Thursday 23 February 2012
[Mr Mike Weir in the Chair]
[Early-day motion 2689, The Times “Cities fit for cycling” campaign, is relevant .]
Motion made, and Question proposed ,That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Vara.)
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate. I also thank my fellow officers of the all-party parliamentary cycling group, especially the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) and my hon. Friends the Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and for Winchester (Steve Brine), for their support. I thank, too, Adam Coffman, who administers the group for us extremely well. We run a range of events, including an annual parliamentary bike ride. Of the current ministerial team, all of whom are cyclists to a greater or lesser extent, two have taken part in the bike ride. I hope that the Minister will agree to join us this year, perhaps with other colleagues from the Government or, indeed, with other colleagues from this debate.
[Interruption.] I am informed by the knight on my right, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell), that 44 Members are here. Moreover, some 2,000 cyclists cycled around Parliament last night to show their support.
Apart from the 30-minute Adjournment debate that I secured on cycling in England last year, MPs have not had a substantial debate on the important issue of cycling for several years, which is worrying. I welcome the Committee’s decision to rectify that. The sheer number of Members here—I think we are outdoing the number in the main Chamber at the moment—and the number of signatures on my early-day motion 2689 show the importance of the issue.
The Times on launching it; it is a really fantastic achievement. The campaign has an eight-point manifesto, which looks at lorries, junction redesign, a national cycling audit, infrastructure investment, training, 20-mile-an-hour zones, cycle super-highways and cycling commissioners. About 30,000 people, including myself, have now expressed support for those eight points. More importantly, they have also been backed by organisations such as the AA and the RAC, which is testament to the breadth of the support.
The impetus for today’s debate is the “Cities fit for cycling” campaign. I wholeheartedly congratulate
The Times campaign. It is the first council in the country to do so.
The campaign has increased the public debate about cycling and brought it further to the Government’s attention. Yesterday, at Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister responded to my calls for him to support the campaign as well. Later today, my own city council, the Liberal Democrat-controlled Cambridge council, will debate and, I hope, pass a motion in support of
23 Feb 2012 : Column 344WH
The Times has rightly highlighted the shocking rise in the number of cyclists who have been killed or seriously injured on our roads. Between 2010 and 2011, the number rose by 8% in the face of increasing safety in almost all other forms of transport. Although each of those injuries or deaths is a tragedy, cycling is still a fundamentally safe form of transport. The increase in injuries should be seen against a backdrop of increasing cycling numbers, which we should welcome.
Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this fantastic debate and on his excellent work in the all-party parliamentary group. With regard to road safety, does he also welcome the initiative by the British Cycling website, which looks at mapping routes and accredited safe routes to help people plan their journeys safely? Will he pay tribute to the excellent work of Sport England in supporting cycling throughout the country?
Dr Huppert: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I do indeed support the great work of Sport England. I will talk about route finding later. The excellent website CycleStreets also allows people to find routes that are safer and more direct. A recent survey by Sustrans found that 56% of the British public feel that urban roads are unsafe to cycle on.
Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): I reiterate the message of congratulations to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on securing this debate. I have had many letters from my constituents about it. In the last year, two cyclists were killed on the Bow roundabout, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). Many of my constituents use that roundabout. Although I appreciate the point about the overall safety of cycling, there are serious concerns about road safety in parts of London—for instance, in Tower Hamlets. It is important to raise such concerns and ensure that the Mayor of London takes them seriously. He must put in place measures that ensure proper safety in such areas. We cannot have more deaths taking place, so we need to place the right emphasis on the serious dangers that exist, on which many people have campaigned.
Dr Huppert: I thank the hon. Lady for making that point. I suspect that many Members wish to intervene, and I will give way as many times as I can as long as they are brief.
I met the Mayor’s director of the environment yesterday specifically to talk about the Bow roundabout. I notice that the London cycling campaign has some proposals on the matter as well. It is not in my constituency and I am not an expert in the details. There are clearly other such junctions where much more work needs to be done to make them safe.
Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab) rose —
Dr Huppert: I should like to move on from the Bow roundabout. Members will have the chance to speak later. I do not want to take up too much of anyone else’s time.
23 Feb 2012 : Column 345WH
The Times campaign is partly based on the awful injuries suffered by Mary Bowers, who is a journalist and a former student from my constituency. The stories highlight the need for improved safety. One of the problems is that Government policy has tended to be largely reactionary and that has put people off cycling, which is a real problem. The evidence is clear that the more people who cycle, the safer that it gets. There is a strong group effect in that regard.
There is rightly intense media interest when cyclists are killed or seriously injured. Such stories are vital and often harrowing.
One study showed that if the number of cyclists is doubled, the accident risk is reduced by more than a third. The Dutch have a lower accident rate because of, not in spite of, the number of cyclists. Anything that deters people from cycling is very damaging and risks increasing the dangers for all.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): As most of the items concerning cycling in my constituency are devolved matters, I will not take up time speaking about them. On this very point of the increase in numbers, I represent a constituency and a city that has a good record in increasing the number of cyclists, and that has happened over many years. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the key factors in getting a change in attitude and increasing the numbers is consistent support from local authorities and active organisations? That is the key to getting the long-term change that we all want.
Dr Huppert: Local activity is absolutely critical. In my own area, Cambridge city council has long prioritised this matter. When I was a councillor, I chaired the traffic management committee. Local activity in other areas is also important, so the Cambridge cycling campaign and the London cycling campaign do a lot of excellent work to keep up the pressure.
Several hon. Members rose —
Dr Huppert: I am not going to list every cycling campaign in the country; I am sure that they are all excellent. Today, I hope that all Members will have a chance to speak and to focus on how cycling in this country can be further improved and encouraged. Both The Times campaign and the all-party parliamentary group take a holistic view about promoting cycling as a whole. That is what I hope that we can discuss today. The debate is long overdue and the need for change is pressing.
Let me talk briefly about the positives of cycling in case some Members are not aware of them. Cycling is the most efficient form of transport in the world. So many studies have highlighted its energy efficiency compared with cars, trains, buses, planes and even walking. A 2009 study by Professor David MacKay found that an average cyclist will use less than a third of the amount of energy required to walk, a sixth of the energy needed to travel by coach and an eightieth of the energy a car would use. When we consider that efficiency and the average distances that people travel, cycling becomes almost a no-brainer. Three-quarters of our journeys in this country are five miles or fewer. Most cyclists could travel such a distance fairly quickly. Of course cycling is not the answer to each of those journeys, but more
23 Feb 2012 : Column 346WH
cycling could be done. Cycling is efficient; we can use it for our basic transport needs. In the UK, cycling accounts for just 2% of all trips. That number should be far higher.
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I cycled in to the House of Commons today from Fulham. Members can see that from my helmet hair. I support my hon. Friend and The Times campaign, and I hope that my local cities in the north-east—Newcastle and Gateshead—will institute the campaign as part of their ongoing work. I represent the small rural towns of Hexham, Ponteland and Prudhoe. Does my hon. Friend agree that we can apply this campaign to all such rural towns?
Dr Huppert: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Rural towns and rural areas can also do things to promote cycling. The details will obviously be different, but the principle is the same. The benefits from having more cyclists on our roads are also the same, in that drivers and other road users will understand what is happening.
Mr Slaughter rose —
Dr Huppert: The hon. Gentleman is being very persistent, so I will give way.
Mr Slaughter: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman; he is being very generous. Does he agree that one easy and cheap way of improving cycling safety is to improve training? One of my constituents, Philippa Robb of londoncycletraining.co who is here today, says that two hours of training costs £70 and would absolutely transform cyclists’ safety on the road. We are not talking about millions of pounds of infrastructure investment. Of course we need other measures as well, but surely that is something that the Government can do. Companies, too, can get involved. They often sponsor the cycle-to-work scheme but not the training.
Dr Huppert: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct about training support, and I will talk later about that issue. I am very pleased that the Government have continued to fund Bikeability training for young people. It is very important to catch people at a young age.
Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?
Dr Huppert: I will give way to my colleague on the Home Affairs Committee and then I will make some progress.
Michael Ellis: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and I congratulate him on securing this debate. I have had a number of letters from my constituents in Northampton North, which is a business hub with a lot of haulage traffic; lorries and the like. Those vehicles can and do present a danger to cyclists. Does he have any suggestions about how that problem can be alleviated?
Dr Huppert: A number of things have been done, and a number of other things can be done about that problem, including providing sensors and mirrors around vehicles and training. There are various exchange programmes to allow cyclists to understand what it is
23 Feb 2012 : Column 347WH
like to be in a heavy goods vehicle and heavy goods vehicle drivers to understand what it is like on a bike, so that there is more awareness and everyone can behave more sensibly.
Why are so few people cycling? It is not for a lack of bikes. Each year, more bikes than cars are sold in the UK. Also, the costs of cycling are quite low. Bikes are not as expensive as a car or a travelcard; a cyclist does not have to join the AA; and maintenance costs are low. All a cyclist has to do is to eat some food. Cycling is also reliable: there is no waiting around for a bus or train; cyclists will not be caught up in traffic; and if—unfortunately—a cyclist is late, it is normally because they left too late.
Rehman Chishti: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Dr Huppert: I have already given way once to the hon. Gentleman, so I am afraid that I will not give way again.
The health benefits of encouraging cycling are also huge, but they are not properly estimated. Obesity costs our country around £20 billion a year, which is about as much as the entire budget for the Department for Transport. We know that investment in active transport—walking and cycling—pays massive dividends. Rather interestingly, some studies have shown that the average life expectancy of cyclists is up to two years longer than that of non-cyclists. That is good news for us, but less good news for those debating the pensions issue.
Cycling is good for the environment. Even if one takes into account the food that cyclists eat, where it comes from and how it was produced, carbon dioxide emissions are a fraction of those from other vehicles and typically very little other pollution is emitted.
Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): On participation, last May, I got on the back of a bike for the first time in 20 years, alongside 150 other Huddersfield Town fans, as we cycled from Huddersfield to Brighton, raising £250,000 for the Yorkshire ambulance service. That fundraising trip was so successful that more than 300 Huddersfield Town fans will ride from Yeovil to Huddersfield this May. That is a massive increase in participation. Many of those charity cyclists are riding for charity for the first time and, indeed, riding a bike for the first time in many years. So there are a lot of new initiatives, particularly based around charity, and they increase participation in cycling.
Dr Huppert: Absolutely. There are a huge number of cycling activities to participate in. We must ensure that people are aware of them, so that we can bring more people into cycling.
On the subject of participation, the current score is that 53 Members are in Westminster Hall today for this debate, including the Minister.
As I have said, cycling is efficient, cheap, reliable, healthy and environmentally friendly—by all accounts, it is a public policy maker’s dream—and I have not even mentioned cycling as a leisure activity, including road biking or mountain biking, or as a sport. We have some of the best international cyclists in the world. We should note that just last week Great Britain came top of the medals table in the track world cup, with an outstanding
23 Feb 2012 : Column 348WH
five gold medals. Our national cycling team is world-renowned, but our provision for cyclists off the track is deeply inadequate.
What can the Government do to encourage our most effective yet underrated form of transport? This is not just about spending large amounts of cash. There are a lot of small and cheap changes that will make a very big difference to cycling in this country.
Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman join me in congratulating politicians of all parties in London who have overseen a significant rise in cycling in the capital? Does he agree that, although the number of people cycling in London has risen dramatically, car use is projected to increase at least as fast as that of bicycle use, if not faster, and therefore that how we manage the road space to accommodate the growing demand from both cyclists and drivers needs to be a critical element in planning for the future?
Dr Huppert: Absolutely—managing road space is key. Of course, a cyclist takes up a lot less road space than a car user, so when we move people over to bikes from cars we actually free up space, which is very valuable. I emphasise the point that the hon. Lady makes about cycling being a cross-party issue. There are differences between us in the parties, but I hope that this debate will not become a party political knockabout. I do not think that any of us wants that to happen; this issue is too important to the public.
The reforms that we need are not new. Many of the proposed reforms that we will hear about today have been called for by cyclists for years. National organisations such as CTC, which was formerly the Cyclists Touring Club, and local groups such as the Cambridge cycling campaign have worked very hard for sensible policies and support. As a party, the Liberal Democrats have been pushing for those policies for many years, and I am delighted that somebody from my party—the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker)—is the Minister with responsibility for cycling now.
We have been able to make some progress. Just recently, some extra money was provided for cyclists, with £7 million going to improve cycle-rail integration, which is absolutely critical. Someone can do a huge amount with a train and a bike, and it is very important that cyclists have places to park their bike and that they can get their bike on the train. I have been working for a long time to achieve some of those things at Cambridge station.
Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. On the point about trains, I have been working very closely with the Ealing cycling campaign, specifically about the fact that not everyone wants to cycle all the way to work. Sometimes, people want to cycle to the train station, get on the train and then be able to get off the other end. Does he agree that it is very important that we encourage more train operators to make it easier for people to take their bikes on trains and also that stations, including the parking centres, are made more cyclist-friendly?
23 Feb 2012 : Column 349WH
Dr Huppert: Definitely. I hope that the money that I have just referred to will help—it is being matched by some other support—and I talk quite regularly to the Association of Train Operating Companies about what we can do to improve matters. In addition, I think that we are finally about to make some progress at Cambridge station, which I am delighted about.
There is another issue. Cycle parking applies throughout our towns and not just at the stations. As well as the fact that it is possible to fit in more bikes than other vehicles, which is very helpful, cyclists actually spend more when they go shopping than people who go by car. So it would be quite good for our economy to see more people cycling.
A further issue is getting people started and helping them to find a route that they can follow to get to where they want to go. There is an excellent Cambridge-based company called CycleStreets that has route-mapping across the whole country. All our constituencies are covered by that provision. It is free online, and I can recommend the iPhone Bike Hub app, which will even suggest the quietest routes or routes that avoid hills if that is what people want; people have to cycle the remaining hills themselves. The development cost for that provision was around £40,000, to generate something that covers the whole country. It was developed using open public data and private sector initiative, and I hope that MPs, councils, train operators, event organisers and others will link up to the CycleStreets website, so that they can give cyclists specific information on how to get to a station, event or wherever they are trying to get to very easily.
Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): On road space, I just wanted to ask—as someone who has been knocked off his bike twice—if the hon. Gentleman agrees that what we really want to move to is what happens in great European cities such as Munich, where there is clearly defined space for pedestrians, road users and cyclists, with the space for each group clearly marked?
Dr Huppert: There are many cases where clear segregation, including dedicated cycle routes, is absolutely the right thing, but we must also look at policies across the whole country. In rural areas, that suggestion simply would not be sensible. We need the right solution in the right place, and I think we can deliver that.
There are a number of measures that companies should adopt, such as providing showers and lockers at work, which will help to promote cycling and, in turn, cycling will help to improve employee well-being and productivity. The cycle to work scheme works very well, but the tax problems need to be resolved and the scheme should be promoted a bit further.
Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): I want to point out that the county freight route through Somerset, which is the A371, exactly illustrates the problem that was mentioned just a moment ago by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). On that route, there is certainly not space to allow cyclists a dedicated route; actually, there is not even space for cyclists, pedestrians and those who drive their freight vehicles along that route as they head towards the smallest city in England, which is Wells. Will my hon.
23 Feb 2012 : Column 350WH
Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) support the moves of the Strawberry Line Association, which is trying to use the old railway that runs through Somerset to promote both cycling and, of course, walking—but mostly cycling—and to enable children in particular to go to schools that are at either the Cheddar end or the Wells end of that route?
Dr Huppert: There are a lot of greenways such as that one that can be used. In some parts of the country, they are used extensively and they are very good things, whether they run along a canal or an old railway line, unless, of course, it is planned to turn an old railway line into a new railway line; that might be happening. But there are certainly great opportunities, such as the one that my hon. Friend describes.
The small scale matters, but the Government need to encourage a much broader and long-term shift towards cycling. Some of that work costs money, but not a vast amount. To get to European-standard cycling towns would cost about £10 per person per year, which is not a huge or unthinkable sum.
