An hour or so ago I started commenting on the proposed amendments to clause 3. In my innocence, being new here, as a matter of courtesy I gave way to various hon. Members who sought to question me. It was only when my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), in his usual inimitable style, had been making what I understood to be an intervention, his comments having lasted for perhaps eight minutes, that I realised that something was amiss.
Perhaps I should explain that my political experience prior to 9 June 1983 was in the realms of local government, where it is simple enough to pick up an agenda of proceedings and then, even as one of the most simple members in local government — and there are many simple members in local government — comprehend what is happening, including the process and priority of business.
If I had not been so indulgent in allowing hon. Members to make interventions, which I found subsequently were not interventions but contributions to a debate, but had instead continued with my points on the various parts of the amendment, it may be that the points made in quite a few of the interventions and speeches that followed the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North — I am grateful to all hon. Members who contributed—would have been elucidated without the confusion caused not only to the House and the Strangers Gallery but me.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North strayed so far and wide that he lost me on one or two occasions. He is an active member of the all-party cycling group of the House. On Second Reading and in Committee my hon. Friend gave me his whole-hearted support, and I am grateful to him for his contributions. I trust that, if I have not answered all his points, he will be as indulgent with me as I was with him.
Unfortunately for my hon. Friend, my back is turned towards him. If that were not so, he would be aware that my comments were made with a smile not with a grimace.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) asked why it is necessary for the local authority to require the landowner to give written consent rather than the landowner having to lodge an objection. Several other hon. Members made that point during the past hour and a half. Having listened to all the contributions on that point, I am still of the firm opinion that hon. Members do not take full heed of those querying the amendment. The emphasis of the Bill is to improve the safety of cyclists, including the safety of pedestrians when they are involved with cyclists. Those who assisted me in drafting the Bill never intended that a cycle track would be designated to go through agricultural land.
There may be cases in rural areas when a local authority designates a footpath as a cycle track when the footpath links a village with its local school. It is beyond comprehension to envisage any local authority, acting within the realms of sanity, to designate cycle tracks in the middle of nowhere, going from nowhere to nowhere, through farm land. Having listened carefully to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North and others, I cannot accept that they have considered this aspect as a serious matter. It is legitimate and proper, if a local authority is minded to create a cycle track through a field of wheat, corn or other crop, for the onus to be on the local authority to seek out and obtain the consent of all those with a legal interest in the land. The onus to object should not be on the shoulders of those who have a legal interest in the matter.
I am sorry to make my argument so forcefully. As I and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Transport, have pointed out, there will be an opportunity in another place to consider this point again if it is thought to be worthy of further consideration. I cannot accept that the amendment is other than a proper measure that should be made to cover a loophole that was unwittingly allowed to creep in during drafting and should never have been in the legislation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) made my points in a different manner, and I am grateful to him. He appreciated that the provision of recreational facilities is not within the purport of the Bill. Those facilities may come about, but I emphasise that the aim of the Bill is to reduce the number of accidents. Last year 300 people were killed in road accidents, almost entirely in urban areas; 5,000 people were seriously injured in cycling accidents; a further 30,000 accidents were reported involving cyclists, and an estimated 30,000 unreported accidents involving cyclists occurred. More than 70 per cent. of the 6,000 people killed or seriously injured were persons under 15. I cited those figures on Second Reading, and I emphasise again that the purport of the Bill is to provide safety, not recreational facilities.
I appreciate the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood). I remind him that there will be an opportunity in another place to consider this matter. I hope that hon. Members will not misunderstand the Bill's intentions and seek to take matters further.
I shall pick up the threads of my speech at 10.24 am, when I was in the process of defining agricultural land. I was pursuing the points made in section 109 of the Agriculture Act 1947, which refers to land which, in the opinion of the Minister, should be used for agriculture. The section excludes,
land used as pleasure grounds, private gardens or allotment gardens
and in certain places,
land kept or preserved mainly or exclusively for the purposes of sport or recreation".
The section states:
'agriculture' includes horticulture, fruit growing, seed growing, dairy fanning and livestock breeding and keeping, the use of land as grazing land, meadow land, osier land"—
hon. Members may ask me what is meant by osier land—
market gardens and nursery grounds, and the use of land for woodlands where that use is ancillary to the farming of land for other agricultural purposes".
Agriculture does not include forestry. A legal interest in land is defined so as not to include those with an interest in land which takes effect as an interest less than the tenancy from year to year. Legal interest would not, therefore, cover those with grazing or mowing licences for a specified period of the year, nor would it cover those with agreements for use of land for an interest less than year to year or those with licences to occupy land, which agreement or licence has been approved by the Minister under section 2 of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948.
I consider that the amendments give adequate protection when a footpath crosses agricultural land. I do not consider that we need to extend the protection to land that is used for forestry or to rural land that is not used for agricultural purposes. The rights to object to a conversion order that are enshrined in clause 3 will give adequate protection when it is proposed to convert footpaths across such land.
Amendments made: No. 4, in page 3, line 2, at end insert—
'(1B) An order made under this section by a local highway authority—
No. 6, in page 3, leave out lines 9 to 14 and insert—
No. 7, in line 16, leave out from 'may' to end of line 22 and insert
'in particular make provision—
and subsections (2) to (5) of section 250 of the Local Government Act 1972 (giving of evidence at, and defraying of costs, local inquiries) shall apply in relation to any local inquiry held in pursuance of paragraph (a) above as they apply in relation to a local inquiry which a Minister causes to be held under subsection (1) of that section.'.—[Mr. Franks.]
I said in Committee that I intended to raise this issue on Report and therefore it appears in the amendments that we are now to discuss. Amendment No. 8 is small in content but important in context. I am saying, in effect, that objectors who have a right to ask for a review should be able to exercise that right in the most convenient and economic way. Currently, all such reviews within our judicial system are heard by the Divisional Court of the High Court. They take place in London and they are both expensive and time-consuming. It seems that there is no reason why such reviews cannot take place in the Crown courts in the same way as reviews of the decisions of justices in licensing applications.
Those of us who considered the Bill in Committee were told that we were enlightened by the Minister's response. We were told that Crown court and county court judges would not have the necessary experience to deal with reviews and that to direct them to those courts would be to introduce a slower judicial process, which would lead to costs being enhanced. I left the Committee with those solemn words ringing in my ears. I did not know whether to laugh or to cry.
Anyone who is a practitioner in law—I declare an interest as a practising solicitor of some years' standing, who has taken many cases to the Divisional Court on issues far more complicated than one would find in an objection to a cycle track order — will, similarly, not know whether to laugh or to cry at the Minister's response. There is no validity in the argument that has been advanced. In making an application to the Divisional Court, we are not entering a realm of great mystique. We are not entering a realm of such complicated law that it must, of necessity, be dealt with before that court.
Those who would appear in the Crown court or county court would be the same persons as now appear in the High Court. The same counsel would be briefed. The venue of the Crown court or the county court might well he rather more convenient to the objector and the parties involved, including the local authority and the citizen. It is perhaps out of little things that great revolutions grow. We can set a precedent in the Bill that will enable similar matters to be dealt with in the Crown courts. Incidentally, High Court judges who normally sit in the High Court sit also in the Crown courts. Those who opposed my argument in Committee either did not know that or were not told of it by the Minister. Perhaps they did not realise that we were talking about the same judges.
The judges who sit in the Crown courts or the county courts have all come through the same legal process of education as those who sit in the High Court. There is no great mystique and there is no extra degree of learning required in adjudicating whether an objector has a cause. In that sense the Crown court can serve as exactly the same appellate court as the High Court. There seems to be no substance or force in the objection to this simple and simplifying amendment to our legal procedures. If the amendment is agreed to, it will save costs and time. It will make review more readily available and accessible to the man in the street.
As a northern Member, I have an even greater fundamental objection to the arguments that have been advanced against me in Committee and elsewhere. It seems to have been forgotten that the north-west has the palatine courts of the Duchy of Lancaster, which are chancery courts in their own rights. Therefore, we have all the expertise north of Watford to deal with these issues in their entirety. Contrary to popular belief areas north of Watford are well versed in legal matters. Lawyers north of Watford well understand the system and know how to operate within it. That is true whether we happen to be mere practitioners at the Bar or at the bench.
There seems to be some thought in the corridors of power that the judiciary north of Watford would not be able to cope. I remind those who take that view that many judges of the High Court practised north of Watford, were trained north of Watford and bring their expertise, so ably gathered north of Watford, to educate, enlighten and assist those who live south of Watford.
There is no validity in the objections that have been raised to the simple and small alteration that I propose. Perhaps this is an example of great oak trees developing from small acorns. We have an increasingly bureaucratic and automated society and it would be a good thing to set in motion the concept that judicial matters and administrative problems can be dealt with in tribunals other than the Divisional Court of the High Court. Let us state in this Bill, which we all welcome, that the reviews can be dealt with by the Crown courts that exist in every major town and city throughout the country. If we take that course, we shall be able to follow the precedent when we consider the next little Bill which contains appellate measures, including judicial review. Many more administrative problems could be dealt with at a local level and time and money could be saved. We could perhaps provide the people with a simpler, quicker, easier and cheaper way of, on occasions, challenging the bureaucracy of our system in the courts.
