Cyclists (Protective Headgear) Bill: Second Stage

Private Members’ Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 6:30 pm on 31st January 2011.

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Photo of Pat Ramsey Pat Ramsey Social Democratic and Labour Party 6:30 pm, 31st January 2011

I beg to move

That the Second Stage of the Cyclists (Protective Headgear) Bill [NIA Bill 9/10] be agreed.

I thank the Bill Office in particular for helping me along the process over the past 12 months, and I thank Headway, the organisation for brain injury, which has been very supportive and encouraging of the Bill. Last year the all-party working group on road safety, of which I was chairperson, met a group of people with head injuries and parents of children with head injuries. We were told in great and personal detail of the harrowing impact that the head injuries had had on the children and their families. Head injuries cause a range of debilitating conditions, including personality disorder, physical and intellectual disability, loss of sight and hearing and speech disorders.

A recent report by the British Medical Association (BMA) states:

“while skull fractures can heal, injuries to the brain, unlike those to the rest of the body, generally do not and may sometimes have long-term consequences. Though not always visible and sometimes seemingly minor, brain injury is complex. It can cause physical, cognitive, social and vocational changes that affect an individual for a variable time period.”

As we all know, head injuries can also be fatal. Recently, I met parents who had lost a child to a head injury after a very simple cycling accident. I cannot begin to imagine — nor, I suppose, can any Member — the pain and anguish that those parents are living with. All of the parents whom I met expressed feelings of guilt and remorse. Any of us who are parents can understand that and feel great sympathy for and empathy with them. I know that those parents are taking a close interest in today’s debate.

As a legislator and, more importantly, as a father of four children, it is important to say that not one of us who has children is a perfect parent. We cannot be 100% vigilant. Children can be very active, they are accident-prone and they do not always do what you ask or tell them to do. That most people come through their childhood relatively unscathed is due in large part to a high degree of luck as well as vigilance, but, again, we are all human. I have introduced the Bill to the House and brought it to Second Stage because those parents asked me to do it. They want me to ensure that other children, parents and families are spared the lifelong pain of head injury, which can be avoided through the use of a cycle helmet.

I hope that the House and the Department will give very serious consideration to the Bill. When I considered and consulted on whether the scope of the legislation should include adults as well as children, I spoke to a number of cyclists. Many adults who cycle said that they sometimes wear a helmet and that, sometimes, they do not. Often, for quick journeys, they do not bother with a helmet just because of the convenience. Many of them said that, if the legislation were in place, they would spend the extra minute or two fitting the helmet. Therefore, I decided that the legislation should cover all age groups, not just children.

The legislation that I have proposed would ensure that adults are legally obliged to wear a helmet when cycling. The legislation would make adults legally responsible for ensuring that children in their care wear a helmet. A fine of £50 would be imposed on the adult who was in breach of the legislation. On the first offence, the fine would be waived on the production of a new helmet and the receipt of purchase. I emphasise that offences under the legislation would not be criminal. I have no desire to criminalise anyone as a result of the Bill. From my personal and political perspective, the intention has always been to encourage helmet use to prevent serious injury and death, particularly to children.

I have researched a number of issues that relate to the Bill. I have considered the extent of the head injury problem that results from cycling accidents and the efficacy of helmet use. I have looked at the international experience of the introduction of relevant legislation. I have sent consultation information to hundreds of organisations, and I have heard from people and organisations that are opposed to the mandatory use of helmets. I have also heard from people and organisations that support their use.

I will outline the number of head injuries sustained by cyclists. I recently asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to detail the figures for adults and children who have been admitted to hospital with head injuries sustained as a result of cycling accidents. The figures were significantly higher than I had expected. Some 422 children and 213 adults were admitted over the five-year period up to 2010.

According to a 2008 report from the UK’s Department for Transport, cyclists accounted for 5% of all people killed and 9% of all people seriously injured in road accidents. Some 115 pedal cyclists were killed, and 2,450 were reported as seriously injured on roads across Britain. Approximately 40% of seriously injured pedal cyclists who were admitted to hospital suffered head injuries.

A key consideration in bringing forward the legislation was the efficacy of helmet use in reducing injury. I read a report recently on Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell, who was struck by the wing mirror of a truck in America over the summer. His helmet was split in two, and he was badly injured, but the doctors told him in no uncertain terms that he would have died if he had not been wearing a helmet. He is now one of the chief advocates of wearing cycle helmets.

