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Grand Committee

Volume 670: debated on Thursday 10 March 2005

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Official Report Of The Grand Committee On The School Transport Bill

(Second Day)

Thursday, 10 March 2005.

The Committee met at a quarter past three of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Elton) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [School travel schemes]:

moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 2, line 44, at end insert—
"In the case of families where more than two children are registered pupils with the relevant local education authority, no charge shall be made for any subsequent children."

The noble Baroness said: The amendment would ensure that, if a family had three or more children of school age using school transport but earned enough to be charged, the proposed charges should be levied only on the first two children, and the third and subsequent children would be carried free and not charged.

In paragraph 30 of the prospectus, it is noted that the changes could be burdensome for working families on low incomes and for large working families. It states:
"There is a particularly strong case for providing protection from charges to the fourth or subsequent child of compulsory school age in the household, as these comprise less than 1% of the pupil population".
It seems that the main reason for not charging is that the numbers are so small, as distinct from the burden that such charges would impose on the family. It is the burden that the charges might place on families that we are concerned about.

The average wage is about £400 a week, or £1,600 a month, or about £18,000 a year. Such earnings are too high to qualify for free school meals. unless the family is extremely large. Yet, for anyone earning £18,000 a year, whether they are in a single-parent family or a one-earner family, the extra cost of paying for school transport on the kind of charges that we have been discussing would be, roughly speaking, £1 a day per child, which works out at £5 a week per child. If there are two children, it will be £10 a week, roughly £400 a year extra. That is a substantial amount to absorb in a family budget that would already be stretched on that amount of earnings.

That is why we are seeking that the limit should be lowered to the third and subsequent children rather than the fourth and subsequent children. The charges could place a burden on families in a relatively low income bracket but whose income is too high to qualify for protected children status under the means test. I beg to move.

I shall speak to Amendment No. 27, which is grouped with Amendment No. 19. My amendment would exempt the fourth sibling and any subsequent sibling from charges. if the first three siblings already pay charges for school transport. It is similar to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. We are obviously debating the same issue.

The impact of charges for home-to-school transport, as has been said several times previously and will be said again, I am sure, will be an important consideration, particularly for larger families, to repeat what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said. I agree with her. The families of at least half of those travelling to school by bus or taxi do not receive free home-to-school transport, so the fares that larger families have to pay already are likely to be particularly burdensome.

Amendment No. 27 would cap the charges that a family would pay where school transport for three children was already being paid for. No cost would need to be paid for additional children.

There may be situations in which local authorities would impose some kind of distance-related charge as a means of recovering some of the transport costs that they incurred. Large families in rural areas would face an even more significant increase in their costs. if there were to be such a charge.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills
(Lord Filkin)

Amendment No. 19 would exempt the third and subsequent siblings where the first two siblings were already paying charges, and Amendment No. 27 would exempt the fourth and subsequent children from charges where the first three were already paying charges for school transport.

At one level, I am glad to engage with the Committee about the costs to large families, some of whom will be poor. My fundamental point is that, under current law, which has the crudest subsidy system known to man, woman or Parliament, a large family with seven children living within the three-mile limit could pay very substantial sums—the average is about £7 per pupil per week. Therefore, there is no statutory protection for large poor families within the three-mile limit. That is one of the moral reasons, in addition to the arguments about reducing congestion, why we believe that the piloting provisions are fundamentally right. They allow local authorities to have a better subsidy system than the current one.

In other words, were the Bill not to proceed, we would guarantee that all large poor families with, for example, four children who currently spend. for the sake of argument, £7 per week would continue to pay £28 a week on fares to their school, without a bean of subsidy from the system. Both Front Benches. in their usual subtle and wise way. advance the case for the Bill in principle through the amendments. I shall respond to the specific points. The amendments anticipate that the child's family will already pay charges in respect of two or three children. Because of that, the amendments imply, correctly, that they do not fall within the definition of "protected children" under the Bill. That is logical. I acknowledge that the impact of charges for home-to-school transport is an important issue for larger families.

The accompanying prospectus necessarily, and rightly, addresses the schemes proposed by the Bill in several ways. Initially, as part of the consultation process that LEAs will have to undertake, they will be obliged to report on the main findings of consultations and what action they have taken to address concerns. The section of the prospectus dealing with charging states that scheme applications must set out local charging policies, making it clear how many pupils will be charged and the level of proposed charges. Those details must be included in local consultations—for good reason; otherwise, it would be an "in principle" exercise, rather than a consultation about the reality.

We have also made clear that any charges must be affordable and set at a level that does not produce an increase in car use; otherwise, they would be nonsense. We have highlighted the fact that,
"We are concerned that charges could be particularly burdensome for … large working families",
and that,
"There is a particularly strong case for providing protection from charges to the fourth or subsequent child of compulsory school age in a household".

By our estimate, nearly one in 10 pupils would be captured by the amendment. Although some of those might already be captured by the existing definition of "protected child"—it would be surprising if none was—there is a great danger that in extending the definition of "protected children" to encompass all third or fourth and subsequent siblings of a household, the economics of schemes in some areas might simply not stack up. If that were the case, local authorities would be left with the status quo. Apart from doing nothing to address congestion or to get healthier and more environmentally friendly forms of transport, the status quo does nothing to relieve the burden on large poor families, which is exactly what the amendment is about. I am sensitive to the spirit of the amendment but feel that, in that way, it would not achieve the objective sought by its proponents.

As we make clear in the prospectus, we expect scheme LEAs to explain how they propose to manage a charging regime cost-effectively, taking into account the needs of low-income and large families. They must also explain why they are confident that charging will not increase car use. As part of the evaluation and monitoring of schemes, we expect LEAs to assess the impact of their schemes on different groups, including the impact on large families. So we will look at that as part of the evaluation process.

It probably goes without saying that, although one can understand that some large families are less well off, partly because of the joy and cost of bringing up children, it is not true that all large families are poor. Again, therefore, it is a slightly blunt instrument as a subsidy differential.

For those reasons, we are sensitive to the spirit behind both the amendments, recognising that there is a greater burden on larger families in paying for transport. Many of those larger families are paying a larger bill, but authorities should not be fettered in designing schemes that achieve the wider objectives of reducing congestion, providing healthier transport modes and addressing subsidies more effectively. We should not so fetter them that they do not have scope to design schemes creatively. Of course, we will be policing—if that is not too strong a word—how they have done that in the proposals they put before us.

Is there any other mechanism by which local authorities could be guided towards families who are working but who are on relatively low wages? If the blunt instrument, as he described it, is not appropriate because families that did not need the money would get it, is there any other mechanism that could be used?

I think that I have the thrust of the question, although I shall not be able to provide a wonderfully crisp answer. The question asks whether there is any indicator that would allow a local authority to know that if they passported people who had that indicator they would be bearing efficiently on—am I right?

I have got the point. We are unlikely to want to say that authorities must always do so, but it is a thoughtful point, and I shall reflect on it and see whether, if there were such an indicator, one could instance it as a mechanism that would help local authorities in focusing their reflections. I have got the point, have I not?

The Minister did the same thing the other day. We do not assume that everyone who lives less than three miles from the school pays or incurs costs for transport, whereas everyone who lives over three miles away gets free transport at the moment. In urban areas, most children in secondary schools walk or cycle and go to school without any cost. Even in some of the more rural schools, children of 11 or 12 living a mile or a mile and a half away find their own way there. It is only a small group of children at secondary schools who have to pay for transport at the moment. They probably live between two and three miles from the school. Some authorities, for example, my own authority, sometimes have a limit of slightly less than three miles when it seems necessary.

I represent an area south of Chelmsford on the country council. It cannot be described as particularly rural because it full of London commuters, although there are still a lot of village people. Around 75 per cent of the young people in my villages who go to secondary school get free transport, on a bus, because there are groups of villages. All of them will have to pay if some of the schemes come off, and there are a lot of large families.

I want to repeat that when the Minister speaks he assumes that everyone living less than three miles from school is paying: very few are. They are all finding other ways of getting to school. Everyone who lives over three miles from school gets free transport, and they will have to pay in future. I hope that when the Minister replies he will not infer that everyone who lives less than three miles from school is paying a lot of money at the moment. They are not.

I was not seeking to suggest that it was only those within the three-mile limit who were affected by pilot schemes. It is clear that that would not be the case. I was seeking to illustrate that under the status quo there is a significant proportion of children who live within the three-mile limit whose parents pay for them.