I do not know why the Government, the Attorney's Office or the Lord Chancellor's Office continue to object to my simple amendment. However, I say in open challenge to the Government that there is no mystique in the processes of review and that the Crown courts are capable of dealing with them cheaply, quickly and efficiently.
I wonder whether I could make a few general comments on the points made by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) who has given great assistance with the Bill on Second Reading, in Committee and this morning. I should declare that I, too, have an interest, indirectly, as a solicitor. I have considerable sympathy with the points made by the hon. Member. Those of us who were present on Second Reading will recall that, almost without exception, those who took part in the debate, and there were many, made the same point.
Those who served in Committee and those who may have taken the opportunity to read the Committee's proceedings will be aware that the same point was made in Committee and that there was almost unanimous agreement on it. My prime interest is that the Bill should pass through its Report stage and receive a Third Reading. The point made by the hon. Member, while perfectly fair and legitimate, is subsidiary to the Bill's main purpose. The hon. Member will accept that that is the case.
I have sought and listened to the contrary points of view. I am not convinced that they have any validity. I say this as someone who has spent 25 years as a member of the legal profession. The prime duty of the House is to protect the rights of the individual who feels aggrieved and to give him the quickest, easiest, most effective and cheapest means of seeking redress. I do not believe that anyone would challenge the fact that, in general terms, that would mean the county court as the modus as opposed to the convoluted procedures of the High Court, which are at times in the esoteric realms of another world. I do not want to see the main emphasis of the Bill—the safety of cyclists—in some way jeopardised by the hon. Member forcing the amendment to a vote. I said in connection with the discussions on agricultural land that when the Bill leaves the House that is not the end of the story. The Bill goes to another place where, in a different atmosphere, the points made legitimately by the hon. Member — I emphasise that half a dozen times—can be considered and, perhaps, the appropriate amendments made.
I ask the hon. Member, in the interests of the Bill's main purport — the safety of cyclists — to consider withdrawing the amendment, albeit that I and, I suspect, many others have the greatest sympathy with what he is seeking to achieve.
I have listened with great care to the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks), and I confess to being somewhat puzzled by his speech. I had no difficulty with the earlier part of it. I do not know whether he will eventually reach the dizzy heights of the Government Front Bench—if that is his ambition, good luck to him—but he has the jargon off already.
The hon. Member started by saying that he had considerable sympathy with, in my view, the excellent amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). It is the type of phraseology that those of us who spend a great deal of time in the Minister's company will be aware is used frequently by her. Such a phrase normally prefaces a refusal to accept the amendment with which one has considerable sympathy. Sure enough, that was the burden and thrust of the conclusions of the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness.
I must again—gently, as is my wont—chide the hon. Member about the procedures of the House and the other place. The purpose of this stage of the Bill is to put right some of the matters that hon. Members on both sides of the House feel were not put right at previous stages. To say that the safety of cyclists would be jeopardised if my hon. Friend put his excellent amendment to a vote is not just exaggeration but, unless the hon. Member has information that I do not possess, untrue. There would be little point in a Report stage if the promoter declined to accept any amendments, no matter how necessary they might be, because parliamentary procedures dictated that when the Bill had completed its passage through this House it went along the Corridor to another place. For once the hon. Member was on thin ice.
I am sure that the hon. Member will not take it amiss if I remind him of a comment that he made in Committee about my hon. Friend the Minister of State:
When the Minister says that she is sympathetic to an amendment it normally means that she does not intend to accept it."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 11 April 1984; c. 12.]
That may be the hon. Member's opinion. Unlike him, I am extremely new to the House, and I may be extremely naive, but when I say that I am sympathetic, I mean that I am sympathetic, nothing more and nothing less, and with no ulterior motives.
Yes, it is standard jargon. I am afraid that all too often Opposition spokesmen slip into the formalised, standard jargon in the way that I have this morning.
I accept that what the hon. Member says is true and that he has considerable sympathy with the amendment. He should not fall out with his hon. Friend the Minister of State but he should tell her that the amendment is eminently sensible and that he, as the promoter of the Bill, is prepared to accept it.
When we debated this matter in Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South and other members of the Committee made four valid points in support of the amendment.
Although many of us have sympathy with the argument put forward by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), is not the important question whether the Bill is the correct vehicle by which to seek to change the way in which decisions of the Executive are challenged? I think it is not. It is a fair argument that perhaps the matter should be allowed to be challenged in the county courts and Crown courts, but that is surely for wider debate in relation to many other issues and should not be tagged on to the Cycle Tracks Bill. Would the hon. Gentleman direct his comments to that point?
Now I am in even more difficulty, because, of course, the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) is a solicitor. The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness described himself as an out-of-work conveyancer, so I presume that he is also a solicitor. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South is a distinguished practitioner at the Bar. [Interruption.] I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. He is a solicitor. I thought that he was a barrister. I hesitate to reply directly to the point just made by the hon. Member for Derby, North. If we are to have a wide-ranging debate about the proper place in which to challenge the decisions of the Executive, I can assure the House that here is one ex-railwayman who will not be too anxious to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you happen to be in the Chair.
I suggest that the four reasons that I mentioned in Committee are as valid now as they were then. Perhaps they are now even more valid, in the light of the comments of the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness. As I remember those points, the first related to the time factor. If it is necessary to take something to the High Court, obviously a considerable period will elapse between the grievance arising and its resolution in the High Court. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South and I made the point that, for the ordinary person—the man in the street, the objector to the making of any order under the Bill—the ordeal of appearing in the High Court is much greater than the ordeal of appearing in a lower court.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South made a valid point in Committee concerning local knowledge of the matters in question. Again, I risk the contempt of active members of the legal profession when I talk of the necessity for local knowledge before such decisions are arrived at. They, presumably, are on a higher plane when they talk of the interpretation of the law. The hon. Member for Derby, North spoke of challenging the powers of the Executive. I should have thought that, in an area such as this, where we are concerned with the making or otherwise of orders relating to cycle tracks, such matters would be better dealt with in a lower court, where there would be some local knowledge of the area, the people and the problems involved.
There is also the not unimportant question of cost. I have a limited knowledge of the legal profession I have the privilege of rubbing shoulders with members of the profession in this House, but apart from that I usually give members of the legal profession a very wide berth. The exchange of letters or even an unwise if casual word with a member of the legal profession is all too often followed by a substantial bill, and within seven days a threatening letter which one knows, as one opens the envelope with a sinking heart, will add even greater cost to the original bill. My hon. Friend's proposal that these matters should be dealt with elsewhere than in the High Court seems to me — particularly in regard to cost — to be unchallengeable.
I am sure that the Minister of State will tell us that there has been long and detailed consultation with the legal luminaries in the Government, but that, alas, although she is sympathetic towards the principle, it has not proved possible to accept the amendment. Such an explanation—if I might prejudge it in that way—might be good enough for her hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness, and I mean no disrespect to him in saying that. In addition to being responsible for promoting this excellent Bill, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman looks forward to his own future career. I am sure that his rise will be swift and meteoric. Nevertheless, I urge him, even if he prejudices that future meteoric rise to power, to be convinced on this occasion of the excellent argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South, and to reflect on the fact that occasionally a little defiance of one's own party's Front Bench does one's long-term promotion prospects no harm.
I enter the fray with a little trepidation, although there are probably few things more gently pleasurable than this sort of Friday debate; one could be cycling instead of simply talking about it on a day such as this. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) may not know that, although I cannot claim the 25 years' experience of the legal profession of the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks), I shall soon be clocking up 10 years' experience, although the past year has been without active participation in the profession. At least, the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East will not be getting any bills from me. That must be one consolation for him, although he may do things that will bring him bills from other quarters.
The constitution of our country and laws of historic importance are often shaken to their foundations by little things. Most hon. Members will recall that one of the most famous cases of all time—and one of the most famous principles of all time—arose as a result of an errant snail at the botton of an ordinary ginger beer bottle. People in the real world may well be surprised to find this little measure detaining us on a matter of constitutional importance, but there could be a proposal by a little district or county council—or a London borough—to convert a footpath into a cycle track. There might then be an objection to regulations proposed by the Secretary of State. If that needs to be challenged elsewhere than in the High Court, it may be an enormous question to which the Attorney-General and the other Law Officers of the Crown and their officials will say, with the weight of the law behind them, "No, this is not possible."
That is the first occasion on which the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) has asked my advice on a matter of politics and law at the same time. I will happily talk to him about the snail over lunch.
We all have great respect for the Minister of State but it is surprising to find what she said in her contribution in Committee at column 11 in reference to the question of fees, raised by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). She was talking about the costs which arise when people go to court and had referred to the difference between going to the High Court and going to a county court. I do not accept, by the way, that people who cycle round Hyde Park corner have any fear about going to the High Court. I am sure that they are fully capable of dealing with all the disciplines and authority of the High Court or the Queen's Bench Division. The hon. Lady said—
Some of us might be terrified at having to find our way to Carters Green so that we could cycle round it.
The Minister said that county court judges do not have the appropriate experience at present, and that she suspected that it would take them a long time to amass it. I would hate to think that the poor county court judges up and down the land might regard it as beyond them to cope legislatively and judicially with objections challenging the Secretary of State's regulations.