There are many claims and counterclaims about the effectiveness of helmets. Therefore, I appeal to Members to give the Committee access so that it can ascertain with a higher level of resource than I will ever have the claims and counterclaims and the conclusive and non-conclusive evidence that both sides of the argument are making. Scrutiny is important, because it will enable the Committee to do that.

People who are opposed to mandatory legislation cite reports that argue that helmets are ineffective in protecting against head and brain injury. However, respected and rigorous reports show strong evidence that helmets are effective in reducing head injury.

According to the BMA, the use of properly fitted helmets reduces the risk of head and brain injury by 65% to 88% and reduces the risk of injury to the upper face by 65%. I have read a number of studies that give similar findings on the efficacy of helmets in providing protection from head injury.

The Cochrane review presents evidence that helmets provide a 63% to 88% reduction in the risk of head, brain and severe brain injury for all ages of cyclists. Helmets provide equal levels of protection for crashes. For those involving motor vehicles, the protection rate is 69%, and for crashes from all other causes, the protection offered is 68%. Injuries to the upper and mid facial areas are reduced by 65%.

A review conducted by the UK Transport Research Laboratory in 2009 concluded that up to 16% of fatalities could have been prevented if the cyclist had worn a cycle helmet. That is why the BMA policy on cycle helmets has recently been changed. It has balanced possible negative impacts on the numbers of people cycling with the positive impacts that are related to the reduction of head injuries. In February 2010, the BMA called for cycle helmet wearing to be made compulsory. The association recognises that voluntary helmet wearing should increase before the law is enacted.

There is a range of research into the impact of legislation on the prevalence of helmet use and head-injury statistics. Much of the evidence that I studied shows a positive correlation between the introduction of legislation and the subsequent increase in helmet use. Let me refer to a peer-reviewed ‘British Medical Journal’ study into the impact of cycling helmet legislation in Canada, where there are different pieces of legislation in various states. It makes for interesting comparisons. The study found that helmets were reportedly worn by 73·2% of respondents in Nova Scotia, where legislation applies to all ages; by 40·6% of respondents in Ontario, where legislation applies to those who are under 18 years of age; and by almost 30% of respondents in similar areas where no legislation exists. It also found that, following the implementation of legislation in Prince Edward Island and Alberta, recreational and commuting bicycle use remained unchanged among youths and adults.

The study concluded that Canadian youths and adults are more likely to wear helmets as the comprehensive use of helmet legislation increases. Interestingly, it also found that helmet legislation is not associated with changes in ridership. In other words, it did not impact negatively on the number of people who use bicycles. I can provide references on those figures if any Member is interested in reviewing any of the evidence that I have presented.

As I said, I sent out hundreds of consultation letters and e-mails outlining the Bill; I communicated with a wide range of stakeholders; and I consulted with community groups, health professionals, health organisations, district policing partnerships, local authorities and MLAs. I received more positive responses than negative ones. I want to spend a few moments to examine concerns that were raised. Incidentally, I have a folder here that contains copies of letters that support the legislation and one that contains letters that oppose it. They are available for any Member who wants to see them.

It surprised me that some cycling organisations are opposed to the Bill. The reason why it surprises me is that in organised cycling events, even informal rides out, cyclists are invariably helmeted. It also surprised me because the main governing body for cycling racing, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), has made helmets compulsory in all racing events. It is, therefore, surprising that some cycling organisations argue against the same level of protection for children and adults as they insist on for themselves. Let us face it: most cyclists are not professional; they cycle on roads that are shared by motorised traffic, with the obvious accompanying risks.

Sustrans opposes the Bill because it is concerned that it might bring about a reduction in cycle use. I met that organisation several times in the lead up to the Bill’s introduction. I share its other concerns about road safety and the need for a more focused approach to it. Certainly, I have previously brought to the Floor the subject of 20 mph zones in residential areas. I have also written to the Minister a number of times on that issue. One of our own Members had intended to introduce a private Member’s Bill on the subject, but he did not have time to do so.

Sustrans and other organisations have argued that after the introduction of mandatory helmet legislation in Australia, for example, there was a reduction in the number of people who cycled. Different groups can put forward counter-arguments either in favour of or against the proposal. That is why I appeal to Members to allow the Bill to get to Committee Stage so that they can scrutinise it, call for evidence and determine whether that evidence is conclusive.

