HC Deb 29 January 1974 vol 868 cc226-8
7. Mr. Marten

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on school transport, in view of her departmental inquiry.

8. Dr. John A. Cunningham

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what reactions she has received from local authorities on the report of the working party on school transport; when she expects to be able to say what she will be recommending; and if she will make a statement.

20. Dr. Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she expects to be able to announce her policy in respect of legislation concerning school transport.

26. Mr. Madel

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she can yet announce plans for altering the rules and regulations concerning school transport, following the recent publication on school transport from her department.

Mrs. Thatcher

As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. John E. B. Hill) on 18th December.—[Vol. 866, c. 289]—I shall be consulting the local authority associations about the working party's report. When I have received and considered its views I will make a statement.

Mr. Marten

Did not the inquiry consult the local authorities in the first place? Am I right in assuming that, because it was a departmental report and, therefore, all the information is within the Department, there will not be much delay in coming to a decision? Does my right hon. Friend recognise that that is important because of the anxiety in rural areas, where people are worried about school transport?

Mrs. Thatcher

That is not quite right. The fact that some people who are employed by us on a working party happen to be from local education authorities does not mean that the local authorities are bound in any way by what came out in the report. I shall be a little surprised if the proposals in the report meet with universal agreement, because they are so far-reaching.

Dr. Cunningham

Does the Secretary of State accept that the situation is becoming more urgent almost daily, and that many people in rural areas in my constituency are now paying several pounds a week to send their children to school? That is an intolerable burden on family incomes. Does the right hon. Lady agree that quick action is necessary?

Mrs. Thatcher

The proposals in the report mean that some people may well pay less for their children to go to school and that some may well pay a good deal more if they avail themselves of public transport. We shall have to have widespread consultation before arriving at a decision about proposals to lay before the House.

Mr. Madel

As secondary school reorganisation has a bearing on the report, will my right hon. Friend agree to shorten the three-mile limit as an interim measure before we finally decide what to do?

Mrs. Thatcher

I should prefer not to make any legislative changes of that kind. As my hon. Friend knows, if a local education authority wishes to provide free transport within the three-mile limit it has full discretion to do so. For the time being it would be better to leave that matter to the judgment of local authorities.

Dr. Marshall

Will the right hon. Lady accept that my constituents in Old Goole, where some children were killed on their way to school, regard this subject as extremely urgent? It is now nearly two years since the working party was established. My constituents want new legislation now, without any increase in their financial burden.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have been very much aware of that case. It was one of the safety cases rather than one of the distance cases. I hope that we shall commence consultation by the end of next week or the week after. That will be consultation on a completely open basis. We shall not have any specific proposals in mind. We shall wish to know what the local authorities think.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Does my right hon. Friend recall that many children in my constituency have to walk along busy main roads and that they are extremely worried about the problem? Will she consider Chapter 5, paragraph 37 of the report, which deals with the relationship between the walking distance and the safety factor?

Mrs. Thatcher

I shall look at that paragraph. I think that there is widespread agreement that people would like something to be done, but there is not a great deal of agreement about precisely what they would like to be done. That is why we have to undertake consultation.

Mr. Beith

Will the right hon. Lady bear in mind school transport implications in terms of the cost and hardship which is caused by the closure of primary schools and some parts of secondary reorganisation which involve long distances from home to school?

Mrs. Thatcher

Yes. Both those factors are taken into account before we reach decisions on the closure or keeping open of village primary schools.