HC Deb 14 December 1972 vol 848 cc609-11
29. Mr. Redmond

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations have been made to her, following the establishment this year of her inquiry into the matter, regarding the rules concerning school transport; and what replies she has made.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My right hon. Friend has received a number of letters from Members and others about school transport matters. The nature of the reply has depended upon the problems raised in the letters, and in appropriate cases the correspondence has been drawn to the attention of the Working Party on School Transport.

Mr. Redmond

Has my hon. Friend seen the correspondence that I had with his Department on this subject before he joined it? Does he not agree that the 3-mile rule is being applied harshly? Is he aware that in my constituency parents who live so close to each other that they would normally use the same bus-stop are treated differently in terms of the provision of school transport? Will he do something to speed up the working party's report on this subject and let us have some sense in dealing with it?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have seen the correspondence to which my hon. Friend referred between himself and my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State. It has been explained to my hon. Friend that there is no obligation on the local education authority to provide transport or to pay fares for a pupil living less than the statutory walking distance from the school at which he is registered, but if there are special cases of hardship I shall certainly be willing to consult the local authority on the matter.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that the three-mile limit is absolutely wrong? Young girls of 11 and 12 sometimes have to walk for 50 minutes—through districts where they are likely to be accosted and which are dangerous—before they reach their schools. Will he look into this again and do something about it?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am sympathetic to the point made by the hon. Gentleman, but this is a matter to which the working party will give consideration—and I, along with others, await its report with a great deal of interest.

Mr. Fell

This report is taking an awfully long time. Does my hon. Friend realise that, apart from what was said a moment ago by the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck), there are many roads whose conditions have changed completely? Roads which were once quiet are now subjected to heavy and dangerous traffic. The problem should be looked into with the greatest urgency, and it should not be a matter of having to wait and wait for some working party, which may take years to report.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that the working party will take years to report. I think that my hon. Friend will agree that this inquiry is so important that it should be done very thoroughly as well as swiftly. Already 25 interested organisations have submitted evidence, and we have received from members of the public more than 50 letters which have been passed to the working party. It must do its work thoroughly, but we shall see that it reports as quickly as it can and will let hon. Members know when it does.

Mr. Milne

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he is far too complacent in this matter? I agree that he ought to consult various organisations, but he ought also to consult the local education authorities in many of the new towns. In Cramlington, for example, the road pattern is changing rapidly, and an arbitrary three-mile limit for providing assistance for schoolchildren is entirely wrong. The hon. Gentleman should consider the question of road safety as well as the question of distance.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I agree that that is an important and related question, and any local education authorities that wish to make their views known should submit their evidence and their views to the working party as soon as possible.