Orders of the Day — Cycle Tracks Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:43 pm on 27th April 1984.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 12:43 pm, 27th April 1984

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.