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Cycling

Part of Backbench Business — Private Members’ Bills – in the House of Commons at 7:10 pm on 2nd September 2013.

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Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Labour, Exeter 7:10 pm, 2nd September 2013

I fully accept what my hon. Friend says. There is actually a 20 mph limit through much of Exeter, but the problem is that the Conservative county council and, I have to say, Devon and Cornwall police, do not enforce it. This problem has already been raised by several Members, and it needs to be stressed further. It is vital to have 20 mph limits, but they must be enforced.

Not only has cycling increased by 50% in Exeter, but more than 20% of school children there now cycle to school, whereas hardly any did before. In London, too, the situation has been transformed. Thanks to the congestion charge and other policies initiated by Ken Livingstone, there has also been a cycling revolution here. It warms my heart to see banks of cyclists at all the main junctions at commuting time, particularly young women and even parents with child seats and trailers. However—and this is the hub of the report we are debating today—in spite of the progress that we have made in the past 16 years or so, we are still far behind the best practice of the rest of northern Europe, and without sustained investment and political leadership from the top, we will never catch up.

I am delighted that the Labour party has today launched its Labour for Cycling campaign. I hope that those on my Front Bench will sign up fully to implement the recommendations in our report, but we need the Government to act as well. Without that, we will not see the growth in cycling of recent years sustained; nor will we see a reversal of the worrying recent trend of increased cyclist deaths and injuries on our roads.

I am pleased with some of the things that the Government have announced and done. The recent commitment to supporting cycling in a number of selected towns and cities is welcome, but it is basically a smaller-scale version of Labour’s cycle demonstration towns programme, and instead of happening in a few places, it should be happening everywhere. It would take only a fraction of the annual roads budget to achieve that. I would also like to know why the scheme was available only in places that were already part of the Government’s separate city deal programme. That ruled out cities such as Exeter from applying, which means that now, under this Government, only a quarter of the amount of money is being invested in cycling in Exeter than was the case when Labour was in power.

I deeply regret the abolition of Cycling England, and I believe that the Government do, too. It was the body that drew all the disparate cycling organisations together and it was a vital co-ordinating voice and deliverer of policy. I also think that the Government were fatally mistaken to go soft on road safety, in abandoning Labour’s road death reduction targets and declaring their ridiculous war on speed cameras.

I am encouraged that the noises coming out of the Government more recently on road safety have been more sensible, but I am still concerned that they are not speaking with one voice. If they are serious about cycling, why are they allowing the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to make the ludicrous suggestion that vehicles should enjoy a free-for-all by parking on double yellow lines, without even mentioning the impact that that would have on cyclists, pedestrians and road safety? The Secretary of State went on to say that the only people who were bothered about cycling were the “elite”. I do not know whether his animus towards cycling is a result of some deep Freudian consciousness that he is probably the Cabinet member who would benefit the most from cycling’s health-giving and girth-narrowing magic, but his comments are signally unhelpful and they should not go unchallenged if the Government are really serious about cycling.