impose a charge on parents who drive their children to school. I acknowledge, as he does, that there are many beneficial reasons for ensuring that fewer children are driven to school and that is one of the central aims of the Bill; we are one on that. But it is hard to accept that we will end up with no children needing to be driven to school by car, even with an enhanced bus service and the cycling and walking opportunities that school travel schemes will bring for some children.

There are a number of measures that schools and local authorities can take. They can encourage car sharing, or actively encourage parents to park away from the school gate, with the children walking the last part of the journey. Authorities such as Cambridgeshire are promoting "kiss and ride" schemes; I believe that that involves the parents kissing the children before they ride, rather than the pupils kissing each other when they are on the bus. In any event, that is its name. By that scheme, pupils can be dropped off and board a shuttle bus to their school. Many schools who have engaged with the Government's action plan on travelling to school are doing all those things through their active travel plans.

The amendment itself is so widely drafted that it could suggest the imposition of a charge on anyone driving any motor vehicle within the distance specified. As my noble friend will know, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has just said, in England and Wales, local transport authorities already have powers under the Transport Act 2000 and similar legislation for London to introduce charging schemes to tackle congestion. In practice, in many urban places where schools are located closely together, a charging scheme under the proposed amendment would be indistinguishable from a charging scheme under the Transport Act.

In other areas, a road user could be persistently confused about whether they were in or out of a charged area. There would be the potential for motorists to use rat-runs to avoid the coverage of any scheme. These are the real practical difficulties. There would need to be a great amount of thought given to the practical details of a scheme under the proposed amendment. Those practical details are a serious problem. How would the measure be enforced, and by whom? What would happen to any revenue collected? Would anyone be exempt? The amendment as drafted takes no account of those matters.

Although I recognise the objective of the amendment, I feel that there are alternative and more suitable measures available to achieve it. Even if it
 
7 Mar 2005 : Column GC197
 
were possible to restrict the provision to parents driving their own children, I have grave doubts about such a provision. For one thing, it would mean that anyone else driving the child to school would probably not be subject to a charge being imposed. One could see the odd position emerging that the only person penalised would be the parent driving their own child to school. I am sure that that is not the intention of the proposal.

If the charging scheme were to apply to all vehicles taking children to school, I assume that there would be a requirement to know the registered keeper of the vehicle, as identified from DVLA records, who would be liable for the charge. If the intention was to charge the parent, to distinguish between those two people would turn out to be an extremely expensive and complex scheme. As with current congestion charging, there would be a need to use cameras or barriers to find out who was making the transport movements. I do not believe that that would work.

Amendment No. 14, taken with Amendment No. 3, would require that a charging scheme in the vicinity of a school would take into account the emissions of a vehicle and its implications for pedestrian and bicycle safety. The Government have introduced policies aimed both at improving the emissions of vehicles and reducing the danger they pose to pedestrians. These include measures for carbon-dioxide-based systems of vehicle excise duty and company car tax. The Secretary of State for Transport recently announced a new scheme for the energy-efficiency labelling of new cars to begin this summer. Similarly the Government have given incentives to the use of alternative fuels such as biofuels.

As regards vehicles, these policies are facilitated by the registration and licensing system operated by the DVLA. Access to that system would be required by any authority which attempted to do what was requested in the amendments. Some authorities possibly now have an online link to the DVLA used in connection with their parking schemes and abandoned vehicle functions, but it does not give them access to emissions data, which would elaborate that process a great deal. I will not go into great detail, but the amendment does not specify the extent to which the emissions should count for any particular purpose.

As regards the risk of injury to vulnerable road users, I agree substantially with a great deal of what has been said. There is a good deal of evidence from PACTS and others, although there is disagreement about some of it. It is argued that there are other types of evidence. When one watches off-road cars moving through the herds of cattle in Kensington one sometimes wonders what the purpose of them is. None the less, I understand the point made about bull bars and so on.

Research shows that the risk of an accident involving a child is reduced by two-thirds in all categories when a 20-miles-an-hour zone has been introduced. That is an obvious and important limit. We believe that it is an
 
7 Mar 2005 : Column GC198
 
effective way of reducing child accidents in the vicinity of schools, and local authorities have the powers to introduce those measures.

In conclusion, we do not believe that the amendment would work. We do not believe that it is practical, with great respect, and it is therefore not appropriate. In that light, I ask my noble friend to withdraw it.

Lord Bradshaw: Perhaps I may put two issues to the noble Lord, Lord Triesman. Better ways to school and the introduction of 20-mile-an-hour limits are expensive to introduce. Many schools in the local authority area that I represent want to introduce better rules on ways to school, but they are in a queue because little money is available to construct cycle-ways and make other necessary changes. That is the first issue that the Minister must address. It is all very well saying that local authorities have the powers but they do not have the means. Having one without the other is nonsense.

The second issue is that most of the congestion referred to arises close to the school. I can think of two cases in my division where congestion around the school is so bad that regular bus services had to be suspended because they could not get through. The local authority has introduced "no waiting" areas around the school which need enforcement. However, resources for that are limited. They are enforced one day, but the next day everyone comes back again.

Therefore, in considering rules relating to better ways to school, will the Minister examine, first, the available funding so that schools can get into a queue and get their schemes working? Schools can contribute a great deal to the scheme in both thought and money. Secondly, should they not be allowed to look at one or two potential drop-off points which would be safe places to walk from? I refer to places which will not require people to cross roads and are generally in sight of the school gate.

The problems referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, generally occur outside the school gates. Cars from two or three directions come together, people drive in and out, reverse and gossip. We must understand that much of the congestion takes place during periods of gossip. While that takes place, accidents happen. In one case, the local bus service has had to be suspended at about 8.45 a.m., when most people want to use it, because the bus cannot get through due to congestion around the school. While the remedies that the noble Lord suggested may not commend themselves to the Minister, the problems are real and need addressing.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page