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School Transport

Volume 893: debated on Tuesday 17 June 1975

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6.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when his Department will take a decision on the report of the Working Party on School Transport; and if he will make a statement.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he is now in a position to make a statement on future policy regarding travel concessions for schoolchildren.

School transport is among the many matters I am considering. My aim is to put to the local authority associations proposals for new school transport arrangements. These would take into account many of the features of the working party's recommendations.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the main recommendation of the working party, namely, that parents should have a right to ask local education committees for transportation and that transportation should be provided at a flat rate, decided nationally, would remove the great sense of injustice felt by many parents either because they live outside the three-mile limit or because of the differing fare policies of various branches of the National Bus Company? Will my right hon. Friend undertake to present his conclusions and recommendations on this subject before October, which will be the second anniversary of the publication of the working party's report?

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I shall certainly try to meet the target he set. In my previous post in the Government, as Minister for Transport I was at the receiving end of some of the complaints about the difficulties to which he referred when I went round the country. I am not unaware of the problem and I agree that something along the lines he suggests might be a way of approaching the difficulties. As I say, we are anxious to discuss the arrangements with the local authority associations as soon as we can.

Will the Secretary of State be a little less coy about what he is suggesting? Will his suggestions do away with the arbitrary distinction based on the two- and three-mile limits? Is he aware that that distinction is causing even more trouble now because of the much higher bus fares which children just within the limit are being required to pay?

I ask the hon. Gentleman to be a little patient. These are difficulties which we shall seek to eradicate, but in view of the present economic climate I do not think that anyone should expect us to change the system in a way that will add substantially to the cost. Our problem is to achieve a better system at the same cost for the local education authorities.

I join in congratulating my right hon. Friend and his colleague on their new appointments. I realise that my right hon. Friend has been in his new appointment for only a few days and one would not expect him to have taken immediate action. This difficulty causes great concern to parents of two or more children, who find it exceedingly difficult to meet the cost of the increased bus fares, and it is leading to truancy and a loss of education for the children. Will my right hon. Friend give this problem his immediate consideration?

I understand the difficulties, but the House will understand that before any proposals are proceeded with it is essential for us to have discussions with the local authority associations. The local authorities will have to administer the scheme and it is important that they should have the opportunity of giving us the benefit of their advice.

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind the effect that the present rules have on the recruitment of workers in rural areas, especially in agriculture and forestry? Will he also bear in mind the special plight of children who may have to walk through rain or snow for two or three miles to catch a bus and then have to sit wet and, perhaps, cold in the bus until they reach school?

Yes. It was problems of that kind that gave rise to the setting up of the working party, and we are concerned to try to improve the situation.

May I, from the Opposition Front Bench, congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his elevation?

The hon. Gentleman should not assume anything where manners are concerned. May I express the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will prove as moderate in practice as his predecessor was in theory? Is it not extraordinary that after nearly two years we have not had so much as a peep from the Department of Education and Science on the question where the Government stand on the issue of school transport, which is of intense interest to millions of parents? Will the new Secretary of State tell the House today whether he accepts the principle of the Hodges Report that the important thing is to provide a transport service, and that if they were guaranteed that service parents would be willing to contribute to it according to their means?

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his kind personal references, but I do not go along with his rather graphic description of the contribution made by my predecessor. I personally pay tribute to what my predecessor did in this sphere. As for dealing urgently with the transport problem, because of my previous appointment I am very sensitive to the need to get on with it, but at the same time I have to take account of local authority views and the financial situation. Within the five days that I have been in office I have tried to look at many matters, but I shall deal with this one as soon as I can.