Orders of the Day — Transport Bill
Mr John Horam (Gateshead West)
As is made clear in the transport policy White Paper, the Government wish to encourage local authorities to provide better facilities for cyclists. Paragraph 128 specifically stated that more cycle stands in town centres and at or near public transport terminals would help.
The hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr Forman) moved a new clause in Committee on behalf of and certainly with the support of the all-party cycling group, that formidable new lobby, the existence of which we are all aware. It has been remarkably effective in its brief life, perhaps not in getting hon. Members actually to cycle but in getting the cycling interests across to the wider public as well as the House of Commons.
That clause aimed at enabling local authorities to provide cycle racks within the boundaries of the highway. There was, however, some doubt as to the ability of local authorities to do that. As the hon. Member for Carshalton said, it should be possible for cycle racks to be provided on the pavement in front of stores, for example. He pointed out that local authorities could plant trees and erect bus shelters and even parking meters in those places, and that therefore it was appropriate that they should be able to erect cycle racks so that people could conveniently park their bicycles.
After a discussion the hon. Member withdrew his proposal on the understanding that the Government were sympathetic to the principle and would seek to introduce a revised clause on report. The new clause fulfils our obligation and makes the powers of local authorities in this respect unequivocally clear. I am happy to move the motion for those reasons.
Mr Nigel Forman (Sutton Carshalton)
I am glad to be able to say on behalf of the Opposition that we welcome the clause and the positive spirit in which the Government have responded to arguments put by myself and my hon. Friends at other times and on other occasions. We very much hope that there will be strong and explicit commitments in the Department's technical note to the effect that cycling is a means of transport which has the Government's strong support. I hope also that there will be a clear statement of policy by way of preface to that technical note, and not just a little bit of arid technical advice to local authorities. It is most important that the Government's position should be made clear in that document.
I wish to put a few queries to the Minister. Do the detailed implications of the clause mean that the Minister will seek to avoid couching this technical note in waffly terms when dealing with the specific references that have to be made? We hope that it will include plenty of back-up information and advice for local authorities.
There is some evidence—and we have heard information to this effect—that local authorities are in some doubt about exactly what would be the preferred methods of putting up racks of this kind. It would be helpful if the Minister could include in that note a comment, and say something to the House today, about the kinds of stand and rack that the Department has in mind. In what densities does the Minister foresee these racks being erected? At what sort of locations will they appear, because clearly it would not be satisfactory if a local authority decided to put the racks in a place that was not necessarily convenient to the bulk of cyclists or was not related to the other modes of transport? That is the sort of detailed guidance we believe should be included in the note.
I have a few other queries that I raised in Committee and to which I should like to return. The first concerns road humps—sometimes known as "sleeping policemen". We felt that in Committee the Minister failed to produce a serious response to our arguments. He said that there was only one set of sleeping policemen, and that they were at Lytham St. Annes. However, it is precisely because of the 12 months' time limit on the emplacement of these sleeping policemen that only one set is left in the country. The Minister said that he was awaiting the final report of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory before taking final action. Is it not true, however, that the TRRL has a continuing programme of research in this and other areas? Will there ever be the final report to which the Minister referred? I suspect that that will be just an excuse for delay.
The question of cycle tracks was dealt with at some length in Committee. We hope that in the technical note there will be a clear statement about these tracks and their desirability. If not, there is the danger that local authorities will be left in doubt about what they are supposed to do in law in order to establish that they have removed the footways, which is the technical word, and have constructed cycle tracks in their place. There will be the need for clarity about what such terms mean in law and about how much local authorities will be expected to do in order to satisfy what might be called the legal niceties of the situation. For example, would the painting of a white line be enough to establish the transformation from a footway to a cycle path, or would the construction in concrete or stone of some form of kerb separation between the areas reserved for cyclists and pedestrians be entailed?
In these various ways we very much hope that this will be only the beginning of a positive and continuing response from the Government towards these various measures to improve the safety and health of cyclists.
Having briefly pedalled my way to power and influence on the Front Bench, I now intend to freewheel back again.
Sir George Young (Ealing Acton)
As chairman of the all-party Friends of Cycling Group I welcome New Clause No. 1 and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman), who moved a similar new clause in Committee which persuaded the Government to move in this sensible new direction.
I welcome the clause for two reasons. First, it puts the word "bicycle" into the Bill. That was an unfortunate omission. Bicycles were mentioned extensively in the Green and White Papers, but they did not get into the Bill. By accepting New Clause No. 1 we shall give a much truer impression of the concern of Parliament about this form of transport.
Second, the new clause underlines how cheap and easy it is to meet the wishes of cyclists. Unlike the other clauses in the Bill which involve the spending of money, all that the provisions on cycling require are powers which will enable the local authority to provide racks. This underlines how relatively cheap it is to meet the needs of cyclists, compared with all other groups.
On behalf of the cycling fraternity in the House and outside it, I welcome this first move. However I warn the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary that we shall be back for more and that we regard the clause as just a first step in the right direction, a step towards providing greater recognition of the needs of cyclists.
