asked the Secretary or State for the Environment whether he will direct British Rail to extend children's half-fares from under-14 years of age to under the statutory school leaving age of 16 years, in order to encourage the use of this form of public transport.
No. It would not be appropriate for me to issue directives on detailed aspects of fares policy. Concessions on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend already exist for season tickets for school journeys and for family travel.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people think there was a complete lack of logic in the failure to extend half-fare concessions to take account of increases in the statutory school leaving age? If he cannot direct that this be done, will he at least encourage it, bearing in mind that the years between 14 and 16 are extremely expensive for parents, so that the absence of these concessions is not only lacking in logic but presents serious practical difficulties for families? We want to encourage and enable people to use public transport, do we not?
I agree that we should take all reasonable steps to encourage the use of public transport. However, for journeys to school half-price tickets are already available, not only up to 16 but up to the age of 18, and there is a very successful reduced fares scheme, which is commercially viable as well, for students over 18. Thus the objective that my hon. Friend has in mind is met by British Railways. However, if she knows of any particular difficulties and will let me know about them, I shall certainly draw them to the Board's attention.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that that arrangement is not particularly suitable in Scotland? Will he bear in mind that the original reason for fixing 14 as the age was that it was the compulsory school leaving age? Now that it has been increased by statute to 16, surely the same logic and the same reasoning should result in the extension of this privilege. Will he try to remember that these fares are a very costly charge to the working man's weekly income?
As I have already explained, children who regularly use the railways to go to and from school can and usually do get half-price tickets. For holiday and leisure purposes they would normally, travel with their families, and their are similar family concessions available for peak periods which I think cater reasonably for this need.