In 2010, my hon. Friend the Minister announced a new local sustainable transport fund that is worth more than £500 million. Every local authority applied for money from that fund, and 38 out of the 39 successful bids included cycling aspects. That was a huge step forward, which I am delighted to endorse.
Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and I must say that I also support the campaign by The Sunday Times. The main thing that will increase the number of cyclists in our towns and cities is better safety. As a keen cyclist myself, I often find when I cycle in Reading that it is an extremely risky business. Does he agree, therefore, that local authorities need to do a lot more, and that simply painting some white lines on the road is just not good enough? We need much more action from local authorities, as well as from Government.
Dr Huppert: Local authorities at their best have some fantastic schemes. At their worst they paint a few white lines, which then stop suddenly and do not go anywhere, so we need the right infrastructure. More can be done with a local sustainable transport fund. I want to see that fund grow and I want a clear message from the Minister that schemes with lots of cycling in them are more likely to be successful. We need to increase substantially our national spend on cycling infrastructure, and that would be one way to do it. Local authorities are investing in some of these schemes, but they need to do more. They should also look at other options to increase permeability using things such as contraflow cycle lanes, which we have used safely in Cambridge for many years.
Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): On local authorities and highways departments, some of the problems I find when cycling on main roads are grids and resurfacing. There may be limited white lines to protect cyclists, but it is amazing how those grids may be sunk into the road and, especially in the evenings, we go over them, they damage the vehicle and—worse—someone comes off.
23 Feb 2012 : Column 351WH
Dr Huppert: The hon. Gentleman has highlighted a number of problems. We need to have better quality roads. As a cyclist, I find that what may be a relatively small hole for a car becomes very large for a cyclist, particularly if we have to swerve round it.
Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Dr Huppert: Can I just make my next point? I will try to take as many interventions as possible, but it means that other people will not be able to speak.
The much lamented Cycling England was excellent at providing accurate information and advice, so that councils could find out ahead of time what would work and what would not. They could advise on junction design and the disadvantages, for example, of having mixed shared-use pavements. Cycling England was excellent value for money and a great resource for the country. To quote Jed Bartlet, “Can we have it back, please?”
Improving road layout does not have to be expensive. The changes to the rules that the Government have made for 20 mph zones, which are much safer, have reduced the costs of implementation. Good planning can ensure that cycle facilities are integral to new developments, rather than retrofitted later.
Mr Cunningham: Earlier in his speech, the hon. Gentleman referred to transport costs. Given that fuel prices, bus fares and so forth are rising, it is cheaper to cycle. Has he had any discussions with the transport companies themselves?
Dr Huppert: As part of my role as co-chair of the Liberal Democrat committee on transport, I have had several conversations with transport committees. I will happily talk to the hon. Gentleman about the details later.
The issue is not simply about infrastructure. We have to look at training and education for cyclists and drivers alike. I am pleased about the Bikeability scheme, which will train 400,000 nine to 11-year-olds a year. It is vital that our children are introduced to the benefits of cycling at a young age, that they are encouraged to cycle to school and that they are given the training to do so safely. I would like to see all cyclists cycling safely and legally, as all road users should.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): It may surprise some to know that I cycle in London. Twice I have been hit from behind by motorists. I noticed in the three years that I cycled—until I was very badly hurt—that many cyclists totally ignore red lights. It is also up to the cycling community to behave properly. It is not only the responsibility of Government or motorists. I am sure that everyone here obeys red lights. I used to watch about 50% of the cyclists go straight through red lights and I saw accidents occur because of that.
Dr Huppert: I am not sure that the 50% figure is accurate. Several studies have shown that it is smaller than that. The key point is that all road users should behave legally. Drivers should not speed and should not use their mobile phones. Cyclists should not go through red lights. Everybody should stick to the rules and then everybody would be safer. If we can move away from
23 Feb 2012 : Column 352WH
the argument of cyclists versus car users versus taxis or whatever to everybody behaving safely, we would all do much better.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): On safety, at the end of my road in Hackney, there is a ghost bike permanently fixed to the wall, because of a cyclist who was doing his best. He was killed by a lorry trying to turn out of my road. One of the things that we want to do is not just make life convenient for cyclists, but save lives.
Dr Huppert: Absolutely. We need to save lives, and promoting cycling is a good way to do that.
It is important that users of heavy goods vehicles and other road users know how to deal with cyclists. Driving tests could be improved so that how to deal with cyclists becomes part of the test. I hope that the Government will consider that. We can get this modal shift. In my constituency, a quarter of adults cycle to work or education. We can get there.
The Times has so powerfully advocated, we must have a cohesive strategy regarding cycle safety. For me, the most sensible way to look at cycle safety is from the bottom up. The work done by Caroline Pidgeon, who chairs the London Assembly Transport Committee, shows the grass-roots local changes that can make a difference. She has worked extremely hard as an advocate for cycle safety in London. Tragically, 16 cyclists died on London’s roads last year. Caroline has met some of the families affected by those tragedies and they are united in calling for better protection for cyclists. We need to see segregated cycle lanes, Trixi mirrors, 20 mph speed limits and the training that we need.
The Times campaign and the national agenda, with immediate changes hopefully happening over the coming months.
Through local campaigning, such demands are now at the forefront of the London elections,
Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As the newspaper has it, “The debate begins and he’s pedalling first.”
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one crucial thing in cycling safety is the use of lights at night? So often we see other cyclists on the road at night without lights on their bicycles. Does he agree that it would be helpful if cycles were made that already had lights on them that could not be taken away? Does he agree that it would be a great thing to have all 54 cyclists here today on our bikes cycling from Parliament to the Mayor’s office with the daddy of parliamentary bicycling, the Leader of the House of Commons, my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), and the Mayor of London joining us on a cycle ride to raise funds for cycling safety?
Dr Huppert: That is an excellent idea. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman’s joining us for the parliamentary bike ride. We will see if we can attract such coverage and interest.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has talked about cycle safety in relation to road users. Will he say a little about cyclists in relation to pedestrians and pavements?
23 Feb 2012 : Column 353WH
Dr Huppert: The answer is clear. Where cyclists are not allowed to cycle on pavements, they should not do so. People who cycle dangerously in that way should stop doing that. We must remember the figures: 1.1% of pedestrian fatalities are the result of collisions with cyclists. The rest are all collisions with motor vehicles. We must remember that the bigger problem is cars hitting pedestrians.
Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): As my hon. Friend knows, I am an enthusiastic cyclist. He has described at least a dozen, if not more, initiatives that are necessary to achieve the objectives that we all want. If we want to achieve safety on our roads, perhaps we should have one or two initiatives instead of a dozen or more. Perhaps we are trying to do too much to improve safety on our roads.
Dr Huppert: I am afraid I do not agree with that comment. We can do a lot all at once. We need to get the safety improvements, the training and everything else that I have spoken about.
The Minister has made progress on Trixi mirrors and 20 mph limits. There is more to do on segregated cycle lanes and training, as well as regulations for heavy goods vehicle sensors, as in the private Member’s Bill promoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), whom I am delighted to see here.
The Government should also look at sentencing and prosecution with respect to crashes involving cyclists, and consider new measures such as proportionate liability. There are far too many stories of people who have been killed or seriously injured, while the guilty party seems to get away almost scot-free. It is appalling that so many cyclists feel excluded from justice. The Government have taken steps on this, but there is much more that can be done to prevent tragedies on our roads.
On 14 March, the all-party parliamentary cycling group will launch the “summer of cycling”. We have brought together the key cycling organisations to work under one banner this year, linking events such as National Bike Week, the Tour of Britain, and the Big Pedal. Our aim is to persuade each of the millions who get involved every year to get one new person on a bike. I hope that all hon. Members and Ministers will support that.
For many years, cyclists have worked from the bottom up through campaigns to promote cycling and put it on the national agenda. The Government must also do their part. In the year of the London Olympics we have a unique opportunity to take radical steps to promote our most efficient form of transport. The Government have done some work on that, and yet with increasingly congested cities, more competition for resources and the need to improve public health, the need for investment in cycling has become more acute. We cannot miss this golden opportunity to create a safe, sustainable transport network. For too long cycling has been undervalued and not supported. The Government must listen to the more than 50 Members here today and take further action to promote cycling now.
Several hon. Members rose —
23 Feb 2012 : Column 354WH
Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): Order. There is obviously a lot of interest in the debate, so I would encourage hon. Members to make brief speeches and shorter interventions.
Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): Let me start by thanking my co-chair of the all-party group on cycling, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), and the more than 50 MPs who are present for the debate. Let me also thank The Times, whose cycling safety campaign triggered the debate.
I have been cycling all my life. As has been said, it is a great form of transport and a great way of keeping fit and improving our health. It is also good for the economy, it gets cities moving more efficiently and it helps us tackle climate change. All that is great, but this campaign is important for a much simpler reason: if people want to ride a bike, they should be able to do so safely. When it comes down to it, that is what the campaign is all about.
The Times has, in a few short weeks, achieved a breakthrough for which we in cycling have been campaigning for years. Its campaign was triggered by the tragic accident that so badly injured Mary Bowers, a friend and colleague of staff at the paper.
I have been a member of British Cycling and the Cyclists Touring Club, I have tabled parliamentary questions, I have raised issues on the Floor of the House, I have backed loads of campaigns and I have attended countless seminars, conferences and meetings, but
The paper has raised the profile of cycling safety, urged readers to lobby their MPs, forced the issue on to the agenda and lobbied Ministers for change. Already, 30,000 people have backed the campaign, with 20,000 on Twitter. Despite the weather, 2,000 people rode to Parliament last night, and more have lobbied their MPs to sign the hon. Gentleman’s early-day motion. There are also more MPs here than I have ever seen in a Westminster Hall debate, which is fantastic.
The editor and his colleagues are personally and, I think, emotionally committed to the campaign. He plans to attend the debate, which shows how important the paper thinks it is. All that should show Ministers that the campaign will continue, gather pace and strength, and attract more supporters in Parliament and the country until its demands are met.
The Times campaign has raised, on which I hope we will hear specific responses from the Minister. First, what consideration has he given to requiring by law that lorries in city centres have sensors, audible alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars? As RoadPeace points out, HGVs cause more than half of cyclists’ deaths in London, so will he support that organisation’s proposal that lorries with safety technology qualify for lower premiums?
I want to make sure that everyone who wants to speak gets in, so I will move on to some of the issues
Secondly, will the Minister ensure that the 500 most dangerous junctions are identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and with mirrors so that lorry drivers can see cyclists? Thirdly, we need to undertake a national audit to find out how many people cycle and how cyclists are killed or injured so that we can use that information effectively to underpin cycle safety work.
23 Feb 2012 : Column 355WH
Will the Minister earmark 2% of the Highways Agency budget for next-generation cycle routes with clear signage so that cyclists can safely find their way? On that point, why can he and his colleagues not spend a larger proportion of their Department’s budget on cycling? Cycling is booming in Britain and is worth about £3 billion to the economy, but whereas the Netherlands spends £25 per person on cycling each year, Britain spends just a pound. The benefits of increased spending are clear from what has happened in London, where £5 per person has been spent each year for more than the past 10 years, leading to a huge growth in cycling. That compares with the 79p per person spent elsewhere in the UK. Given cycling’s economic benefits and the savings it could bring the NHS, such an approach would save the Government huge sums in the long run.
Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): My hon. Friend talks about the economy, but perhaps he could say a little about the huge impact cycling has on tourism. The C2C—coast-to-coast, sea-to-sea—cycleway goes through my constituency, and there are a number of small bed and breakfasts and hotels, so the benefit is enormous.
Ian Austin: That is absolutely right. Cycling makes a huge contribution to the economy in cities, towns and rural areas right across the UK.
What plans does the Minister have to improve training for cyclists, as well as for drivers—particularly those who share bus lanes with cyclists—to ensure that cycle safety is a core part of the driving test? One of the best ways of improving safety is getting more people cycling, so will the Minister meet Ministers in the Department for Education to discuss putting cycling on the curriculum, in the same way as swimming, so that every child learns to ride a bike safely and more children take part in cycling?
The Times, which wants 20 mph as the default limit in residential areas where there is no cycle lane.
One big barrier to getting more people cycling is the fear many people have of it, so ensuring that more people learn to cycle properly would help address that perception. Making cycling safer in local residential streets would also help. That is another of the demands from
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): As my hon. Friend knows, Bristol was given cycling city status a couple of years ago, and I very much support his call for a 20 mph limit. I met the Colombian ambassador this morning, and he told me that, for the past 25 years, Bogota has closed its streets from eight o’clock in the morning until two in the afternoon every Sunday and bank holiday so that people can cycle, and up to 1 million people will come out cycling. Is that perhaps something we should explore so that people can get their first experience of cycling on a traffic-free road?
Ian Austin: That is a brilliant idea. I have seen it done in Seattle, and it has hugely increased the number of cyclists.
The Times is askingfor. Cycling obviously involves the Department for Transport, but local roads are run by local councils, so the Department for Communities and Local Government
Can we encourage each local authority area to appoint a cycling commissioner to push forward reforms? In that respect, I would go further than what
23 Feb 2012 : Column 356WH
needs to be committed to cycling. We also need commitment from the Department for Education if we are going to get more youngsters cycling. Given the health benefits of cycling and the need for dangerous drivers to be caught and prosecuted properly, the Department of Health, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice need to take cycling much more seriously, too. What can the Government do, therefore, to give the Minister the power and authority to get all these Departments working together effectively?
Guy Opperman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Ian Austin: Yes, of course—actually, I won’t, because the hon. Gentleman has already intervened once, and loads of other people want to get in.
If the Government cannot give the Minister the power I described, what about appointing a Minister in each Department as a cycling champion or establishing a cross-Government committee of Ministers?
We need the Government to ensure that cycling provision and safety are properly considered at the outset in looking at all major transport issues and during the planning and implementation of urban developments. That would mean that we never again saw junctions such as the Bow roundabout and Vauxhall cross, which can subsequently be put right only at huge cost. That is the central point made by British Cycling’s road safety manifesto, but it is clear that things are not currently dealt with in that way. Earlier this month, for example, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who has responsibility for road safety, admitted that no specific consideration had been given to cyclists’ safety in the research into trials of extra-long lorry trailers.
I also want to speak about the derisory sentences drivers often receive after killing or injuring cyclists. For example, British Cycling employee Rob Jefferies was killed when hit from behind on an open, straight road in daylight by someone who had already been caught for speeding. Unbelievably, the driver got an 18-month ban, a retest, 200 hours’ community service and a small fine. That is in line with the guidelines, so there is no hope of an appeal.
The lorry driver who killed Eilidh Jake Cairns admitted in court that his eyesight was not good enough for him to have been driving, and he was fined just £200.
Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Eilidh Cairns was the daughter of a constituent of mine, and I want to place on record the campaign her family have been engaged in ever since, which has led to a motion signed by more than half the Members of the European Parliament. It was also very much behind the efforts I made through a ten-minute rule Bill to highlight some of these issues.
Ian Austin: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to mention that. He and his constituents should be commended for the campaign they have run.
When Cath Ward was killed, the driver was convicted of careless driving and received a short driving ban. He will be back behind the wheel very soon. Cath’s friend Ruth Eyles wrote to me:
“What shocks me is that the driver who killed Rob Jefferies will be able to drive again in 18 months.”
23 Feb 2012 : Column 357WH
“If that young man had had a legal firearm and had accidentally shot and killed someone through carelessness, would he be given a new licence 18 months later?”
We need the sentencing guidelines to be revised, in the same way the way guidelines for assault were revised, to reflect the harm the victim suffers. Will the Minister press the Ministry of Justice to change the guidance, to ensure the punishment fits the crime and, more importantly, to deter drivers from engaging in the stupid and dangerous driving that puts cyclists and other road users at risk?
