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School Transport

Volume 974: debated on Wednesday 21 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many parents are in receipt of assistance for school transport in the constituency of Inverness, the Highland region, and in Scotland as a whole; and what is the lowest, average and highest cost per family in each case.

Figures are not available on a constituency basis. My information is that about 10,500 pupils in the Highland region, and 175,000 in Scotland, were receiving free school transport or assistance with travelling expenses at the beginning of the current school session. Information about the cost in individual cases is not held centrally.

Will the Government think again about their proposals virtually to oblige local authorities to charge for school transport? Does not the hon. Gentleman's answer show that the Government have not yet worked out the impact of their proposals?

As I have said, information is not held centrally. However, many families living in urban and rural areas already pay their children's travel costs. The imposition of a small flat-rate charge would spread those costs more evenly.

Is it not an unfair anomaly of the present system that two pupils who live only 100 yards apart may stand at the same bus stop, yet one of those pupils may get free transport whilst the other has to pay? Would it not be better if the local authority sorted the matter out?

There are different ways of clearing up an anomaly. Has the hon. Gentleman seen the estimate of that well-known revolutionary organisation, the Scottish National Farmers Union, which suggests that a family with two children, living in a rural area, will probably have to pay an additional £270 a year? Is not the Government's proposition mostrous?

Many estimates were made in advance of the announcement about public expenditure in Scotland, made by the Secretary of State last Friday. Most of those estimates, including that mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, have proved to be out of line.

Will my hon. Friend quantify the charges that the authorities may make at a flat rate for either a day or a journey? Will he compare them with the charges paid by children who live just under the three-mile limit and who travel by public transport to school?

Many families already have to pay their children's travelling costs. What the future holds is a matter for the local authorities. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities welcomed the extra discretion offered by my right hon. Friend.

Is the Minister aware that it is wrong to mislead the House by saying that COSLA is in favour of the proposals? COSLA bitterly opposed the proposals. Does the Minister know that, apart from his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), the Government's proposals do not have a friend in the country? The hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser) said publicly last weekend that he would not support the proposals. When will the Minister announce the withdrawal of the proposals? Will he come to the Committee where we discuss such issues on Tuesday afternoons and do his own dirty work instead of hiving it off to his innocent friend who is not—

Order. That is not fair, because the same rules must apply to the Front Benches as to the Back Benches. The hon. Gentleman should ask only one supplementary question.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser) is perfectly capable of speaking for himself. I did not mislead the House, because COSLA welcomed being given additional discretion, although it did not welcome the public expenditure restraints.