HC Deb 10 February 1997 vol 290 cc7-9
6. Mrs. Golding

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many children travelled to school by means other than private car in (a) 1979 and (b) 1995. [13350]

Mr. Bowis

It is estimated that, on average, about 5.7 million children aged five to 15 travelled to school by means other than private car during the period 1993 to 1995. Figures are not available for 1979.

Mrs. Golding

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that Staffordshire county council is being asked to pay an exorbitant 85 per cent. increase on the contract price for the school bus service for the coming year? Bus prices were supposed to fall following deregulation, so will he investigate why that price is rising and whether cartels are being formed by bus companies? We do not want even more children to go to school by car.

Mr. Bowis

I certainly cannot comment on a particular contract between a local authority and a bus operator. The great advantage of privatisation and deregulation is that there is a greater choice, and if the authority is not satisfied with one company, it can go to another. I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome the measure that I announced this morning: the extension of safety measures for children travelling on minibuses and coaches. From today, seat belts will have to be installed in all such post-1988 vehicles. That is a good step forward on road safety, but we want strongly to encourage children to use public transport and bicycles, and to walk.

Mr. Rathbone

My hon. Friend may be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited my constituency on Friday and saw, in Southover school, the preparation of posters to encourage walking to school. Will he report to the House on the success of that initiative, which encourages what must be the best way for children to get to school, saving fuel and helping the environment?

Mr. Bowis

I am not able to give an update on the Southover experiment, but it is one that I hope will be emulated throughout the country. We want routes to be designated by planning authorities, engineers, local education authorities and schools that make it sensible and safe for children to walk to school. It is no good encouraging them to walk if the routes are not safe. The routes must be signed and well lit, and obstacles and places from which people might jump out need to be removed. I formed, and chair, a walking strategy group that is examining carefully ways to encourage more walking and safe walking; that certainly includes walking to school.

Mr. Dafis

Are not strategies to enable children to go to school by means other than private car encompassed in the provisions of the Road Traffic Reduction Bill? I congratulate the Minister and the Government on allowing the Bill to have a Second Reading, and I anticipate that it will have a fair wind. Would not the best way to ensure that the Bill works be to have targets, including UK-wide targets, for the reduction of road traffic? What are the Government's thoughts on the matter?

Mr. Bowis

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thanks to the Government for encouraging the progress of that Bill, which had all-party support. The Bill is based on local targets, and that fits neatly with the principles of our transport Green Paper, which encouraged such schemes and gave examples of how they could be run. National targets would be unwise and unworkable, because what is right for a rural area is not necessarily right for a city centre. One has to consider each area according to its needs.

We want to encourage more children to walk or cycle to school, given that of the rush-hour traffic about 17 per cent. nationally, and 25 per cent. in London, is accounted for by mothers taking children on short journeys to school. Already, 74 per cent. of children go to school by means other than private car, and we want to increase that figure still further.