Mr Andrew Bennett (Stockport North)
From the Labour Benches I, too, should like very much to welcome the new clause, and particularly the newfound interest that there seems to be in the Department of Transport in the problems of the cyclist. I particularly welcome the fact that it now has its own special department on the subject. I wonder whether the official in charge could work his way round on a bicycle to all the Government Departments in the Greater London area in the next month or two to check up on how easy it is for someone on a bicycle to visit any of them.
I am surprised by the amount of difficulty and confusion that one creates if one arrives on a bicycle to see a Minister on a deputation or goes into a Department to collect information. It would be very useful if the Government could make sure that all their offices have bicycle rack provision outside in a suitable place where people can safely lock up bicycles, before the Government start to press local authorities to make sure that the same applies outside all public buildings.
I very much welcome the clause, and very much hope that we shall see some forceful action from the Department in the next few months.
Mr Nigel Spearing (Newham South)
The hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) referred to so-called sleeping policemen. They are indeed a hazard to cyclists. Even when cyclists are moving at a speed that is reasonable for a car, sleeping policemen can be a great danger to them and could dismount them. I hope that my hon. Friend will follow the matter up and make provision to ensure that where sleeping policemen are provided there will be the appropriate slot on their kerb side to allow cyclists through without their having to negotiate the hazards.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) mentioned Government Departments. Outside the Department of the Environment I constantly count about 50 bicycles of employees of the Department who leave their cycles in the racks provided. I hope that the gentleman inside the Department who seeks advice on the subject, and seeks to bring about co-ordination, can most readily obtain consumer advice from those who now cycle to the Department.
Mr John Horam (Gateshead West)
I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) will be back for more. His views on the subject are strong, and he has always made it plain that he wants to have a strong cycling representation. I congratulate him and his friends on getting into the Bill something which was not there before. I have no doubt that he will carry on and probably be successful.
The Department is very anxious that cycling should be properly promoted. We recognise that while the clause provides a legal right for local authorities to do something it needs the active support of local authorities throughout the country and appropriate financial provision both by local authorities and Government. If that is not forthcoming, we shall all have talked and legislated in vain.
The hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) suggested that the technical note that we are about to put out might be waffly and in general terms. I readily admit that Government circulars are occasionally waffly and in general terms, but my right hon. Friend and I will endeavour to make sure that this one is succinct, clear, specific and detailed.
We shall give detailed guidance on stands, densities and locations, as the hon. Gentleman envisaged. He rightly said that one can do nonsensical and rather expensive things which do not help cyclists a great deal—they have complained about this—whereas some very simple things, such as occasionally drawing a white line, can be all that is necessary without great expense.
The hon. Gentleman also asked me, rather curiously in the context of a debate on cycling, about sleeping policemen. That was because one of his original new clauses was connected with the subject of sleeping policemen and it happened to be dealt with at the same time. We are awaiting the proper report from the TRRL on this matter. But I am well aware that there is strong public support for the wider implementation of these devices. I have no doubt that there is a strong feeling that they serve a useful purpose.
On the question of cycle tracks and the clarity of the legislation, I again give the commitment that I gave in Committee, that we shall make perfectly plain what is the law on this matter. It is within the powers of local authorities simply to draw a white line on a footway and turn at least part of it into a cycle track. We shall spell out all these details in an appropriate way in the technical note.
Mr John Horam (Gateshead West)
I fear that we may be getting some dissension from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), but I do not think that I shall draw him into the debate, because I know that he is strongly in support of this broad principle.
Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
I support these principles, as one who owns a Raleigh with five gears. I do not need one of those bicycles that have been given free to Members of Parliament. I think that that is reprehensible. Nobody else gets one. I do not know why Members of Parliament should have free bikes.
I am intrigued about the business of having a white line down a footpath, with cyclists on one side. I can visualise myself travelling at 35 mph—when I am at my best—and a poor old lady walking down the other side of the white line.
It seems to me that we need to look back a bit. Before the war, when we had other job creation schemes in hand not far from Clay Cross, the Government of the day—they were not of the present type, though I suppose that they were not all that much different—put forward a scheme for a cycle track between Clay Cross and Chesterfield, which stood on its own.
If we are to launch out, I, as one who is not afraid to talk about public expenditure and mopping up some of the unemployed, am happy about advancing the case for proper cycle tracks at the side of the pavement, or somewhat removed from it, with none of this white line nonsense.
Mr John Horam (Gateshead West)
I take it that Clay Cross will be building large, expensive kerbs between cycle tracks and pedestrian facilities when it gets round to this, as no doubt it will. Everything happens in Clay Cross. No doubt the council will notice this new legislation and be eager to implement it at the first opportunity, so that the hon. Member for Acton and my hon. Friend can use the cycle track at Clay Cross when it comes into being.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) raised the question of facilities at Government Departments. He has a very interesting point. It had not occurred to me, and I shall reflect upon it. I have noticed that there are many cyclists at the Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment—perhaps that is appropriate—and that they use the cycle racks provided. We can look at the matter in the context of the note to be circulated shortly on general provision for the cyclist, which is the next step in the Government's unfolding policy on this matter.