I read a range of reports that claim that cycling has not been reduced. To be honest: it was difficult to get an authoritative study that shows that that is the case. The Australian Monash University found that:

“The first year following the introduction of the helmet wearing law coincided with a reduction in the number of people riding their bicycles. By 1992, two years after the law, the number of bicyclists was approaching pre-law levels in adults and children but was still greatly reduced in teenagers.”

It stabilised after the two-year period.

I have read other studies that argue that there was a reduction in the numbers of cyclists at some of the survey points in Australia but that other environmental factors caused a dip in those figures. A conclusion of an authoritative review of various studies into the impact of helmet legislation by Macpherson and Spinks in 2008 concluded that:

“Although the results of the review support bicycle helmet legislation for reducing head injuries, the evidence is currently insufficient to either support or negate the claims of bicycle helmet opponents that helmet laws may discourage cycling.”

Earlier, I referred to a 2010 Canadian study, which found no adverse effect on the number of people who cycle. I will share my references with my colleagues in the Chamber, if they wish. I have the information, and they can see it for themselves.

I am not for one minute dismissing claims that cycling incidence reduces after the introduction of helmet legislation. In fact, it is out of concern for any negative impact that I have proposed a three-year introductory period, if the legislation were approved, during which there would be a publicity campaign and time for schools, the Department and other parties to enter into a full awareness campaign. That full three years would allow ample opportunity for those groups and other cycling groups to come on board and to become aware of the regulations.

Another common argument against mandatory helmet legislation is that the use of cycle helmets is a matter for individuals to decide for themselves. That is the same civil libertarian movement argument that was made against compulsory motorcycle helmet use, compulsory seat belt wearing and the smoking bans. I will make some counter arguments. First, there is the issue of child protection. We have rafts of legislation in relation to the health and safety of all children, which place legal requirements on parents and carers. We insist that children under a certain size have appropriately sized seats in cars, for example. Secondly, following an accident, there is a resulting, often lifelong, obligation on the state to provide financial and other support to the now disabled person. In other words, head injuries have a wider societal impact. It is not only the injured person who suffers; it is the wider family and community.

The seat belt and motorcycle helmet legislation provides a precedent for the mandatory use of health and safety equipment to protect the individual from injury.

Some organisations, including Sustrans, argue that it would be better to have higher standards of safety in general with, for instance, more cycle paths and speed limits of 20 mph in residential areas. I do not agree that they are mutually exclusive; they are not. I agree that there should be a maximum speed of 20 mph in residential areas, and I proposed that a number of years ago in the House. I asked parliamentary questions, particularly in relation to more cycle paths, because we know that one of the key elements of the Programme for Government is greater participation in sport. In bringing forward this legislation, I do not for one minute want to have a detrimental effect on participation in cycling.

I accept that there may be an initial negative impact on cycling numbers while people make the cultural shift towards the habitual use of a cycle helmet that will be necessary under the legislation. I have no desire to see a drop-off in cycle numbers. I want more people to use bicycles. That is why the Bill proposes that, prior to making helmets mandatory, there should be a three-year period in which there will be an extensive campaign by various Departments to educate and encourage more voluntary use of helmets.

Although some people oppose the Bill, many more responded positively to the consultation. Most of the responses, particularly those from the community sector, policing partnerships, local district councils and the health sector, were supportive of my efforts in proposing the Bill.

The British Medical Association is strongly in favour of mandatory helmet legislation. The BMA has informed me that its pro-helmet legislation policy is shared by the following organisations: the Royal College of Surgeons in London; the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health; the Royal College of Nursing; and Headway, the brain injury association.

I refer to a recent statement from neurosurgeon Roy McConnell who, on a UTV ‘Insight’ programme on the subject over the past summer holidays — I think in July — said:

“In the last ten days, we’ve had six children with very serious head injuries all having been admitted, all were on bikes and none wearing helmets. The parents had bought helmets, but the children had opted not to wear them. I think largely because it’s not cool. In the last week, we’ve had three children admitted to the intensive care unit — we’ve had neurosurgery on three so far and we’re removing brain haematomas. We’re measuring the pressure in their heads and treating them with drugs to treat the pressure in their heads. We’re also seeing a lot of skull fractures.”

