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Cycling

Part of Backbench Business — Private Members’ Bills – in the House of Commons at 7:48 pm on 2nd September 2013.

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Photo of Stephen Lloyd Stephen Lloyd Liberal Democrat, Eastbourne 7:48 pm, 2nd September 2013

It is a pleasure to speak after Mr Lammy. I applaud this debate and this outstanding report by the all-party group, and I applaud my hon. Friend Dr Huppert and Ian Austin. A number of colleagues who have been here much longer than I have mentioned how well attended this debate is. Since then, about 15 or 20 hon. Members have left the Chamber and will be back later. Despite that, seeing the number of people still in the Chamber, I would guess that it is probably double the number of Members who would have attended only five years ago and probably triple the number who would have attended 10 years ago. That shows the enormous strides that have been made in the cycling debate over the past few years. I support that agenda for a number of key reasons.

The first is the business case. In Eastbourne, we have a strong cycling group called Bespoke, which is tremendously enthused and involved in driving the cycling agenda in the town. I support that. Eastbourne is a wonderful seaside town that has bucked the economic trend over the past few years, with unemployment going down, apprenticeships going up and regeneration in the town centre through £70 million of private spend. I am keen to drive that agenda using cycling, because, like many other parts of the UK and along its coastline, Eastbourne is a lovely place for a cycling holiday. The right hon. Member for Tottenham mentioned going to Holland with his family and I went there myself only a few months ago. He is right that the level of cycling and the safety there are astounding, because, obviously, it has been part of the culture for 40 years. We are catching up, but I am convinced that as we drive the cycling agenda in towns such as Eastbourne—getting more families and tourists in as we improve the cycle paths—it will make a substantial difference to their economic turnover.

Nationally, we have gross cycling product of about £2.9 billion and 3.7 million bikes are sold in the UK, a 28% increase on last year. Some 23,000 people are employed directly in cycling in the UK. Cycling offers a major and substantial benefit to UK plc, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. The number of people in the House today and the report demonstrate that the UK is going in the right direction on the cycling agenda in a range of areas, including health, business and carbon emissions. We have a way to go but the starting gun has fired.

I had not ridden a bike for 40 years until about four weeks ago, when Bespoke persuaded me to get on a bicycle for what I was told was a short ride—but it lasted two and a half hours. Dr Wollaston said that cycling takes 10 years off a person, and as I had not ridden a bike for 40 years, riding it for two and a half hours certainly took 10 years off my life. I could barely stand afterwards. The good news for hon. Members who, like me, have not cycled for a long time is that it really is like riding a bike. I got on and after a few wobbles I was away.

What are the challenges? We know what they are. Mr Bradshaw made a strong and valid point about the fact that the previous Government invested a lot of time and money in cycling and they deserve a lot of the credit for pushing the agenda. The difference is that my Government inherited an economic crisis that means that challenging decisions must be taken, but I encourage the coalition to focus on this report, which contains a lot of good recommendations that would not cost a lot of money. I am confident that proper investment in the recommendations put together by the all-party group would offer a substantial economic benefit and help to transform the lives of many people in the UK who, like me, should not wait 40 years to get back on a bike.

There are challenges. That takes us back to the question of Holland versus the UK. Holland has a different infrastructure. The UK is an old country that has not been designed for cycles so I appreciate the challenges faced by any Government. I know that the Minister responsible for this issue, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Norman Baker—he is a neighbour of mine—has been passionate about cycling and bikes for as long as I have known him, which is 11 years. There is no stronger champion of cycling in the Government. When he winds up, I look forward to hearing what further initiatives the Government will introduce to keep things moving in the right direction and to build on the momentum that has been established over the past 15 years so that cycling really takes off. There are more people in the Chamber than I have ever seen at a Backbench business debate and that demonstrates not just the strength of feeling in the country but that the time has come for political leadership. I look forward to hearing the Government’s response.