Cycling: Licences and Insurance - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:52 pm on 18 March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Winston Lord Winston Labour 2:52, 18 March 2019

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the case for requiring adults riding bicycles in city centres to have a licence and third-party insurance.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The Government considered this matter as part of the cycling and walking safety review in 2018. They have no plans to require cyclists to have a licence or third-party insurance. The costs and complexity of introducing such a system would significantly outweigh the benefits, particularly the requirement for a licence. However, the Government believe it is wise for all cyclists to take out some form of insurance, and many cyclists do so through their membership of cycling organisations.

Photo of Lord Winston Lord Winston Labour

I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. Of course, most cyclists are conscientious and law-abiding but an increasing number are extremely aggressive and ignore, for example, the fact that some streets are one way, pedestrian crossings and red lights at traffic lights, and from time to time they collide with pedestrians. In view of the fact that the Government obviously wish to encourage cycling—and I agree with that—does the noble Baroness not think that they should consider their obligation to improve public safety and therefore implement these or similar measures?

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord makes a number of very fair points. The Government obviously want to reinforce safety for all road users, particularly those described as vulnerable road users, including pedestrians and cyclists. He will be aware that there was a review of cycling and walking safety, and licensing and insurance were considered as part of that. Over 3 million new cycles are sold each year. Licensing and insurance would require the establishment of a central register, and the Government’s view is that this would be very cumbersome and expensive to administer. There is evidence that other countries that have trialled these schemes have then withdrawn them. The Government have committed, through the cycling and walking investment strategy, to a 50-point plan and £2 billion of investment to improve safety for all road users.

Photo of Lord Robathan Lord Robathan Conservative

My Lords, should we not consider whether we wish to encourage cycling for the health benefits that it gives, and indeed its advantages regarding reduced congestion, or whether we wish to deter cyclists—I declare an interest as a former chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group—with unnecessary regulation that would keep the police busy for the next 100 years?

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I hope I can reassure my noble friend that the Government are definitely seeking to strike a balance, with substantial investment in education for all road users and safe infrastructure. We are also reconsidering some of the offences relating to cycling. However, noble Lords will be aware that trying to retrofit new, safer and more sustainable transport modes to old cities is a challenge.

Photo of Lord Rogan Lord Rogan Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, your Lordships and others who cross Millbank to this House, especially between the hours of 5 pm and 6 pm, will know that the number of cyclists who breach the zebra crossing with pedestrians on it is, frankly, an accident waiting to happen. What measures can be taken, without licensing cyclists, to prevent this occurrence happening—by, I should say, a minority of cyclists?

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the Government do not in any way condone unsafe cycling. A number of noble Lords have mentioned to me the risks and perils of crossing Millbank but, as the noble Lord said, it is a tiny percentage of cyclists responsible for this. The Government’s view is that in the long term, in terms of pollution and health benefits, it is important to encourage safe cycling, hence the 50-point action plan in the strategy.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware that pedicabs—rickshaws on bikes—are licensed as hackney cabs in every part of England and Wales except London, where 1,500 pedicabs go unlicensed with no requirement for insurance, no health and safety checks and no fixed fares. When are the Government going to take action on this matter?

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

As the noble Lord will be aware, transport is a matter that is devolved to the mayor, so the Government have no specific plans in this area.

Photo of Lord Wills Lord Wills Labour

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that 20 years ago fixed-penalty notices were introduced precisely to deter irresponsible cyclists from cycling on pavements. She may not be aware that freedom of information requests have shown that in 2017-18, 30 out of 38 police forces issued fewer than five fixed-penalty notices and 12 of them issued no fixed-penalty notices at all. Does the Minister really think that there is so little irresponsible cycling on pavements? If she does not think that, what are the Government going to do to protect disabled people, vulnerable pensioners, mothers with babies in buggies and many others from these hoodlums in lycra?

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I hear the noble Lord’s concerns. I have to say that I did not anticipate the popularity of this topic. The Government take these issues extremely seriously. There are small minorities of motorists, cyclists and, dare I say, what are now known as “smombies”—smartphone zombies, including pedestrians—who cause danger on our roads, but only a tiny percentage of accidents on our roads are caused by cyclists so the Government are seeking a proportionate response that upholds the law but also encourages cycling and walking.