§ 5. Mr. Nicholls
What representations he has received concerning denominational school transport. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Ms Estelle Morris)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has received a number of representations about transport to denominational schools from hon. Members, parents, and supporters of Church schools.
§ Mr. Nicholls
The Minister will have received representations from Devon because the county council broke a consensus that has existed since 1944 and proposed this year to take away support for denominational school transport. I accept entirely that that is not the Minister's fault and that I could not fairly ask her to give a specific answer today, but I put it to her that the breaking of that consensus will trouble Labour Members every bit as much as it troubles Conservative Members. Will she take the opportunity, in due course, to consider whether we can devise ways of ensuring that no county council can ever do that again?
§ Ms Morris
I have some sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says, and my Department has been monitoring the situation in Devon carefully, and will continue to do so. I am pleased that the proposal has been deferred for at least 12 months. Local authorities have a statutory duty to take account of denominational preference when constructing school transport policies. It is important that they should continue to do that, within the framework of local decision making. We will continue to monitor the situation not only in Devon but in all local authorities.
§ Mr. Dorrell
Does the Minister agree that availability of free transport is often the key to converting theoretical choice into a practical option for a family? Will she confirm that the Government are opposed to a reduction in the entitlement to school transport and that, if options such as the one proposed in Devon are considered in other 669 local education authorities, the Government are ready not only to monitor the situation but to take action to ensure that no such reduction goes ahead?
§ Ms Morris
We are in government, and that is why Devon was able to defer its decision to cut school transport. It could defer the decision because it received £13 million extra from the Government. One of the reasons why local authorities have had to cut back on transport in the past 18 years is that, year after year, they have had to deal with reduced budgets. That has now changed, and we expect the attitude to school transport policy to change as well. We will take action if local authorities fall down on their statutory responsibility.