The merits of the argument are on the side of the hon. Member for St. Helens, South, who says that on a matter of relatively local and minor importance it is appropriate to go to a local court, with a judge who knows the local area and who can quickly acquire the expertise to deal with the matter. The cost would be less, the procedure simpler and there would be fewer legislative problems. I understand that that would breach a constitutional principle. I understand that when one is challenging a decision of the Executive, a counterweight of equal strength and authority is normally required—the High Court. However, I hope that as a result of this Bill we shall be able to make that breach now, in the interests of common sense.
I relish this unusual interest in my opening remarks. I do not want to keep the House in suspense. No doubt hon. Members want to hear what the Minister has to say about the case as well.
Occasionally I am told off for overstaying my welcome and speaking longer than Liberal party Members are supposed to speak. I must point out that I extend my remarks only at the instigation of hon. Members who are fascinated by the subject. The hon. Gentleman's lunch ought to be dependent on the outcome next week of a certain by-election in which his wife is standing. If his wife wins, the hon. Gentleman will be able to afford to buy me lunch. We can postpone lunch until then.
Donoghue v Stevenson was a case concerning an occasion when a snail fell into a ginger beer bottle. The duty to one's neighbour was established as referring back to those who were responsible for filling the bottle, because they could have foreseen that one day someone might drink the ginger beer and be harmfully affected because it tasted of snail and worse things besides. The manufacturers had a duty not to be negligent. I shall not go into all the legal implications for all the solicitors around me who might encourage me to go through the head note and all the pages of the leading judgment, incidentally given by someone who went to the same school as me, and who was one of the few really eminent persons that the school produced, although I might be shot by the school for saying that. That person was Lord Atkin.
The relevance of the point is this. We want to be able to challenge the Executive in the county court, which is appropriate. Today the Minister may be constrained just to be sympathetic, but I hope that she will nudge the Attorney-General and others, saying that it does not matter if it is a little point which forces a change in a major constitutional principle, and now is always better than tomorrow. This is an appropriate time to do so. I hope that the Minister will accept today the argument in favour of doing it soon. If she cannot, I hope that once the Bill has passed through the House of Commons and the other place we shall be able to change the legislation and ultimately make the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South, to make sure that if someone wants to change a footpath into a cycle track and it is suggested that it is not being done in the right way the objection can be made down the road at the nearest court. Thus, one would not have to wait for the case to come before one, two or three judges in the High Court, with procedure hardly suitable for a relatively minor change in the provisions for cyclists. Simple procedures are in the interests of all cyclists, and they would support them. I hope that as a Parliament we shall be able to come down on the side of common sense before long.
On Second Reading I described myself as a cycle-friendly Minister. I repeat that now because my concern, which I think is the concern of every hon. Member who has spoken on the amendments, is that we get the Cycle Tracks Bill into action.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) for the further opportunity to discuss this matter, because it has allowed me not only to look at what he and other hon. Members said in Committee, but to consider the implications of other changes that we have already made and are in the process of making on Report. I shall return to that matter.
The hon. Gentleman's amendments refer to the
Crown court or county court.
Those words are to replace "High Court". I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know that there is not a choice between the Crown court or the county court and the High Court, but there is a choice between only the county court and the High Court. That is because the Crown court deals with criminal matters. We are not talking about a challenge to the Executive concerning criminal matters, so it would be inappropriate to insert "Crown court" in place of "High Court".
On a purely technical note, the hon. Gentleman's amendments are defective. I say to him in all genuineness that I know what he is trying to achieve and I am not being personally critical. All that I am saying is that I advise the House of the status of the amendments, which is not quite right.
Does the Minister agree that the Crown court deals not just with criminal cases? It is also the appellate court on, for example, some aspects of matrimonial matters, affiliation cases and so on, and also in respect of certain licensing matters. Perhaps the Minister will concede that those who instruct her have forgotten the broader use of the Crown court since the Beeching report in 1968, which set up that new division as a division of the High Court system.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. I hope that I said that the Crown court deals largely with criminal matters. If I left out the word "largely", I apologise. I am aware that matrimonial matters go to a Crown court on certain occasions, as do other matters, but a purely civil matter, such as challenge to the Executive, with which the amendments are concerned, would not be appropriate in the circumstances in which Crown courts are used.
The position has been much changed by amendments passed by the Committee and a few still under consideration today. Amendments Nos. 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7, which we have passed, have amended the Bill in respect of a majority of the challenges that relate to the provision of cycle tracks. All hon. Members were happy to accept them. I am sure that they are also happy with amendments Nos. 10, 11 and 12. Those who object to the highway authority's proposals to create shared-use facilities will have the chance to raise their objections at a local public inquiry before an inspector, after which a decision is made by the Secretary of State. There is now the possibility, which seems acceptable to all, for proper challenge about cycle tracks to be clearly set down in public inquiry fashion.
The legal challenge under the amendments is not just an extension of the appeal procedure put into the Bill today. That is why the situation is different from that on which I spoke in Committee. Unwithdrawn objections to conversion orders being made by the local highway authority will thus be thoroughly considered, so that is not the burden of the argument.
Legal challenge to the decision of the Secretary of State to confirm an order with or without modifications will rest not merely on the local issues, but on whether the Secretary of State followed the required procedures in making his decision or whether he so misdirected himself as to contravene the rules of natural justice — for example, by failing to consider relevant evidence, or in some other way. That is the matter on which we have been concentrating for some time.
If a challenge is against the local highway authority's confirmation of an unopposed order, it is likely to involve questions whether the making of the order was properly advertised, the consent of all those with a legal interest in agricultural land was obtained, and so on.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) said that he was concerned to protect the individual, and I fully share that concern. That is why he consulted me and the Department about his amendment No. 2 and the consequential amendments to provide that protection for the individual.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) put his finger on the main issue in relation to amendments Nos. 8 and 9 when he fairly made the point that challenges to the decisions of the Executive go far wider than the Cycle Tracks Bill. I appreciate that there is a move for change in the way in which such challenges are dealt with in the courts, but a major legal change of that kind requires a proper legal vehicle to carry it through in consideration of the law as a whole rather than in an amendment to a Bill of this kind. I appreciate that the hon. Member for St. Helens, South is anxious to nibble away at the corner of the question so as to get a foothold in changing something far larger.
I apologise for the mixed metaphor, but I am sure that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) well understands the point. The hon. Gentleman, as an ex-railwayman, would no doubt resist the idea of altering the gauge of one small stretch of track while leaving the rest on standard gauge. In terms of the standard gauge track for the law as a whole, I am anxious that the House should not decide to alter one small section today as a move towards changing the whole.
Staying with the railway metaphor, as this is a comparatively uncontroversial and perhaps even relatively unimportant part of the law, perhaps we could regard the Bill as the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch line of the law and leave the rest on the standard 4 ft 8½ in.
Whether we talk in feet or metres about the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch line or the main line from Euston to the west midlands, the hon. Gentleman well understands my point. As I attempted to explain in pseudo-railway language, it is established practice that challenges to the decisions of the Executive are made in the High Court. The House may decide to change that at some stage, but any proposal to do so raises fundamental issues about the way in which challenges to the validity of decisions of the Executive are considered. As my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North said, this Bill cannot be a suitable vehicle for such a change. Quite apart from our discussions in Committee, when the Bill was in a different state, I believe that to misuse the Bill in that way would be a retrograde step. We may argue about fees and costs for the appellant—and views and experiences of the county courts differ around the country — but it would not be right to use this Bill to start to change the procedure for challenges to the Executive.
We have all said that we want the Bill to work and we want objectors to have the right of appeal through the public inquiry system. That is now being included in the Bill. We have all accepted that we wish to keep costs down and to ensure that the procedure works properly. I believe that that can be achieved through the Bill in its present form without the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South. We have examined the hon. Gentleman's suggestion carefully since the Committee stage, and I recognise that this may be something of a Stevenson's snail, but I do not believe that the Bill should be used as the hon. Gentleman suggests. I must therefore advise the House that, in terms of propriety and respect for the law, the change that the hon. Gentleman seeks and with which some of my hon. Friends have expressed sympathy should not be dealt with in the Bill, and I urge the House to reject the amendment.
I have listened carefully to the comments on the principle that I sought gently to put before the House with regard to the venue for the hearing of objections. The point has been well taken and I believe that the argument is overwhelming that such challenges should lie in courts other than the High Court. I accept that this Bill may not be the correct vehicle to set about what is not a very revolutionary change, being merely the realisation that in the 20th century the Strand is not necessarily the fount of all knowledge and that knowledge exists throughout the country. Accordingly, I shall shortly make it clear that the Government Chief Whip can breathe easily and that there is no need for the panic that has been going on for the past half hour.
Perhaps Cicero was right when he said that nothing should be considered impossible before it comes to pass. I certainly take that view. Perhaps the marker that I and others have put down in relation to this Bill will serve as a pointer for the future to the effect that we do not accept that the fount of all wisdom for challenging the Executive is to be found solely in the Strand and that we intend to press the point on future occasions. In that way we hope to bring justice—the basis of our judicial system—to the people, where they live and in a way that they understand and, with luck, at a price that they can afford. That being so, I do not propose to press my amendment to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
We have necessarily been considering parts of the Bill in some detail. It is now appropriate to stand back and consider it again as a whole.