Those are the words of a neurosurgeon from the Royal Victoria Hospital, appealing to legislators in Northern Ireland to make a difference to stop not just the pain and suffering of the children involved, but the grief of the parents.

I made the point about positive responses from community health organisations, children’s organisations, district policing partnerships and local authorities. Members will be glad that I am nearing a conclusion.

I am aware that the Bill has caused a certain amount of controversy and understandable concerns. People have genuine concerns that the legislation may discourage cycling. However, the evidence that I have seen suggests that many of those claims and concerns are exaggerated, and there is no clear evidence for them. That is why it is important to bring forward legislation that will enable the Committee — which has much more resources than I have as a private Member — to look at the Bill holistically and gather evidence from other regions and countries across the world to determine who is right and whether the evidence is sound.

There is strong evidence that cycling helmets are effective in reducing head injuries. I have absolutely no doubt about it, and I do not think that any Member in the Chamber has any doubt that wearing cycle helmets could save lives, particularly those of children. There is absolutely no doubt about it. We know that a child does not have the same sense of road maturity as an adult in relation to speed, going around a corner and various other elements of cycling. That is why it is important from my perspective, purely in the context of road safety, that there is legislation to make a difference.

There is strong evidence that legislation is effective in increasing helmet use. I ask my colleagues to give serious consideration to the evidence and to consider the views of the respected organisations that I have named, particularly those of health professionals and the British Medical Association.

I will end by quoting for the record some extracts from a letter that was recently distributed to all Assembly Members from Sinead King:

“When I was just six-years-old, I fell off my bicycle while playing outside my house. I banged my head in the fall… I was riding a Barbie bike when it happened, which shows how young I was… Had I been wearing a cycle helmet at the time, my life — and the lives of my family — would have been very different… I fell unconscious and was rushed to the Royal Hospital in Belfast. By the time Mum and Dad got there, the surgeons had started to operate. They discovered I had fractured a bone just above my left ear, which led to a blood clot forming on my brain. My long curls were shaved off as the surgeons operated to save my life… I was in intensive care in the neurology ward for a week after the operation, with a drain in my head to remove the excess blood. My family were told it would be a long road to recovery. It was similar to the after-effects of a stroke and I had severe weakness down the whole left-hand side of my body for the next couple of years.

I spent the entire summer of 2008 in plaster and in a wheelchair following an operation to lengthen my Achilles tendons, which had seized as a result of my left-sided weakness.

I had to attend Physio-therapy and regular checkups for 13 years, but I have now been given the all clear, 15 years later”

This is the important punchline of Sinead’s letter:

“I don’t want other people to go through this, which is why I am so passionate about campaigning to make cycle helmets compulsory. Please support the Private Members Bill to make cycle helmets compulsory in Northern Ireland.”

Members, we can all make fancy arguments for and against legislation. At the end of the day, I am trying to prevent the terrible pain and life-long debility caused by head injury. Helmet legislation is just one step towards that. It is just one action that can be taken to improve road safety. Helmets clearly protect against head injury. International experience shows that legislation significantly increases helmet use. I ask you to give the Bill serious consideration.


The 63-88% reduction figure mentioned in the Cochrane report, and the BMA comes from a US study in the late 1980s which has been totally discredited. No other study makes claims like this. Yet groups like headway continue to use them in a misguided attempt to encourage helmets.

The health benefits of regular cycling outweigh the risks by a factor of ten. Regular exercise reduces obesity, the risks of heart problems, cancer, diabetes and many other diseases.
The main effect of helmet promotion and compulsion is to put people off cycling. Despite what Mr Ramsey claims, cycling fell by 40% in Australia, 22% in New Zeeland, 30% in Denmark, 28-60% in Canada on the introduction of helmet laws. Those places which did not see a fall in cycling, do not uphold the helmet law.
Ironically after the introduction of helmet laws in Australia, the amount of head injuries per mile cycled went up.
Does Mr Ramsey really want such a reduction in cycling, and the problems that come with it.

I note that Mr Ramsey, like most helmet compulsionists, does not cycle himself. He has ignored the advice from the UKs biggest cycling organisations. Anyone interested in helmet compulsion would do well too visit

Submitted by Martin Dann Read 1 more annotation

Photo of Cathal Boylan Cathal Boylan Sinn Féin 6:45 pm, 31st January 2011

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I want to say a few words as Chairperson of the Environment Committee and also as Sinn Féin spokesperson on road safety.