It would be nice to do a calculation of that. I would imagine that around 10 per cent of children fall into that category. The other 90 per cent can either get to school without paying, because they live near enough, or they get free transport. The group that the Minister is referring to is probably 10 per cent of the school population. The others either get free transport or can get to school without paying too much.

I was looking, as Ministers do, for a killer statistic with seven decimal places. I think that this is a matter on which we will have to write to the noble Lord to give him the best information we have in a letter.

It is germane to the debate and to the point that I am making. If it is a significant number in policy terms—obviously one person is significant if he is paying—it supports my argument.

Let us see what we have here. On rural schools, more people pay at present than receive free or assisted transport from their local authority. About a third receive LEA assistance and about two thirds pay themselves, which is germane. If they lived more than three miles away. they would not pay a penny. Therefore, the note I was given originally was right.

Obviously the big difference between primary and secondary education is that a lot of primary schools are in villages. When children go to secondary school, they have to go further away and they need transport. When they live in a village, they can walk to school or their parents take them so not much cost is involved. It is when they start to go to secondary school that the real cost arises. I would like the costs broken down between primary and secondary education.

For example, although Essex, an area I know well, is not that rural a county, it certainly has a lot of rural primary and secondary schools. Most parents either get their children to primary school under their own steam or they live nearby, whereas, even in a county such as Essex, there is an enormous amount of free transport for young people at secondary school. In somewhere like Cumbria, which is really rural, it is even more applicable.

3.30 p.m.

We shall take pleasure in giving the noble Lord the best breakdown we have because it will inform the debate. We are still left with the question of why we think it is right that there should be pilots. The current system is a very crude subsidy system and does not stimulate a lot of creativity.

The laboured point, which I shall make for the final time, is that the prospectus quite rightly puts pressure on the local authority, in developing the scheme and consulting on it, to think very seriously about these issues and about whether there are efficient ways of identifying those who are particularly vulnerable to any new burdens or who would benefit particularly from the relief of existing burdens as a consequence of currently receiving no payments. I shall do my best on that because it will inform the debate. However, we believe that the freedoms that the Bill gives to authorities that want it are necessary for these very reasons.

I thank the Minister for that reply; this debate has helped. There are always hard cases at the margin. You have to set a boundary somewhere; there are those who live just this side of three miles away from the school and get no free transport, and vice versa, and those, in the case that we are proposing, whose income is low, but not quite low enough to benefit from free school meals. These are hard cases and, as the Minister suggests, being able to pilot schemes has its advantages because you can try out different types of means testing. The working families' tax credit, for example, has some advantages for large families.

We thank the Minister very much for the clarification. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 20 to 25 not moved.]

moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 3, line 8, leave out "the child is within section 512ZB(4)" and insert "the parents or carers are in receipt of the child tax credit for that child."

The noble Baroness said: In many ways, this amendment might have been grouped with the previous two in that it continues the debate about the financial impact of charging on families. I suppose that with a small Bill there is always overlap, so we will have another go.

In another place my honourable friend Mark Hoban said that he was concerned that we would see a number of already hard-pressed families suffering financially as a consequence of the proposed legislation and that, by using the free school meals threshold of £13,400 as the cut-off fee for school transport, many families would be worse off.

Using the statistics of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, in many constituencies the £13,400 threshold is just over half the average wage. If you take the figure of £1 a day that the Minister in the other place was using as the cost of school transport, a child travelling more than three miles would be charged just under £200 a year. This could become an onerous burden for many families, particularly those with more than one child. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, there are various means-tested benefits that taper out at different points, such as child tax credit. Perhaps the Government need to look again and could be more generous in providing concessionary fares in the scheme.

Given the social mix in denominational schools, the families of children attending them will be quite hard pressed if there is not a more generous measure regarding available concessionary fares than is currently set out in the Bill.

If local authorities are to have a real range of options to reflect circumstances in their area, an entitlement to free school transport for those earning under £13,400 a year may not be sufficiently generous. Local authorities may have some requirements in terms of obtaining data from parents about their financial circumstances if they move away from free school meals. A process is already in place to collect that information, but it will need to be more sophisticated and more broadly set than it is now, thereby possibly leading to additional administrative costs for LEAs in terms of processing means testing. Any implementation of a menu of options would need to be considered by the department and may need to be addressed in some of its consultations with LEAs. I beg to move.

In preparing for this debate we were not totally certain whether we should take child tax credit quite literally or whether we should reflect on working tax credit as well. I shall weary noble Lords by giving the best of both worlds, or the worst, depending on one's point of view. I do so because it may help the debate.

Under the Bill, pupils protected from charging in England are those eligible for free school meals and are found in four categories of household: those eligible for income support; those eligible for income-based jobseeker's allowance; those in receipt of support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999; and those in receipt of child tax credit, but who do not receive working tax credit and have an annual income that does not exceed £13,480. Around 15 per cent of school children are eligible for free school meals, although that percentage varies in different parts of the country.

The proposals in this amendment would increase the proportion of protected children to nine out of 10 families. I do not think that the original intention was to table a wrecking amendment, but one can see that the consequence of it would be to protect 90 per cent of all families, making it hardly worth the effort to put in place a consultation. Given that, I shall address the intention behind the amendment more than the literal detail.

Nine out of 10 families with children are eligible for child tax credit so the percentage of protected children who could not be charged would rise very substantially. All families with incomes up to £58,000 who receive child tax credit but who do not receive working tax credit—at 3 December 2003 this accounted for some 6.7 million children aged five to 15 or under 16 at 31 August 2003— would be protected. Relatively few children at present are eligible for free school transport. Around two-thirds of those who make their way to school by bus or taxi pay the fares themselves.

Turning to the debate about working tax credit rather than child tax credit, I fully agree that charging is a sensitive issue and needs to take account of family and local circumstances. For reasons I have already explained, the prospectus asks scheme proposers to set out these issues in great detail and to demonstrate the consultation and their reflections on the evidence gathered from the responses to it. Charges must be affordable and must not be pitched at a level which would increase car use. If not, the exercise would be a waste of time. Full account must be taken of family size and other cost pressures.

Setting eligibility on working tax credit would cover pupils eligible for free school meals, those on income support or on income-based jobseeker's allowance, those receiving support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, those receiving child tax credit but not working tax credit, and others who I shall not cover in full detail. At the bottom line, however. it would cover 40 per cent of families and thus would represent a pretty strong fettering of the discretion of authorities to develop useful schemes.

I shall reflect on—as members of the Committee know, that means "reflect" rather than commit—whether it might be possible to refine the definition of "protected children" to include the least well-off working families, based on a definition that includes some children in families in receipt of working tax credit. I am giving a commitment to reflect seriously; I am not giving a guarantee that an amendment will be tabled. But that is a genuine exercise, which I hope will be welcomed by both Front Benches.

I thank the Minister for his reply and for saying that he will reflect on the spirit of this amendment and the previous ones. The amendment was tabled to open up the debate on the fact that, although 15 per cent of children are eligible for free school meals, not every parent applies for them.

I am glad that the Minister is sensitive to the spirit of the amendment—£200 per year for some families will be very hard to pay. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 27 to 29 not moved.]

moved Amendment No. 30:

Page 3, line 20, at end insert—
"( ) In their application to the national authority, the scheme authority shall publish the measures that it will use to determine whether or not it should seek to exercise the powers set out in paragraph 9( ) during the pilot, including—
  • (a) the impact on traffic congestion,
  • (b) the proportion of children using different ways of travelling,
  • (c) the effect on charging on car usage,
  • (d) the impact on families on low incomes,
  • (e) the impact on children with special educational needs,
  • (f) the impact on after-school activities and extended schools, and
  • (g) the impact on school choice, including the education of children in accordance with the religious, philosophical or linguistic preferences of their parents."
  • The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 30 would require a set of clear objectives for the legislation and mechanics by which the working of the Bill could be evaluated. It is important that when an authority draws together a scheme, it should set out the criteria for its amendment or revocation. When pilots take place we need to be careful not to allow schemes to go on from year to year without understanding the impact on the local community.

    If a scheme is not working in a way that was initially envisaged it should be revoked. So it is important that the measures of success are clear when applications are developed. Parents and local people would feel more comfortable with the consultation process and any ensuing scheme if they were aware of the objectives of the scheme and felt that, if these were not met, the scheme authorities would amend or revoke them.

    Amendment No. 31 would introduce an opportunity for the statutory consultees to appeal against the decision of the scheme authority effectively to continue with its charging scheme. We believe that having such a default position in the legislation would ensure that the scheme authority could not press ahead regardless with a scheme, and that this would bring greater clarity and local involvement to the process. I beg to move.

