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Lord Hanningfield: I support what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said. But, for example, my local authority constituency has just put two enormous roundabouts at a new road junction. Therefore, although the distance is still well below the statutory distance, it is impossible for children to walk across those very busy roundabouts. Arguments are going on about it, but no one has been able to afford to put in proper crossings. So, from a local authority point of view, if there was more investment in minor works,
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there would not be so much need for this legislation because youngsters would be able get to school on the right type of routes.
If the Government are to charge parents for driving their children to school, the quicker they bring it in before 5 May, the better. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that. We could do with more investment in minor works to enable youngsters to walk or to cycle to school.
Baroness Walmsley: I agree with my noble friend Lord Bradshaw. The Minister referred to the herds of cows in Kensington and I agree with his sentiments in that respect. However, I hope that he will remember that in the remoter parts of Scotland and Wales, in particular, there are children who cannot get to school unless they are being driven in a 4x4, especially in winter when the snow is deep. If there is any question of charging people for using such vehicles in those areas, it would cause complete uproar and would be quite unjust.
As regards congestion charging, does the Minister know whether there is any intention to introduce differential charging for vehicles in relation to their size in London? Are there any proposals to introduce any additional congestion schemes, other than the one we know about in Edinburghfor example, Cambridge?
Lord Triesman: All the questions illustrate precisely why this legislation is before Members of Committee. The intention is to encourage local authorities to deal with problems in the ways that they best judge are required. I was interested and intrigued, because it illustrates the point so well, to hear about the problems where two roundabouts have been built and the specific problems of a different kind in a different area. All those things are problems that require
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but it is an irony, to some extent, that we have been discussing the charging of parents driving their children to school, whereas the Bill is about charging children in buses going to school. It might be appropriate to charge parents and to ring-fence those revenues to lay on school buses to take children to school.
Lord Triesman: I think that I shall persist in dealing with this Bill rather than one that made a completely different proposal. The Bill makes it possible for specific things to be done by local authorities to resolve the issues that they regard as central to getting children to school safely, without too much congestion and so on.
I have argued that it is not appropriate to treat 4x4s differently in any respect, but it would be wholly inappropriate to treat them as though they were exactly the same if deployed as mobile weaponry in Kensington or used in some rather more remote place. We have no plans to do that. We have no plans to introduce charging before any date in May. It would
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be inappropriate for us to have plans because it must be for local authorities to have those plans. They do that in the light of what they regard as best for management.
The question of funding is important. The Department for Transport is providing £659 million to local authorities in 200405 for small-scale capital projects, including safe routes to school. Nearly 4,000 schools were expected to have at least one safe route by March last year. So a significant sum has gone into that. The 20 miles per hour zones are funded through local transport plans and associated funding.
I hope that that addressed the first of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, but I should say that it also potentially dealt with some of the points raised in his second question, although I am strongly tempted to say that local authorities which police parking effectively do not generally end up out of pocket. The revenues that are raised by the effective policing of places that should not be parked inwhether people do that for a few minutes to gossip or whether they stay or whatevergenerally cover the costs more than effectively. If there were issues of that kind, it would be good to see the law enforced.
Lord Berkeley: I am grateful to noble Lords. We have had a good debate, have we not? I thank all noble Lords who have taken part. This is a group of probing amendments which are carrots and sticks. I am not sure that the carrot can yet be reached over the fence in all cases, but we have heard some good ideas.
One matter that we have not discussed, because it is not part of the Bill, is what should be done about private schools, which are some of the worst offenders. That area clearly needs more enforcement and, although local authorities may cover their costs, if they do not spend any money in enforcement, they are not losing any. Therefore, I am not sure that that situation altogether solves the problem.
My noble friend mentioned some other government policies, such as VED labelling in new cars, which is a great idea that I have always supported. He will be aware that it was reported in the press last week that the car manufacturers are trying to make the accident tests less stringent and those who are concerned about road accidents would oppose that. But the new car assessment programme that I mentioned originally is supported by the Department for Transport and many other member states. It is an official organisation, so to speak.
I shall not press this matter any further. I should tell my noble friend that when our party is still in government in three or four years' time and the Bill, I hope, has become law and a few trials are taking place, it would be interesting to revisit whether more cars are being used on the school run by parents, or whoever, taking children to school. I have a horrible fear that there will be. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(d) arrangements for the safety of the transport under the scheme,"
Evidence from the Transport Select Committee and the Education and Lifelong Learning Committee of the Welsh Assembly clearly shows that school buses are often among the oldest vehicles on the road and that their cosmetic appearance does little to inspire the confidence of parents. Conversely, yellow bus schemes have proved more popular with parents who are, on occasion, willing to pay a small charge for the use of new, clean and reliable vehicles.
We on these Benches agree with the recommendations of the Transport Select Committee that safety should form a prominent part of the Government's school transport initiatives. Indeed, the committee was slightly surprised that the Government admitted that they did not know the effects of the local government best value regime on the quality of school buses.
Evidence to the committee showed that many authorities interpreted "best value" as "lowest cost" and that the safety of school transport schemes was suffering as a result. Therefore, does the Minister believe, like the committee, that there should be a national minimum standard for local authority school bus contracts? If he does not, how can his Government guarantee and ensure the quality and safety of such schemes? I beg to move.
Lord Bradshaw: Again, I support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. In letting school contracts, local authorities always go for the lowest cost tender. In Oxfordshire, we have found that when the police undertake road tests of passenger-carrying vehicles, invariably it is school transport vehicles that are prohibited because they fail to meet the standards. I can conclude from that only that standards are very low.
It is an area where a great deal of sharp practice takes place. Many operators have a set of tyres which they put on a vehicle when it goes in for a test, and they immediately remove them and replace them with a substandard set when the vehicle goes on the road. That is the kind of thing that happens. I know that in one case those at the vehicle-testing station marked the tyres so that they knew that they were the test tyres rather than the tyres that were usually used on the vehicle.
Also, many drivers of such vehicles are treading very finely around the law because they are not full-time drivers. They have other jobs. They are part-time people who come off a night shift, and so on, and take children to school in the morning. The whole issue of the suitability of vehicles and driversI am not talking about whether a person is a potential sex offender but whether his working life is such that it would allow him within a reasonable working day to drive a school
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busneeds careful examination. I recommend that the Minister turns his attention to thatperhaps not within the confines of the Bill but that he draws the attention of officials to some of the malpractice that takes place in this area and puts the safety of children at risk.
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