On behalf of the Committee, I commend the Member on the Bill. The Environment Committee considered the mandatory wearing of cycle helmets some time ago. It would be fair to say that it did not come to a clear conclusion. In 2008, the Committee considered initial proposals for a new road safety strategy. It was concerned that the proposed strategy was silent on cycling altogether and made a recommendation to the Department that it give consideration to the mandatory wearing of cycle helmets.

The Committee also requested sight of any evidence that the Department had relating to the wearing of cycle helmets and road injuries. In response, the Department advised the Committee that on that issue it relies on research by the Department for Transport in London. That indicates that the British Medical Association advocates mandatory use of cycle helmets as part of a range of measures to improve cycling safety. However, it believes that the first step before enacting such law is to attain higher rates of voluntary use.

According to the Department for Transport, there is a wealth of published evidence for and against the promotion and compulsory use of cycle helmets. So, in light of the evidence available it is firmly of the view that the wearing of cycle helmets should be strongly recommended but not made compulsory. To date, therefore, the Department has not given formal consideration to making mandatory the wearing of cycle helmets in the North.

The Department also indicated that there has been opposition by cycling groups to making helmets compulsory. However, it pointed out that the latest Department for Transport research project will include representatives from cycling groups, and it was hopeful that the outcome of the work would help to inform a future policy direction that would keep cyclists safe and be acceptable to all parties.

The Committee accepted that response and in its more recent consideration of the road safety strategy welcomed the measures proposed to improve the safety of cyclists. On behalf of the Committee, I reiterate its ongoing interest in this issue and suggest that it may be an area that a future Environment Committee may wish to look at more closely.

I wish to say a few words as Sinn Féin spokesperson on road safety. I fully recognise and sympathise with the Member’s rationale for bringing the legislation forward. I worked with the Member on the road safety group here —

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

Will the Member, as Chairperson of the Environment Committee, state precisely the Committee’s position? You said that the Committee took a view to recommend to the Department that it should be encouraging people to wear helmets. However, was the Committee minded to reject the concept of compulsory helmet use completely or to consider that at a later stage?

Can the Chairperson enlighten the Assembly as to the date on which the Committee made the decision that he believes was made?

Photo of Cathal Boylan Cathal Boylan Sinn Féin 7:00 pm, 31st January 2011

I cannot clarify the date, but the Committee concluded that if the issue was brought back to us at a future date, we might consider it. That was possibly two years ago or more. I am just trying to recollect.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Committee did not take a view on this specific piece of legislation. However, it was dealing with a potential situation two years ago or thereabouts. That is the view of the Committee. However, the Committee does not have a current position on the Bill that my friend has proposed.

Photo of Cathal Boylan Cathal Boylan Sinn Féin

It is fair to say that.

I fully recognise, and indeed sympathise with, the Member’s rationale for proposing the Bill. I also realise that there are merits to his proposal. However, even with those merits, there are areas in the Bill that would be impractical. I want to touch on two such areas.

There is clearly a concern that if the Bill was passed, it would open the door to the criminalisation of parents, who although with the best intentions send their children out on their bicycles wearing helmets, have no control over what they do once they are out of sight. Proposing the Bill, the Member clearly said that he did not want anyone to be criminalised by its provisions. However, we have to recognise that the Bill proposes that if children are found to not be wearing helmets, their parents are liable for a fine of £50.

I support trying to introduce new measures to protect children in particular when it comes to road safety. However, although there is merit in the principle behind the original idea behind the Bill, the enforcement issue has to be questioned.

The PSNI and the Department of Justice believe that it would not be possible to implement the Bill’s proposals due to the extra manpower and administration that would be required. When he is winding, maybe the Member will elaborate on how, if the Bill was passed, he would address that.

Local cycling groups have raised concerns in opposition to the compulsory wearing of helmets. There is evidence that making the wearing of helmets a legal requirement reduces the number of people who take up cycling. I have been a member of the Regional Development Committee for the past four years. During that time, we have been trying to encourage people to go out on bicycles and to get healthier and fitter. One of the members of that Committee who is in the Chamber uses a bike fairly frequently and leads the way on the issue. The Bill may reduce the number of people who use bicycles.