My central point is that, as the CTC report “Safety In Numbers” points out, the more people who cycle, the safer cycling will be. Since 2000, bike use in Britain has quadrupled. The number of those cycling in London has soared by 150%, and the number of deaths is down by 60%. Between 1985 and 2005, the number of those cycling rose by 45% in the Netherlands, and fatalities fell by 58%.
The Times and working together to transform the number of people cycling, and their safety.
This summer, as the hon. Member for Cambridge said, gives us a huge opportunity to transform cycling in Britain. Britain’s brilliant cyclists look set for huge success here in the Olympics, and also in some of world’s other biggest races. As a result many more people—particularly youngsters—will get on their bikes. With the “Summer of cycling”, which I hope the Minister will today commit to fund, we aim to double the number of people cycling this year. Let us get all the political parties and cycling organisations, and the media, following the lead of
Times campaign yesterday, but the truth is that he has the power—more than any of us—to act and get the Government focused on improving safety for cyclists.
As hon. Members can imagine, there are many things on which I disagree with Prime Minister, but it was fantastic when, as the Leader of the Opposition, one of the ways he chose to try to show that he was a different sort of Conservative was getting on his bike. It was great as well that he backed the
Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman, with whom I enjoy working on the all-party group. I want to back him up on his points about the Prime Minister having the power, and about Departments working together. In Winchester we have works above junction 9 of the M3, which are needed and wanted, and have been campaigned for by Members of Parliament; but they threaten to put a stop to national cycle route 23. With a little more thought and planning we can avoid such situations. Such not-joined-up thinking is literally getting in the way of cycling.
Ian Austin: That reinforces the point I made earlier about ensuring that cycling is at the heart of all major transport schemes, at their inception and in their execution and development.
The Times is committed to campaigning on the issues for as long as it takes. I want to say that people—whether they are Sir Chris Hoy or Victoria Pendleton, a club cyclist like me or a commuter; whether they ride once a year on holiday or
Finally, the campaign and today’s debate, with the number of MPs present and the outside interest, show that the issue will not go away.
23 Feb 2012 : Column 358WH
are parents who want to get their kids on a bike—should e-mail or write to their MP, or go to their surgery, and persuade them to back this campaign. I want every MP who has attended the debate to join the all-party cycling group, raise the issues in the Chamber, work with us and back our campaigns to boost cycling and improve safety for cyclists. That would be the biggest tribute we could pay to Rob Jefferies, Eilidh Jake Cairns, Cath Ward and of course to Mary Bowers and all of those injured or killed while cycling.
Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): This important debate has stimulated the interest of a number of my constituents, many of whom are members of the Congleton cycling club. Sadly, one of them, my constituent Karl Austin, was tragically killed while competing in a cycling time trial in June 2011. He was riding in the South Pennine Club 10 on the A50 at Etwall, when he was struck from behind by a heavy goods vehicle. Karl was very well liked in the community and loved by his family, and is missed dearly. Following his tragic death the CCC chairman initiated a JustGiving campaign for the Wheels for All charity, which provides adapted cycling equipment and cycling activity programmes for people with disability and differing needs. I pay tribute to Karl, his family and the work of the CCC.
Times campaign. I want to quote some of the well-made points that constituents have made in correspondence with me. Michael Bolton points out that we should review planning of the next generation of cycle routes and says
I have met members of the cycling club in Congleton and they are fine examples of the close-knit community I represent. The many representations I have received from them confirm that a good number of people are reluctant to cycle because of concerns about road safety, whether on city, urban or rural roads, whether those concerns are based on actuality or on misplaced fear. They are valid concerns, and that is why I am here to support the
“they are often poorly designed, poorly maintained and in the vast majority of cases put the cyclist at a disadvantage because they have to give way to other traffic at every junction and when the lane suddenly and inexplicably ends.”
Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): That is a valid point, and I am concerned about inconsiderate car owners parking on cycle lanes and forcing cyclists off, often on to busy roads and at junctions, which puts lives at risk.
Fiona Bruce: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and has saved me making it.
As to the training of cyclists and drivers, Michael Bolton is delighted that the Government have pledged to continue the support of Bikeability training in schools. I welcome their pledge of £11 million for that, and their commitment to improve the driving test and driver training.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): On cycling safety, does the hon. Lady think we should do something to improve the safety of cycles and cyclists, by requiring all new bikes to be sold fitted with lights, all new cyclists to be given a high-visibility vest and offered a low-price helmet, and schools to do far more on cycling safety
23 Feb 2012 : Column 359WH
and training? Should not cyclists be trained to behave responsibly, in addition to all the road safety measures that she has outlined?
Fiona Bruce: The hon. Gentleman makes excellent points and he is right that we need to consider a compendium of solutions to the problem.
On training, my constituent points out that it will help if we train young people,
“to redress the years and lost generations where cycling has been side-lined.”
“Not only does it benefit the children now with greater independence, less obesity and much greater road awareness but will also mean that the next generation of learner drivers should have a greater understanding of road etiquette and the place of cyclists.”
Incidentally, he feels that that should be extended to
“include funded cycle training for adults and greater cycle awareness within the instruction given to drivers in general and professional drivers in particular”.
Mr Bolton says that wider implementation of a 20 mph speed limit would not only make things safer and more pleasant for cyclists and pedestrians, particularly in residential areas, but reduce the differential between the time taken for journeys made by car or by bike, thus
“making journeys by bicycle that bit more enticing.”
He supports appointing cycling commissioners. I suggest that we might consider the appointment of voluntary local champions in that regard, in these times of local funding austerity.
Bob Norton, the chair of the Congleton cycling club, raises two innovative points. He suggests that in most of the EU, national legislation adopts the position that the less vulnerable road user causing harm is deemed to be responsible or culpable, unless evidence is produced to show the contrary. Secondly, he says that the UK should legislate for a minimum passing distance, along the lines of those in force in other European countries.
Other residents, Nick Harwood and Paul Fradley, point out that the poor state of road maintenance is a serious concern, as other hon. Members have mentioned. Often
“a cyclist may have to move out from a line close to the left hand edge of the thoroughfare into the path of fast moving cars, lorries and vans.”
They comment that
“secure bike storage at railway stations and in town centres could all work together to enable more people to leave the car at home”.
My constituent David Ball supports the campaign to raise driver awareness of the vulnerability of cyclists, and reminds us that, whereas some people say that cyclists do not pay road tax, neither do cycles emit CO2, or damage roads, as cars do.
Finally, I want to quote from the letter I received from Keith Austin, whose son was killed when he was hit from behind by an HGV. He is disappointed—to say the least—to find that the CPS
“have ensured that the driver is to be sentenced in a magistrates court, not the Crown Court”.
He writes that
“it does seem to highlight the unwillingness of the…CPS to bring adequate prosecution against drivers who kill cyclists. Perhaps you can use something from my letter in the debate in Parliament, if you are called.”
23 Feb 2012 : Column 360WH
Mr Austin writes that Karl, who was a very well-known racing cyclist and had competed for 35 years all over England, was very safety conscious on the roads, and on the day he died was wearing bright clothing. He adds:
“he had attached to the rear of his bike a very small but super-efficient “Exposure Flare” rear light. This emits a very bright pulsating red light, which on a wide, straight road such as the A50 should have been visible for hundreds of yards. A fellow competitor on that evening saw Karl’s bright light and had Karl not been killed later was going to ask him where he could buy one, as it was so powerful.”
Just a few days ago, a report was published in which the head of the Scotland Yard’s road death investigation unit, Detective Chief Inspector Oldham, stated that motorists who cause death on the roads should face stiffer penalties. Mr Austin says that he is now left with the fact that his son’s case will be dealt with in a magistrates court, rather than in a Crown court with a judge presiding. He will be dealt with in a court where petty criminals are dealt with. He says:
“Is killing a man through carelessness on a par with minor offences? Under similar circumstances”—
that is, killing a man—
“where no vehicle was involved, would that qualify for a magistrates court?...To lose a child under any circumstances is utterly devastating. But to have that death…treated in such a…trivialising manner, just deepens the wounds further. My wife and I have suffered all this before, in 1986, when our only daughter was killed in a car crash; her killer charged with ‘driving without due care and attention’ and fined about £200.”
With great grace, however, Mr Austin says that he is not vengeful towards the HGV driver, who himself has to live with the consequences of the incident. He ends his letter to me by saying:
“Whatever sentence he would have faced would be as nothing compared to ours”,
even if the case had been dealt with in a Crown court. Is Mr Austin’s letter alone not sufficient reason for us all to consider the issue of road safety for the benefit of everyone: cyclists, pedestrians and drivers?
Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): As a result of the number of Members who wish to speak in this debate, I am, with the authority of the Chairman of Ways and Means, imposing a time limit on Back-Bench speeches of seven minutes. The rules are exactly as they are in the House. Each of the first two interventions accepted stop the clock and gives the Member who gives way an extra minute, and I appeal for short interventions.
Unlike in the main Chamber, the mechanisms here do not yet enable the Member speaking to see a countdown clock in the displays around the room. To assist Members, I will cause a bell to be rung when a Member has one minute left.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): I hope to take considerably less time than the limit, given the impressive number of Members who have turned up today. The last time so many Members turned up was for a debate against the BBC’s local radio cuts. It properly did a U-turn, so let us hope that this debate has as much effect on Government policy.
I do not want to repeat things that have already been said, and most of my remarks will, I hope, be directed in a friendly way to the Minister. As a number of hon.
23 Feb 2012 : Column 361WH
Members have already said, and as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) made clear, we do not need to reinvent the wheel. There is a general consensus about what works and what needs to be done, and he was absolutely right to say that the single most effective thing that we could do to make cycling safer is to get more bikes on the road—critical mass and safety in numbers.
Speaking as a cyclist of more than 20 years in London and a non-car owner for more than 15, the situation in London has been transformed. I feel much safer cycling in London now than I ever have, because there are more bikes on the road. I do not always feel that safe in other parts of the country, including in my own constituency, where there are fewer bikes on the road and where I am given less space by a vehicle. Getting more people on bikes is the best way of making cycling safer.
Having said that, my constituency, Exeter, was one of the fortunate cities that was a cycling demonstration town under the Labour Government. We had a total transformation in cycling over a short time—a 47% increase in cycling between 2005 and 2011. I went back to my primary school when I worked for the BBC to do a documentary about cycling and I discovered that the bike sheds had been dismantled. When I was a child, we all went to school by bike. Now, nobody did; that was about 15 years ago.
One of the most heartening things that has happened in Exeter is that although nationally the rate of cycling to school is around 3% for secondary schools and 1% for primary schools, in Exeter, now, after such a short time, it is 20% for secondary schools and 10% for primary schools. We know what works, and we do not need to reinvent the wheel.
I stress the need for co-ordination. I was extremely pleased to hear the hon. Member for Cambridge call gently for the restoration of Cycling England. One of the things that will dog the Minister, which also dogged me as a Minister and fellow Labour Ministers throughout our years in government who were committed to the agenda and to trying to get something done, is that there are many disparate voices that speak for cycling in this country, and it is vital, if we want to get anything done, that they are brought together in one effective body. That is what Cycling England did, and it was a tragedy that the Government decided to abolish it. I hope that the Minister listens carefully to the sage advice of his hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge and reinstates Cycling England. He will find having that single body incredibly helpful.
Another important thing, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), is co-ordination in Government. He is absolutely right. Unless we can get all the different Departments that are interested in cycling working together on the matter, and unless we get real leadership at the top from the Prime Minister and, crucially, from the Secretary of State for Transport, the Minister will not get the progress that we need.
Labour made some incredible progress in the 13 years that we were in government. We had big increases in cycling, the cycling demonstration towns, big increases in investment in cycling and improvements to cycling safety. If I am to be perfectly frank, we went up a lot of
23 Feb 2012 : Column 362WH
gears only when Andrew Adonis was Transport Secretary. The reason for that was because he was totally committed to cycling. He banged heads and got me, as the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and the then Health Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), together. It was about getting those Ministers together, at Secretary of State level, to agree to policies, to push them through and to ensure that we confronted—I am afraid that if the Minister has not already discovered this, he will do so—a cultural problem in parts of the Department and in local government, which are still, in many cases, dominated by the road lobby. The Minister will find it essential to have the full support of his Secretary of State in driving the agenda forward. It would reassure me and everyone else present today if he could assure us when he replies that he has that full support and political clout at the top of his Department.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I will tell the right hon. Gentleman now. I have the full support of the Secretary of State, who is signed on to the agenda. I do not believe that there is a cultural problem in the Department.
Mr Bradshaw: That is encouraging.
It is also important that the Ministers in his Department speak with one voice. I have noticed a slight discordance in respect of some of the things that the Minister has said and of some of things that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning)—I am not sure whether he is still the Road Safety Minister—has said, including two completely different responses to letters about liability.
I was extremely pleased to hear what the hon. Member for Cambridge said about liability. It is important. If we look at all the other northern European countries that have a much better record on cycling and cycling safety than we do, we will see that they all have a liability rule. It will make a real difference in this country, making motorists much more careful and wary around cyclists. The Minister’s letter on the issue was quite positive, and it gave me hope that the Government might do something about it. However, I am afraid that the letter from his hon. Friend in the same Department, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead, pretty much ruled it out. It is important that the Government speak with one voice on the matter, that one Minister takes leadership on cycling issues and that the matter is led, as I said, right from the top.
The Times’ s manifesto is fantastic. I would say that it is a modest manifesto. I hope that my own Front Bench will endorse it; I do not see any reason why the manifesto should not be endorsed in all its detail.
Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on The Times’s manifesto. Does he agree that we must not forget rural areas in cycling? The roads are narrower, and there are people in my constituency who commute by cycling. I would like to see more about that in the manifesto.
Mr Bradshaw: Absolutely, although contrary to most people’s prejudices, I have one of the most urban seats in the country. It is surrounded by beautiful countryside, where many of my constituents go cycling. They feel
23 Feb 2012 : Column 363WH
safer in the city of Exeter than they do on country lanes, largely because of the absolutely intolerable speeds that people drive at on many country lanes. I feel much safer cycling in my constituency, in urban areas and in London than I do in the country, specifically because of the speeding problems; I know that horse riders face a similar danger and nervousness.
If the Government goes down the route of raising the speed limit on our motorways to 80 mph, I hope that as a quid pro quo, they will introduce 20 mph speed limits in our urban areas. That would be a huge step forward to improve cycling safety. We all know the statistics about how likely it is that someone will survive or die if they are hit at 30 mph or 20 mph. It would make a big difference.
Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con): In Brighton and Hove, we have very successful routes on the seafront with shared pedestrian access. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should be encouraging Brighton and Hove council to mark that space in bright colours? The safety of cyclists is about not only roads, but where we have shared access on pavements.
Mr Bradshaw: We have already addressed some of the challenges faced when cyclists and pedestrians are put together. My preference is to separate them if at all possible. Sometimes it is not possible. Where it is not possible, there should be clear demarcation, because we do not want the matter to become an argument between cyclists and pedestrians. They are both vulnerable road users and are much more vulnerable than people who are surrounded by metal. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I wish the Minister well. I hope that he takes on board the points I have raised—this is about political leadership and working together—as he will then succeed.
Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under you, Mr Weir. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on securing the debate. I also pay tribute to Mary Bowers who has been in hospital and is in a coma. I hope that she, and anybody who has suffered from a similar accident, gets better soon.
It is coincidental that she shares a name with a man called Henry Robertson Bowers, who, many hon. Members may know, was with Captain Scott in the Antarctic and made a significant contribution to scientific environmental work. I hope that Mary Bowers’ tragic accident ends up having a similar impact on cycling issues.
A large number of people from my constituency have written to me––around 30. I work very much on the basis that, for every one person who writes to me, 20 other people think the same way. If my mathematics is right, 30 multiplied by 20 comes out at 600, which is nearly half my parliamentary majority. I am therefore very aware of what the impact of that could be.