The Bill proposes a range of measures intended to assist in the provision and protection of cycle tracks. In doing so, it seeks to implement the proposals for legislative change contained in the cycling policy statement of January 1982. The Bill includes proposals for the exclusion of mopeds from cycle tracks and for making it an offence to drive or park a motor vehicle on a cycle track. Defences are specified. The Bill proposes a new simplified procedure for converting paths to cycle tracks, and provides for contested conversions to be considered by the Secretary of State. It allows the highway authorities to provide and maintain barriers on any cycling track which is maintained at the public expense and to undertake whatever work they think necessary in the interests of safety to separate those using the cycle track from those using an adjacent maintainable footpath or footway, and to alter or remove barriers or works. The Bill proposes to give a right to recover compensation for damage consequent upon the undertaking of work to give effect to a footpath order or the erection of barriers or works, and to give a right to compensation for any reduction of value of an interest in land arising as a consequence of the coming into operation of a footpath conversion order. Disputes are to be referred to the Lands Tribunal. It is proposed that the provisions of the Bill should extend to Crown land.
Finally, I thank those hon. Members who have taken part in the debates on the Bill during its progress through the House. I trust that the Bill will increase the safety of cyclists and their enjoyment without damaging the legitimate concerns of others. I also thank my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Transport and, through her, her officials, who have been guiding and helping me in presenting the Bill and bringing it to its present stage. I am extremely grateful both to the Minister and her officials.
I trust that the House will join me in wishing my hon. Friend many happy returns. It is her birthday this weekend. I ask hon. Members to join me in presenting her, as a birthday present, with the Third Reading of the Bill, which I know is very dear to her heart.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) on an excellent Bill which has the support of many hon. Members, including myself. Debates on the Bill have ranged over many subjects, one of which I wish to return to now. I am concerned about the construction of the cycles that are to use the cycle tracks created under the Bill. On Second Reading, during a speech by the Minister, I intervened to refer to the construction and nature of the lights on cycles.
Even on cycle tracks, where cycles can pass to and fro in relative freedom from the problems created by motor vehicles and mopeds, problems can arise from the way in which lights are made. When I was younger, our bicycle lamps were run on dynamos. The Minister told us on Second Reading that the problem was that people began to steal the dynamos and that therefore cyclists had returned to the battery-driven lamp to illuminate both front and rear. Regrettably, the lamps on bicycles which vary in design and number, range from the impossible to see to the impossible to find. The safety of cyclists must be of paramount importance to us, and the Bill will do much to increase it. However, we must also consider the construction of the bicycle lamp and the amount of light that it provides in terms of candle power.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) has referred to the type and luminosity of clothing. That is equally important, and it is a subject that we should perhaps consider now, when we are sending the Bill to another place. We should encourage local authorities to think about the question of cycling in urban and rural areas. Perhaps the creation of cycle tracks will encourage more people to use the bicycle for both pleasure and relaxation and in order to get from A to B. The use of bicycles is greatly in the interests of society from an energy point of view. With perhaps enhanced use of bicycles it is important to consider the safety of cyclists. I am not so blind as to be deluded into thinking that if we create cycle paths there will not be areas of road where motorised traffic and bicycles mix.
I welcome the Bill and hope that local authorities will use its provisions. I also hope that the Government will encourage them to use it. I hope that the Government will live up to the promises given by the Minister on Second Reading. I hope that local authorities will consider how the Bill can be used to enhance the safety of cyclists and the quality of life in their areas by creating cycle tracks which have the advantages mentioned by many hon. Members.
I return to where I started, on Second Reading. I hope that the Minister will encourage her colleagues to provide even greater sums of money for the education and training of young cyclists through the admirable scheme run by ROSPA. Such encouragement should form part of an overall package that will make cycling safer, more enjoyable and more available to the people.
It was George Bernard Shaw, himself a notable cyclist, who said that following the advent of the motor car all cyclists fell into two categories—the quick and the dead. The Bill is designed to help alleviate the dangers of mixing different forms of transport. I welcome it, not least because I was delayed on my way to the House this morning by an accident between a powered two-wheel vehicle and a pedestrian at a point on the Embankment where there is limited pedestrian space and inadequate segregation. That accident illustrates clearly the problems associated with mixing different forms of transport without proper rules and regulations to guide them.
I can no longer declare an interest in the Bill as my bicycle was stolen a couple of years ago and has still not been returned. However, I understand that there are about 15 million people in Britain who have an interest in the Bill as they own bicycles. An important minority of people in my constituency have an interest in cycling and the provision of cycle tracks. They cycle despite the fact that St. Albans is rather more hilly than some neighbouring constituencies, as anyone who has passed by and seen the
abbey on the top of our magnificent hill will know. Cycling in my constituency is also impeded simply by the lack of cycle tracks, despite the efforts of their local proponents. Such lack is beginning to be made good as a result of their efforts. I pay special tribute to the work of Dr. Hook who ran the St. Albans cycle survey and first drew my attention to the Bill and its importance. He described the Bill as
an overdue and wholesome piece of legislation, fully in accordance with the thinking of the Department of Transport and welcomed by cyclists and local authorities alike.
I endorse that view. I should also like to pay tribute to Mr. Peter Wares who, under Friends of the Earth, has assumed responsibility for cyclists' interests and has campaigned for the provision of cycle tracks in the area.
Such tracks are slowly coming into being. This summer, there will be a track between Harpenden and St. Albans, but one of the problems to be resolved is that it starts on one side of the road in Harpenden and on the other side of the road in St. Albans. Perhaps there will be a meeting point in the middle. Another track along a railway route is also to be established. I imagine that the provision of cycle tracks would have been easier if the Bill had been on the statute book when those tracks were advocated by supporters of the use of bicycles in my constituency.
My enthusiasm for cycling, which caused me to acquire the bicycle which I lost, was ignited when I was in Washington several years ago. I wanted to see the city and told the people I was with that I intended to hire a car. They told me that that was impossible as Washington's one-way system leads motorists immediately into Virginia and that there was no way in which anyone other than a local inhabitant could get round Washington by car. I immediately thought that I would hire a bicycle. I telephoned the front desk of the plush hotel where I was staying—at other people's expense—and asked whether they could provide me with a bicycle. My request was greeted with incredulity and the remark, "I think you want the limousine department." None the less, I found a bicycle and discovered that Washington is the perfect city to see by bicycle. It is flat and it happens, for historic reasons, to have tracks all through it. Would that we had similar facilities in our cities and towns. I hope that the Bill will make those facilities more readily available.
When the Bill is passed, my hon. Friend the Minister will have responsibility for laying down rules and regulations, especially for consultation. I hope that she will ensure that the fullest consultation is required of all affected groups when it is proposed to change a footpath into a cycle track or to make it suitable for cyclists. I hope that she will also ensure that the blind and representatives of the blind and partially sighted are informed of such proposals, because they could be potential losers if some schemes are carried out. Since normal advertising in newspapers may not reach the blind, I hope that local authorities will think imaginatively about how to contact representatives of the blind. In St. Albans, and probably in many other constituencies, there is a talking newspaper that could be used to inform people of such proposals.
It is also important to inform cycling and rambling groups. In my constituency that is not always properly done, although the highways authority has officers responsible for considering cyclists' interests.
Another group that should be consulted when such changes are proposedd is parent-teacher associations, because the majority of bicycles are used by children going to school. Parents have a special interest in ensuring that the proposed changes are safe. That is increasingly important as schools close because of falling rolls and children must travel further to reach school. In my constituency, cycle tracks might have to be provided from Wheathampstead, if the school there is closed, to other schools.
Another matter that has been pressed upon me by local advocates of cycle tracks is that when tracks are established—I hope that more will be established as a direct result of the Bill — it is vital to show their whereabouts by signposting and to link them with existing routes. In neighbouring constituencies, cycle tracks are not always signposted. One example is a track under an extremely dangerous roundabout of which many cyclists are unaware, with the result that they ride round the roundabout. I hope that provision will be made for, and that priority will be given to, signposting as well as the establishment of tracks.
In any transport development, we already require that the interests of cyclists be considered. That often means that they are considered but then ignored. I hope that some idea will be given of the percentage of money to be spent in any comprehensive transport development on the provision of facilities for cyclists. It may be a small percentage, but at least people would start off with the assumption that some money had to be spent on the cycling population and that they would have to argue for not spending it rather than for spending it. Those are some of the points which will become increasingly important as a direct result of the Bill if it becomes an Act.
I hope that the Minister and the advocates of the Bill will consider two or three minor points which occurred to me as the Bill has been debated. First, is any legislation necessary to encourage the conversion of old disused rail routes into footpaths and cycle tracks? That is a parallel facility which could be provided and which may need similar legislatiion. Secondly, where bridle paths need to be integrated with cycle and pedestrian footways, what legislation will be required? Thirdly, I made a serious point about shooting rights over agricultural land, although some might think that I did so frivolously. To what extent are shooting rights incorporated in the ownership of agricultural land, the owners of which have to be notified and have to give assent? Clearly, one does not want the owners of such shooting rights to be unaware that cyclists as well as pedestrians may in future be travelling across the land where they have those rights.
The Bill empowers the erection of barriers and segregation within tracks between pedestrians and cyclists. I hope that the interests of the blind will be taken into account, particularly by alerting local authorities to the fact that, wherever possible, such divisions should be by a change of level between the cycle track and the pedestrian footway. That would make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to see without any barriers getting in the way of handlebars. It would also be much easier for blind people to identify and feel secure with than would be the case with painted lines or other visual markings between the cycle track and the pathway. I hope that any recommendations for the implementation of the Bill will be prominent in the Minister's advice to local authorities.