    Obviously it is important that we are clear on what the objectives are and how the thing will he measured. The most difficult ones to predict are probably paragraphs (c) and (g). As Members of the Committee will be aware, our main reservation about the Bill is that nobody can really guess whether suddenly charging somebody who has had school transport free will make him pile children into a car and drive them to school.

    The main advantage is the fact that this provision enables pilots. It gives us an opportunity to find out such matters. I should be grateful if the Minister could reassure us that the objectives and the measurement criteria will be clear. He has already assured us that money saving is not a criterion—and we do believe him. But it is important that the effect of charging on car use is tested out.

    The intention of paragraph 9 of the schedule is to allow local education authorities who have established school travel schemes—whether pilots or longer-term schemes—to amend or revoke those schemes in the light of their experience in operating them.

    3.45 p.m.

    LEAs have the power to revoke schemes; the national authority has no locus here. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that this was a change made in the other place at the request of the right honourable Member for North West Hampshire, a former Conservative Secretary of State for Transport. For that reason we are a little surprised to see the interesting and excellent change that he managed to secure potentially being deleted by this amendment, which contradicts the arguments that he put.

    Sub-paragraphs (2), (3) and (4) of paragraph 9 provide that a scheme authority wishing to make such changes must apply to the Secretary of State or to the National Assembly for Wales and obtain consent before a scheme can be amended.

    Moving on to Amendment No. 30—the proposed addition to new Schedule 35B sets out a non-exhaustive list of criteria which would in effect be used by individual scheme authorities to set their own performance measures. These would determine whether or not the scheme would be amended or revoked during the piloting phase.

    I agree with both the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris and Lady Walmsley, that we need to set out clearly what we expect school travel schemes to achieve, and the list contained in this amendment reflects very closely the success criteria contained in the draft prospectus in paragraphs 8 to 10. However, the amendment suggests that the authorities should be obliged to adhere to the detailed success criteria set out in primary legislation, with which schemes will have to comply, rather than using the more flexible approach—which, as we understand it, LEAs want—set out in the prospectus.

    We do not think that the approach in this amendment is in keeping with our desire to see authorities make the thorough assessment of the needs of their area that we have advocated and from this develop appropriate objectives and targets for local schemes. We think that this is a more devolved approach on our part, which supports local innovation and autonomy. As I say, that is one of our objectives.

    There is a further reason for caution. Schemes will run for several years, and we cannot foresee whether unexpected events will affect outcomes. I am thinking, for example, of the reaction of parents in the south of the country following the Sarah Payne murder, where I understand that car journeys to school increased very substantially until her killer was caught. That reaction was understandable; I would have done exactly the same. During the fuel crisis, car use dipped and walking and cycling increased, for obvious reasons. Pre-determined, rigid, performance targets could have unintended consequences in those circumstances. I am sure that noble Lords can think of many other examples.

    I do not think that a flexible approach is a soft option as we will ensure that schemes send us detailed annual performance reports and that the DfES funds an independent evaluation of English schemes. This will ensure that we and the scheme authorities keep track of what is working well and what needs to be changed, learning from best practice wherever it is found.

    For the reasons I have given I hope the Committee will agree that scheme success criteria are best handled through the prospectus.

    Amendment No. 31 seeks to give the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales powers to amend or revoke school travel schemes at the behest of statutory consultees. During Committee sessions in another place there was a very good debate on revocation and the voluntary nature of the Bill, described by the right honourable Member for Hampshire North West in terms of the "libertarian streak" running through the Bill. It is not very often that I am accused of advocating things that are libertarian, and probably still less my noble friend. We are probably among the least libertarian people that one will ever meet. A sense of firm authority has always appealed to me.

    The right honourable Member quoted from a letter that he had received from Hampshire County Council, which described a local authority having to seek approval to revoke a scheme as being,
    "a disincentive to participation and an unnecessary level of central control".
    He went on to explain his concerns that departments and Ministers are not always quick in making decisions, and that inbuilt delays may fetter the discretion of a local education authority that urgently needed to prune its expenditure. He said,
    "if the local authority is grown up enough to decide whether to enter the scheme, it is grown up enough to decide whether to leave it".
    We accepted those arguments, which is why the Bill does not contain provisions for the national authority to revoke schemes.

    The amendment of schemes is an important issue. The legislation already provides for the national authority to approve amendments. The only difference with this amendment is that it is exercised in response to petitions from statutory consultees, as proposed in Amendment No. 31. I have already explained that we want to devolve decision-making and that an appeal mechanism involving statutory consultees appealing to the national authority would undermine our decentralised approach. We are not convinced that regulation-making powers add anything. The existing powers to vary schemes are sufficient and are in keeping with the often expressed view that red tape should be kept to the minimum. We certainly do not intend to increase it through this Bill.

    I hope that both noble Baronesses will consider that what I have said indicates that the Bill is drafted in a somewhat libertarian spirit and that the amendments would reduce local freedom and discretion, which we want to increase. In those circumstances I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

    I thank the Minister for his reply. I have huge admiration for my right honourable friend Sir George Young. However, I do not think that the two positions are mutually exclusive. I am sure that the Minister will hear me echo what he had to say about local decisions when I discuss my next amendment.

    Obviously, special circumstances such as a fuel shortage or the tragic case of Sarah Payne that the Minister mentioned would be taken into account. However, there should be clear criteria for the success of a scheme. I shall read again in Hansard what the Minister said. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [Amendment No. 31 not moved.]

    moved Amendment No. 32:

    Page 3, line 32, at end insert—
    "(1) A scheme may be amended or revoked by—
  • (a) the national authority; or
  • (b) the scheme authority.
  • (2) The national authority may by regulation exercise its powers under sub-paragraph (1)(a) if the information received pursuant to paragraph 11 of Schedule 35B indicates that the objectives of the scheme are not being met.
    (3) The power to make regulations under sub-paragraph (2) above is exercisable by statutory instrument.
    (4) Regulations under sub-paragraph (2) above when made by the Secretary of State shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament."
    The noble Baroness said: Rather like the terrorism Bill, which will ping-pong between the two Houses, I am slightly ping-ponging as regards where I stand on various arguments. I now adopt a libertarian stance.

    Amendments Nos. 32 and 42 would allow the relevant scheme authority the power and ability to revoke a scheme if it believes that its objectives were not being met, without first having to seek the approval of the relevant national authority. There are several reasons why we believe that that ability would be advantageous. First, if the Government believe in trusting local democratically elected councillors, we should trust them to make their own decisions and get on with the job. Local authorities are accountable to their own electorates and, if they are to be given the powers under this Bill to start a scheme, why should they not have the same powers to amend or revoke it? We believe that local authorities are best placed to assess how effective the scheme has been and whether it should remain. I beg to move.

    This is probably a slight rerun of a previous discussion but almost the opposite way round. As I said on the previous set of amendments, we intend to allow LEAs that have established school travel schemes, whether pilots or longer running ones, to amend or revoke those schemes in the light of their experience of operating them. However, a scheme authority wishing to make changes should apply to the Secretary of State or to the National Assembly for Wales to obtain consent before a scheme can be amended.

    Amendments Nos. 32 and 42 would give the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales powers to amend or revoke school travel schemes. I explained in speaking to Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 that there had been a good debate on revocation and the voluntary nature of the Bill in which Sir George Young, an eminent bicyclist—I should indicate how he chooses to travel, as we are trying to encourage people to give up the car—made vital points about the right of LEAs to determine whether to terminate schemes. We accepted his argument that local decision-making should prevail. After all, termination would mean that the existing arrangements would once again come into play in a particular area. It would not be a case of having nothing but of reverting to the existing arrangements. We accepted these arguments, which is why the Bill does not contain provisions for the national authority to revoke schemes.

    I should like to say a few words about the amendment of schemes. The legislation already provides for the national authority to approve amendments, the only differences being that this is exercised through regulations. I have already explained that we want to devolve decision-making and that an appeal mechanism involving statutory consultees appealing to the national authority would undermine our decentralised approach. And we are not convinced that regulation-making power adds anything. We think that the existing powers to vary schemes are sufficient and in keeping with the often expressed view that red tape should be kept to the minimum.

    I hope that in the spirit of taking the other side of this argument and linking it to the first arguments that we put forward, the noble Baroness will agree that the amendments would, on balance, be liable to reduce local freedom and discretion overall, and for those reasons should be withdrawn.