I am delighted and surprised at the number of people who take to cycling in Plymouth, despite the fact it is a very hilly city, and at the number of cycle clubs in south Devon. In many ways, we are very different from continental Europe. I know very well that whenever I am driving in France, I see cycle clubs going out. I was at a cricket
23 Feb 2012 : Column 364WH
match, as hon. Members might imagine I would be, in the south of France last summer. Everyone had to rush back from the cricket game in order to watch some major cycling activity. I suspect that it was almost as big as the FA cup final.
I am very convinced about what will happen during the course of this year. We have the Olympics, which I am sure will encourage many more people to get involved in cycling. I am sure that both Victoria Pendleton and Chris Hoy will not only win gold medals, as I very much hope they do, but be elected—or be in the region of being elected—as BBC sports personality of the year.
The Times is up to, because there are a lot of lessons to be learned not only from abroad, but from London and the good work that Boris Johnson, the Conservative Mayor, is doing. One thing we need to do is ensure that our pavements and roads do not become a battleground between motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, shop mobility scooter users and anyone else who has to use them.
If we are to improve the number of people who are cycling, we need to ensure that it is safe. I will be frank and honest with hon. Members: I have not been on a bicycle for a very long time. I want to be very supportive indeed of what
Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): My hon. Friend is right, but is it not also true that we need more dedicated cycle tracks? That is certainly the case in my constituency. However, they are very expensive and money is tight. One way we could get more cycle tracks is for local businesses to be involved, as has happened in London. If we could get local businesses and large employers to sponsor dedicated cycle tracks in return for a discount in their local rates, that might be a way forward.
Oliver Colvile: I very much agree with my hon. Friend, but we also need to make it much easier for people to be noticed when they use cycle tracks and for there to be delineation of cycle lanes. For example, the Mayor of London has ensured that there are blue cycle lanes, especially along the Embankment. That makes it much easier to identify where cyclists are. I therefore propose to write to my city council—as I am sure that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) will also do—to urge it to create a city where cycling is safe and that is fit for cycling.
The Times has raised in its campaign. However, we should go further. One of the key issues is ensuring that there is greater visibility. As I say, cycle lanes must be easily identified and well delineated. We must also ensure that there is better lighting, which is a very good example of why we should be campaigning for the Daylight Saving Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris). We could then have strong lighting and ensure that drivers can see cyclists. Stronger lamps and louder hooters, rather than just those insipid little bells, on cycles are also important. We must ensure that we can all be aware that cyclists are about.
I thoroughly agree with the eight points that
Of course, I also agree with people wearing DayGlo jackets. We should reduce the amount of signage on our streets. Often signage is littered everywhere and ruins our streetscapes. We should also stop lorries coming into town centres during rush hour, when people are commuting to work. We also need to create more cycle
23 Feb 2012 : Column 365WH
racks. In a hilly constituency in a city such as mine, it might also be helpful to ensure that there are more charging points for people with electrical bicycles.
Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend’s suggestion that there should be greater restrictions—time restrictions, at least—on the use of HGVs, particularly in the cities. Does he agree that there should be greater use of the River Thames to get rid of HGVs from the roads altogether? We should put much greater emphasis on the use of the Thames for the movement of freight. I have been told that one barge will potentially remove 14 trucks from the road.
Oliver Colvile: I do not disagree with my hon. Friend. However, I should point out that the River Thames does not flow as far as Plymouth at the moment. However, no doubt, there could be an argument for ensuring that what he has mentioned happens.
My final point is that cyclists are not the only people using roads; we also have motorists, pedestrians and shop mobility people. I have certainly been approached by people in my constituency who are very concerned to make sure that there is better training. I would be very grateful if cyclists would stop using pavements as a grand prix track, because I find that intimidating.
One never knows: if all of this begins to happen and this agenda is taken forward, I might end up getting back on a bicycle. That will ensure that a wonderful programme called “Fat Man on a Bicycle” produced by Tom Vernon, a well-known broadcaster, becomes a reality.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): My comments will be brief because I do not want to repeat too much of what other hon. Members have said. The first thing we have to remember is that cycling is universal. Whether someone is an 80-year-old former miner or a young person, cycling gives freedom, independence and enjoyment. However, we need a much safer environment if we are to encourage more people, particularly the young, to cycle. We need to take great leaps forward in safety.
I am extremely lucky because in my constituency we have some magnificent purpose-built cycle tracks. We have a millennium coastal path all along the coast and a route using a former railway track, which climbs very gradually at a perfect gradient up to Tumble and beyond. However, we need to ensure that it is safe for cyclists to go wherever they need to go, not just on the purpose-built routes but wherever they want—for example, to work or to the shops in their locality, and when they travel elsewhere for work or holidays. Cyclists need to be safe both on urban and rural roads because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) said, it is often when people go out into the rural or semi-rural areas that they pick up speed, they are not so aware and it becomes much more dangerous.
We need much greater awareness among drivers—all drivers of all vehicles. We can tackle that through the learner-driver approach, the test and so on. However, we need a very high-profile campaign to bring home to
23 Feb 2012 : Column 366WH
all vehicle drivers how dangerous it is for them to be driving at speed on any rural roads and, indeed, obviously on urban roads. Those who have had the pleasure of cycling in France will know that French drivers traditionally pull out considerably wider when they overtake, beep their horns and leave cyclists a proper, decent space. We need to have that mentality here, so that when someone wants to overtake a cyclist, they give them the same berth as a car or a tractor, rather than trying to squash in and pass by while a vehicle is coming in the other direction. Cyclists are often faced with the extremely dangerous and difficult situation of being squashed into the hedge.
I have never had quite so many vitriolic e-mails as when I spoke up in a debate in the previous Parliament and suggested that all our speed signs change to kilometres per hour, so that when a driver saw a 30, that would be 30 kph, and when a driver saw a 40 it would be 40 kph. Effectively, that would give all urban roads a 20 mph speed limit. I am pleased to say that that is being rolled out in many areas near schools, and I think that many of us have seen that in our own areas. We need to come back to that idea, particularly as, coming from outside London, I have never known why everyone in London has to race between one set of traffic lights and the next. That determination to get to the next red light as fast as possible always strikes me as bizarre.
Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): One suggestion about why people might do that is the absence of hills. If more people came to some parts of the United Kingdom, including our nation of Wales, they might see what a wonderful place it is in which to cycle. In October, Etape Cymru came into my constituency and there were 1,600 cyclists, so there are great opportunities. Does my hon. Friend agree that one reason why many of us are so pro-cycling is because we see the potential for tourism?
Nia Griffith: Indeed. There are many wonderful Sustrans routes across Wales, but they sometimes take the cyclist down very narrow lanes, which can be dangerous. I found myself spending most of the day jumping into the hedge because there was no room for me and the combine harvester coming down the lane.
Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that boroughs such as Hackney, which provide free cycle training up to level 2, are exemplars? The problems that she describes can also be tackled by good training to command the road and have the same rights as car drivers.
Nia Griffith: Absolutely. It is important for drivers to have training; for cyclists it is crucial.
Mark Lazarowicz: Sustrans and other national cycling groups are important and we all welcome them. However, it is also important to recognise what can be done, particularly in urban areas, with small, but crucial, minor engineering works. We all know of examples where cycle routes suddenly come to a dead end, and sometimes it is more difficult and dangerous to get off the cycle route and back on to normal traffic. That could be addressed by councils quite simply and easily. That is as important in its own way as having national routes.
23 Feb 2012 : Column 367WH
Nia Griffith: Absolutely. We need to have a seamless transition and ensure that people are not confronted with a situation where they have to move across a large stream of traffic.
Returning to the issue of speed, we need to look at the design of speed humps. Some humps, as cyclists know, are a nightmare. Humps made of metal right across the road can be slippery for those of us who have not moved on to the mountain-style bike and are still using old touring-type tyres. That needs to be looked at. With the humps made of rubber, cyclists have to decide whether to squash right into the curb, go over the middle, or try to pull out and go in between the two bits of rubber. That is a nightmare for some people in towns, so we need to consider the types of humps used. I am in favour of humps. I am not one who does not think they should be there, but they should have a design that allows cyclists to cope with them.
Cyclists need somewhere safe to put their bicycle when they have reached their destination so that it can be chained up and cyclists are not left wondering, “Will it be moved off these railings? Will I be allowed to leave it here? Will it be taken away?” There should be a feeling that cyclists are welcome to come by bike. It is amazing how many of our leisure centres and supermarkets still do not have proper facilities to chain up bicycles. I believe that one of our Members lost his bike somewhere outside a supermarket in west London not so very long ago.
We should remember that cycling makes us feel better. We might think that we do not want to go out in the cold and the wet, but we will get to work or other destinations feeling much warmer because of the blood circulating and, as has been pointed out, we will live longer for it. However, we have to take the issue of safety, above all, really seriously. If we want to encourage young people and say to our children, “Get out, get a bit more independent, enjoy going out to places on your own”, then we need to ensure that we proceed in the same way as Exeter when it was chosen as a cycling city. We need the same for many more of our cities and towns. I hope the Minister will consider what can be done about that.
I will not repeat all the excellent points that other hon. Members have made, but let us remember that this is an issue that should affect every area in which we cycle, not just the purpose-built areas. We should make an effort, in a joined-up way across Government, to get that cycle policy right for everybody.
Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): Some 30 years ago, I fell in love on a tandem. I have to share the tragedy with hon. Members that last week I turned 50. On my last day of being 49, my husband turned up on the front half of my tandem like a knight in shining lycra and whisked me off for 28 miles on Dartmoor and a 3,000-foot climb. Frankly, I could not care less about being 50—it was a wonderful evening.
It would be a shame if we did not add the joy of cycling to this debate. Cycling makes us feel glad to be alive, improves our mood and quality of life. That is important, because we need to get more people cycling. There is safety in numbers, but we do not want to frighten people away from cycling—we need to send
23 Feb 2012 : Column 368WH
that crucial message. I cycle to work most days in Westminster. When I first started cycling in London 30 years ago, I felt a bit of an oddity, but now whole pelotons sweep past me. Maybe that is because I am getting slower, but it certainly feels a lot safer when there are more cyclists around.
The Times, but I would like it to be broadened to include rural cycling. I represent a rural constituency. Some 36 people were killed on rural A roads, and 26 on urban roads. It is between five and 10 times more dangerous to cycle per mile on a rural A road than it is in the city. I would particularly like to remember the 11 people from my constituency who were killed or seriously injured cycling between 2005 and 2010. In pressing for change, may I also urge the Minister to consider a change to the language and stop calling them accidents? I suggest that driving and overtaking at 60 mph on a rural lane and hitting a cyclist is not an accident—that is a crash. It minimises, and makes it worse for the victims’ families if we call them accidents. Let us abandon the language of denial and neglect.
I welcome the campaign from
I am grateful to my many constituents who have written to me today to give me their ideas, one of which was on speed limits. I know that other hon. Members have referred to this, but the Netherlands is rolling out changing to 60 kph on rural networks. That is the equivalent of 40 mph, as the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) said. Will the Minister consider that change? It is disappointing to hear that perhaps that is not something the Department will press forward with. On behalf of all hon. Members, I press him to reconsider. I would also like to reconsider, as many hon. Members have, the issue of a safe passing distance of at least one metre. That should made very clear, be part of the driving test and in The Highway Code.
Cycle training is improving. This weekend, I will visit a Steiner school with a wonderful organisation called Always Be Cycling. Not only does it give excellent training to both children and adults, but it teaches people how to repair their bikes. Most people own a bike, but not everybody uses it. Part of the reason for that may be that they lack the confidence to repair it. I urge the Minister to continue to give more support to such excellent cycling training schemes. I would like to see safer manhole covers—non-slip manhole covers would be an excellent development—and more training for lorry drivers. Finally, I want the Minister to focus on how we separate vehicles from cyclists in rural areas.
I pay tribute to the parents at the Steiner school in my constituency who got together and formed the sustainable transport action group, and actively considered how many children were cycling to school—a miserable 2.8%. By working closely in co-operation with local landowners, the parents have increased that figure to 9.1% in just two years by introducing a safe off-road route. This demonstrates that we really do see effective change.
In contrast, in another part of my constituency, at Littlehempston, with regard to which the Minister has already been helpful, it is a scandal that at the home of the transition movement—Transition Town Totnes—we have possibly the only bridge in the country that keeps communities apart. The final link in National Cycling Network 2, the route running all the way from Kent to Cornwall, could be joined up if there were a safe route through Totnes to Littlehempston. At the moment, if I
23 Feb 2012 : Column 369WH
were a parent in Littlehempston I would not want my children to cycle to school. The road between Totnes and Paignton is hideously dangerous. I have cycled it myself many times.
If only the bridge were open and there was co-operation with landowners and, crucially, the co-operation of a sustainable steam railway—the South Devon Railway—which had the bridge built. The real scandal is that £87,000 of public money went towards the £173,000 cost of building that bridge.
We have all heard the bogus arguments about cycling, including the dangers of vandalism and all that stuff—the resistance that is sometimes seen from communities and landowners who do not understand the real benefits that cycling can bring their communities.
Mr Bradshaw: I should like to highlight another example, which is the failure so far to complete the cycle route from Exeter to Dawlish, a wonderful route along the Exe estuary, because of the failure of the landowner—the Earl of Devon—to agree to a new bridge over the railway. That bridge would be publicly funded, but he just does not like the look of it.
Dr Wollaston: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that.
Let us sweep away some of these bogus arguments and have real involvement and drive. I should like Devon county council, for example, not to be put off from issuing compulsory purchase orders where there are short gaps, so that the local community can really benefit. In this Olympic year, I should like to think that a child living in Littlehempston might be able to start their future Olympic cycling career by cycling from Littlehempston to Totnes.
Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): I welcome this debate and the increased attention to the need for action to make cycling a real choice and to make it more convenient and therefore more attractive, and, as the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) said, more enjoyable.
The Times campaign has done a great job in massively raising the profile of cycling. I also place on the record my appreciation of the work done by Cyclox, the cycling organisation in my constituency, and by Sustrans, British Cycling and CTC.
As other hon. Members have said,
As other hon. Members have said, action on the threats to cycling is crucial for the health and environmental benefits that it brings and to cut the carnage of serious accidents and deaths. In Oxford last October, Joanna Braithwaite, who worked as personal assistant to the rector of St Aldate’s church in my constituency, was killed cycling to the church. She was knocked down by a cement mixer lorry. There have been other deaths, too, in Oxford in recent years, usually involving lorries turning—each one an horrific, avoidable tragedy.
I strongly support the call for sensors, truck turning alarms, mirrors, safety bars and HGV training to cut the risk to people cycling. The shadow Secretary of State’s proposal to pay for this by hypothecating income
23 Feb 2012 : Column 370WH
from the proposed HGV road-charging scheme is good and I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government will consider that positively.
The Times campaign rightly proposes—
More generally, funding measures to improve conditions for cycling cost little in comparison with the costs of making and maintaining roads. Switching a small proportion of the Highway Agency budget to provide cycle ways, as
Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): Order. I am told that there may be two Divisions in the House. I suggest we suspend the sitting for 20 minutes.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
[Hugh Bayley in the Chair]
On resuming —
Hugh Bayley (in the Chair): Order. Before continuing with the debate, it might be helpful to tell colleagues that, as a result of the two Divisions, the debate will now run until 5.54 pm. I shall start the winding-up speeches at 5.20, leaving a few minutes at the end for the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert).
Mr Andrew Smith: I was making the point that funding measures to improve cycling conditions cost little in comparison with making and maintaining roads. Switching a small proportion of the Highways Agency budget to provide cycle ways, as the campaign by The Times rightly proposes, could transform cycling provision and achieve huge cost savings if factoring in the health, environment and reduced road congestion effects. Local highway authorities should match that with a similar switch of funds to provide for cycling and maintenance of cycle tracks.
We also need town and city-wide planning of cycle infrastructure and clear accountability for its delivery. I cycle in Oxford, as do many local residents, and the quality of provision is patchy—reasonably good in parts, with dedicated lanes, marked cycle routes and priority at traffic lights, but bad in others, with dangerous sections of road, poor road surfaces and potholes close to the kerb where the cyclist will usually be. The need to join up the cycle network is pressing, so that people’s journeys can be made safely by bike right across the city. After an energetic and successful campaign, we have achieved 20 mph limits in all Oxford residential areas, but the big issue is enforcement, so that motorists realise that it is a legal limit and not a voluntary aspiration.
