HC Deb 30 July 1975 vol 896 cc1801-3
9. Mr. Adam Hunter

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has had from local authorities requesting information about changes in the financing of school transport; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Milan

None. The Government are reviewing the provision for school transport in the light of the report of the Working Party on School Transport set up in 1972 by the then Secretaries of State for Education and Science, and for Wales. and of views expressed on the report by interested bodies, including the Scottish local authority associations. It is, however, too soon to say when conclusions will be reached.

Mr. Hunter

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the cost of sending children to some schools is becoming prohibitive? Is he aware that in certain circumstances—at Inverkeithing High School, for example—parents are obliged to make their children stay for school meals rather than that they should bear the cost of bus travel home at midday? Does he not agree that where there are two or three children in a family who are not entitled to free travel, the cost of bus fares and school meals represents a heavy draw on the budget? Why cannot the local authorities, with the help of the Government, do something about this?

Mr. Millan

My hon. Friend will know that educational authorities have certain discretionary powers. At the minute they need not stick to the recommended limit for free transport, and in the past some of them have decided on more generous limits, at their own discretion. I understand that if the home of a family of school children falls just outside the limit, bus fares can be quite a heavy burden. However, discretionary powers are available to local authorities to meet these cases.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Does the Minister agree that the two-miles' limit is applied somewhat inflexibly by certain local authorities? Will he make it clear to local authorities that where either road safety or exposed weather conditions are factors they should apply the two-miles' limit with flexibility, and provide transport where it is necessary?

Mr. Milan

I should be rather chary of recommending such a thing to local authorities. At the moment they have complete discretion, and they take different views in different areas. Some authorities would be glad to be more flexible, but they believe that if they make a concession in one area, in particular circumstances, it is liable to be quoted against them elsewhere. This happens. These are matters wholly within the discretion of local authorities I am sure that what the hon. Gentleman has said will be drawn to their attention.

Mrs. Bain

Does the Minister not agree that the present recommended cutbacks in public expenditure by local authorities militate against their use of this flexibility? Does he not further agree that it would be more advisable to issue free public transport passes to all students attending school in the area? This would mean that the Government's commitment to encouraging children to stay on beyond the school leaving date would be more likely to be carried out.

Mr. Milan

In terms of additional public expenditure, it would not be one of my priorities to give free school passes to all children regardless of the distance they live from school. As I have said, local authorities may use their discretion in this matter.