    I thank the noble Lord for his answer, but I am not sure about it. I think that the amendment would enhance local decision-making powers. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [Amendment No. 33 not moved.]

    moved Amendment No. 34:

    Page 4, line 10, at end insert—
    "Annual report by scheme authority
    (1) The scheme authority will present an annual report to the appropriate national authority setting out an assessment of the effectiveness of the scheme in the relevant school year to include—
  • (a) the revenue and costs of the scheme,
  • (b) the number of pupils affected,
  • (c) the number of pupils being charged,
  • (d) an assessment of the impact on children with special educational needs,
  • (e) an assessment of the impact of the scheme on school choice, including denominational schools and Welsh language schools, and
  • (f) an assessment of the impact of the scheme on traffic volumes.
  • (2) The annual report under sub-paragraph (1) shall be presented to the appropriate national authority by 31st December following the end of the school year to which the report relates.
    Power of national authority to revoke scheme
    Following the receipt of the annual report, the appropriate national authority may amend or revoke the scheme if it is failing to meet its objectives.
    Annual report by appropriate national authority
    The appropriate national authority shall lay before Parliament an annual report compiled from the reports received from the scheme authorities as required under paragraph 11A(1)."
    The noble Baroness said: My head really is spinning because I am about to propose some powers for the Secretary of State. However, it is nice to keep Members of the Committee guessing from where our amendments will come. Although they may seem to be at opposite ends of the argument, in many ways they are intended to flesh out the Bill and give more detail.

    There are three purposes to Amendment No. 34. It requires the scheme authority to submit an annual report and some of the topics that it might cover. Local authorities should be given more guidance about their obligations under the scheme and about the best way in which to communicate what they have achieved to the national authority, the Department for Education and Skills, and Parliament, so that we are made aware of progress.

    The amendment sets out some of the topics that an annual report to the national authority should cover and the deadline for submitting it to the department. Here I play devil's advocate, because the proposed second paragraph may seem an authoritarian measure in that it gives greater powers to the Secretary of State. As things stand, scheme authorities can seek changes or the revocation of a scheme during the pilot phase. The Secretary of State does not have the power to bring the scheme to a halt or to force it to be amended. But when a scheme does not meet its objectives and the effects on the local community are so significant that the scheme should not continue, the proposed paragraph gives the Secretary of State a power to intervene.

    When the pilots come to an end, there will be a chance to examine them in detail. In many ways, this will be a good opportunity to have what was mentioned in our debates earlier this week—some blue-sky thinking. The final proposed new paragraph of the amendment aims to ensure that Parliament has the opportunity to look at the consequences of the scheme at the local level. Not only would this allow us to understand if a scheme had achieved its objectives in reducing traffic congestion. it would also help us to assess the impact on rural communities and whether the scheme curtails school choice. I beg to move.

    The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, wishes to see another clause added to the Bill. The purpose of the clause is to ensure that all pilot authorities are placed under a statutory obligation to report the main features of their scheme to the Secretary of State or to the National Assembly for Wales, as appropriate, each year. I agree that we need an annual report from each school travel scheme area so that central and local government can watch schemes develop and ensure that the lessons learnt from the pilot authorities are made available to others as soon as possible. There is little point in piloting unless something is learnt from the pilots.

    I also agree that some kind of annual evaluation by the Secretary of State and the Welsh Assembly Government is essential for understanding whether the different approaches adopted by pilot authorities are successful.

    4 p.m.

    What I do not agree with is the requirement for annual reporting to be set out in primary legislation. In paragraph 48 of our prospectus we explain that LEAs with approved schemes will be required to produce an annual report for the DfES or the National Assembly, as appropriate. That is backed up by the power to require reports in paragraph 20 of new Schedule 35B. It must include statistics on home-to-school travel and analyse the effect that schemes have had in reducing car use—the fundamental purpose. It must contain an account of what has gone well and what has gone badly and the views of key partners as well as financial annexes detailing the economics of the scheme.

    The provision already covers most of the areas listed in the amendment. Following debate in another place, we amended the prospectus to make clear the need to ensure schemes do not discriminate against certain groups—for example, those of a particular faith.

    We do not want to provide a detailed reporting format at this stage. We had planned to consult with pilot authorities on the format of a common annual report while they were developing their proposals. That has the benefit of designing something which will capture the full range of scheme objectives, which we could miss if we settle on something before the detail of the pilot schemes is available. It really is worth waiting to make sure we capture what people are doing and what can be learned from it.

    The prospectus also explains that the DfES will commission an independent evaluation of schemes, and that pilot authorities would be expected to co-operate fully with the body in carrying out the work. We envisage that there will be an annual valuation, which draws heavily on annual reports from scheme authorities and a summary report drawing out the main features of the pilots.

    I think that these mechanisms will provide a high level of accountability at national and local level and will enable the DfES and LEAs to draw out emerging lessons from school travel schemes as they develop. There is one further point in the amendment, which is the power for the Secretary of State or the National Assembly to revoke schemes if they are failing to meet their objectives.

    Paragraph 9 of the schedule contains provisions on amending or revoking schemes. In drafting the Bill, we decided that we did not want to give the Secretary of State or the National Assembly powers to revoke or vary school travel schemes for all the reasons we discussed in the previous amendments. I shall not trouble the Grand Committee by going through them again.

    However, I think I have described a number of reports and means of drawing together the reports, drilling into them and finding the sort of information that will enable all LEAs to understand what is possible, what should be avoided and so on. To go beyond that would be disproportionate in the concept of good regulatory practice that the Better Regulation Task Force and others use in these circumstances.

    If we are candid about the matter, I think that we have probably asked for quite a lot. To ask for yet another layer might be too much. In that light, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

    I thank the Minister for his reply. I welcome that there will be an independent evaluation and that a detailed reporting mechanism is under consideration. Although these schemes are locally delivered, they may have a national impact on how we deliver education. That is very important. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    moved Amendment No. 35:

    Page 4, line 10, at end insert—
    "Guidance on compliance with human rights legislation
    The Secretary of State shall publish his opinion on the way in which schemes should be structured so as to ensure compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998 including but not limited to compliance with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights."

    The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 35 we are attempting to ensure that school transport schemes provide that parental choice is expressed in a way that complies with the European Convention on Human Rights. Paragraph 33 of the third report on the Bill produced by the Select Committee on Education and Skills states:
    "The human rights implications of school travel schemes are complex and we have found evidence of existing confusion over legal obligations. In this context, the guidance given to LEAs in the draft Prospectus is woefully inadequate".
    That refers to the original prospectus, not to the revised prospectus. Paragraph 33 continues:
    "It is unacceptable simply to state that local authorities should take legal advice before submitting their applications. The Government should provide clearer guidance to LEAs on those school transport practices which it considers would be discriminatory, particularly as the Secretary of State could be subject to legal action for approving any discriminatory scheme. The Government should pay heed to the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the draft Bill when drawing up this guidance. (Paragraph 99)".
    It is important that guidance is available because it is such a complex area.

    The Joint Committee on Human Rights scrutinised the Bill and stated in its 17th report:
    "In our letters to Ministers we pointed out that in the prospectus there is a suggestion that the department itself is not clear about the Article 14 obligation".
    There is a lack of clarity that needs to be addressed. The report continued:
    "we are disappointed that it is not anticipated that the guidance given in the revised prospectus will be comprehensive, and that there is no equivalent undertaking from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools to issue new general guidance to schools expressly addressing the discrimination problem. The Government appears to be maintaining the position taken in the prospectus accompanying the draft Bill that it is for LEAs to decide for themselves whether their schemes are discriminatory … The Draft Explanatory Notes are to the same effect".

    The committee also highlighted the confusion among some LEAs about the obligation to subsidise transport to denominational schools, although the Government do not agree that there is any misapprehension. Free transport to denominational schools is a matter of guidance rather than being a statutory entitlement.

    Given that the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales, as the relevant national bodies, will have to approve LEA schemes, and given that they will have to be clear about the compatibility of those schemes with the convention, the committee suggested that it would be appropriate for the relevant national authorities to ensure that the LEAs were properly guided on the compatibility of their schemes before they were submitted for approval.

    The committee went on to advocate that, as the National Assembly for Wales would issue new general guidance, the Government should also undertake that task. That does not mean that they should give legal advice, but they should issue guidance on how the obligation should be implemented when it comes to school transport plans. The amendment would ensure that the Government produced general guidance for local education authorities in order to ensure that school transport schemes were not in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and were not discriminatory. I beg to move.