The House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) for introducing the Bill and steering it through the House. It is also indebted to the Minister for accepting and welcoming the Bill on behalf of the Government and to all those hon. Members who have taken an active interest in it at earlier stages. It will be welcomed widely, not only in my constituency by cyclists but by all those who will benefit from the sensible segregation of cyclists and pedestrians from motorised traffic. I welcome it and I hope that it will receive the support of the House and pass on to another place.
Earlier this morning we were proceeding at a snail's pace. We are now going rapidly down hill successfully to the end of our proceedings.
I wondered what the brakes would be when the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) said that the Minister would celebrate a birthday this weekend and that he was going to make a presentation to her. Earlier we were contemplating making the constitutional fabric of our society tumble by challenging the Executive in the county court. This time I thought that we were about to sing "Happy Birthday" in the Chamber of the House of Commons. That would certainly be without precedent, although it would also seem to be an equally good and pleasant idea. However, that was not to be and all that the hon. Gentleman was offering the Minister was the speedy passage of the Bill, which the Minister has so helpfully supported, to another place.
The Bill will make cycling safer and easier and thereby make transport by bicycle, particularly for short journeys, something that can more often occur because it will be done with confidence by people on bicycles to the advantage of the entire population. The more people who cycle, the fewer pollution, congestion and parking problems there are and generally the more pleasant life becomes, primarily in urban but also in rural areas of the country.
At this late stage in the debate, I wish to add two points to what the House has so far heard. One key result of this small step forward, which is a necessary and useful step, will be a reduction in the number of accidents caused to people on bicycles and to people on motorised two-wheel vehicles. The figures are quite surprising. The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness will probably be aware of the figures that were given when evidence was presented to the Select Committee by the Minister and the Secretary of State. For every 100 million vehicle kms the death rate for car drivers is 0·7 and for the seriously injured the rate is 9. For motor cyclists, the figures are 13·2 deaths and 283 seriously injured. For cyclists the figure is 5·6 deaths, and 114·5 seriously injured. The Secretary of State said:
I think that those figures illustrate that the problem may well be more with motor cyclists and cyclists, and pedestrians for that matter, than it actually is with motor car drivers, bus drivers or goods vehicles. Certainly the change in recent years has been that the motor car, lorry and bus casualties are improving whereas the pedestrian and cycling casualties are nothing to be very pleased about.
It is tragic that old people particularly and others who believe they are going about their business in the safest possible way—on their feet or in a vehicle that does not have the dangers of a motor in front of it—often find themselves being injured. As the Secretary of State and the
Minister said, one of the problems even then is that many accidents are not reported. Thus, the figures underestimate considerably the number of accidents that occur.
Liberal Members welcome the Bill. I feel confident, as I think do all hon. Members who have participated in the debate, that one result will be a reduction in the number of accidents, many of which can debilitate people and reduce their mobility for life, which are occasioned at present by cycle users, pedestrians and motorised transport users taking the same routes and getting in each other's way. It is my belief that it should also result in an increased use of the bicycle throughout the country.
The figures are interesting. The Cyclists Touring Club tells us that cycling in Great Britain in terms of distances cycled — nobody will do the multiplication, but it is presented in this way and thus comparisons can be made—has fallen from 1952, when it was at its peak, the figure being 23 times 109 kms, when cycling accounted for approximately 25 per cent. of all distances travelled, to a low of 3·4 times 109 kms in 1974. Since 1974, the national figure has risen considerably, particularly for local journeys, and notably so in London. It is encouraging that in this city, part of which I represent, where one would imagine cycling to be the least acceptable form of transport because of the hazards and the heavy traffic, there has been a cycle use increase of about 20 per cent. per year in the past four or five years. Cycling now makes up approximately 4 per cent. of all trips. The interesting additional statistic that is thrown in is that cycles comprise 25 per cent. of all vehicle flows at some major junctions. I did not realise that they were that thick on the ground, but that is the trend. The Bill will assist in that trend to the general advantage of everybody.
When, early this morning, I discovered that I did not have any cornflakes, I set out to cross the Old Kent road hoping that a shop on the opposite side would sell me some, but it was too early even for the shops there to be open—evidence of my exceptional diligence in rising early on Friday mornings. It took me a considerable time to cross the road. Whenever I thought that it was safe to cross, because there were no cars or lorries, a motor bike or bicycle would shoot past. Particularly in urban areas they can be the hidden danger, especially when large vehicles are not on the roads.
The Bill will, hopefully, get some of that traffic into places where it can be anticipated. In other words, it will take this form of traffic off the roads, allowing cycle tracks to be safer for those who ride and footpaths and roads to be safer for pedestrians and drivers of vehicles generally. For cyclists, there will not be the potholes and other hazards which now exist on the roads.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness on getting a Bill so far in his first Session as a Member. His Bill is greatly welcomed by the Liberal party, as it is by all parties and by a large number of present cyclists and those who, as a result of it, will become cyclists. It is to the advantage of all.
I join hon. Members in all parts of the House in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) and in welcoming the Bill. In the time that we have known my hon. Friend, we have grown to realise that he is a most thoughtful man, and this Bill is proof of that characteristic; it is a thoughtful and useful piece of legislation which will be greatly welcomed on the statute book.
Cycling as a recreation and useful means of transport has been growing apace in recent years, and it has been supported in a populist way by some eminent politicians. For example, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), is a notable cyclist who has appeared in advertisements encouraging people to cycle. He is regularly seen pedalling hard through the streets of London and, no doubt, further afield, too. I was pleased, the day following a certain transport strike, to see the Minister of State, Department of Transport, pictured on the back page of The Times on her bicycle. She, too, used that means of transport to reach her office.
My hon. Friend is a person of such attraction that notice was bound to be taken of her cycling exploits, and her picture brightened up my copy of The Times that day.
I applaud the popularity of cycling because it increases fitness and is a convenient form of transport. We now see on our streets all sizes of cyclists and riders. We have come a long way from the days of the penny farthing and the boneshaker. Today—this is certainly the case in my home—there is much talk of cycling as people make comparisons between Boxers, Burners and BMXs, and advertisements in the newspapers tell of a whole range of racing, folding and other bicycles. There is no doubt, therefore, that this area requires serious consideration by Parliament.
I join with the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) in stressing the safety aspect. I welcome the amount of attention that is being paid to more visible clothing for cyclists, such as luminous belts, and I welcome the wearing of crash helmets by cyclists who ride on some of the more busy roads in the capital. Because safety must play a key part in our consideration of cycling, the Bill will contribute greatly to safety. There is no doubt that, if we are to move with the growth in cycling, we must co-ordinate provisions for cyclists to ride safely.
I welcome the Government's consultative paper and the cycling policy statement of 1982. I believe that I am right to say that the Bill reflects many of the points made by cycling, safety and other organisations in response to those Government initiatives. I hope that the Bill will progress through the House and the other place.
The Bill's approach is right in stating that the control of and initiatives on cycling tracks should be as local as possible. I do not believe that we need great regional initiatives by the metropolitan councils. The GLC has, in another piece of scaremongering, been telling cyclists that when the GLC is abolished cycling in London will suffer. I do not subscribe to that idea. I believe that authorities such as mine in the royal borough of Kingston upon Thames will do all they can to use the Bill's provisions to encourage safe, effective cycling in their areas. I am sure that that will be the case across the country.
I welcome the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness on bringing it to the House.
I join with other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) on bringing the Bill forward and getting it to this stage so successfully. I am sure that the legislation will be widely welcomed. My hon. Friend referred to my constituency in his speech on Second Reading. Stevenage, like other new towns, has good provision of cycle tracks but, nevertheless, that has not provided a full solution to all the problems. Over the years, many accidents have occurred in Stevenage involving crashes between mopeds and pedal cycles. I therefore especially welcome the changes in the legislation in that regard.
I am always worried when my children press me to buy a new bicycle for them. On 2 January 1984 my son acquired a new bicyle, and on 3 January I received a telephone call saying that he had been struck down by a car while riding on his bicycle on a large roundabout in the new town of Bracknell. It is overwhelmingly important to encourage the segregation of different types of transport. This is a matter not just of increased numbers of cars, and so on, travelling faster. During the past 20 to 40 years, the nature of the roads supporting such traffic has changed radically. Typically, new towns contain a multitude of large roundabouts. Although such roundabouts might be ideal for car safety, they are certainly not ideal for cyclists. All too often cyclists have to emerge from the special provision that has been made for them to negotiate roundabouts, when they are at risk. It will be much easier for local authorities to make provision for cyclists when the Bill is enacted, and that is greatly to be welcomed.
It is important that there should be signposting for cycle tracks. Many of us are familiar with the routes that we use when journeying by bus or motor car, but when we embark on a cycle track we do not necessarily know the safe routes that may be available. I hope that local authorities will provide better facilities for cyclists in and around towns and that they will ensure that cyclists can easily see where they should travel if they are to be safe and separated from motor traffic
The need for such a legislative change should always be examined. I suspect that we legislate too much but in this instance I think that there is a great need to place this measure on the statute book. I believe that there will be an increasing use of bicycles over the coming years. This will happen because of two major factors. First, the cost of fuel will gradually encourage more and more use of bicycles for journeys to work that are relatively short and, we hope, straightforward once the provisions set out in the Bill are implemented. Secondly, there will be increasing encouragement for people to use bicycles for their own personal health and fitness. It is so much better to get some exercise on a bicycle rather than travelling a short distance to work by public transport, providing that one is not likely to be struck down in the process.
