Cycling — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:41 pm on 10th February 2016.

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Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 7:41 pm, 10th February 2016

My Lords, the House is incredibly lucky to have the noble Lord, Lord Young, free to talk about one of his favourite subjects. As he said, he has been banging on about cycling for 40 years. It was more difficult when he held different posts in the other place, but his speech demonstrated what a passionate supporter of cycling he is. He is one of the founders of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, of which I remain secretary. We heard some very good ideas from him, covering all kinds of needs for cycling. I add one that he missed: I believe that when it rains in Denmark the sequencing of the traffic lights is changed so that cyclists do not get so wet. That is rather a nice idea.

The noble Lord mentioned devolution, which comes up all the time because it is a good idea. It is good that expenditure, design and enthusiasm for cycling is devolved. On the other hand, we have to watch that that is not then an excuse for some local authorities to do nothing. There are still cyclists there. The Government need to make sure that their intentions, whatever they are, get carried out.

Devolution—we could almost call it “ducking responsibility”—has been an issue ever since the noble Lord, Lord Young, first spoke on cycling in 1975. It carried on in 1993 in a debate in this House, when the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, who sadly is not here this evening, made similar statements about the need for local authorities to recognise cyclists’ needs. He hoped that it,

“would lead to more widespread action to improve facilities … which … would encourage more people to cycle”.—[ Official Report , 21/4/1993; cols. 1677.]

In his response, the then Minister said that most people cycled on local roads—I feel that he was trying to say, “It doesn’t matter very much because that’s for the local authority”—and that expenditure priorities should remain a matter for local decisions. We have heard that before.

As the noble Lord, Lord Young, said, things are improving. In 2013, the all-party group published a document called Get Britain Cycling following an inquiry. Probably almost uniquely, when it was debated in the Commons Chamber it received an unopposed vote of support, which I thought indicated that the Members of Parliament thought that this was a good idea that needed supporting. It said that investment in cycling should be £10 per person per year. In response to a question yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, said that it is currently around £6. Of course, that is a great increase on what we have seen before, but it does not link in with what the Cyclists’ Touring Club says. Its figure is more like £1.39 per person outside London. We know that London has some wonderful investment going in and that is really good, but when the Minister replies will he give some explanation of what the £6 covers and where it comes from? Many Ministers have given this figure, which is a really good one. It is not £10, but £6 is better than £1, or £2, or £3. Where does it come from, who will spend it, and on what? Is it ring-fenced to local authorities? Could they spend it on roads or footpaths? I conclude by comparing it to a headline today relating to a report by the Institute of Economic Affairs which says that each family in this country is paying £150 per year in taxes for railways. Divide that by the number of children in a family and it is an awful lot more than £6. Maybe at some stage the Minister can tell us what the equivalent figure is for roads. I look forward to his answers.