I hope soon to have the views of the local authority associations on the report of the working party on school transport. When I have received and considered their views I shall make a statement.
May I impress upon my right hon. Friend the urgency with which some of my constituents regard the matter? When he is formulating proposals, will he ensure that no parent is required to pay more towards the cost of his child's transport to school than is incurred already?
I am aware of the urgency of the matter and of the particular concern arising from the tragic deaths as a result of the accident which my hon. Friend drew to my predecessor's attention. I do not want to anticipate decisions on the report, which is complicated, and I shall need to have the views of local authorities before making a statement.
While making no party point on this subject, and realising that the right hon. Gentleman has had only four weeks in his Department, may I ask whether he does not think that this matter has been hanging about long enough and that it is time we had an urgent decision? Would it not be better to get on with this matter than decide about comprehensive schools?
It is very important to get on with the question of comprehensive schools. However, I believe that this matter requires a decision as early as possible. Complicated questions are involved. There is a difficulty in the present arrangements, in that the entitlement of a child living just within the statutory distance and one living just outside that distance creates an anomaly which is resented. On the other hand, finding an alternative to the arrangement is complicated. We want local authorities to give careful consideration to the issue and to let us have their advice before we make a decision.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in some parts of the country the question of distance in respect of school travel is not the real problem? Is he aware that the issue in new towns such as Cramlington and other areas in my constituency is that youngsters have to cross two main motorways to reach school, although they are only a short distance from school? Does not my right hon. Friend agree that this aspect of the report should be studied and put into operation?
Yes, Sir. We have the long-standing anomaly arising from the distance problem, complicated in many areas by increasing traffic dangers to children living at varying distances from school. All these aspects must be taken into account in trying to reach the right answer.
Will the right hon. Gentleman take into account new types of transport that have come into certain areas within the past few years, which have made it extremely difficult for children who have to negotiate some of those roads?
Yes, I shall take those aspects into account, and I shall be glad to have views from the hon. Member or any other hon. Members on this problem over the next few weeks.