The Bill will enable much better and safer provision to be made more easily by local authorities and I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness on piloting the Bill to this stage.
Cycling is not a new phenomenon; nor is organised cycling. Cycling has been with us for well over 100 years and it has developed from being something of a novelty—we have all seen illustrations of early bicycles such as boneshakers and penny farthings—into an inexpensive, healthy and interesting pastime. Cycling declined after the second world war but in recent years there has been a considerable increase in its popularity. It is therefore appropriate that we consider the provision that is made for cyclists.
About 1 million cycles were sold per annum in 1980 and the latest available figures tell us that nearer 2 million cycles are now being sold each year. There has been a remarkable increase in cycling activity in recent times. I accept that cycling is perhaps somewhat too energetic for many hon. Members on both sides of the House but it has undoubted attractions; it is quiet and cheap and does not damage the environment. It provides valuable access to the countryside for many who would otherwise not have the resources to reach it.
Cycling has drawbacks and it is right that we should examine some of them. The most serious drawback is the element of danger that undoubtedly accompanies it. It is right that steps are taken. I believe that the Bill will, perhaps only modestly, improve cyclists' safety.
I understand that cycle usage is growing at about 15 per cent. a year, but the important point is that the accident rate is growing much faster. Cyclists are five or six times more likely to be involved in accidents than other road users. That is a disturbing statistic. In addition, because cyclists are not protected and do not have the safety of a seat belt or a body shell, when they are involved in accidents they suffer worse injuries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) said, about 300 cyclists are killed every year. Just as alarming, more than 20,000 people are injured each year, one third of them children. Those figures are unacceptable and I am sure that the House will welcome any steps that seek to reduce the dangers faced by cyclists.
There are other benefits, apart from safety considerations, in making provision for cyclists. In congested areas, the pedal cyclist often travels as fast as a motor vehicle but he occupies only one fifteenth of the space. It makes sense therefore to encourage greater use of cycles, and I believe that the Bill goes a long way towards doing that.
The Bill gives local authorities the power to convert footpaths into cycle tracks. I do not object to that. Many local authorities may, after the Bill is enacted, decide to implement their own cycling policy. I hope that, when doing so, they will cast their nets as wide as possible and involve those who are interested in these matters and have studied cyclists' needs — for example, local cycling groups. I happen to represent part of a city that has an active cycling group which has already considered ways in which cycle ways can be brought into use in my part of the country. That is to be welcomed.
When deciding whether a footpath is suitable for use by cyclists, I hope that local authorities will draw upon the expertise and enthusiasm of local cycling groups, and the police, with their knowledge of local potential dangers. I shall be interested to hear whether the Minister envisages local authorities casting their net as wide as possible to take advice from those groups which plainly have something important to contribute.
I welcome the Bill. I believe that it will reduce accidents and encourage new cyclists to take up this healthy outdoor occupation. The Institution of Highways and Transportation, in a recent report, said:
Cyclists' safety should not depend on cycling in the gutter.
It should not. Appropriate provision should be made for cyclists and I believe that the Bill will facilitate that.
I join hon. Members on both sides of the House in congratulating the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) on successfully piloting this legislation to this stage.
Both sides of the House will welcome the fact that this matter, which has received a disgracefully low priority from successive Governments over the years, is at least to be considered. The fact that there is to be some expenditure, no matter how limited, is to be welcomed. I am not sure whether I support the view expressed by one Conservative Member that one of the reasons for the renaissance of cycling—if that is the right term—is that it is supported by various prominent politicians. I cannot help reflecting that there are certain hon. Members on each side of the House—it would be easy to name them but for my own peace of mind and safety I shall not—who, if they thought that they would get their photographs in the newspapers, would be happy to ride out of New Palace Yard on a circus one-wheel bicycle, wearing a red nose and juggling three cans of Heinz beans. If that were to happen, passing pedestrians and tourists would be in great danger of being mowed down. The fact that cycling is being supported by certain prominent politicians — indeed, it was supported by the father of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)—is not necessarily a reason for us to support legislation such as this. There are many better reasons for doing so.
I know that in a Third Reading debate one is supposed to talk only about matters that are in the Bill, but I hope that I shall he allowed to say that, while we obviously support the provisions of the Bill—indeed, some greater support for cyclists and cycling is more than welcome—there are some responsibilities that should properly fall on cyclists, and a minority of cyclists continually ignore them.
I appreciate that cycling in London is all too often a dangerous business. I also appreciate that through the Bill there is some hope of getting the segregation of cyclists from other road users that we all believe to be essential. But that is no excuse for the minority of cyclists to whom I have referred treating traffic signals as if they did not apply to them, cycling through crowds of people on pedestrian crossings as though those people did not exist, and riding at night without lights, to the danger not only of themselves but of other road users. Now that the rights of cyclists are being recognised in this measure I hope that the minority of cyclists who flout the law will become more aware of their duties and obligations.
In congratulating the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness I also congratulate the Minister of State, on whose delicate shoulders these matters all too often fall. I do not know whether she would wish me to join her hon. Friends in congratulating her on her birthday this weekend. It is only when one reaches my great age that such congratulations are not always readily accepted. However, the Opposition are happy to join in congratulating her.
The Bill is a welcome step towards giving proper recognition not only to the recreation of cycling but to the fact that it is an essential form of commuting for many people. One hopes that the Bill will be the forerunner of legislation that will assist cycling and cyclists even more.
You will no doubt, Mr. Deputy Speaker, recall the writings of Sophocles, who considered that
The ideal condition would be, I admit, that men should he right by instinct. But since we are all likely to go astray the reasonable thing is to learn from those who can teach".
Hon. Members have learnt much from the teachings of my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks). It would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to congratulate him on the excellent work that he has undertaken in piloting through the Cycle Tracks Bill. He has received assistance from colleagues in the House and people working with the Minister of State who, equally, should be congratulated on the work that she has done to assist my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend has taken an initiative, the path for which was paved in the Department of Transport consultation paper on cycling in 1981. It is right to emphasise strongly how much importance should be attached to that consultation paper. It was the groundwork from which the Bill emanated. In that paper, questions for consultation were clearly posed. It asked how the Government's advice to local authorities on provisions for cyclists could be improved. It also asked whether a programme of innovatory and experimental projects was the most useful contribution that the Government could make to the development of improved facilities for cyclists. A third question was of great significance in the work done to bring the Bill before the House. It asked what improvements in the facilities for cyclists on trunk roads would be most valuable and how safety could be improved.
The debate has gone yet further. We have considered the vital importance of safety. The fact that there are about 4,000 cycling casualties a year must be prominent in our consideration. Such an accident rate is far too high. The House has a duty to all road users to improve safety wherever possible. However, with regard to cyclists, we must consider the danger from motor cars and lorries. At the same time — this is very important — a matching responsibility should rest with the cyclists.
The failure of some cyclists to observe the highway code appears, in my experience, to be growing. Examples are shooting red lights and more important, on both cycle tracks and roads, failing to cycle with forward and rear lights at night. Hon. Members have alluded to that on a number of occasions, and it should be brought to the attention of all the cycling population that it is vital, in the interests of all cyclists, that we do not allow a minority to continue to flout the highway code, which only damages the interests of cycling as a whole.
In this context, I strongly urge all those concerned with road safety to seek to place further emphasis on cycle safety. Not only schools but the local police have a role to play, the latter with their excellent increased communications, which have come about in my constituency over the past few years. By communication with local groups and people in the constituencies, but primarily through school teachers, we could achieve considerable benefits through education. We should encourage more youngsters to take the national cycle proficiency scheme. I understand that about 300,000 youngsters per annum now participate in the scheme. I should like that figure to be 500,000. It is extremely important that, through education, safety is increased on
our roads. That is behind much of the thinking in the Bill, which I hope will be enacted. The consultation document referred to that matter. Referring to the important area of education, publicity and the highway code, it stated that
Publicity and advice about cycling safety should be directed not only to cyclists themselves but also to drivers since their lack of care or consideration causes many cycling accidents".
It was interesting also to reflect on the initiative taken in the first funded publicity campaign specifically designed to improve cycling safety, which was launched in 1980 in East Anglia. The theme was making other road users more aware of cyclists, especially children. Results suggested an 18 per cent. reduction in casualties during the period of that campaign. It is to be welcomed that that initiative has been taken up as it improves safety for cyclists and other road users, but we need more such campaigns throughout the country.
I regret that more has not been done about safety of design and manufacture, which is crucial to the thinking of my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness and supports what the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) rightly said on an earlier occasion. Cycles today are often built more for speed than for safety and with increased speed comes a commensurate risk of increased danger. It is therefore vital that manufacturers take on the responsibility of ensuring that standards of manufacture are commensurate with the increased speed and the increased danger. I understand that present legal requirements cover only brakes and lights. The British Standards Institution has sought a more comprehensive standard to strengthen requirements for all basic cycle components, but further developments are needed, as design for even greater speed carries the risk of still more accidents.
