HC Deb 03 April 1974 vol 871 cc1234-6
4. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received calling for the extension of concessionary children's fares on public transport to all children attending school; and whether he will make a statement.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Carmichael)

A few letters have been received on this since I took office. Fares for children are, however, a matter for the transport operators.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that does not get us very far and that, apart from the few representations he has received, my right hon. Friend who was his predecessor certainly received representations from me? Will he give it his consideration if I take up the case again?

Mr. Carmichael

We shall always be pleased to hear from the hon. Member, but he must realise that concessionary fares for children or anyone else are primarily a matter for the commercial judgment of the operators of the services. It is important to remember also that lower fares for some people mean higher fares for others.

Mr. Walter Johnson

Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency, for example, parents were persuaded to send their children to the Derby schools, some two miles away, as the fares were to be free? Now, under the new county council authority, this concession has been withdrawn. What does my hon. Friend intend to do about that?

Mr. Carmichael

This is a matter for the local authorities. If they wish, on the advice of the Department of Education and Science, they may decide to give grants to allow schoolchildren to travel at reduced fares. A working party set up by the DES has reported and made radical suggestions for changes, but no ministerial decisions have yet been taken.

Mr. Walter Johnson

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

13. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will give a general direction to transport undertakings to extend the concession of half fares to young persons until they reach the compulsory school leaving age of 16; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Carmichael

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend has no power to do so.

Mr. Dempsey

Is my hon. Friend aware, however, that since the compulsory school leaving age was raised to 16 bus fares have increased enormously? Such costs weigh heavily on countless thousands of working-class parents whose children do not qualify, on geographical lines, for concessionary bus fares. Will my hon. Friend do something about it? Some municipal undertakings have already given this concession. Why should he not instruct the Scottish Bus Group to do likewise?

Mr. Carmichael

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has no powers to do that, and I emphasise that the matter of concessionary fares is for the commercial judgment of the operators. Before the war the concessionary fares were originally introduced to attract children and others to use public transport. But the economics of public transport have changed drastically since then.

Mr. Harry Ewing

Will my hon. Friend note the very important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey)? Some local authorities which own their own passenger transport undertakings grant children half fares until they are 16 whereas the Scottish Bus Group does not. Is my hon. Friend aware that even today the Scottish Bus Group has an application before the traffic commis- sioners substantially to increase fares in Scotland? Will the Government take power to deal with this? After all, is not that what Governments are elected for?

Mr. Carmichael

I understand fully the point made by my hon. Friend, but the question of subsidising concessionary fares represents only part of transport costs. The Government already make very substantial contributions to the cost of public transport. Ultimately it is a question of priorities.

Mr. Moate

I recognise that the question of concessionary fares is a matter for the bus companies and transport undertakings, but will the hon. Gentleman say whether the Government have a view about whether it is desirable for concessionary fares to be available to schoolchildren?

Mr. Carmichael

The previous Labour Government, of which I was a member, introduced legislation to give local authorities power to extend concessionary fares to the elderly. Local authorities can provide free travel for any children travelling over three miles or, if under eight years of age, over two miles. As I said in reply to an earlier Question, there has been an investigation by the Department of Education and Science which is now being considered, but no official view has been taken.

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