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Cycling

Part of Backbench Business — Private Members’ Bills – in the House of Commons at 8:58 pm on 2nd September 2013.

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Photo of Margaret Ritchie Margaret Ritchie Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 8:58 pm, 2nd September 2013

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. I commend Dr Huppert and my hon. Friend Ian Austin for introducing it on behalf of the all-party group on cycling.

I confess that I am not an avid cyclist, but I freely acknowledge the health, social and economic benefits of cycling. In fact, cycling can become not only an economic tool in town centres, but a regeneration tool. It can help to reduce congestion and pollution in town centres. Those factors have already been acknowledged in the report. The health, economic and social benefits of cycling are, as the report highlights, well documented and range from reducing air pollution in our cities to promoting spending in small businesses along commuter cycling routes and improving, through exercise, the general health of our population.

There is a growing attitudinal change among the public, who are ahead of us in many ways in understanding the benefits of cycling and in recognising that this issue must not be framed as a debate of cyclist versus the car driver. This attitudinal change is sadly yet to happen within Government. The Department for Transport’s response to the report demonstrates that when it states:

“Cycle spending that makes a tangible contribution to other Government departments, such as Health, Education, Sport and Business, should be funded from those budgets, not just the DfT.”

While that statement is undoubtedly true, by presenting it as a bold opening statement it is clear that the Department is perhaps trying to pass the buck. Perhaps the Minister, in his closing remarks, will assuage my fears and prove that that is not the case.

If we are to make gains in preventive health for our population and make cycling safer, it is imperative that the Government’s attitude changes and a pro-cycling, cross-departmental approach is developed. I used to be a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, where one of my colleagues is currently bringing forward a private Members’ Bill to introduce more 20 mph speed limits. I am conscious of what Jane Ellison and my right hon. Friend Mr Bradshaw said—that they are successful only if they can be enforced—but there is no doubt that people want to see them happen, particularly in housing estates.

The money committed by the Government to cycling projects was dedicated to the financing of specific worthwhile projects. Reference has been made in the debate to the fact that there needs to be a more equitable spread of that money, so that the benefits of cycling can be seen. Only a few weeks ago, as part of the world police and fire games, my constituency hosted mountain bike trials that require considerable skill and involve a high level of risk, but they have much investment in training.

Hopefully, this debate will highlight the issue of cycling and encourage the Government.