HC Deb 03 August 1976 vol 916 cc1408-9
2. Mr Boscawen

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will issue guidelines to local authorities in connection with the provision of free school transport.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

No, Sir.

Mr. Boscawen

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that there is great concern in Somerset due to the fact that all discretionary transport for school children may have to be withdrawn? As most discretionary transport is given on the ground of road safety in this rural area, and as the children who lose their transport will be at considerable risk if it is withdrawn, will the right hon. Gentleman hasten any changes in legislation that are required for the introduction of of fare-paying services to replace school transport?

Mr. Mulley

As the House knows from previous Questions there is no unanimity or any consensus among local authorities about any change in school transport arrangements. It was because I was concerned about exactly the points the hon. Gentleman has made that I made proposals just under a year ago. We can get no consent and, therefore, no changes are at present contemplated. As for Somerset's decision, it is within the discretion of the authority, and it would not be right for me to interfere with a local authority's discretion.

Mr. Watkinson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Gloucestershire, too, considerable hardship is being caused to working-class parents by the withdrawal of concessionary fares for their children travelling on school transport? Does he agree that it would be helpful if there could be more centralised guidance on matters such as school transport?

Mr. Mulley

The arrangements for school transport are well known and have not changed. The issue of concessionary fares is a matter for the transport operators and for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I know that this is a matter that has attracted their attention. It is not within my powers to deal with concessionary fares.

Mr. Luce

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that in my constituency there is considerable resentment as between parents who live within the three-mile area or who are on the border and those who live just beyond it and who are supplied with free transport as a result? Is he aware that there is growing resentment about this? Will he seriously consider the possibility of standard fares for all? Although it is right that the right hon. Gentleman should not give an instruction, when does he intend to give some form of guidance to local authorities on this matter?

Mr. Mulley

I issued proposals to the local authorities, and the county councils are very much opposed to any change. There was nowhere any desire to have exactly the same system as the hon. Gentleman has outlined, which is a good summary of what I proposed. Without local authority support, it is impossible to change the system.

Mr. MacFarquhar

I do not follow my right hon. Friend on the last point. The fact that the local authorities are unable to agree or to give guidance to my right hon. Friend does not mean that he has to abdicate his right to legislate on this matter.

Mr. Mulley

Legislation would be required to change the statutory distances. The main difficulty, however, is that some element of the cost is borne by the local rates, and local authorities already have substantial difficulty in maintaining their expenditures within the guidelines of Government policy. Therefore, it would be unreasonable to try to impose a policy which they were all against.