We should also ensure that there are safe routes to school for children, so that more parents are confident that in encouraging their children to cycle they are not putting their lives at risk. The benefits for children’s health could be huge, cutting the danger, pollution and congestion of the school run and helping promote cycling for generations to come. Better, more careful use of road maintenance expenditure is also needed, ensuring improvements for cyclists at little or no cost simply by designing in their needs from the outset, which is sadly far from standard practice. In many instances, major
23 Feb 2012 : Column 371WH
roads and pavements are being rebuilt and a dedicated cycle lane could be added for only a fractional increase in cost.
Cyclists need to be given a fair deal where there are roadworks. Too often, the signing and guarding blocks off the cycle way as if it is somehow not important. My constituent Graham Smith has sent me photos of that in Oxford, and cyclists as a result were forced into a busy carriageway. Practice on signing and guarding falls within the remit of the code of practice, under the New Road and Street Works Act 1991, and chapter 8 of the “Traffic Signs Manual”. I suggest that the Minister looks at the guidance closely and takes steps to ensure that it responds sympathetically to our shared desire to enable more journeys by bike, and so that highway authorities properly comply with their duty of care to all road users, which surely must mean equal care for cyclists.
This has been a great debate. Let us ensure that it is not only a worthy venting of concern and aspiration, but a catalyst for action to make cycling in this country as good as it could be. When our road and track cyclists are showing the brilliant best that UK cycle sport can achieve, let us make the joys and wider benefits of cycling safely accessible to all.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I apologise, Mr Bayley, for missing the opening speech of this debate. I had a long-standing commitment to meet a school party, but I am sure that I would have agreed with every word that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) said. I am pleased to have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) that she fell in love on a tandem. The only time I have been on a tandem was with Mark Oaten, and I assure my hon. Friend that I did not fall in love. In fact, I think I nearly died, because riding a tandem is not quite as easy as it looks, as Mark Oaten found out.
Liberal Democrats are often accused of being fanatics, usually Eurofanatics, but I am proud and happy to confess to being a cycle fanatic. My addiction to cycling started in my early 20s when I spent six months on a bike, cycling around Europe and on the other side of the iron curtain. It was a fascinating journey, and one that I would like to experience again in the near future. If any colleagues are keen to take part in the Blenheim palace triathlon in June, I encourage them to join me, because I will be taking part, and cycling is an important component. I am looking for partners for that, but it will not involve a tandem.
The Times campaign. I have attended a number of debates on cycling, and this is the most crowded that I have ever attended. Clearly, when The Times and The Independent swing behind such a national campaign, it attracts attention, which is very welcome. It also reflects the fact that cycling is becoming not a minority interest, but one in which people see the potential for significant health and economic benefits, as well as benefits for tackling congestion. One statistic that I have retained from our briefings today is the fact that 56% of short journeys of fewer than 2 miles take place by car. That is a telling statistic that we should address.
It is not impossible to reverse the trend. In recent decades there has been a trend away from cycling, but
23 Feb 2012 : Column 372WH
during the past couple of years there has been a positive movement towards cycling. As a result of investment from Transport for London, the Smarter Travel Sutton initiative in my London constituency saw a 75% increase in cycling in just three years. That was achieved not by building expensive infrastructure, but by going out to people and reminding them about the facilities available locally—for example, telling someone who perhaps had not been on their bike for 30 years that at the end of their road there was a cycle track that they could use to go to work and back safely. The increase was achieved just by behavioural change and talking to people, and with a significant increase in cycle proficiency training for 2,400 children. That clearly required investment, but not huge sums of money.
The Times manifesto and its eight points. Perhaps he will confirm which of those he believes are achievable and over what sort of time scale he thinks they can be achieved. Points 4, 5, 6 7 and 8 are all eminently achievable because they either do not require significant sums of money, or they require only a transfer of funding within a Department.
I hope that the Minister will respond specifically to
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I agree with my right hon. Friend that we should support The Times manifesto. Does he agree that it is important to put the matter into context and emphasise the health benefits, and the relative risk of cycling, which is still a relatively safe activity? Cyclenation has calculated that the health benefits outweigh the risks by about 20:1, and that it is still safer and healthier to cycle than not to cycle.
Tom Brake: I agree with my hon. Friend. Clearly there are risks associated with cycling, but they are relatively small, and the undue focus on accidents is not helpful. Newspaper coverage of deaths in accidents involving vehicles is not as extensive as that given to accidents involving cyclists. There are definite health benefits, and we should take them on board. The health benefits for those who continue to cycle or take up cycling later in life are long lasting.
There is an issue for cycle manufacturers. I do not know what the experience of hon. Members with children is when they try to find bikes for their children, but manufacturers’ undue emphasis on producing mountain bikes is not helpful. They are quite heavy for a girl or boy who may not be confident on a bike. Manufacturers should provide more flexibility and choice in the market.
The Times manifesto, but I hope that the Minister will pick up on it because if we are serious about getting adults back on to their bikes 20 or 30 years after they last did so, specific and targeted training is needed to convince them that it is a safe, healthy and fast way of getting around.
My final point concerns cycle training, and the figures from Sutton where there was a 75% increase in cycling in just three years. A key issue that was identified in achieving that was that cycle training for adults should be targeted and specific. That is not spelled out in detail in
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): This has been an interesting and important debate, and I commend the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), and The Times, for running such a strong campaign and
23 Feb 2012 : Column 373WH
highlighting the dangers that are faced by cyclists every day on our streets, as exemplified by the horrific accident of
reporter. Let me emphasise the comments that have been made about her recovery.
Many of the issues raised cut across Departments, and it is important to send a message, perhaps through the Minister, about the need for those Departments to work together—I will return to that point. One issue that Members have raised repeatedly during the debate concerns sentencing policy and the fact that someone who goes out in their car or lorry and uses it irresponsibly as a lethal weapon may not be treated in the same way as someone who goes out with a club in their back pocket and damages another individual. We need to look at the way that courts view drivers who have behaved irresponsibly.
I would describe myself as a lapsed cyclist. My bike hangs, rather forlornly, in the cycle shed close to my London flat, awaiting reuse. Why am I a lapsed cyclist? Well, I have had a couple of near misses on London roads—a number of other Members have already commented on their experiences. My experience involved a classic problem for a cyclist. I was at a junction and a car wanted to turn left. Although I was in my bright yellow fluorescent top, it was completely oblivious of me and winged in front of me. I was lucky; I suffered no major injuries but only came off my bike. The motorist, however, carried on, completely oblivious to the fact that they had left a cyclist slammed into the railings.
My constituency in Plymouth is extraordinarily hilly—the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) has touched on that—and it is not good for cyclists’ knees. Oddly, however, that is not the reason why people do not cycle in Plymouth as much as they could.
Mr Bradshaw: One issue that has not yet been raised in the debate concerns the importance of cyclists such as my hon. Friend claiming their road space. The problem seems to be that people, especially women cyclists, do not have the confidence to claim the road space that they deserve, even though doing so would make them much safer. People should get out into the road and give themselves plenty of space away from parked vehicles. If they do that, vehicles that are turning left will be more likely to see them.
Alison Seabeck: My right hon. Friend makes a good point, drawing on his cycling experience. Some roads have junction spaces in front of the cars where cyclists can go, which makes the experience much safer.
Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): I will be brief. My hon. Friend has a proud record of working closely with local government. May I draw her attention to the London borough of Ealing? It has just renegotiated its refuse contract, and one condition is that every refuse collection lorry must have triple mirrors, which allows it complete visibility, and shielded rear wheels so that there is none of the horror of people falling under wheels and getting chewed up. That is something that can be done right now with our local councils. One of the good things—probably the only good thing—about part-privatisation is that it provides an opportunity for contracts to be renegotiated.
23 Feb 2012 : Column 374WH
Alison Seabeck: My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I will touch on safety around lorries and larger vehicles later in my remarks.
Apart from the hills, one reason that people in Plymouth do not cycle much concerns the way they interact with traffic. The national campaign will no doubt help mobilise ideas about better safety and help raise awareness. Let me describe briefly what is happening in my constituency. Plymouth city council has produced a cycling leaflet which is both myth busting and promotes the health benefits of cycling. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and I will continue to maintain pressure on the council on issues such as potholes close to the kerb, which is a problem that affected one of my 70-year-old constituents. I knocked on her door and when she opened it I saw that she was badly bruised. She told me that she had been out on her racing bike and hit a pothole. People of all ages cycle, but if someone like my constituent takes a tumble, it can be more serious.
We are all, of course, aware of the health benefits of cycling, but we must ensure that those benefits outweigh the dangers and hazards and mean that people like me can go out and cycle with confidence. We have to do more to develop safe cycle routes in Plymouth, and the local Labour party is keen to be more proactive in that area. Plymouth has a good history of road safety—Leslie Hore-Belisha, one of my predecessors, was responsible for the Belisha beacon on pedestrian crossings.
I have also been impressed by the local Plymouth cycling campaign run by my constituents. They are aware of the bad press that cyclists can receive for inconsiderate riding in and around the city centre, and they have suggested a city centre cycling code. They strongly promote helmets, high visibility jackets, lights and a better awareness of riding in traffic. I was extremely interested to hear about the training for adults that was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake).
Jeremy Corbyn: Do the police and the community in Plymouth also enforce no cycling on pavements and no jumping of red lights as part of the city centre cycling code?
Alison Seabeck: The city centre cycling code is not yet in place, but there are definite problems about cyclists jumping red lights. It irritates me no end and I often shout at cyclists who do it. That is perhaps not very responsible, but it is something that irritates me. The Plymouth cycling campaign has been working in the city centre, and as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport will confirm, action has been taken there regarding both cyclists and skateboarders.
The Plymouth cycling campaign also has a effective “give me space” T-shirt—that returns to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), who said we need to treat cyclists, and motorcyclists, as though they are cars and give them road space. That is a good idea, but it is a small local initiative that hopes to continue raising awareness and safety. I hope that the Government will look at supporting local authorities and schemes that opt to give greater priority to cycling safety. Yet again, that is a plea for cross-departmental working, together with the Department for Communities and Local Government.
23 Feb 2012 : Column 375WH
The Times has made several proposals, including the identification of the 500 most dangerous junctions—I have no doubt that cyclists will be queuing up to identify them. One needs to go only a short distance from my flat in London to see two ghost cycles, which are a telling reminder of the tragedies that can happen. The installation of sensors and extra mirrors on trucks is one measure that can be taken. That may involve costs for haulage companies, but when weighed against the loss of a life or a life-threatening injury, it seems a price worth paying. The campaign for safety will enhance people’s enjoyment in cycling and bring obvious health benefits. I urge hon. Members to support it.
As we have heard,
Several hon. Members rose —
Hugh Bayley (in the Chair): Order. We are in an unprecedented position in having so many people who want to contribute to the debate. Nine Members wish to speak and 40 minutes remain. I will, therefore, impose a four-minute limit on speeches. As stated previously, hon. Members will hear the bell after three minutes.
Ian Austin: On a point of order, Mr Bayley, is it possible to continue the sitting?
Hugh Bayley (in the Chair): Unfortunately not. The rules are passed by the House and there may be Members who have set aside time until six o’clock but who might not be available afterwards. It is beyond my pay grade to change that, but the hon. Gentleman could raise the point in the main Chamber if he wished.
Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak in this excellent debate on such an important subject. My family are keen cyclists, and I know how much enjoyment they get from it. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) made the point that cycling is something that we should enjoy. It also encourages a healthy lifestyle. People should be encouraged to think of walking and cycling before driving a car, which is the right attitude.
The other thing that I have observed about cycling is that people notice more about the environment that they are cycling through, be it the countryside, towns or whatever. Cyclists can engage with the countryside and with the people alongside them—other cyclists and so on. It is a very good social activity. There is a lot to be said about being a cyclist—a lot that matters.
I also want to draw attention to the role that charity bike rides can perform in making cycling look and be a much more useful thing to do. My wife has done a very long cycle ride from London to Brussels in support of a health charity. I noticed two things about that. One was that Europe is very well prepared for cyclists. The other was that the project attracted a huge amount of justifiable support and interest. Charity bike rides are one way of promoting cycling.
One of my hon. Friends stressed the importance of towns. I think that that is important, because although we are celebrating and noting the value of cities, it is critical to remember that people live in towns, too. In my constituency of Stroud, there is obviously Stroud itself, but also Nailsworth, Dursley, Stonehouse and
23 Feb 2012 : Column 376WH
other towns. It is critical to ensure that people can cycle around in such places in safety, because they, too, contain traps for cyclists.
Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that in new developments, in which sufficient parking spaces have often not been provided, cunning car owners end up parking dangerously and often to the detriment of cyclists?
Neil Carmichael: That is a very good point. People parking on double yellow lines is infuriating enough, but if someone is blasting down on a bike and they find that a car is parked on a route that should normally be used by cyclists, that is disgraceful, selfish behaviour and inappropriate in any respect. I thank my hon. Friend for the intervention.
The one thing that I want to encourage through my speech is parking and riding. I am talking about people taking their bike in a car to the vicinity of where they want to be, getting rid of the car outside the town and using their bike to go about it.
Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): I totally agree with my hon. Friend about that, but I wonder what assessment he has made of the potential for getting people out of towns and cities, particularly this city, and into the surrounding countryside on the train, either with their bike or renting a bike at the other end of their journey. They could get out to the South Downs national park or the new Shipwrights way in East Hampshire and experience the wonderful countryside that my hon. Friend has talked about.
Neil Carmichael: My hon. Friend cannot have read my speech, because I have only some notes, but he is absolutely right. It is so important to encourage people to take their bikes on trains to get them to the places where they need to go. That is partly about integration. I hope that the Minister takes that point on board, because I have seen students and others struggle with the idea of taking their bike on to a train. Rail franchise operators, especially in the south-west, might want to note that.
As I was saying, park and ride is certainly worth considering. I shall make one final observation before I get to my main point. In Stroud, we have a lengthy canal, and one of the great things about the regeneration of that canal is that it is providing fantastic routes for cyclists. My wife and the rest of my family often use them.
My main point is this. Many people have been talking about road design and so on. It would be a good idea for the Department for Transport to take a close look at what happens in Europe, because in Europe there is much more integration between road users—between cyclists and car drivers. It is important that we get that point across. Most of my cycling is done in France, where cyclists can get about with considerable safety because the roads are properly designed to accommodate them. We would do well to note the importance of properly integrating road planning with the interests of cyclists.
Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): My hon. Friend has been extremely generous in taking interventions. He is talking about the importance of planning. Does he
23 Feb 2012 : Column 377WH
agree that cycle-to-work schemes and planning for the industrial environment are also very important to take into account how people integrate cycling? Would he commend schemes such as the Worcester Bosch expansion plan and the Worcester technology park, where a very significant cycle-to-work scheme is being planned?
Neil Carmichael: Absolutely. My hon. Friend is right. We are all agreeing with one another. This is a great moment, in contrast, perhaps, with yesterday. We all know the risks of cycling, but we are prepared to take those risks because we understand them. It is not necessarily the case that everyone is aware of them.
My final point about Europe is that it has places where people can put their bikes once they have arrived at their destination.
Hugh Bayley (in the Chair): Order. I have to call the next speaker now—Jeremy Corbyn.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Bayley. You are an excellent cyclist yourself, so you are totally unbiased in the Chair. I always appreciate your wearing a badge saying, “I stop at red”—that is a message to many other cyclists. I will say only a few things and very quickly, so that everyone who wants to can speak.
The Times for its campaign and the all-party cycling group for its work. That campaign and the work that has been done have made a big difference. The fact that various newspapers have taken up the issue in a good way has meant that we have got this debate, that there is a greater emphasis on it and that cycling will be treated as a normal part of transport and not something else.
