Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Science – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th February 1979.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she is yet ready to introduce in the House proposals for reforming the present system for the provision of free school transport.
No, Sir. The administrative and financial implications of possible alternatives are still being examined.
In view of the widespread concern throughout the country about these anomalies, will not the Minister at least give some indication of the lines along which a possible solution might be found?
I think I have told the hon. Gentleman on a number of occasions that the best and most likely workable solution lies with some form of flat-rate arrangement. He is correct to refer to widespread concern. Unfortunately, that concern does not express itself in agreed views.
Will my hon. Friend accept that the present system places a heavy burden on families, particularly when they have children in secondary schools who have just under three miles to travel and primary school children with just under two miles to travel? Will she renew her efforts to obtain some settlement between local authorities and the Government to give some relief to those families?
I am aware of this problem. We are trying to find a solution with the utmost speed.
The Minister could alleviate the situation almost immediaately if she would change the mileage rule to take account of the distance that the bus actually has to travel rather than the simple crow's flight distance which is now the regulation.
I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman's suggestion would cope with all the cases brought to me, particularly in areas where there are no subsidised fares for children and where families face a heavy burden of expenditure.
I know that my hon. Friend is keen to see a new system introduced. Does she agree that many Tory local authorities, such as Bradford, have introduced harsh new alterations to the existing rule which have caused great hardship? Will she draw the attention of the Treasury to the recent Government expenditure paper which demonstrates a £2 billion shortfall in spending for the current year? Could not some of that money be used to provide a national service for transport which would be a great improvement on the existing situation?
I accept that the fact that many local authorities have ceased to use their discretionary powers has caused problems. As for drawing things to the attention of the Treasury, my hon. Friend is so effective in pursuing that activity that I would hardly dare to compete with him.