HC Deb 08 April 1975 vol 889 cc1003-5
13. Mr. Moate

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is now in a position to announce his decisions following the review of concessionary travel arrangements for schoolchildren.

17. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will announce his decisions following the review of concessionary travel arrangements for schoolchildren.

21. Mr. Madel

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he intends to bring in changes in the regulations governing school transport before 1st September 1975.

Mr. Armstrong

My right hon. Friend is now considering the comments of the local authority associations and other interested bodies which were consulted about the report of the Working Party on School Transport. While there is widespread criticism of present arrangements there is no agreement as to the changes that should be made.

Mr. Moate

Does not the Minister recognise that that answer indicates yet once again that the Government seem to have no idea what to do about this difficult problem? I suggest to the Minister that the real answer is to abolish the out-dated and unfair statutory walking distance and to pass back to the local education authorities total discretion in respect of whatever assistance they can give within the resources available to them.

Mr. Armstrong

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern, and I apologise for the great delay. This is a very difficult problem. The real difficulty is to reconcile the reasonable and growing demand of parents for some assistance towards school travelling expenses and our anxiety not to impose extra financial burdens on local authorities. This is a very expensive matter.

Mr. Evans

Will my hon. Friend consider this matter sympathetically and urgently? Does he realise that parents with two or three schoolchildren are having great difficulty in getting their children to school by school bus, and that some of them are compelled to ask their children to walk to school? Is he aware that such children often have to walk to school in inclement weather and sit in wet clothes in the classroom? Does he agree that that is good neither for their health nor for their education?

Mr. Armstrong

I accept entirely what my hon. Friend says. As a matter of fact, local authorities are committed to approximately £50 million on travel expenditure in each year. My officers have been visiting different areas in the country, because no two areas have the same problem. We are trying desperately to come forward with an acceptable solution.

Mr. Madel

As the Government are finding it difficult to make a decision, will they not, as an interim measure, reduce the three-mile limit to a two-mile limit? Will the Minister please take note of the fact that bus fares have recently increased quite steeply for millions of people and are liable to increase again before the beginning of the next academic year? Bearing in mind that the report has been with the Government since December 1973, must there be any further delay?

Mr. Armstrong

I understand and share the hon. Gentleman's impatience. We are trying to arrive at an equable solution. I shall come forward with proposals as quickly as possible.

Mr. Grocott

If experts are examining certain areas where there are difficulties, will my hon. Friend consider sending some of them to the Mile Oak and Fazeley areas, just outside Tamworth, where children are making journeys to school of just under three miles, and where parents are frequently faced with school transport costs of £2 or £3 a week when they have a number of children at school? Does my hon. Friend appreciate that if the children of those parents did what the law at present expects them to do—namely, walk to school—they would be involved in walking down the A5, in the Midlands, in probably one of the busiest parts of that very busy road?

Mr. Armstrong

I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend says. It is another illustration of the great difficulty in coming to the proper answer. If he has any detailed suggestions to make I shall be glad to have them from him.