First, I thank
[Laughter.] It is okay if people are not reading too carefully what they are supposed to be writing about.
I pay tribute to many local groups in my constituency. The Islington cyclists action group has for many years been badgering the council and everyone else about cycle safety, junctions and everything else. It is part of the development of cycling in London. I do not know about other hon. Members, but I received several hundred e-mails in advance of the debate. I thank every single person for writing and particularly those who wrote to ask me why I had not signed my own early-day motion.
I imagine that London is now seen as the most pro-cycling city in the country. Certainly, as someone who has cycled in London for more than 20 years, I have noticed the increase in the number of cyclists and, to be fair, an increased awareness by many car, lorry, bus and taxi drivers of the needs of cyclists. That is very welcome indeed.
The cycle hire scheme in London is very successful. Large numbers of people use it, and it has introduced a whole new generation of people to cycling. I am particularly pleased that we have it. I am also pleased with the pledge from Ken Livingstone that it will be made free for older people, because as he rightly points out, the majority of people using the cycle hire scheme in London earn more than £50,000 a year. He wishes to make cycling a slightly more egalitarian form of transport,
23 Feb 2012 : Column 378WH
which all Labour Members will support completely.
I do not want to bring a class element into the debate.
There are serious issues of cycle safety. We should be realistic about that, but not in a way that puts people off cycling. It is important to keep a balance.
Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab): I agree with my hon. Friend that London is perhaps the best city in the UK for cycling, but does he agree with me that the gold standard for cycling is in Holland? It is not in Leeds, I am sorry to say; Leeds is pretty poor. York is good. But the gold standard is in Holland and especially the city of Amsterdam. Would he like the standards that apply there to be introduced in London and other places in the UK?
Jeremy Corbyn: Absolutely. I have cycled many times in the Netherlands, and the cycle routes there are incredible; there is no question about that. It is possible to get off a boat at the Hook of Holland and get all the way to Copenhagen almost without touching a main road. The system and the facilities in the Netherlands are superb. A Dutch railway station is a bit like Cambridge: there will be hundreds of cycles outside the station. Cambridge is probably the only station in this country—perhaps this applies to Oxford as well—with that number of cycles parked outside it. That indicates the transport integration there.
There is a question about getting through to road planners about cyclists and the need to incorporate cycling in designs. Coming back from my one and only visit to Beijing, I met an engineer, a Chinese gentleman, on the plane. I have never forgotten this. He said, “How did you find Beijing?” I said that I thought that it was a lovely city and very interesting, but I was very concerned about the pollution and the traffic. He said, “Don’t worry. We are going to sort out the traffic problem.” I said, “How are you going to do that?” He replied, “We’re going to get rid of all these damn cycle rides so that we can get more cars on the road.” Unfortunately, it was a very long flight home, because he then proceeded to give me a long and totally incoherent explanation about how cars took up less road space than bicycles. I still have not fully grasped his logic. Perhaps there was not any there.
In road planning, the question is not just of having cycle lanes, important as they are, but what happens at the junction. Too often, a cyclist gets to a junction and they are exposed to a great deal of danger. Some junctions are well organised. Hyde Park corner, for example, has cycle routes through the middle, but the traffic light phasing is not particularly good and I suspect that that leads to danger. We also have to give a message to cyclists. I say this as someone who has spent their lifetime cycling, and I have cycled in many countries and I feel very passionately in favour of cycling. I calculate on a daily basis the average number of cyclists coming into central London who jump red lights. It is reducing: it is down from 50% to about 25% of the peloton that arrives at the average bunch of traffic lights. It is dangerous and unnecessary and, by and large, the police make no effort to enforce traffic rules any more than they do to stop cyclists riding on pavements in an extremely dangerous way; a very small number do
23 Feb 2012 : Column 379WH
it, but it is dangerous. I wish the cyclists’ campaign well. This debate is a real achievement for those of us who spend our lives cycling and who demand better facilities.
Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): In reference to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) said, I have never been on a tandem with my predecessor.
Jeremy Corbyn: It is early days.
Steve Brine: The hon. Gentleman has taken the words right out of my mouth.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on securing the debate. It is a pleasure to work on the all-party parliamentary group with him and the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin). There are not many all-party groups where MPs can meet, we hope, future Olympians and get police outriders to cycle them through the centre of this, the greatest city on earth. That is what happens in our all-party group, and it is a pleasure to be part of it and this debate today, which our all-party group has been instrumental in securing. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting the debate.
Over half term, I was cycling in Cornwall. I went on a 15-mile ride on the famous Camel trail on a beautiful Friday afternoon last week. My pleasure was only dampened by the fact that I was pulling two small children in a pod behind the bike. I can recommend that to Members only if they want to build their thighs, and for no other reason.
Having just popped out for a couple of votes, I was struck by what an amazing day it is out there and what a day it would be for cycling. For me, this debate is a bit like watching “Ski Sunday”; I really want to get out there and do it. As I live in Winchester, it is a lot easier to get out there on a bike than it is to get on some skis.
The Times for its campaign. It has really struck a chord with many of my constituents, a large number of whom e-mailed me ahead of today’s debate, and I thank them all for that. Obviously, I wish Mary Bowers all the best.
I pay tribute to
We have heard today about the benefits of cycling for individuals, the economy, the transport system and the environment. Many people have started to realise the benefits, and I hope that many more will. I pay tribute to the current Mayor of London for the work that he has done in the city. He is a controversial figure in many ways, but he will be remembered for Boris bikes long after he has gone.
[ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Cambridge shakes his head. In Winchester, so much good work is being done to encourage cycling and to improve road safety for the residents. Whenever I am in the constituency, I cycle around the city; it is far easier and cheaper than finding a parking space in Winchester. It is the start of the South Downs way; it has national cycle network tracks that go all the way from Southampton, across Isle of Wight, from Alresford to Alton and beyond.
In my constituency of Winchester, which likes to challenge Cambridge as cycle city—
I mentioned earlier in my intervention the infamous junction 9 above the M3 and national cycle route 23 and
23 Feb 2012 : Column 380WH
the problems that we have there. Sitting listening to this debate, it seems that there is a recurring theme—a cycle route that is all but complete but for one little bit where something or someone is getting in the way. I gently suggest to the Minister that he might like to ask officials to review the national cycle routes and where we have our problems and see whether he can unblock them.
I pay tribute to the CTC in Winchester and Sue Coles in particular. I worked very closely with her on the M3 problem. She puts together a full calendar of cycling events in the city. We already have a cycling champion in the city: Councillor Jacey Jackson, who has done a brilliant job over the years in helping so many children get their cycling proficiency badges, and I pay tribute to her.
The Times campaign well. Yes, we want to make our cities less dangerous places in which to cycle, but I want to be more ambitious than that. We want to make cities not just less dangerous but a pleasure to cycle in; many of them are, but let us go further.
Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): I apologise for not being here at the beginning of this debate. As vice-chair of the all-party group and as the Member of Parliament for the London borough that claims to have twice as many cyclists than any other London borough, I am very proud to be here today. However, given the explosion in cycling in London recently, I am not sure whether we can still lay claim to that boast, but no one has yet contradicted me.
I summarily agree with the issues that have been raised about design, speed and driver training. On design, I will highlight what has been happening in Hackney. The council has removed a lot of the railings that were barriers to the road, which has made it better for pedestrians and much safer for cyclists. It is a really simple thing that can be done. It does not cost a great deal of money, but it takes a bit of vision. The fact that we have so many cyclists has meant that the council has had to take that view and has done so very well.
I want to make three—four if I have time—simple key points. First, cycle training for cyclists is important. Hackney provides free cycle training. As a middle-aged mother of three, I have been out there and done the training. I cannot describe how happy my husband is that as I take my baby on the back—my precious cargo—I am now much bolder and more confident. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) said, I grab that road space now in a way that I was a bit apologetic about doing before. I recommend such training to all nervous hon. Members. However, unless I have the outriders with me, I still find Trafalgar square a little nerve-racking. None the less, cycling around Hackney without the barriers in place is a very pleasurable experience, partly because so many people cycle and partly because of our canal.
Secondly, training for heavy goods vehicle drivers is an important issue. Hackney provides such training as a free service, and it is important that other boroughs take that lead. It can be done affordably. As drivers must be licensed, it could be part of the licensing agreement. It does not necessarily have to cost a great deal of money, and I hope that the Minister is looking closely at that idea. I have sat in a cab and seen the blind
23 Feb 2012 : Column 381WH
spot for a driver. Even with the bells, the whistles and the mirrors, it is a very large blind spot and it has made me think more carefully about how I will cycle around large vehicles.
Nearly 80% of the lorries that are involved in fatalities are construction vehicles, which again raises the issue of training. Good companies will ensure that their drivers undergo such training. We have a big issue about freelance skip drivers. The challenge is to get those who are not so interested in taking up such training to do so.
The Times campaign, which I fully endorse, calls for a cycling commissioner, and we have that in an embryonic form.
Hackney now has a cycle officer on the council, which is really important.
I want to give a thought to people who have had accidents but survived. Head injuries are a real issue, and I represent Headway East London, which was the brainchild of Dr Richard Greenwood. A number of people survive accidents, and that can mean a lifelong sentence for them and for their families. Let me just flag up the fact that there are real issues about the support that is provided in the welfare system for people with head injuries.
Finally, I am proud that Harry Dobbs Design, which has designed bike parking for New York, is based in Dalston, just outside my constituency. In the past, I championed secure bike parking when it was introduced in Finsbury Park; it was only the second area in London to do so. There are still far too few of such schemes. The idea of coming back and finding a wheel or a saddle missing puts many people off cycling. The Minister should answers questions about why Network Rail has such woefully minimum standards on parking, when we should have the best integration possible.
Jonathan Lord (Woking) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on securing this debate and on his excellent introduction.
In September 2008, one of my Woking constituents, Nicholas Wright, was killed following a collision with a heavy goods vehicle in London. His mother recently wrote to me, saying:
“He was on his bicycle cycling, as he did every day, from Waterloo Station to the City where he worked as an IT project manager… He was an experienced cyclist and a volunteer Advanced Motorist Supervisor. Had the lorry been fitted with a mirror that allowed the driver to see directly down in front of his lorry, the death of my son would have been avoided.”
The Times. The untimely death of Nicholas Wright is, of course, reminiscent of the dreadful accident that befell Mary Bowers of The Times.
What an awful waste of a young husband, father and loving son. His family still miss him terribly and his wife, Caroline, has been in touch with me in support of the cycling campaign run by
I am delighted by the huge amount of support that campaign by The Times has generated and we should study carefully the 7,000 stories about cycling in this country that have been given to that campaign, to see what first-hand guidance they can give us as we try to make cycling much safer. I broadly welcome most of the key points of the “Cities fit for cycling” manifesto
23 Feb 2012 : Column 382WH
. I was going to quibble with just one of those key points, but I do not think that I have the time to do so.
I want to pick up on the point made by the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and say that this issue is not just about our cities. Some of the most dangerous roads for cyclists are our rural roads. I do not know what is currently in the Highway Code or the advice given to learner drivers, but we should treat cyclists—wherever possible and particularly on our rural roads—as if they were a young girl on horseback. Cars should slow up and not try to overtake if there is traffic coming in the other direction. So long as the visibility and sightlines are right, they should pull out slowly and purposefully and go into the opposite carriageway if there is nothing coming in the other direction. Our cyclists, particularly our young cyclists, deserve no less.
I am proud to represent a constituency—Woking—that has made outstanding progress on encouraging cycling in recent years. More than 26 km of off-road network has been added in Woking since 2008, including a substantial route along vast swathes of the Basingstoke canal towpath, thus demonstrating that it is often possible to open up significant new routes, even within highly built-up areas. In addition, I look forward to the culmination of the Hoe valley scheme, which the Prime Minister visited recently. Basically, that scheme aims to take lots of homes out of the local flood area, but there will also be new homes, including affordable homes, and new parkland, which will have terrific new off-highway cycling routes.
Many colleagues have said that the promotion of safe cycling is crucial. In Woking, we have had special activities such as “neon nights”, which are supervised evening cycle rides to promote the use of high-visibility clothing and lights, encouraging cyclists to be seen and to be safe.
I started my contribution on a very sombre note, but let me end on a light one. I very much enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile), who talked about being a fat man on a bicycle. My younger brother—he is younger than me, but the same sort of age—was getting corpulent a few years ago. Within a year, he had successfully competed in L’Étape, which as I understand it is a stretch of the Tour de France that amateurs can ride. So I say to my hon. Friend, “Set your sights high, my friend”, and if he succeeds in riding L’Étape, perhaps we can go on a tandem together, as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) talked about, but I would first like to have proof beyond all shadow of a doubt of his stability and fitness for purpose. Given that proof, I look forward to that prospect and perhaps we can do it in aid of charity.
Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): I am not quite sure how to follow that last point by the hon. Member for Woking (Jonathan Lord), but I do want to say what a fantastic debate this has been. It is so good to see so many right hon. and hon. Members here to support this excellent campaign on cycling.
I may not look like it, but I am a reasonably regular cyclist. A number of years ago, however, I was knocked off my bike outside Stockwell tube station. The driver
23 Feb 2012 : Column 383WH
of the car drove off. After that incident, I was put off cycling for a couple of years. However, I have got back on my bike and last year—I want to put this down on the parliamentary record—I completed the London to Brighton cycle ride, even getting up Ditchling beacon without getting off my bike. Anyone who has ridden up that horrible hill will know what I mean.
Part of my reason for speaking today is that every day that I come to work—whether I am on my bike, going to the train station or in my car, and I admit to driving into Parliament on the occasions when the House is sitting until 10.30 at night—I go past a “ghost bike” on Lewisham roundabout, which shows where someone has lost their life while cycling. When anyone goes over Lewisham roundabout, they feel like they are taking their life into their own hands, and the same is true whenever anyone goes over the roundabout at Elephant and Castle. This year alone two cyclists have been killed at the Bow roundabout in London. I do not think that we should wait until people lose their life before we act. We must find a way to get in the investment to tackle those really key junctions and roundabouts where, as anyone who rides a bike will know, cyclists fear for their lives.
Cycling safety is also about basic road maintenance. We have heard lots of right hon. and hon. Members talking about the horrendous potholes that exist. As a south-east London MP, if I cycle into Westminster, I go back home down the Old Kent road and there is a huge rut that cyclists get into. When cyclists get into it and lorries and buses are going past on the right-hand side, they are never sure how they will get out. When I am in that situation, I think to myself, “It can’t be beyond the wit of man for Transport for London and the local councils to get together and sort out this stretch of road.” Some really basic issues need to be addressed.
Meg Hillier: My hon. Friend has talked about cyclists who get injured. Last year, in Hackney, including my constituency, between January and October there was one fatality of a cyclist, which is tragic, but there were 36 serious injuries. As she suggests, it is not just the cyclists who die who should make us act; we should also remember those cyclists who are seriously injured and who often have to live with their injuries for the rest of their lives.
Heidi Alexander: My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and we must tackle these basic issues of safety on our roads if we are to get more people to cycle. In addition, if we are to get more people to cycle, we must also tackle the perception of what it is like to cycle. As a woman, I think that some of the time women can be a bit put off by cycling, including by the idea of turning up at work after cycling.
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Although safety issues are absolutely paramount—there are loads of junction issues in my own city of Edinburgh—one of the things that makes cycling so popular in other countries is that, partly because of the sheer number of people who cycle, people do not have to go through all that stuff about needing to have all these things to put on—the helmet and everything else—which can be off-putting. If we can get to the stage where people feel that
23 Feb 2012 : Column 384WH
they can just come out of their houses, get on their bikes and cycle somewhere safely, we will have far more cyclists.
Heidi Alexander: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was about to make the point that, when a cyclist arrives at work, especially if they are not as fit as they should be, they will need to find somewhere to have a shower and sort themselves out. So it is incumbent upon employers and the planning departments in councils, when they are considering new developments, to find a way to make cycling easier and more convenient for people.