    I have a good deal of sympathy for the amendment, which picks up some of the issues about which I argued when we considered Amendment No. 16 on a previous occasion. We are concerned about discrimination. The parents of protected children should have the right to send their child to the nearest maintained school, but if they exercise their right to choice they may lose the right to free transport. The concept of choice, if it is to be given, should apply to all families irrespective of income. It should not be a question of, in this sense, choice being available to families with a higher income but not to poorer families.

    I agree with those on both the Opposition Front Benches that it is important for local authorities to consider human rights questions when structuring and preparing their schemes. Whether or not individual schemes comply will of course depend on the particular circumstances and features of those schemes.

    The legal duty to ensure that they comply falls on the individual local authority. As a good local government man, the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, will know that local authorities must bear primary responsibility for that: no one else can take it on. Local authorities have to put forward proposals after they have obtained their own legal advice.

    As the noble Lord implied, the Secretary of State or the National Assembly will also have obligations not to approve a scheme that does not comply with human rights obligations. Therefore the Secretary of State will have to take legal advice on any individual scheme that comes before him to ensure that, on the basis of the evidence before him, he considers it right and proper to approve it. If in doubt, he would obviously seek further information from the submitting authority.

    Having said that, I agree that the DfES should give as much help to local authorities as it sensibly can to forestall issues and to ensure that there is a widespread commonality of understanding, without implying that responsibility is being taken away from the local authority itself, which would be mad.

    The draft prospectus that we produced when the Bill underwent pre-legislative scrutiny included a section on human rights. Surprisingly, we did not receive any responses during the public consultation on the human rights issues, but the Education and Skills Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights both recommended that we produce more detailed guidance. I am glad to say that officials have produced longer and more detailed guidance, which is contained in the prospectus that accompanies the Bill in paragraphs 34 to 39. The Joint Committee on Human Rights is well satisfied with those changes.

    The guidance explains that there are three principles underpinning human rights obligations in this area. First, every child has the right to education. Secondly, a parent has the right to have their child educated in accordance with their own philosophical and religious convictions. However, there is no absolute right to attend a school of a particular religion or medium and therefore no right to free or subsidised transport to those schools. That was confirmed in the JCHR's seventh report at paragraphs 4.13 to 4.15. Thirdly, discrimination is illegal, unless objectively and reasonably justified. It goes on to explain that the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales will not approve school travel schemes that are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The guidance then goes on to talk about specific situations, which we envisage will be where local schools do not cater for parents' religious or philosophical beliefs or linguistic preferences. There are also issues relating to pupils who have mobility difficulties such that they need additional help in getting to school.

    Some parents choose to send their children to schools with a particular religious ethos, or to schools with a specific linguistic character. If those schools are not the nearest suitable schools, then parents can incur considerable costs in sending pupils to them. In some cases LEAs will provide transport to those schools, although there is no obligation to do so if there is a nearer suitable school. Where transport is provided, LEAs will need to pay careful attention in their travel schemes to the impact of costs on low-income families and ensure that any charges are set at a level that supports the preference that parents have expressed.

    The non-discrimination obligations also mean that, where transport is made available for pupils attending denominational schools, it should also be made available for pupils whose parents have expressed other philosophical beliefs that lead them to prefer a nondenominational school.

    Similarly, where an LEA provides transport to a Welsh-medium school where it is not the nearest suitable school for a particular pupil, it would have to make similar arrangements for pupils attending an English-medium school that is not their nearest suitable school in order to have the equivalence. All these obligations are subject to tests of reasonableness. I shall not develop that in detail.

    Finally, we remind LEAs that where children have mobility difficulties and cannot walk two or three miles to school, there must be assistance with transport to ensure that those children can get to school.

    I hope that members of the Committee will agree that we have made considerable progress in expanding the human rights guidance without removing responsibility from local authorities. We have made a commitment to further changes if they are required by the JCHR or in the light of the experience of the operation of the schemes. We will be pleased to do that. We think it is efficient to do so and it helps local authorities to get a picture of the broad remit of ECHR, while their lawyers have the duty to test it specifically on their schemes. I hope very much that my response has been helpful to the Committee.

    I thank the Minister for those comments. It is a complicated issue. There are the duties of the local authorities and of the Secretary of State to consider and we will have to reflect on the Minister's response to ensure that it covers every point. If he can think of anything else that we should know in the mean time, perhaps he could let us know. We must ensure that we protect everyone involved. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause I agreed to.

    [Amendment No. 36 not moved.]

    On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?

    I wish to raise an issue that I mentioned at Second Reading but to which we did not get an answer. We were slightly surprised that the Government needed statutory backing in order to run pilots on this occasion. The Bill is going through the full processes of the House. which it may or may not complete. If there were a successful pilot, would it be necessary to enact new legislation to require all local authorities to have a travel scheme? If Clause 2 were deleted by another education Bill, could the Government require all local authorities to run travel schemes or to move over to a new scheme? I wonder whether the Minister can enlighten the Committee on that issue.

    4.15 p.m.

    I wonder about that as well. No doubt either now or later I shall have a more sophisticated answer, but I would be very surprised if that was the case—partly because we would have seen a more efficient route if there had been one, despite our commitment to parliamentary scrutiny.

    Perhaps I may reflect on the issue and send the noble Baroness an early letter. There is certainly an issue about financial support of up to £200,000 for a pilot, but I would be surprised if that was the only impediment to moving forward in this way. I shall send the noble Baroness a cunning letter in the near future.

    Clause 2 agreed to.

    Clause 3 [Power to repeal new provisions]:

    moved Amendment No. 37:

    Page 4, line 34, leave out "may" and insert "shall"

    The noble Lord said: Clause 3 represents one of the most important procedural issues facing the Committee. As the Explanatory Notes indicate, the clause provides a power for school transport pilots to roll beyond 2013. This is a little akin to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about the future. We understand that there will be no other opportunity through primary legislation to debate further changes to the schemes.

    The schemes beyond 1 August 2014 can be rolled out not only to the 20 or so pilot authorities but to any local authority that chooses to apply to the Secretary of State to operate a school transport scheme. This is the one and only chance we might have through primary legislation to shape the future of school transport. I want to address that issue through this amendment and the series of amendments that we shall come to in a moment.

    In its scrutiny of the Bill, the Select Committee on Transport stated:
    "While the provisions relating to the pilot schemes themselves are timid, the draft Bill as a whole is audacious. It gives the Secretary of State power to roll out pilot schemes without any further legislation".
    The Select Committee expressed concern about that and further stated:
    "In effect, the Secretary of State for Education in England and the National Assembly in Wales would have the power to determine the way in which school transport could be provided without any further report on the success of schemes or sanction by Parliament. This is not acceptable. There are serious practical questions to be asked".
    The report of the Select Committee on Education and Skills on the Bill expressed the same concern.

    This matter will change the shape of the schemes. Amendment No. 37 would ensure that the pilot schemes will be brought to an end and cannot roll on ad infinitum without any further consideration. I believe that this is a sensible and important measure. I beg to move.

    Focusing as it does on England alone, I shall not comment on why Wales would be left free and England would be fettered by the amendment. I believe this is more in the nature of a probing amendment, but an important one nevertheless.

    Subsection (1) gives the Secretary of State flexibility to end school travel schemes in England in the event that they are unsuccessful or if, in the light of experience, a different approach is required. As drafted at present, the Bill does not require her to end schemes. If she does not do so by 1 August 2013—in other words, if she has not by that date pulled the plug on the totality of pilots—the piloting provisions will lapse and the Bill's essentials will be there.

    But the Bill's essentials will be there in one respect only; that is, that any local authority which wishes to continue with the existing school transport three-mile limit will he perfectly at liberty to do so. Subsequent to 2013, any authority which wanted to submit a proposal in accordance with the legislation would also be free to do so. The voluntary nature of the scheme would be retained in exactly the same way as prior to 2013. So, if the Secretary of State does not do so, they would lapse and the schemes would become permanent, but only as a voluntary mechanism for people to participate in if they wish to do so.

    On 2 August 2013, the Secretary of State would have no power to say that there shall be a different scheme. The Secretary of State is completely passive unless a scheme is put by a local authority. Unless it is approved it or not in accordance with statute and the principles, nothing can be done. We believe that that is right because proposals should be run from the bottom up from localities in the light of their needs and challenges in accordance with the principles set out in the Bill.

    I think the noble Lord said that the prospectus makes the commitment without further report. That is not true because the prospectus also commits DfES to commissioning an independent evaluation of English schemes. That will provide evidence for the decision on whether to allow travel schemes to continue after 2013. We think that these safeguards will ensure that before passing the 2013 date an independent evaluation of all pilot schemes launched will have been undertaken. We will commit to placing the evidence from that evaluation in the Libraries of both Houses so that Parliament, if it wishes, can inquire into it and, in our many ways, stimulate a debate on what has been learnt from the pilot schemes to that date.

