HC Deb 12 January 1978 vol 941 cc1832-3
2. Mr. Kilfedder

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will re-examine the present interpretation of the statutory walking distance for school transport.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ray Carter)

No, Sir. I am, however, aware that difficult decisions have sometimes to be made, particularly where the cut-off point on the perimeter of the statutory walking distance means that some children are within the statutory walking distance while others just fall outside it. In general I am satisfied that the decisions made by education and library boards in individual cases are as flexible as can reasonably be expected.

Mr. Kilfedder

Will the Minister reconsider that reply and assist hard-pressed families with children in Northern Ireland by amending the present statutory walking distance to below two and three miles respectively and, indeed, by calculating the distance to exclude dual carriageways and busy thoroughfares which provide a worry and a threat to parents of children on their way to and from school, especially as this Government, with their predecessors, had helped to make Northern Ireland the region with the highest level of poverty in the United Kingdom, according to the Supplementary Benefits Commission report?

Mr. Carter

I am always prepared to reconsider any reply that I may give from time to time, but the truth is that in Northern Ireland we are somewhat in advance of the rest of the United Kingdom. However, I should point out that a study group is considering the efficiency of the present system and it may be that, within the context of that approach to the problem, we can improve it.

Mr. Marten

Whatever the statutory distance may be, may we have an assurance that it will be expressed in miles and not kilometres?

Mr. Carter

Particularly in Northern Ireland, yes.