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As a previous chairman of the all-party parliamentary cycling group, in what seems like the distant past of the 1997 Parliament, I am delighted by the profile that cycling has gained in the past 16 years. I believe that this is the best-attended debate on cycling that the House has ever had, and I understand that, outside this place, we are witnessing the biggest ever pro-cycling demonstration that this country has ever seen.
I have always cycled. As a youngster, my bike gave me independence and the freedom to roam. I cycled to school, I have always cycled to work and I use my bike daily in Exeter and in London. It is simply the best form of transport. When asked why I am still slim at 53, when I eat so much, I tell people that the answer is simple: my bike. My elderly Dawes Audax is the most important thing in my life, except—I should add, as he is outside with the demonstrators—my husband.
When I first worked in London in 1991, I cycled to work because it was the quickest and most reliable way to get there. It helped to keep me fit and to keep my carbon emissions down, but I felt like a bit of a freak. It was a very unusual thing to do. I remember fighting in this place during the 1997 Parliament for a single cycle route through Kensington Gardens. It was a hard battle, but we won. When I suggested to my local authority in Exeter that it should apply to the then Labour Government to be one of their cycle demonstration towns, I was told, “You won’t get anyone cycling here, it’s too hilly.” Well, Exeter did apply, and we got the extra investment. Between 2006 and 2011, cycling rates in Exeter rose by a fantastic 50%.