Lots of things can be done. We must address safety, but we must also make cycling more convenient, which is absolutely key. I will not take up any more time today, as other hon. Members who want to speak. I pay tribute to the campaign and to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) for securing this debate, and I really hope that it results in the changes that we all want to see.
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on securing this important debate and I also congratulate The Times for its leadership on this issue. There has been an impressive turnout today of Members from all parties, and I truly hope that this debate can be part of a momentum for change.
In East Dunbartonshire, seven cyclists have been killed or seriously injured on our roads since 2006. That is indeed a sobering statistic. However, we are fortunate to have an award-winning organisation called the East Dunbartonshire Cycle Co-operative. Under the dynamic leadership of Mark Kiehlmann and with a committed and growing team of volunteers, the organisation has secured funding and put in place a range of different initiatives to get people cycling and enjoying using bikes as a means of transport. So far, it has delivered 1,000 hours of cycle training, including cycle mechanics, because, as was mentioned earlier, being able to fix a bike is very important.
There are cycle clubs at many local schools. There has been a cycle map with different routes distributed to more than 20,000 individuals, and we now have an annual cycle festival with more than 1,000 people participating. Summer cycle rides are organised. Importantly, it is often the children who are enthusiastic and they are encouraged to bring their parents to get them cycling for the first time in 15 or 20 years. When we have families cycling together, it is more likely to be something that sticks.
The group has even organised a Guinness world record attempt for simultaneous bike bell ringing with the help of Classic FM and the “Blue Danube”. It has achieved great success. In less than a year, there has been a 5% modal shift in cycling to school in one town. St Matthew’s primary now has nearly 20% of the pupils cycling to school, which is a great achievement and shows what can be done. It has also inspired other initiatives. We have Bishopbriggs BMX club for 10 to 19-year-olds, with 100 members. One of its founders, Christopher Eastwood, was a winner in the first national BMX competition at the end of last year.
23 Feb 2012 : Column 385WH
Mountain biking is popular in Scotland. The charity, Rebound, is trying to ensure that new facilities can be put in place in East Dunbartonshire, particularly in Lennox forest, where it is hoping to build tracks that can be used both as a leisure pursuit and to host competitions and events. I look forward to meeting that local group tomorrow.
I want to touch on two issues. One is a slight controversy about cycling on pavements. I had an initiative in my constituency called Cycle Train. Children as young as five would cycle to school on the pavement, with an adult at the beginning and at the end of the group of children cycling. Once the pupils had passed their cycling proficiency test, they would move to cycling on the road. It was a safe way for children to get to school, but it had to stop, because it was not in accordance with the law. Although there are undoubtedly problems with irresponsible cycling on pavements, there is a role for responsible, supervised pavement cycling for young children. We would not expect five or six-year-olds to cycle on the road, but getting practice in place would be helpful. I discussed it with the then Minister with responsibility for cycling in 2009 with a delegation. I hope that the Minister with responsibility for cycling now will consider that.
The Times campaign for 20 mph limits. There is a big campaign in my constituency to encourage that in residential areas. It is very popular indeed. I hope that my local council will outline a timetable for moving towards that. I understand that time pressure is upon us. With so much enthusiasm for this debate, perhaps we need further debates on this issue, even on the Floor of the House. I hope the enthusiasm for the debate today and the wealth of ideas put forward will empower and embolden the Minister with responsibility for cycling. He is no doubt keen to take this forward and make a real difference on this issue.
I strongly support point 6 of
Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on securing this debate. I also congratulate The Times on its campaign. This debate is happening in Back-Bench time. It is an illustration of how Back-Bench time has enabled the House to be topical. Perhaps that flexibility was not there before. One reason why the Backbench Business Committee awarded time today was because the hon. Member for Cambridge made the case that it would be topical to hold this debate at a time when our constituents are so engaged with the issue. I will also say, for the record, that debates that have been this well subscribed in Westminster Hall have on occasion bid successfully for more time.
Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): The hon. Lady may not be aware that I presented a ten-minute rule Bill on Tuesday, which incorporates many aspects of The Times cycling campaign. If the Minister could persuade the Leader of the House to find time for a Second Reading of my Bill, we would be able to further debate the merits of this campaign and bring it into legislation.
23 Feb 2012 : Column 386WH
Jane Ellison: I am sure the Minister heard that plea. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) by saying let us celebrate the joy of cycling. My father is a veteran road racer. In his youth, he was a stage winner of the Tour of Britain on more than one occasion. He still goes out with his friends who are in their 60s, 70s and, I think, 80s, and does hundreds of miles a month around the Yorkshire dales. They are collectively a great testimony to the joys of cycling and to its great health benefits. I am not remotely in his class, but my bike is an invaluable way of getting around my constituency, particularly at weekends between engagements. I have sometimes taken cycle superhighway 8. I am lucky, because it runs from Wandsworth to Westminster.
I want to focus on one specific area, which is the role of our highway engineers in making junctions and cycling safer. Many people have highlighted particular junctions and problems in their constituencies. Some particularly bad junctions in London where terrible accidents and fatalities have occurred have been mentioned. The Mayor of London has asked Transport for London to review hundreds of key junctions. I hope that that review will generate fresh ideas and fresh thinking, and that hon. Members around the country can ask their local highway engineers to look at the ideas and take them up. People have alluded to the lessons to be learnt from continental Europe and the excellent engineering and integration solutions that we see there, but there is also innovation going on in Britain. Transport for London engineers have been working on particular junctions and roundabouts. I met them recently at a problem one in my patch. They are also working with cycling groups and others to look at specific junctions that have been highlighted in this debate.
I put on record a word about the early-start initiative, which is a proposed new design that will be introduced first at the Bow roundabout, and to which other hon. Members have alluded. It will have two lines of signals. Cyclists will have an early start on the traffic. They will come up to a signal ahead of the vehicular traffic and get a head start. They will have their own lights to get away so that they are potentially 12 metres ahead of other traffic, before it even sets off. There is interesting thinking and good innovation there. It is hoped that it will be in place in time for the Olympics, but certainly later this year. The idea is for cyclists to get to the front of the queue without having to filter through general traffic. There will be a generous space for them to wait. Cyclists will have their own space in front of the traffic and get ahead of it early. Hopefully, because of that early start, the potential for conflict on difficult left turns off the roundabout will be reduced.
The Times on its campaign. I thank the many constituents who contacted us with their interesting stories and asked us to take part in this debate. I think this is the beginning of a big conversation rather than a one-off debate. I am delighted to have taken part in it.
I hope the Minister will monitor the success of the scheme, because it clearly has potential application around the country at other roundabouts that suffer some of the same problems. With that call to look at what our engineers can do for us, and echoing the words of the many hon. Members who have talked about the joys of cycling, I again congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge on securing this debate and
23 Feb 2012 : Column 387WH
Hugh Bayley (in the Chair): I am pleased to say that every Member who was standing was able, on an abbreviated basis, to contribute to the debate. We now come to the wind-ups.
Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bayley. It is entirely appropriate that a well-known and regular parliamentary cyclist such as yourself should be in the Chair for part of our debate at least.
It has been an excellent debate. There is a simple reason why we are holding this debate today—the awful day last November when a young news reporter, Mary Bowers, was critically injured just yards from her workplace. Other Members have described the experience of their constituents’ lives being similarly affected. Mary Bowers was crushed by a lorry while cycling. I have been to see the junction in Wapping. It is little short of a miracle that she is still with us, and of course she has an unimaginably tough and lengthy recovery ahead of her.
The Times, it has not just accepted this appalling tragedy. It has recognised that collisions involving cyclists are not simply accidents, but have a cause and therefore can be prevented. They are ultimately the consequence of our collective failure to do enough to make our cities fit for cyclists—the apt title of the campaign that The Times has launched as a result.
To the immense credit of
The Times will continue to work hard on their campaign to gather more and more support. I know that MPs from all parties have been impressed by the personal commitment that the editor of The Times, James Harding, has given to this issue. He contacted all MPs personally in advance of this debate, and he is here to listen to it.
This is campaigning journalism at its best and, despite the progress made, I know that all those involved at
It is entirely appropriate that the all-party group on cycling secured the debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on securing the debate and on his own work to support cycling, as co-chair of the all-party group. I also congratulate the other members of that group—not least my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin)—on their work, some of which we have heard about today.
Times journalist Kaya Burgess, who has been a driving force behind the campaign. Writing about his friend, he said:
Something that has had an impact on me and our thinking on the issue comes from the moving piece by
“Mary, a news reporter, would be first to ask why it is not mandatory for lorries driving on city streets to be fitted with sensors and mirrors to pick up cyclists in their blind spots. Or why training for cyclists and drivers on how to share the road responsibly is so poor. Or why some junctions are so dangerous that jumping a red light can actually be a safer option than lining up alongside HGVs at the lights like a racetrack starting grid. Or why London trails so far behind cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen in terms of the infrastructure and legislation to protect vulnerable cyclists and to help the drivers who are trying to avoid them.”
What struck me was just how obvious the changes that we need to see are. The issue is not one that needs a major ideological debate between us all to be won; some common sense and a renewed commitment to cycling safety would do. None of those things need be impossible or even difficult to deliver. It is about will as much as money.
23 Feb 2012 : Column 388WH
I am also aware that there has been a tendency, however well meaning, to give the impression that the responsibility to prevent collisions rests simply with cyclists. Despite the importance of cycling proficiency and awareness, we must never believe that they can be a substitute for measures to improve road junctions, create alternative cycle routes and improve safety equipment on HGVs. That is the real lesson of the campaign, and it should be the focus of our response.
In responding to the challenge that has been put to us as parliamentarians, it is important for us to be careful not to give the wrong impression about the safety of cycling and risk discouraging people from getting out on their bikes. We need to make it clear that cycling casualties are down 17% across the last decade, at a time when increased numbers of people were taking to their bikes. Cycling becomes safer, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and others have said, the more people there are on bikes out on our roads. Therefore, it is important that as we address safety issues, we do not put people off.
Cycling is one of Britain’s success stories in recent years, and it is important that we talk it up—there are 20% more people cycling than a decade ago. Yet, if we go to the Netherlands, as I did as part of our policy review, it is apparent how much further ahead parts of the continent are. In Holland, a third of all trips to and from rail stations are by bike, compared with 2% here. I have seen for myself the fantastic facilities for cyclists at stations in Holland—not just bike spaces, but covered staffed storage with people on hand to repair and maintain bikes while their owners are off at work during the day. The matter is about spending—10 times more per person is spent on cycling there than in the UK—but it is also about attitude and commitment.
I am proud of the steps forward that we took when we were in office, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter set out in his remarks. Those increases in cycling numbers and reductions in cycling casualties did not happen by chance, but through some of the decisions that were taken. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), and I am glad that he has been able to join us. I know that he was respected across the whole House as a Minister in the Department for Transport for his passionate and energetic advocacy of improving road safety, which delivered policies that saved lives.
I particularly want to recognise what was achieved through Cycling England and the national funding of the “Cycling city and towns” programme between 2005 and 2010. For the first time, we saw proper, dedicated investment in measures to boost cycling numbers. The reports from each of those towns and cities are on the DFT website and worth a read. Progress was made up and down the country, including a 36% rise in the availability of cycle parking in Aylesbury; the quadrupling of the number of children cycling in the schools targeted in Colchester; the introduction of bike swap, recycle and resale schemes and new cycle spaces at schools; and the establishment of school bike clubs. There were also new dedicated cycle lanes and controlled crossings.
I regret that, instead of rolling out the success of those projects across the country, the Government chose to abolish Cycling England, along with its £60 million annual funding, and end the “Cycling city and towns” scheme. That was a mistake. While I recognise and
23 Feb 2012 : Column 389WH
welcome the local sustainable transport fund, it is not a great deal of money spread over the whole Parliament, and cycling is just one area among many that the fund has to cover. While the £15 million of additional targeted funding announced a few days ago by the Minister is also welcome, that comes nowhere close to replicating the levels of support that went before, let alone increasing them, as we clearly need to do.
I would like briefly to set out a few conclusions that the Opposition have already reached in the policy review that we, as a party, have been carrying out. They have been reached as a result of listening to cyclists and of
First, we have heard that our roads have simply not been designed with cyclists in mind, which has been the case over many decades. We will need to spend significant sums of money to address the deficiencies. Therefore, as a first commitment, let us at least agree that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past, and let us start taking into account the impact of road design on cyclists. I propose that we subject all future road and other major transport schemes to a cycling safety assessment before approval, in the same way that all Government policies and spending are subject to an economic impact assessment and an equality impact assessment. That might enable us to avoid some of the mistakes that we have made over the past decades.
Secondly, we have heard why we have to move faster at improving safety on existing roads, in addition to ensuring that new road and transport schemes consider the cyclist. We have heard how that is especially the case at junctions—almost two thirds of cyclists killed or seriously injured were involved in collisions at junctions.
It is time to agree that a specific proportion of the roads budget should be set aside for improving our existing roads. As part of our responsible approach to public spending, where we have backed two thirds of the Government’s spending cuts, we have made clear how we would fund £100 million each year to begin that work. Let us recognise that simply painting a thin section at the side of the road a different colour does not create an adequate safe cycle route. We need to look at proper separation, as is common on the continent, and at other measures, such as traffic light phasing to give cyclists a head start.
Thirdly, we have heard calls to do more to encourage and enable our local authorities to promote cycling. At the least, let us create a best practice toolkit based on what we have learned from the “Cycling city and towns” programme. Let us also back local authorities that want to extend their 20 mph zones in residential areas.
We have listened to the concerns regarding the Government’s decision to end ring-fenced road safety grants to local authorities and all support for speed cameras, including removing 100% of the funding available for road safety capital. By removing ring-fencing of what remained, cash-strapped councils were faced with raiding road safety money to fill the gap caused by other cuts that they face. It is worrying that Ministers have said in parliamentary answers:
“No assessment has been made about the effect on road accidents that may result from changes to road safety grants.”—[Official Report, 2 December 2010; Vol. 519, c. 948.]
23 Feb 2012 : Column 390WH
As part of the costed approach to spending we have set out, we would not have made that cut, and the Government ought to look at it again.
Fourthly, while it is vital that we never give the impression that responsibility for safety rests solely with cyclists, we have heard how important cycling proficiency for children and young people is. The Government should therefore look at restoring cycling proficiency’s position as an ongoing dedicated funding stream, rather than relying on bids to the local sustainable transport fund. I also worry about the impact of the decision to cut funding for the “Think!” road safety campaign. The Government should also look again at their decision to abandon the need for schools to develop school travel plans and encourage working between local authorities and schools to encourage cycling and promote safer routes.
Fifthly, we have heard concerns about the decision to give the green light to longer heavy goods vehicles. We should take steps to switch freight from road to rail, not make it more attractive to do the reverse. The Department for Transport projects that rail freight will increase by 262% by 2025, following the approval of longer HGVs. Yet, if it had not gone ahead with that change, it says the projected growth of rail freight would be 732%. Heavy goods vehicles are three times as likely to be involved in fatal accidents compared with all other vehicles, and the dangers for cyclists are significant. I hope that that Government will think again about that and abandon the plan. I also hope that Ministers will consider our suggestion for an HGV road charging scheme, with an estimated annual income of £23 million. Let us hypothecate that new income to work with the road haulage industry on equipping lorries with safety equipment, such as side under-run protection to avoid cyclists falling under the wheels, and blind spot mirrors. We also need to improve driver training and awareness.
Finally, I have previously made a commitment to restoring the national targets on reducing deaths and serious injuries on our roads. I worry that the Government’s decision to axe those targets risks our collectively taking our eye off the ball, and that we will see as a result a reversal of the incredible progress that was made over the past decade. I hope that the Minister will take those things into account in his reply.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), as everybody else has, on securing the debate. Let me make it absolutely clear at the start that I am delighted by the turnout and by the cross-party nature of the vast majority of contributions. As far as I am concerned, the more interest in cycling there is, the better, because, frankly, that helps me and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), in our work in the Department to make sure that the issue goes even further up the agenda than it has done so far. There is a good story to tell, to which I will come very shortly.
