[Hugh Bayley in the Chair]
Hugh Bayley (York Central, Labour)
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 Dr Huppert.
Andrew Smith (Oxford East, Labour)
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
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, Liberal Democrat)
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 Dr Huppert said. I am pleased to have heard from my hon. Friend 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.
I welcome 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
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.
I hope that the Minister will respond specifically to 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.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat)
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 (Carshalton and Wallington, Liberal Democrat)
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.
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 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.
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View, Labour)
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—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.
Ben Bradshaw (Exeter, Labour)
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 (Plymouth, Moor View, Labour)
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, Labour)
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.
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View, Labour)
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 Tom Brake.
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View, Labour)
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 Mr Bradshaw and 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.
As we have heard, 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.
Hugh Bayley (York Central, Labour)
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.
Hugh Bayley (York Central, Labour)
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, Conservative)
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 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
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, Conservative)
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 (Stroud, Conservative)
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, Conservative)
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 (Stroud, Conservative)
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.
Robin Walker (Worcester, Conservative)
My hon. Friend has been extremely generous in taking interventions. He is talking about the importance of planning. Does he
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 (Stroud, Conservative)
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.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour)
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.
First, I thank 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.
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. [Laughter.] It is okay if people are not reading too carefully what they are supposed to be writing about.
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,
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, Labour)
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 (Islington North, Labour)
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
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, Conservative)
The hon. Gentleman has taken the words right out of my mouth.
I congratulate Dr Huppert on securing the debate. It is a pleasure to work on the all-party parliamentary group with him and 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.
I pay tribute to 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.
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.
In my constituency of Winchester, which likes to challenge Cambridge as cycle city—[ 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.
I mentioned earlier in my intervention the infamous junction 9 above the M3 and national cycle route 23 and
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.
I wish 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, Labour)
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 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
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.
Hackney now has a cycle officer on the council, which is really important. The Times campaign, which I fully endorse, calls for a cycling commissioner, and we have that in an embryonic form.
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, Conservative)
I congratulate Dr Huppert on securing this debate and on his excellent introduction.
“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.”
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 The Times. The untimely death of Nicholas Wright is, of course, reminiscent of the dreadful accident that befell Mary Bowers of The Times.
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
. 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 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 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 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, Labour)
I am not quite sure how to follow that last point by 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
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 (Hackney South and Shoreditch, Labour)
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 (Lewisham East, Labour)
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, Labour)
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
they can just come out of their houses, get on their bikes and cycle somewhere safely, we will have far more cyclists.
Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East, Labour)
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 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, Liberal Democrat)
I congratulate my hon. Friend 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.
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.
I strongly support point 6 of 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.
Jane Ellison (Battersea, Conservative)
I congratulate 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.
John Leech (Manchester, Withington, Liberal Democrat)
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.
Jane Ellison (Battersea, Conservative)
I am sure the Minister heard that plea. I echo the words of my hon. Friend 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.
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 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.
Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood, Labour)
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.
To the immense credit of 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.
This is campaigning journalism at its best and, despite the progress made, I know that all those involved at 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.
It is entirely appropriate that the all-party group on cycling secured the debate. I congratulate 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 Ian Austin—on their work, some of which we have heard about today.
Something that has had an impact on me and our thinking on the issue comes from the moving piece by Times journalist Kaya Burgess, who has been a driving force behind the campaign. Writing about his friend, he said:
“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.
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 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 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
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 The Times’scampaign.
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.”—[Hansard, 2 December 2010; Vol. 519, c. 948.]
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.
Norman Baker (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Regional and Local Transport), Transport; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)
I congratulate my hon. Friend 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 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.
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 T he Times campaign
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 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.
Norman Baker (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Regional and Local Transport), Transport; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)
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.
Ben Bradshaw (Exeter, Labour)
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 (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Regional and Local Transport), Transport; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
I welcome 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
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 (Filton and Bradley Stoke, Conservative)
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.
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 third point in The Times campaign asks for:
“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
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 sixth issue in 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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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 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 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.
Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)
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
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, 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
and to our parliamentary bike ride on
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.
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 The Times for all its work in leading this campaign. We can make a difference. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
Question put and agreed to