I say all of that while recognising that we must send a clear message that the Assembly supports a strong recommendation for all cycle users to wear helmets. All Members should take this and every opportunity to voice that recommendation, encourage more education and ensure more voluntary use of helmets. Maybe we should look at encouraging those who sell bicycles to sell helmets along with them. I am not sure how we would go about doing that. Maybe we should be trying to encourage voluntary use that way.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Member has been talking about encouraging Members to send out a message. The one way to do that and to send out a very clear message is to pass legislation. We heard similar arguments about youngsters using seat belts in the back seats of cars. Let us encourage safety and use the powers that we have to encourage it by legislating.

Photo of Cathal Boylan Cathal Boylan Sinn Féin

I take the Member’s point and I agree with what he says, but we must be realistic, and any legislation that is passed must be good legislation. I heard Mr Ramsey being interviewed on the radio this morning and his comments about this being a legislative Assembly. However, the main arguments against the Bill concern how enforcement will be rolled out and dealt with. How that will be undertaken is unclear. As spokesman for Sinn Féin, I have reservations about the Bill.

We could address the issue through education, encouragement and other methods. At some point, the Committee for the Environment may recommend looking at the legislation again, but that may not be possible in the current mandate. Unfortunately, I cannot support the Bill as drafted.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

It was evident from Mr Ramsey’s opening speech that he is passionate about the issue. It can be an emotive subject, and Mr Ramsey told the House about some of the personal stories that he had heard, which highlight the importance of debating the issue. However, I was slightly concerned when he referred to “bicycle helmet opponents”, although I do not think that he meant to phrase it in that manner. The argument against legislating for the compulsory wearing of helmets is certainly not one of being completely opposed to their use. Those are two very different things.

The Chairperson of the Committee for the Environment mentioned that the issue was discussed a number of years ago in that Committee under the chairmanship of Patsy McGlone. That discussion formed part of the Committee’s discussion on road safety, and, as the current Chairperson correctly said, no agreement was reached at that stage. Indeed, almost all Committee members aired reservations. It was one of the only issues on which there was debate, because the Committee worked well on the road safety strategy and agreed most of the areas in the strategy in their entirety.

I congratulate Mr Ramsey on bringing this private Member’s Bill to the House. He has raised awareness of the issue, which is important even if I cannot ultimately support the Bill’s passage today. As this is the Bill’s Second Stage, I will stick to debating its general principles rather than get into some of the detail about the level of fine, any waivers, where they should kick in and who should pay a fine for minors.

The Bill is well intentioned. I share Mr Ramsey’s passion for road safety and better safety, whether for pedestrians or users of cars, motorcycles or bicycles. My record over the past four years shows that I have taken a keen interest in road safety issues, both in Committee and in tabling motions on graduated driving licences (GDLs), lowering the drink-drive limit and supporting 20 mph limits around schools and in built-up residential areas, to which Mr Ramsey referred in his opening remarks.

Mr Ramsey said that this issue is controversial. However, after I proposed the introduction of the GDL, there was some controversy, and I took quite a bit of flack from young people. Controversy is not necessarily a bad thing if it gets a debate going, educates that debate and raises awareness of an issue, and controversy has certainly done that for this Bill.

I want to see more people using cycle helmets. It is important that individuals look after their own safety when they are on the road, whether they are pedestrians or cyclists or they are driving cars, motorcycles or anything else. The message is getting through and more people are wearing helmets while cycling on our roads.

I disagree with the Member’s opening comments in that I do not believe that the legislation is necessary or appropriate. The temptation for legislatures to look as though they are always active and looking to do something and, therefore, to legislate, is always there. However, that may be as a result of media interest in what the new Assembly does. Nevertheless, legislation in certain areas is not always necessary or desirable. Indeed, on many occasions, I have argued that the Assembly will not, ultimately, be judged on the volume of legislation that it passes but on the quality of that legislation and its impact on the community that we seek to represent.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