T he Times campaign
The structure of the reply I want to give—I say this for the information of colleagues here—is to refer briefly to what the Government have done generally, to deal with the specific points raised by
23 Feb 2012 : Column 391WH
and then to pick up other points that hon. Members have made. My normal habit is to take a large number of interventions. However, if hon. Members will forgive me, on this occasion I will not—at least not at the beginning of my contribution—because I want to get through the points made and respond to them properly.
I will respond to the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) first. He asked if we would do a U-turn. I encourage him not to go down that particular road because we are doing a lot of what he wants, much of which is also in the pipeline. If we were to do a U-turn, that would not be welcome to him.
Mr Bradshaw rose —
Norman Baker: I just said that I will not take interventions, so I will stick with that. However, I will come back to the right hon. Gentleman later if time allows.
Mr Bradshaw: I was actually supporting the hon. Member for Cambridge, who said that he thought it was a mistake to abolish Cycling England because it was an important body that campaigned coherently. That is what is missing now.
Norman Baker: I wrote down what the right hon. Gentleman said, but let us not argue about the nuance of that. Suffice it to say that we are doing a lot of good work, to which I will now refer.
First, the coalition agreement explicitly refers to the promotion of cycling. That document was put together quickly and it is short, but cycling is very clearly mentioned. As a coalition Government, we recognise that it is good for the economy, good for the environment and good for personal health to get more people cycling. That is the direction of travel we have been trying to pursue since the Government were formed. The local sustainable transport fund has been mentioned by some hon. Members this afternoon.
Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?
Norman Baker: I will in a moment because my hon. Friend has not spoken so far and I promised I would let him in. That is an exception to the rule.
Without arguing about the detail of the local sustainable transport fund, I want to put it on the record that I was advised that the £560 million, which is a very substantial sum, is greater than the aggregate of the schemes under the last four years of the previous Government. I do not want to make a partisan point, but I say that in response to the suggestion that we have cut funding. We have not; we have increased it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge suggested that we should do even more in the local sustainable transport fund for cycling. As he recognises, 38 out of the 39 projects so far awarded money have involved cycling. We cannot go much further than we have gone already in ensuring that cycling is reflected. The bidding for tranche two closes tomorrow. I can tell him that there are a large number of cycling elements in that and, no doubt, a large number of projects will be funded as part of tranche two of that important fund.
Last week—as the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) mentioned—I was able to find a further £15 million
23 Feb 2012 : Column 392WH
directly for issues that Members have argued for today. I am very happy to say that. There is £8 million for Sustrans and specific routes, nearly all of which will probably be off-road. That will secure the separation Members rightly identify as being useful for safety purposes and for getting more people to have confidence in cycling. Some £7 million will go the Cycle Rail Working Group, which is an extremely useful body that will help provide better infrastructure at our railway stations to improve the encouragement of end-to-end journeys and deal with the deficiencies that people have rightly identified at some of our major stations. Match funding for that will add a further £13 million to make £28 million for that package, which was announced just last week. So there is no shortage of funds coming from the Government in terms of the commitment to cycling.
We are also in discussions with Network Rail, which has allocated a further £7 million towards cycle improvements at stations. There will be a transformational arrangement at our railway stations as a consequence of the Cycle Rail Working Group and Network Rail.
The hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton), who is no longer in his place, said that Amsterdam was the place to emulate. Of course, Amsterdam and the Dutch experience is fantastic. I have been to Leiden to see how they do it over there. Frankly, I am very envious of what they have been able to achieve in Holland so far. He did himself a disservice by not referring to the Leeds cycle hub, which is a major achievement that put cycling bang in front of the station there. That is an example of the integrated cycle approach everyone wants to see—not simply somewhere to put a bike, but somewhere to put a bike safely under cover. People also want somewhere to hire a bike and to get a bike repaired when they go off to work. They can then pick the bike up when they come back in the evening. That is the sort of integration we are keen to develop. I hope that more of those hubs will be introduced with the money that Network Rail has allocated—the £7 million.
Let me make it clear that the bikeability funding has been guaranteed for this Parliament. That was a request made by cycling groups when we took office. They said that the most important thing was bikeability, so we said as an Administration that we will guarantee that right through the Parliament—£11 million this year and £11 million next year through to the next election. I hope that that underlines our commitment to bikeability.
I was asked about bikeability for adults. There is a range of training available to suit all requirements, from the complete beginner who wants to boost their confidence to those who want to develop more advanced skills. Some local authorities are providing free or subsidised adult cycle training. I am considering further what we might do, if anything, to deal with the need to ensure that adults who want to have training can access it.
I should also say that, on a personal level, I was asked on day one if I wanted a ministerial car and I said no. However, I do have a ministerial Brompton, which is parked downstairs somewhere in the House of Commons. It is important that those of us who want to cycle do so and indicate that it is not a minor activity for a few people. Cycling is central to how we want to get around individually and as a society. That is a key message I want to get across.
23 Feb 2012 : Column 393WH
I have also formed a cycle stakeholder forum, which was established last year. The cycle groups represented and I agreed that the forum should not be a talking shop. It is about getting things done. There are a series of sub-groups, including a safety sub-group that is meeting on 6 March to take forward a range of proposals. We are very interested in listening to those involved, and that forum provides very useful advice. We want as Ministers to ensure that we understand what the cycling groups and others regard as important.
On safety issues, Members rightly said that more people are cycling. When more people cycle, motorists adjust. Motorists are far more tolerant of cyclists when they are in large numbers and are more common than they are of individual cyclists. The right hon. Member for Exeter and others said that if we get more people cycling, it makes it safer. That is another reason to encourage the development of cycling in our country. We should also encourage councils—as we do—to take forward their plans to improve cycle infrastructure in their areas. We want more people cycling.
It is also worth pointing out—as others have, including the shadow Secretary of State—that it is not a question of the campaign being about an unsafe activity. Cycling is not an unsafe activity. She rightly referred to the fact that the incidence of collisions has decreased. That is a result of a great effort, and we are all pleased with that. If we consider the long-term trend over the past 20 years, cycling is getting safer, with the rate of those killed or seriously injured decreasing by 50% from more than 1,500 per billion miles cycled to between 800 and 900. I very much welcome that downward trend. We obviously want that to continue as a result of the efforts we put in. I know that that is a priority for the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead as well; he has made that very plain.
On the number of deaths, any death is too many and is a tragedy for the families involved. However, we can take some comfort from the fact that the average between 1984-88 was 186 deaths a year. That figure is now down to 111, which is about a 40% decrease. It is 111 too many, but it is going in the right direction in terms of the long-term trend. The casualty rate per billion miles is down 43%. However, we must do more. We must make every effort to ensure that that rate continues to decrease, and we intend to try to do that.
The Times campaign and the eight points it identifies. It is really helpful and positive, and I am delighted that it has been taken up not just by hon. Members of all parties, but other newspapers, too. I hope the campaign will continue, because it is putting cycling centre stage, and that has not been the case for some time. The first point states:
“Lorries entering the city centre should be required by law to fit sensors, audible turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels.”
The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead is leading discussions at European level on improving standards for heavy goods vehicles to help reduce accidents caused by poor visibility, and to look at those precise issues. We want to ensure that any steps agreed achieve the outcome we want—that is the very careful caveat we put on that. For example, if we have sensors on the side of lorries
23 Feb 2012 : Column 394WH
that then detect bus stops, litter bins and everything else, it is possible that drivers will ignore them, and that could make the situation worse. We have to be careful, therefore, that what we do achieves the result we all want, which is to reduce cycle injuries and to ensure that lorry drivers are more aware of cyclists. That is a technical caveat, but we are leading discussions at European level to consider what can be done to achieve the best outcome.
The second point states:
“The 500 most dangerous road junctions must be identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and Trixi mirrors”.
I am happy to say that in the past two weeks I gave authority to all local authorities in England to install Trixi mirrors as and where they deem it appropriate. Previously, that was a London pilot only and local authorities had to come to me with lots of paperwork to ask for permission, which was nonsense. Local authorities are able to make their judgments about their own junctions and where they should apply the mirrors. I encourage local councils to do so. It is not our job in central Government to determine which junctions around the country should be fitted with Trixi mirrors, but it is our job to give a lead to local authorities. We have done that and I strongly encourage local authorities, on the record, to look at their junctions to see what might to done to take that further.
Road safety is a criterion under the local sustainable transport fund. Bids can come in, and have come in, to improve road safety for cyclists at junctions and elsewhere. We will look sympathetically at any such bids in the next round. We have also published guidance on cycling infrastructure through the “Cycle Infrastructure Design” and the “Design Manual for Roads and Bridges” documents to try to give clear guidance to local authorities about how best to incorporate the needs of cyclists into the roads they are designing.
Jack Lopresti: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. My own local authority, South Gloucestershire council, is working very hard to promote cycling, both in my constituency and across the wider Bristol area as part of the West of England partnership, thanks to the funding that has been recently secured through the first phase of bidding for the Government’s local sustainable transport fund. The council has submitted a larger funding bid as part of the next bidding round. I urge the Minister to look favourably on that bid and support local efforts to promote more sustainable means of travel across the sub-region.
Norman Baker: I hear that that bid has come in. I had better not comment on it until I have evaluated it, but the hon. Gentleman has placed his point on the record, which is no doubt what he wanted to do.
The Times campaign asks for:
The third point in
“A national audit of cycling to find out how many people cycle in Britain and how cyclists are killed or injured should be held to underpin effective cycle safety.”
The Department for Transport already maintains a range of data sources on cycling levels and road casualty statistics, and we consider them very seriously. This year we have also commissioned a new question in the Sport England Active People survey to give us more detailed
23 Feb 2012 : Column 395WH
information on cycling at local level. That will be public information and we will be happy to share it with hon. Members.
The fourth point makes the suggestion that
“the Highways Agency should earmark 2 per cent of its budget for next-generation cycle routes”.
I am hesitant about a specific figure, because it seems a little arbitrary. I agree, and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead agrees, that we have to reflect on what the Highways Agency does and where it might do more on the roads for which it is responsible. For example, it has traditionally been the Highways Agency’s approach to put cycle lanes next to improved roads as opportunity costs have been made available, but that has sometimes meant that cycle routes stop in the middle of nowhere. Looking at those sorts of routes first seems to be a sensible first step. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead has indicated that he is undertaking a stocktake of Highways Agency routes to consider what we might do further in that regard.
The fifth point was:
“The training of cyclists and drivers must improve and cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test.”
Apart from the bikeability matters to which I referred, there are six questions in the driving test on vulnerable road users. We are considering how to increase motorists’ awareness of cycling issues. We welcome initiatives such as Exchanging Places, which was mentioned earlier. I welcome the commitments made by the freight industry, including the Freight Transport Association, regarding cycle safety to encourage all drivers of large vehicles to become more cycle aware. I mentioned that I had established a cycle safety sub-committee of the stakeholder forum. It meets next month and deliberately includes motoring organisations. The AA, the Road Haulage Association, the Freight Transport Association will all, I hope, be present at that meeting so that they, not just the cycling groups themselves, are aware of the cycling issues. The driving test has been made more realistic and less predictable. We are considering how to improve training for drivers after they pass their test to help them develop their driving skills and knowledge with regard to cyclists.
The Times campaign was the 20 mph speed limit, which hon. Members have suggested should become the default speed limit. I hope hon. Members know that I have already taken action on that front—last year, in fact—to make it much easier for local authorities to introduce 20 mph zones and a 20 mph limit by reducing the bureaucracy, removing the requirement to submit a whole load of paperwork and allowing them, for example, to have roundels painted on the road in place of repeater signs, therefore reducing the cost of such 20 mph limits. We have done that already. Some local authorities, such as Portsmouth, have done a great deal of work on 20 mph limits and I congratulate them on that. I encourage other local councils to follow suit.
The sixth issue in
Point 7 states:
“Businesses should be invited to sponsor cycleways and cycling super-highways, mirroring the Barclays-backed bicycle hire scheme in London.”
What can I say, except that I agree? We will send the message out from the Department for Transport to encourage that action to be fulfilled.
The eighth point states:
“Every city…should appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms.”
23 Feb 2012 : Column 396WH
I happen to think that that is a good idea, especially for large urban areas. Ultimately, it is a matter for local authorities to take forward, not for us to dictate to them. I would certainly endorse and welcome any such action by local authorities.
The Times and the signatures—I was told there were 25,000, but now it is up to 30,000—which it has managed to accrue.
I hope that hon. Members will see that we are doing, and have done, quite a lot already. Of course, more needs to be done and I welcome the excellent campaign from
The right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) asked what the requirements were on roadworks to look out cyclists on roadworks sites. I am advised that the code of practice contains advice on signing, lighting and guarding road and street works, including provision for cyclists, and that utility companies must comply with it. This is in the process of being revised, with a note on the need to take account of cyclists in particular.
An issue was raised about Ministers working together across Departments. I assure hon. Members that that does happen. For example, I have met one Health Minister to talk about the benefits of cycling for health purposes, and how we can work together on that. I have also met a Minister at the Department for Education about encouraging children to get to school by bike. That sort of co-operation does, I am happy to say, already exist. I have no doubt that we could do more, but we are working to try to ensure that that works across Government as far as possible.
May I just say that starting a speech:
“Thirty years ago, I fell in love on a tandem”—
is probably the best opening line I have heard for quite some time? I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on her 50th birthday. The issue of safer manhole covers is serious for cyclists and motorcyclists. We are looking at that, not least because they are subject to metal theft—it is on the agenda. I have referred to the separation of routes for cycles and vehicles. The money we are giving to Sustrans will, I hope, go some way towards dealing with that. On guidance to councillors with regard to road design, that is covered in the guidance notes, “Cycle Infrastructure Design”, which cover local roads and providing appropriate measures for cyclists. Much of that guidance on traffic management measures also includes guidance on cyclists. I hope that they cover that issue, but we are happy to look at it again.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr Leech), who has long been a champion of road safety in the House, advised me to speak to the Leader of the House, who is interested in cycling, to advance my hon. Friend’s 10-minute rule Bill. I will pass on the message. That is probably as far as I can go in promising—[Interruption.] The Leader of the House is here and has heard that remark.
I have tried my best to get through as many points as possible. If I have missed any point, it is not for lack of trying. I will write a letter to any hon. Member who has raised a specific point and place a copy in the Library.
Dr Huppert: Thank you for chairing the second half of this debate, Mr Bayley. The attendance at this excellent debate shows how much we all care about cycling. More
23 Feb 2012 : Column 397WH
than 75 Members have attended, including three Ministers: the Leader of the House, the Minister, who has responsibility for cycling, and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who has responsibility for road safety and whom I am delighted to see at this important event.
I am delighted by the largely consensual nature of the debate. If all debates in the House of Commons were like this, we might make more progress on a number of issues. This shows that the Government have a clear mandate to act now and act strongly. I hope that the Minister for Cycling wins the fights that he will have to have with the Treasury and all sorts of people to make much further progress on all these issues, which all hon. Members care about so much.
I encourage hon. Members to join the all-party cycling group, if they are not already a member, and have more such events. I invite all hon. Members to our annual reception and the launch of the “Summer of cycling” on 14 March, which will be a huge event for the year,
23 Feb 2012 : Column 398WH
and to our parliamentary bike ride on 13 June. Special celebrities may yet join us at both those events.
This is an immediate issue, but we need to keep it going for the future. It is not just about them and us: it is about making roads and cities that work for everyone. Safety is important. We should also remember all the great benefits of cycling: it is cheap, healthy, efficient, sustainable and fun. We must remember the sheer joy of cycling.
The Times for all its work in leading this campaign. We can make a difference. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
Cycling must become a normal activity that people can engage in from eight to 80, and beyond both those ages. I thank all hon. Members who have attended and those in the Public Gallery and others out there who have been following the debate. Many congratulations to
Question put and agreed to.