These questions are central to the consultation proposals behind the Bill and the importance that it gives to the safety of cyclists. The difficulties involved have in many ways been underestimated in the debate. The Cyclists Touring Club document on the Bill states that in the past cycle tracks have been extremely dangerous as well as unsatisfactory in other ways. It states:
There is neither priority nor protection for the cyclist at junctions from other traffic turning across his path or leaving minor roads, work entrances and private drives across the track. The majority of motorists, even if they notice the existence of the tracks, assume that they have priority over cyclists using them. It is usually difficult for a cyclist approaching a junction to ascertain the intentions of following motorists and inconvenient for a cyclist to stop and give way at every junction, no matter how minor, in order to be assured of no conflict. Queues of vehicles waiting to enter the major road from a minor one also invariably block the cycle track.
I have discovered that from my own experience.
Indeed, it is seldom possible to leave a cycle track sufficienty in advance of a junction in order to safely execute a right turn.
The greatest danger to cyclists certainly occurs at major junctions, especially roundabouts, where it is crucial that the highway code be observed. Other examples are bottlenecks such as bridges. Yet at these points cycle tracks often cease to exist. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Lilley) spoke of the difficulty of matching a completed cycle track with a similar stretch on the other side of the road. Cycle tracks may suddenly cease to exist, pitching the cyclist into a maelstrom of traffic at the most dangerous places. The Bill seeks to tackle those problems.
Laybys and service roads often intrude on cycle tracks and there is no clear priority for cyclists at such points. Furthermore, the Cyclists Touring Club states:
Cycle tracks are frequently illegally obstructed and enforcement of parking restrictions has a low priority with the police. Defective vehicles are often moved on to a cycle track in order to clear the main carriageway even by the police themselves.
The maintenance of cycle tracks is given a low priority by local authorities. I hope that the bill will encourage local authorities to become more actively involved in the development of cycle tracks, and that there will be a move to greater local involvement in the development of cycle tracks.
My hon. Friend is a distinguished athlete and clearly knows a great deal about cycling. Does he agree that the planning of cycle tracks is much better dealt with locally than across regional areas?
It is absolutely necessary for local groups—I am thinking not just of the boroughs but of local groups with a particular interest in road safety or the development of cycle tracks in the area — to have a direct say in the development of cycle tracks. I do not of course wish to imply that the national level is not important as well. There have been some first-class reports, including the report about the conversion of disused railways.
I am pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman is a distinguished athlete and a good cyclist. I am waiting to speak on my Private Tenants' Rights Bill but my interest in this Bill is that on the day of action, when there was no transport, I cycled to the House of Commons. The journey was downhill, but it exhaused me. My bicycle is still here. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could take it home to Stepney for me. It would take him only a couple of minutes.
I am delighted to hear that the day of action led to a considerable amount of action on the part of the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he will not wait for further industrial disruption before remounting his bicycle and riding it home. I exhort him to do so regularly. I have no doubt that he felt fitter after bicycling here. Despite the slight incline, he will find after riding home that his fitness has increased still further and with it his ability to speak with eloquence. If one is healthy in body, one is healthy in mind.
We should recognise the good work done by the Cyclists Touring Club. The club assists its members and the millions of people in this country who own their own cycles, and it does a considerable amount of other work, for instance, in connection with detailed consideration of the construction of cycle tracks and with safety. We should congratulate the CTC on its work and encourage it to go on from strength to strength. We should thank the CTC for bringing many points to our attention and helping us to give legal implementation to the measures that it has long been campaigning for, to the benefit of cyclists throughout the land.
The Bill will achieve many of the CTC's aims, including the banning of mopeds from cycle tracks and the banning of parking on cycle tracks, which has concerned many people for a long time. It will now be an offence to drive or park partly or wholly on a cycle track. There will be necessary exceptions for the emergency services— fire, police and ambulances — and for statutory undertakers such as council maintenance vehicles which require access to the track. I hope that that exception will extend to people who need access when there is no reasonable alternative access.
I attach special importance to the easier conversion of footpaths to cycle tracks. A footpath is a pedestrian right of way away from a road and the definition does not include footpaths along the side of roads, as they are legally known as footways. My hon. Friend the Minister rightly drew the House's attention to that point. Footways are covered by separate legislation and there is a comparatively straightforward procedure for converting a footway into a cycle path. The present procedure for converting a footpath into a cycle track, however, is extremely complex. It involves obtaining planning permission under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. Planning permission is also required to stop up a footpath. The most important part of the process is the construction of the cycle track. There is no point in having cycle tracks that are a mass of potholes and inefficiently built, as they might serve only to add to the risks faced by cyclists.
My hon. Friend will recall that we discussed cycle tracks in rural areas earlier. If such a cycle track is to be constructed, does he agree that it is extremely important that it has the full consent of any landowners involved, to secure the best possible track?
That is an extremely important point. It is important that all interested parties be consulted and participate fully in such developments. That point was made in the study of disused railway lines in England and Wales, which noted that many proposed cycle tracks in rural areas would cross private land. It is important that landowners be encouraged to participate in the development of cycle tracks. My hon. Friend's point is central to the debate and I am grateful for his intervention.
I shall ensure that that is the case.
The easy conversion of footpaths to cycle tracks is central to the Bill. That procedure might involve a compulsory purchase order to buy the land and a traffic regulation order to ban motor vehicles from the track. Clause 3 amends the Highways Act 1980 and enables local authorities to convert footpaths into cycle tracks in one step, and without the need to apply for planning permission. That elucidation is important. It appears that the intention is to enable local authorities to convert little-used or wide footpaths in urban and suburban areas more easily. I do not believe that anyone expects that there will be great demand for such powers. There is likely to be only a limited number of conversions at carefully selected locations each year but present legislation is a major deterrent to action. If enacted, the Bill will give the Secretary of State for Transport powers to draw up regulations governing conversion procedure. They will require that conversion orders be advertised and an inquiry held by an independent inspector if any objections are received. There will be the same right of objection under the new procedure, but now objectors will have the opportunity to oppose the conversion as a whole rather than just the intermediate steps.
The Bill gives local authorities the power to convert a cycle track back to a footpath should it be found, following monitoring, that the scheme has not worked well in practice. That central feature of the Bill demands the full support of hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness, and I echo my hope that Virgil was accurate and that my hon. Friend will reflect that
The great cycle of the ages is renewed. Now justice returns, returns the Golden Age; a new generation now descends.
This matter is close to my heart, since I have been a cycle user all my life. I congratulate my hon. Friends on the sensible passage of the Bill so far and I especially congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Barrow and Furness (Mr Franks) and for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) on their valuable contributions throughout our consideration of the Bill.
We must emphasise the fact that cyclists can only expect to obtain the facilities that they adequately and fully use. If they fail to use what Parliament make available, the scheme will fall, for the simple reason that it would be wrong to spend a great deal of ratepayers' and taxpayers' money on the facilities. The maintenance of standards is also expensive, and it would be wrong to spend money on it if the facilities are not used. That applies especially to disused railway lines and other major schemes where no alternative use can be made of the land. Badly maintained cycle tracks can be dangerous. It is the chicken-and-egg story, in that if cycle tracks are not adequately used one cannot expect authorities properly to maintain them. However, if they are not properly maintained, cyclists will avoid using them and will prefer to use more dangerous routes along roads, which they believe to be less immediately hazardous but which could lead to more serious accidents.
We should encourage the use of bicycles because of the points that have already been made about their importance to health, but we must also remember that the weather in Britain is not as suitable for cycling as it is in other countries. Therefore, the use of bicycles here is not as great as it could be. We must be careful when promoting such a Bill to ensure that bicycle users are adequately proficient. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to use her best endeavours to promote the bicycle. I know from her support of this cause how keen she is, and I am sure that I can rely upon her valued support.
I begin what is perhaps the final session on the Bill in the House by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) for all his efforts in bringing it to the House. He will be thanked not only by many obviously cycle-friendly hon. Members but by many groups outside who have given advice and encouragement and constantly kept us both up — the Friends of the Earth, the Cyclists Touring Club and all the other groups which want to see safer cycling, which is what the Bill is all about.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness said that he hoped the Bill would receive its Third Reading this afternoon because it would make a welcome gift for me on my birthday this weekend. I accept that gratefully. If the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) were in his place, I would say to him that I am always happy to accept even his kind remarks, particularly as there are only two and a half months between us. I think that he has forgotten that.
The Bill has received much encouragement and support from two hon. Members who are unable to be with us today—the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), the chairman and secretary of the all-party group, Friends of Cycling. I know that they and the whole group wish it well on its way, as does the Department of Transport. I am grateful to hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness, for their thanks to the officials in my Department who have been concerned with the Bill over a long period and want to see it, as I do, on the statute book so that it is practical in operation for the benefit of safe cycling.
Some measures in the Bill are to be welcomed even more than others, although every part of it is welcome. First, there is the banning of mopeds and of parking and driving of motor vehicles on cycle tracks. That measure will yield benefits in terms of increased safety and convenience not only to cyclists but to pedestrians, but particularly to cyclists because it removes the need for highway authorities to make individual traffic regulation orders. The safety of cyclists using cycle tracks and the users of footpaths or footways adjacent to cycle tracks will also be enhanced by the powers given to highway authorities to erect barriers on any publicly maintainable cycle track and to undertake whatever work they consider necessary, in the interests of safety, to separate cycle tracks from adjacent publicly maintainable footpaths or footways. That is a beneficial measure. I take careful note of what my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) has just said about the maintenance of such cycle tracks and their use, the one being involved thoroughly with the other. If we are to have safer cycling, cyclists must use what is provided safely and regularly.