    These safeguards will ensure that the piloting approach will continue only if it is successful and that an appropriate mechanism for examining what aspects of schemes work well and what needs to be changed will be provided. Furthermore, they avoid the chaos—which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, would not want—that would be caused by this amendment if authorities with popular and successful schemes were unable to continue with them. The consequences of this amendment could be that in Essex—to take a fine place—if there was a wonderful travel scheme that was clearly better than it had been when operating under existing legislation, it would have to cease and return to the status quo. I do not believe that that is what the noble Lord wants. It would be barmy for good things to stop because the clock had come to midnight.

    The Bill provides a two-year window which will allow the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales to look at the results of piloting and decide, in the light of the independent evaluation, whether the school travel scheme approach is successful and beneficial overall. If the Government do not think it is, the Bill gives power for the scheme to be stopped and for the system to revert to the status quo or, logically, for alternative proposals to be brought before Parliament if that was the better course. This gives the right level of flexibility to take account of uncertainties about when schemes will start operating and how they will be phased in. We have therefore provided an end date of 1 August 2013 for repealing the legislation. It is also important that authorities are certain that schemes will not suddenly be turned off.

    There is a benefit for authorities in knowing that, having passed a certain date and the scheme having been evaluated, schemes can continue within the clear criteria set in the framework of the Bill. We think that the timescale strikes the right balance and will enable us to evaluate pilots thoroughly. If piloting is successful and there is sufficient interest we could expand the number by raising the cap of 20 in England, as we know from the debate on Second Reading. That is provided for in the draft regulations. So the end dates in the Bill of 2011 and 2013 would not hold up further rollout of schemes, provided that careful evaluation showed that that was a sensible course of action.

    I hope that this has been helpful in signalling why we think this amendment literally is not desirable. There are levers for Parliament to look at the independent evaluation and debate such issues if either this House or another place wishes to do so.

    I thank the Minister for that rather complicated reply. We were trying to find out where we go from here, as was the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in her interjection at the end of Clause 2. I do not think that the Minister told us. We could go back to Second Reading where most of us thought that these should be government issues rather than making the poor local authorities the guinea pigs for the scheme. The authorities will have a lot of problems in devising successful schemes. It might have been a more national initiative.

    We all recognise that something probably needs to be done. I am not sure how the thing will work anyway. There must be further opportunities for Parliament, one way or another, to look at pilot schemes if they happen, and if they do not to discuss them in Parliament. I was trying to extract that as much as anything else.

    I shall examine with some detail the Minister's response to see whether he has given us enough assurances on where we go from here and what the future would be if these schemes roll out. Successful schemes that roll out should be used around the country. I am still sceptical about the whole thing, but I shall read what the Minister said, analyse it and see how it fits in with my problems. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    moved Amendment No. 38:

    Page 4, line 36, leave out from "from" to end of line and insert "1st August 2011"

    The noble Lord said: This amendment follows the same theme. Although some of the Minister's answers may be similar, I think that we need to explore the matter. Through Amendment No. 38, a pilot scheme will be brought to an end and will not roll on ad infinitum without further consideration. Rather than give an unspecified date in the clause, we need to give a firm end date—say, 1 August 2011, as suggested in the amendment.

    The other issue, which is addressed in Amendment Nos. 40 and 41, is the concern that the Select Committee on Education and Skills expressed. Again, I use that committee which came up with these various problems. It said in its report:
    "2011 seems a very long time to wait for a solution to be found to school transport that can be implemented nationwide. We therefore recommend that the Department looks into the possibility of running shorter pilot schemes or of evaluating currently existing initiatives to determine what works best".
    That is along the lines of what I was saying on the previous amendment.

    Amendments Nos. 40 and 41 will bring forward the period over which the pilots can be run—effectively, from ending in 2013 to ending in 2011.

    I am not sure we need pilot schemes that last from their date of inception, which could be in 2005 or 2006, until 2013. That would give us six or seven years to pilot the schemes and find out their effects. We should be capable of evaluating those schemes in a much shorter period, so that we do not prolong a pilot that happens to have detrimental effects on any of a range of issues, such as school transport, school choice. congestion, charging families on low incomes and many of the things associated with special educational needs, on which there are the biggest doubts in this legislation.

    Allowing the schemes to last until 2013 makes the pilots too long. We should shorten the evaluation period so that it ends in 2011. That would give the department and scheme authorities ample time to put the schemes into practice, to see what is happening and to assess the evaluation. I beg to move.

    I shall illustrate why technical reasons would make this provision difficult for local authorities to implement and give some "in principle" arguments about the timetable. As regards the bottom line on the timetable, I shall return to this in the way of government Ministers by repeating it. Assuming, as one hopes, that this legislation is enacted in the spring of 2005, for reasons I am happy to set out in a letter to Front Benches, it is unlikely that pilot arrangements would start before September 2007. I shall not do so now, but I will spell out the detailed timetable on that to illustrate why that is so. The Committee will partly guess that that concerns regulations, consultations, lead time, notice to parents and so on. The bottom line is that the schemes would be running for about a year before being evaluated. For obvious reasons, we think that period is too short.

    We fully understand that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and the Committee want to ensure that school travel schemes are properly evaluated, and that the pace of change takes account of the wide range of interest in the House and elsewhere.

    The prospectus explains that LEAs with approved schemes will be required to produce an annual report to DfES or the National Assembly. Pilot authorities must have reliable systems for monitoring pupils' modes of travel to school and the impact on vulnerable groups. Such data are fundamental to evaluating whether the schemes are working.

    As I mentioned earlier, the prospectus also commits the DfES to commissioning an independent evaluation of English schemes, which will provide evidence for the decision on whether to roll out the school travel scheme approach after 2011. We understand that the Welsh Assembly has similar plans.

    4.30 p.m.

    We think that these safeguards will ensure that the piloting approach will continue only if it is successful and that there will be an appropriate mechanism for examining what aspects of schemes work well. Furthermore, they avoid the disruption that could be caused by this amendment if authorities with popular and successful schemes are unable to continue with them.

    However, we cannot support these amendments because they would require us to have completed and evaluated pilot projects by 2011 and to have put successor arrangements in place. That does not give the pilots sufficient time to operate for a reasonable period and for a rigorous evaluation to be completed. Local education authorities tell us that pilot schemes need to offer stability over several years so that parents and pupils understand what transport arrangements are likely to he for the duration of the time that their children attend a school. The guarantee of 2011 as the earliest end date gives LEAs and their transport providers security in that they know that piloting arrangements can continue at least until that date. This is something that both LEAs and transport providers specifically asked for during the consultation on the draft Bill and the prospectus. Under our proposals, local education authorities can let contracts covering several years, which may be more economical than those covering only one year.

    At this point we cannot forecast when LEAs will be able to start schemes, but I have indicated that while some may he able to start in September 2006, most will be ready to begin in the September of the following year. Members of the Committee will understand that the pilots are best launched at the start of the school year. This timescale will be practicable for most authorities. Moreover, some schemes may involve phased charges over several years. In those cases the full benefits will not emerge for four or five years. Once the schemes are fully operational, we shall need to build in, say, six months for a thorough evaluation and further time for investigating alternatives. Overall, therefore, an end date of 2011 would give us insufficient time to evaluate the schemes. The draft Bill provides a two-year window which will allow the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales to look at the results of piloting and make decisions on whether the school travel scheme approach is successful.

    For these reasons, we think that the independent evaluation should be supplied in the period 2010 to 2011, recognising that in general the pilot schemes will not start until September 2007 and thus not providing that much time for them to he evaluated. Currently the Bill states that the earliest date for its repeal is September 2011 and the latest date for doing so is 2013. I shall set out in a detailed letter why we think that September 2007 is the realistic date for the schemes.

    I thank the Minister for that reply. We have seen so many changes made in education legislation both by the previous Conservative government and by this Government—it feels as though everything changes every year—that I am amazed to hear talk of schemes running as far ahead as 2011 and 2013. Whichever government is returned after the election, I am sure that we shall see a new education Bill every single year and that we shall be considering transport arrangements in a totally different light by 2011. It is interesting that we should be discussing the position in six to eight years' time when education issues and the legislation itself change so rapidly.

