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Cycling

Part of Backbench Business — Private Members’ Bills – in the House of Commons at 9:21 pm on 2nd September 2013.

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Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East 9:21 pm, 2nd September 2013

Some of my constituents who urged me to take part in the debate may have been surprised when I wrote back to say that, although I would put in for it, I could not guarantee that I would be able to speak, or able to speak for long. I think that, in general, the British public underestimate the extent and seriousness of the House’s interest in cycling. Debates on the subject have been greatly over-subscribed, at least during the time for which I have been a Member of Parliament, and I think that that is a huge step forward.

It is a pity that a debate which has been so well supported will not receive much publicity. It will not, I suspect, feature on the front pages of many newspapers, despite our best endeavours. That is probably because it is too consensual. The British public, or perhaps the media, are sometimes a bit odd in that respect. We are always being urged to be more consensual, but when we are more consensual, we tend to be ignored, and what we say is not considered very important. I hope that at least some attention will be paid to this debate, because—as was pointed out by the hon. Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and for Gloucester (Richard Graham)—it is important for us to mention not just the problems but the fun and enjoyment of cycling.

It is also important for people to realise that Members of Parliament are human beings who “get” cycling. Mark Pawsey said that we might not look like MPs if we turned up sweating from cycling, but MPs are people as well. When I was first a councillor and cycled around my ward all the time, my constituents initially thought that I was a touch eccentric, but as they got to know me, they realised that that was actually a very sensible thing to do. Cycling gets us to where we want to be very quickly and efficiently, especially in cities. Sadly, in rural areas cycle use is falling rather than rising, and that is clearly an issue that we should think about.

When I was a young trainee solicitor, I was asked to deliver an offer. Housing offers had to be delivered by a deadline of noon, and this was before the days of fax and e-mail: they had to be delivered physically. When my boss said that the offer must be delivered by 12 o’clock, I said “I will just go and get my bike”, but he threw me the car keys and insisted that I take the car. Of course, taking the bike would have been much more efficient. Once you get the car to the destination, assuming that was in time, there would be nowhere to park it, and in parking it five minutes’ walk away, absolutely nothing has been gained. People have to understand that.

Even in a city such as mine, where generally, as I indicated in an intervention, a lot of money is being spent on cycling and there is a lot of support for it, the proposal for how to deal with Princes street once the trams arrive and start working was, disappointingly, to have an only one-way cycle route, along that prime street of the city. One argument for that was that the alternative route, which would have had a two-way cycle route, was on one of the big national cycle routes and people would want to go through it. I greatly admire people who do long-distance cycling, but I am not one of them; for many of us we are talking about a daily event, and people want to go from A to B easily. Perhaps Edinburgh council is listening, along with other councils, because they have to make it easy for us to get to where we want to be, as that will encourage a lot of people to get cycling.