The Bill simplifies the complex procedures that have existed up till now to convert all or part of a footpath to a cycle track, and that is long overdue. Such conversions play a significant role in carefully selected locations by helping cyclists without endangering or inconveniencing pedestrians.
In simplifying the procedures, the Bill, with the amendments that have been made this morning, strengthens the rights of objectors. I have made it clear at each stage of the Bill that I consider it essential that any contested footpath conversion should be given careful consideration. With the amendments that have been passed by the House this morning, the Bill provides that safeguard, and an additional safeguard where footpaths cross agricultural land, even if some of us consider that that might be improved further in another place.
The compensation provisions in the Bill seek to ensure that those who suffer loss as a consequence of the powers contained in the Bill can claim redress. That is an essential part of any measure such as this. I think that I can fairly say overall that I consider that the Bill as it now stands, following its consideration by the House, strikes the right balance between seeking to improve conditions for cyclists and the need to ensure that the legitimate interests of others are not overlooked.
I wish to say a few words in relation to the Bill about the need for cycle tracks to provide more and safer cycling. Our policies to achieve this end are contained in the cycling policy statement which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) issued in January 1982. That statement presaged the measures that the Bill seeks to implement.
In January 1982, also, a most valuable study of disused railways in England and Wales and the potential for cycle routes was published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, following the study carried out for my Department by John Grimshaw and Associates. Hon. Members who are concerned to see greater cycling track possibilities would do well to read this excellent document because, even if the illustrations contained in it are not for their towns, the ideas that can be applied to other areas are formidable. It is interesting to note, since the publication of the document, how well things have gone in speeding up schemes which may have been in somebody's eye, but never got very far until the pressure came after these documents were published and people got on with the provision of cycle routes.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Lilley) mentioned cycling round Washington DC. A measure of the fact that we have woken up to the need for cycle routes in this country is that, as a Government, we have spent £125,000 on cycle tracks in the last few years. Work has been done in London at Albert gate and Albion gate; in Nottingham, there is the Clifton town centre cycle route; in Hersham, Surrey, there is the improvement at the Barley Mow roundabout; and in Preston, in Hull and in many other cities there have been improvements as a result of the efforts to improve the provision of safe cycling facilities for the cyclist of today. A number of other schemes are agreed for implementation in Chelmsford, Canterbury, London and Liverpool, which will shortly be put into effect. Therefore, I think that we are well and truly on our way, although these are but the tip of the iceberg of safe cycling provision that we would hope to make to reduce the alarming number of cycle accidents that show up regularly in the statistics.
I have to tell the House that, unfortunately, the rate of increase in the number of cycling accidents has kept pace with the rate of increase in the number of cyclists in terms of notified accidents. The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) mentioned this, as did many other hon. Members. In 1982, the last year for which full figures are available, 300 cyclists were killed and 5,700 were seriously injured. Of those, 30 per cent. were children under the age of 15. Those figures are totally unacceptable.
The Cycle Tracks Bill is one way of helping local highway authorities to make provision for cycle tracks which can be used by young people and, indeed, by adults, for safer cycling in urban areas as well as in more rural communities. I hope also that, through our publicity for safer cycling, we will be able to make use of the innovations that are coming forward from local highway authorities as a result of the measures in my hon. Friend's Bill. It would be good in the years ahead to be able directly to relate improvements in accident statistics to the amount of provision. We have been able to observe that improvement in some towns.
Cycle safety is the subject of one of my major publicity campaigns this year, as it has been in some previous years. Although we have not yet finalised the campaign, it will include three elements, all of which hon. Members have mentioned. First, publicity will be aimed at increasing the motorist's awareness of the cyclist as a fellow road user when he must be on the same road.
Secondly, publicity will be aimed at improving the cyclist's behaviour on the road. Hon. Members who were present on Second Reading will recall my remarks about the minority of cyclists who weave in and out of traffic, making life perilous in that motorists are sometimes unable to avoid accidents.
The third aspect of our cycle publicity, and one of the most important, is that aimed at reducing the number of cycle accidents involving children. I hope that we shall run some regional television campaigns, which have proved extremely successful in the past. While we are concerned, because the reductions in the number of accidents after those campaigns have not persisted, such campaigns have been part of the reminder mechanism for far greater care, particularly where cycle tracks have not yet been constructed but which will come about as a result of this legislation.
I have referred briefly to cyclists' behaviour, particularly where cycle tracks do not at present exist. Three aspects appear to need highlighting in that respect. One is the failure by some cyclists to observe the rules of the road and the traffic regulations. They imperil not only themselves but pedestrians, and cause accidents which waste not just lives and limbs but a great deal of money.
Secondly, there is the problem of those who ride with inadequate lights, or none at all, at night. That has been a grave worry. Incidentally, the only reason why the front light of my bicycle was not showing in the photograph of 28 March was that I had removed it. Having had several front lights stolen, I take the precaution of taking mine with me rather than leaving it on the bike when it is parked around town.
The third aspect of cyclists' behaviour of which we must take careful note is that of riding illegally on pavements. I referred to this when we debated an amendment concerning the segregation of shared facilities. I re-emphasise that cycling on pavements is illegal. Cycling on cycle tracks, where designated, is what the Bill is about. That is to be encouraged. But cycling on pavements is dangerous, for obvious reasons.
We have received many complaints—some in areas where there are no cycle tracks, but also in areas where there are cycling facilities—of the misuse of other, non-cycle track areas, particularly by young riders of BMX bikes. I appeal to parents to instil in their youngsters the dangers that they can cause to pedestrians and other cyclists by some of the stunts that they perform on these bikes not on cycle tracks but in totally inappropriate areas.
As for improving cyclists' roadcraft, I commend to hon. Members the new booklet produced by ROSPA on bicycle ownership. I shall not go into the whole question of bicycle maintenance and roadcraft in the way in which some hon. Members have tempted me to do, except to refer to the adoption of the new British standard 6102 for the cycle itself and the British standard for cycle lights, so we are moving in the right direction. We must persuade people to do as the booklet suggests—carry out daily, weekly and monthly, the checks illustrated on its centre pages. The booklet describes what they should lubricate and clean weekly and monthly so that bikes are safe on tracks and roads. My Department will be supporting the ROSPA bicycle owner's handbook in the form of a pamphlet or poster. It will support also efforts to stop illegal riding on pavements. In the coming months my Department will encourage riding on cycle tracks and other safe places.
I reassure those who are naturally and rightly worried about the blind and partially sighted that my Department will shortly be issuing revised advice on shared use. We shall stress that shared use is a safety measure of last resort, when there is no other way to overcome problems that cyclists can face on roads. We have said that all along, because segregation of cyclists and pedestrians is the ideal way to go. It may not be feasible in every case. It may be necessary, in the interests of safe cycling, to get cyclists off the road.
The advice will underline the need to give careful consideration to the problems of the blind and partially sighted. I hope that local highways authorities will consult those groups about shared use. As some hon. Members know, the Transport and Road Research Laboratory is undertaking research to examine the use of tactile warnings to aid the blind and partially sighted using shared facilities. The Department's advice will stress that white line segregation and unsegregated sharing should be used only in a limited range of circumstances. I emphasise that shared use, wherever it occurs, must be monitored in practice. If it is found to be unacceptable as some hon. Members have presaged, it must be removed.
There is increased awareness among local authorities of the need to provide cycle tracks and to improve facilities for cyclists. I am aware that the study commissioned by the Friends of the Earth paints a pessimistic picture of local authority effort to date. I do not share that pessimism, although I would always accept that more can be done to ensure safe cycling. My Department will do all it can in that regard.
It is my policy, clearly understood by my officials, that cyclists' needs must be considered during the preparation of all my Department's trunk road proposals. When a specific provision for cyclists is justified, it can be provided. We shall, however, do nothing to encourage increased use by cyclists of certain heavily trafficked trunk roads in urban areas, because that is asking for trouble for cyclists and other traffic. My officials will always be happy to discuss with local highway authorities alternative parallel cycle routes using low flow roads.
It is not my policy to ban cyclists from trunk roads. We must show a measure of sense about the way in which we use the law, but there may be circumstances in which, for safety reasons, cyclists must be banned from particular locations, and alternative routes should be available.
My Department welcomes the proposals from local authorities for their innovatory schemes to be included in our special research. We are especially interested in solutions to the problems cyclists face at major road junctions, including roundabouts, which hon. Members mentioned many times. We are carrying on with cycle route research in five towns. In conjunction with the cycle tracks, we are backing up cycle training, for which many hon. Members asked, especially for children. About 300,000 children around 10 years of age are already involved annually in ROSPA's national cycle proficiency scheme. I shall ascertain how far we can increase that number towards the 500,000 target, which one of my hon. Friends wished me to set. The lesson for safe cycling is good and early cycling education in the schools through parent-teacher associations, including encouragement to use cycle tracks, which the Bill will encourage in no small measure.
I commend acceptance of the Bill to the House. I wish it well in another place and hope that we shall see more and safer cycling by the greater use of cycle tracks in the years ahead.