    I am grateful for the detailed letter on the timing because we need to look closely at these issues in order to understand exactly what the Government have in mind on the timetables and the evaluation of these pilot projects. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    moved Amendment No. 39:

    Page 4, line 39, at end insert—
    "( ) The appropriate national authority shall publish the measures that it will use to determine whether or not the scheme should cease to have effect at the conclusion of the pilots, including—
  • (a) the impact on traffic congestion,
  • (b) the proportion of children using different ways of travelling,
  • (c) the effect of charging on car usage.
  • (d) the impact on families on low incomes,
  • (e) the impact on children with special educational needs,
  • (f) the impact on after-school activities and extended schools, and
  • (g) the impact on school choice, including the education of children in accordance with the religious, philosophical or linguistic preferences of their parents."
  • The noble Lord said: Continuing on the same theme, we think it important for the Government to give local authorities guidance on the success criteria for the schemes. Clearly there will not be a straight "yes" or "no" answer on whether the schemes are effective; one cannot say whether a scheme has worked just because it has reduced traffic congestion, if that is the sole focus, when it has had a negative effect on aspects of school provision in the area.

    For that reason, Amendment No. 39 sets out a series of nine measures. It is not exhaustive, but includes important issues on which we need to reflect when determining whether schemes have been successful, whether the pilot should continue and whether the scheme should be rolled out across the country, as is permissible under the Bill.

    We have spoken a great deal about the impact on traffic congestion. One of the main purposes of the measure before us is to alleviate such congestion by reducing the number of vehicles on the road. It is a factor that the Government should take into account when assessing pilot schemes and whether they should continue.

    There is also the issue of the proportion of children using different modes of travel. If we do not achieve a modal shift from cars to other forms of transport and there is no shift towards walking or cycling, which we talked about, the Bill will not have succeeded. It provides an opportunity to tackle issues relating to children's health as well.

    Paragraph (c) of our amendment refers to,
    "the effect of charging on car usage".
    We debated the tension between charging and its effect on car usage the other day, and we cited examples of rural constituencies. Noble Lords have said that if people were charged too much, they would use their cars. That is a valid concern. If charging drives up car usage, the Bill will also have failed.

    There are also complex issues in respect of children with special educational needs. We have had several debates about that. The Committee will agree that some of the most complex issues surrounding the legislation have to do with the impact on children with special educational needs, who attend a wide variety of institutions—we had a good, long debate about that the other day—including mainstream schools, special units attached to schools and special schools. Two-thirds of the cost of school transport is, as we said, incurred by children with special educational needs who are, as I have said several times, the people who could suffer most from the legislation. If the cost of school transport is to be reduced, they will be the easiest target for reductions. So, we must consider all aspects of the impact that the pilots will have on children with mobility needs.

    The next issues are school activities and extended schools. The Government have a focus on extended schools—I support that—but take-up of after-school or pre-school activities or the use of extended schools could be affected by the charging regime. School transport will obviously be involved with families that need support early in the morning or later in the evening. That is why I said that education in 2011 might be rather different from what it is now. Transport will also be different.

    All parties—the two main parties, at any rate, if not always the Liberal Democrats—have agreed that parents should have a wider school choice. We need to see what impact the measure has on patterns of choice and on existing choices about denominational schools. I often refer to parents' philosophical preferences. That relates to choosing a school that reflects the parents' wishes but is also important with regard to the religious aspect. Some parents choose a school because it offers single-sex education or for other reasons. Transport affects all such choices. There are parents in Wales who will want to choose a Welsh language school, as we said. The Bill could have an effect on all the issues that we have discussed in Committee.

    These are probing amendments on issues that we have talked about several times, but I thought that it was right to table them, so that we could reflect further on the issues at this late stage in Committee. I beg to move.

    I must make it clear that we are not against choice; we just do not think that it should be made into a great totem in education.

    My noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford made it very clear at the end of our previous sitting that we did not think that parents should be deterred from exercising legitimate choice because of the fear of additional cost. That is our main consideration.

    I shall not be drawn into this happy spat between the opposition parties. It always gladdens a Minister's heart to see one.

    I fully agree that we must set out clearly what school travel schemes are expected to achieve. Authorities must, as part of their proposals, demonstrate that they are doing that and are able to measure success. Our debate is about whether that should be in primary or secondary legislation.

    I shall buttress the first point. We will require local authorities that submit proposals not only to set out clearly what they expect to be the results of the changes—in other words, what they are trying to achieve from the changes—but to set out what they will monitor and how they will do so. So all the issues specified by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. are relevant. We would look for evidence from the submitting authority that it knew its present baseline—in other words, where it was starting from—what it would measure in the future, and that it had thought about how it would measure some of these things. That would enable us to know that it would be possible for it, and our independent evaluators when they came in, to see what had shifted. Otherwise, there would be no possibility of reasonably rigorous evaluation of the pilot. We are at one on that.

    We differ on whether it makes sense to put success criteria into primary legislation. Without wishing to tease the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, he has made my point for me. In five, 10 or however many years' time, it may be that exactly the same criteria that we all want to see are in place, but the world may have changed just slightly. Usually one wants to add criteria rather than take them away, although I cannot forecast what they would be. The problem with including these criteria in primary legislation is that if we decided that criterion X was important in looking at the impact of schemes, we would not be able to include it without a fresh Bill. It is therefore important that, if the criteria were for good reason to change, there is sufficient flexibility for that to be expressed in the prospectus, rather than being in the Bill.

    I assure the noble Lord that we are completely with him on the importance of evaluation. There is no point in piloting if you cannot make any reasonably informed evaluated assessment of whether it has worked. For good research reasons, such evaluation must be independent of those who carry out the pilot. We all think that our experiments are successful and that if they are not, it is somebody else's fault. One must always have an independent evaluation, but we cannot do that without the data. I hope that that helps the noble Lord. We are with him in spirit but do not think that it should be done in primary legislation; otherwise, we will lock ourselves into a box and regret it.

    I thank the Minister for agreeing with us in spirit. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, we are not sure whether we shall discuss the issue again on Report, or of where we are going, because of the potential general election. I repeat that there are issues that concern me considerably: special educational needs provision and how we develop extended schools and the general use of a school's campus if only some young people are charged to go to that school. We will have to try to get more families there, et cetera. We are back to where we were at the start of the Committee stage, when the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that more blue-sky thinking was needed rather than complicated pilots that will probably be out of date before we get anywhere. We are where we are on this Bill. I am grateful that the Minister is with us in spirit. If we have a Report stage, we will consider further how we might table amendments to reflect these issues. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [Amendments Nos. 40 to 42 not moved.]

    On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?

    We are concerned that Clause 3 does not give sufficient protection to parents and the institutions to which they send their children.

    We need a far more robust clause to protect people, because this is the only opportunity that we will have to introduce, through primary legislation, the safeguards that we want for children who travel to school. If we simply say that in future the matter will be down to regulations, and that it will be up to the Secretary of State to roll out measures, we will he letting down people who, in a few years' time, as a consequence of one of the pilots, believe that there should be more statutory protection for, say, children with special educational needs. I am repeating what I have just said, but this is a fundamental consideration.

    Additionally, Clause 3 gives appropriate powers of repeal but does not give an absolute guarantee that something will he repealed regardless of whether its provisions turn out to be successful against a set of criteria. The clause also contains powers to repeal the school travel scheme provisions in the event that the approach is unsuccessful. The legislation would be removed from the statute book and school transport would return to the current arrangements.

    The clause is drafted in a way that allows the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales to make separate arrangements. It specifies that the piloting provisions may not be terminated until 2011 at the earliest. That allows LEAs to put in place pilot school travel schemes that can last for several years.

    To repeat what I have just said, we feel that this clause is not strong enough and does not give enough protection to everyone.

    4.45 p.m.

    By using the vehicle of clause stand part, we are going back to some of the original debates. That is not a criticism, because we may not have much more time in which to debate these issues, and it is important that we reflect on them together.

    The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, was referring to a debate started by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about needing new creative national thinking to crack some of our transport problems at both national and local level. The Government spend quite a lot of time grappling with those issues, as do many stakeholders in the wider world. For the obvious reasons of geography and population, they are not very easy; we have particular challenges. Some of our legacies add to them as well.

    I am an optimist, and some new whizzo national solution may well come out of a clear blue sky that makes it possible for us to make a sudden shift. We may all suddenly take up bicycling in the rain. Who knows? I am not being flippant. I am not for a second saying that we should not give up the quest for what can be done to make changes at national level. But most of us here are, by happenstance, of local government origin. Because of that, most of us recognise—I see some denial going on, but I shall ignore it—that while Britain has many commonalities, it also has differences in terms of its locality. Issues such as transport, society and the local economy are very different in central Lambeth and rural Cumbria.

