In January 1994, the latest year for which data are available, some 118,000 pupils were being educated in selective schools. Information is not available centrally on the number of those pupils being educated in grammar schools and receiving free transport, as that matter is for locally elected, accountable education authorities.
My hon. Friend will be aware that with nearly 31,000 grammar school children in Kent—about one third of all children being educated in Kent—we are particularly anxious about the kind of story coming out of Essex, where a Labour-controlled council has denied free transport to grammar school children. Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that he will do all that he can to protect our children against that kind of envy politics, which make it impossible for children to receive the kind of education that they deserve?
We will always discharge our duty, and the Secretary of State in particular is anxious to protect vulnerable pupils from the depredations of local authorities wherever possible. I emphasise that great discretion is given to local education authorities in determining transport arrangements for pupils in their charge. If people decide in a local election to change the complexion of their local authority, it should not surprise them too much if a vindictive authority controlled by the Labour or Liberal party chooses to wreak cheap vengeance on the pupils in its care.
As the hon. Gentleman well knows, LEAs have wide discretion in providing transport for the pupils for whom they are responsible. The problem arises when LEAs use that discretion to exercise political leverage over pupils in their care and parents. That is happening in authorities that have passed into Labour control.