    Therefore, part of the Bill is in response to requests from local government, not central Government, that they want more freedom from the dirigisme of the current Act which allows them to do things in only one way. We have listened to that and have brought forward legislation in response to requests from localities to give them a measure of freedom to innovate accordingly. We think that that is right, because circumstances differ. We also think that the status quo is self-evidently not perfect. We have instanced very many failings of the current statutory system, so we think it right and proper that pilots should be allowed to see if local authorities, in their different circumstances, can develop better schemes.

    I shall not press the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, but I think we have developed a little more consensus than we might have had on Second Reading, and there is benefit in so doing. There are some significant disadvantages in saying, "You will have the national scheme. Like it or lump it".

    We have been seeking to strike the right balance between local initiative and some central principles with which the schemes have to fit in. I think that we have made some progress on that.

    Under the Bill, which I hope will become an Act, local authorities propose schemes, not national government or some unelected quango. They know that they have to face the full burden of the pain of their constituents if they do something seen by them as mad. There are fairly powerful mechanisms for explaining it to them.

    If we are democrats and believe that local democracy has some force, the fact that only local authorities can propose schemes means that there is a degree of democratic self-policing when it comes to this being used in a daft way.

    For those reasons, and without going into specifics, by repealing Clause 3 we would, effectively, get rid of the Bill—it would abolish the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, knows. But we believe that it is sensible to allow for local experimentation while still looking for wonder national improvements—I do not mean that flippantly—in a significant way. I suspect that we will need both. So it would be a great shame if we did not allow this initiative to move forward.

    I have listened to the plea of how we can ensure that Parliament at least has some opportunity to look again at this issue in the future. I shall not say anything about that now—I have no authority to do so—but I have heard the points that have been made very clearly during the debates to date. I hope that I am not doing them an injustice by putting the issue as tightly as that. I shall reflect on the matter.

    I do not know whether or not there will be a debate on Clause 43—and I do not know when the election will be—but I hope, the Bill having proceeded seven-eighths' of the way through both Houses, that we can find a way of looking into any areas where the shoe pinched and ensuring that we do not lose the Bill. This is partly because local authorities want to see it enacted and partly because there is a bit of a gypsy's curse on it. If it did fall, some of the present company would have to go through it all again in a few months' time; and that would be inefficient. I am being slightly tongue-in-cheek, but the Committee will know what I mean. I think we have the potential for some good experimentation and it would be a shame to lose it.

    I have done what perhaps I should not have—I almost made a Second Reading speech in Committee.

    I thank the Minister for his comments. We all accept that something has to be done. I argued that Clause 3 should not stand part of the Bill because there has to be more national guidance. Because of the political consequences, it will be virtually impossible for any local authority of whatever colour or party to introduce charges by itself. It would be political dynamite—they would never get re-elected—and not many of them would be likely to do it.

    It is a politically contentious issue and, without stronger national guidance from whatever government it may be, there will not be many pilot schemes. Most local authorities have forthcoming elections at some time in the future and it will be very difficult for them to introduce charges.

    I am grateful. The noble Lord may be right. It is not what we hear, but he may be right. If he is right, it is failsafe.

    I repeat, I think schools will change so much over the next few years that we will be looking at something different. But I shall not go into that debate again; we have had it before. In arguing that the clause should not stand part of the Bill, I was trying to place a little more onus on the Government to come up with a stronger initiative to achieve what they want to see.

    As a Conservative Front Bench spokesman I must not suggest anything that might increase expenditure at the moment, but I have some sympathy with providing more free transport for schools rather than charging for it. That is my own personal sympathy rather than the words of a Conservative Front Bench spokesman. It might work better in getting more cars off the road than introducing charges. I shall not push the argument on Clause 3 stand part today.

    Clause 3 agreed to.

    Clause 4 agreed to.

    moved Amendment No. 43:

    After Clause 4, insert the following new clause—
    (1) No account shall be taken of the revenues derived from any scheme made pursuant to this Act in determining the funding of schools and local education authorities.
    (2) In determining the proportion of a local education authority's budget to be transferred to any school, no account shall be taken of any expenditure on school transport incurred by that school."

    The noble Lord said: The Minister referred to this issue a moment ago and I mentioned it the other day. Amendment No. 43 is very important because. whatever happens to the legislation, it seeks to ensure that any revenue created by school transport schemes does not have an impact on the amount of funding provided to schools and local education authorities. If a scheme raises a significant amount of money for a particular LEA, the funding by central government for that school or LEA should not be decreased as a result of the transport scheme's income.

    It is important that the transport schemes do not have a negative impact on the education of pupils. This could very well happen if budgets are adjusted according to any new income a scheme might raise. The amendment will ensure that the budgets of LEAs and schools are not impacted by any transport scheme so that the quality of education provided by those institutions will not be compromised.

    I repeat, I fear that, within a couple of years, some Chancellor will say, "Well, there is this transport scheme. It should bring in so much income to every local authority in the country and we will reduce the revenue support grant by 1 per cent or so because of that income". I have seen it happen often with all governments. I have a fear that it will happen with this scheme. We therefore seek assurance that the schemes will not be used by Chancellors to reduce the amount of revenue that goes to local government. I beg to move.

    I think that my first question to the Minister was whether money-saving would be a criterion for the success of these schemes, and the clear answer was "No". Call me cynical, but I think that I can be forgiven for being a little suspicious that local authorities might be tempted to see this as an opportunity to save money.

    Similarly, all governments might be tempted to see it as an opportunity to reduce the amount of grant to local authorities and schools if the LEAs are saving a great deal of money through the schemes. We have come to some agreement in Grand Committee that, if the schemes produce revenue, that money should be ploughed back into those schemes and into public transport and environmental protection measures to ensure that the scheme's objectives of protecting the environment and vulnerable school transport users are given the priority that the Government say they want. I certainly have sympathy with the spirit of the amendment from those points of view. I hope that the Minister can reassure us.

    I shall not tease the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, by saying that if he was right in the previous amendment he has no worries on this one because there will not be any bids. However, we will need to test it both ways.

    We have always made clear that we expect any charges collected through school travel schemes to be reinvested in improved travel arrangements for pupils. That is explained in paragraph 45 of the draft prospectus. An account of the finances of schemes will be included in the annual report that schemes make.

    I am happy to confirm that DfES and the National Assembly for Wales have no intention of reducing funding to local authorities on account of income derived from charges for school transport. There are no such assumptions in our spending plans, which are modelled up to 2007–08, and we have no intention of doing so in future.

    I shall deal with the second part of the new clause. Technically, home-to-school transport is a responsibility of local education authorities, not schools, and is not taken into account in any way in the delegation of funding to schools. Schools do not generally incur expenditure on home-to-school transport and, if they do so, it is unlikely that such expenditure would come out of their delegated budget. This part of the clause is therefore unnecessary and not meaningful.

    I shall outline in fuller detail, for the record, how we see the scheme working. Local authorities are expected to fund pilot travel schemes from the resources already committed to funding school transport—for the sake of argument, let us call that budget part A—together with any charges levied on pupils, which I shall refer to as budget part B. The existing funds must continue to support school travel, with budgets up-rated each year in line with comparable LEAs. In other words, budget part A funding from resources already committed must remain in line with comparator LEAs not running schemes. That is to say, if the budget for comparator schemes increases, it is expected to go up for the pilots as well. Secondly, all fare income from budget part B must also be invested in improved services. So the budget of the scheme authorities will always be A plus B, with budget A having the potential to increase if comparator local authorities' expenditure on school transport arrangements also increases.

    I hope that that gives as strong a guarantee as I think one is allowed to give on this Earth about the foundations for it. It buttresses my earlier commitment that money saving is not the fundamental objective. We are looking for reductions in congestion, better social justice in terms of who gets subsidised and, we hope, healthier living and lifestyle opportunities for many pupils.

    I thank the Minister for his comments. He has not given us an assurance that any future Chancellor will not use it as an excuse to change the amount of money available, which Chancellors have a habit of doing. Is he going to?

    With a straight face, I have been reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, on several occasions that it is just possible that there might be another party in power. I find that hard to believe, but taking the logic of the position, I cannot speak for any future party's Chancellor.

    I thank the Minister for that reply, which was slightly reassuring. I am sure that he has no intention of seeing education suffer as a result of this legislation. We will read his answer carefully. We may return to the matter on Report. before passing the legislation, to make sure that local authorities do not suffer from any potential income. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Remaining clauses agreed to.

    Bill reported without amendment.

    Committee adjourned at one minute past five o'clock.