I assure the Member that the Bill is not being introduced for the sake of legislating. I know that my friend Mr Ramsey would not do that. The legislation has raised issues on the compulsory wearing of safety helmets for bicyclists. It is an interesting debate, and it has caused considerable interest inside and outside the House. I know that the Member agrees that it is a good debate and a worthwhile discussion. If that is the case, will he vote for Second Stage to provide a further opportunity for the matter to be thoroughly researched and for the arguments to be gone through in greater detail in Committee? That question is not just for Mr Ross, but for other Members. Whether one is for the legislation or against it, I would have thought that the process of going to Committee and having the legislation dealt with thoroughly would be important for the House and for the public.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

I thank the Member for his contribution. I do not think that Mr Ramsey is introducing legislation for the sake of it. I recognise that the Bill is well intentioned, and I made reference to that. Ultimately, it is my view that the legislation is not desirable, and I have already made it clear that I will not support it at Second Stage. The reason is that the general principles of the Bill are debated at Second Stage, and the general principle is to make it a legal requirement for anybody using a bicycle to wear a helmet, and I disagree with that. It would not be desirable to make it a legal requirement for those who ride bicycles to wear a helmet, and, in the course of my speech, I will try to make the argument that led me to that decision.

There is a plethora of evidence and research on making the wearing of cycle helmets compulsory. I have read much of that research and evidence, as well as personally contacting cycling organisations in my East Antrim constituency and throughout the length and breadth of Northern Ireland. Having done that research and spoken to people — from those who cycle every week as part of clubs to those who casually cycle to their local shops to keep fit — I do not believe that it would be right for the Assembly to criminalise those individuals who ride a bicycle a few hundred yards down the road to pick up milk once a week if they do not wear a helmet. That is not in the public interest, and it would not be a good use of police time. If that individual were to refuse to pay a fixed penalty notice of £50, or whatever else would come from the legislation, it would not be a good use of court time. I find it difficult to argue that it would be in the greater public interest if we were to criminalise those who do not wear helmets.

I said that I had personally contacted many cycling groups throughout the Province. As the proposer of the Bill said, many of those organisations are opposed to the legislation for a number of reasons, but mainly because they feel that it would result in fewer people riding bicycles.

This morning, I read some of the press comment from Tim Edgar of the CTC, which is a UK national cyclists’ organisation. He said:

“there’s robust evidence that making helmets compulsory puts people off cycling in the first place.”

He also referred to Sustrans. Any Members who have worked with Sustrans in their constituencies are aware of how important it considers cycling to be and how much it tries to get people to take up cycling, particularly on the safer routes to schools initiative, which I have worked on in my constituency. Sustrans has also expressed reservations and pointed to how similar laws in certain areas of the United States had reduced the number of people using bicycles.

This is not a new concept, as the Member who proposed the legislation said. The idea of making it compulsory to wear helmets has been around for over 20 years. So, too, has some of the research and evidence that has led us to the views that we are expressing in today’s debate. Some of that research has shown that despite higher numbers of people wearing helmets in areas where legislation was passed, there was no notable reduction in the numbers of cyclists reporting to hospitals or doctors with head injuries. There is also evidence that suggests that the physical outcome for the majority of accidents involving cyclists and other road users, such as cars or other motorised vehicles, may not differ irrespective of whether a helmet is worn. Some of that evidence is useful in deciding whether we should have the legal obligation to wear helmets when cycling.

It is important, in deliberating a Bill such as this, to consider many factors, including the unintended consequences of legislation. I always talk about unintended consequences, but it is important that we examine them when deciding on a Bill. It is also important that we examine the safety aspects; the health of an individual cyclist; the environment; the human rights element, which is not something that I talk about a lot, but there is a human rights aspect to this; how easy it would be to enforce the legislation; and the costs, not only to the individual, which I imagine are fairly minimal, but to the Department, the police and the Court Service. There are delays in the Court Service at present, and this could add to those.

A huge factor is that such a law might discourage people from cycling, as I and other Members have mentioned. Many organisations argue that the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks. No Member, from any side of this Assembly, wants to see fewer people cycling. No one wants to discourage people from getting on their bicycles rather than taking their cars. We all want to encourage people to have a healthier lifestyle.

Mr Ramsey referred to some of the evidence from Victoria, Australia, where legislation for compulsory cycle helmets was introduced in the early 1990s. There was a 36% drop in the numbers cycling, although that, perhaps, levelled out over time. However, it is important that we look at that. There is also evidence from some of the states in America where this law was introduced. In the United States, cycle helmet legislation differs from state to state. Where it was introduced, there was a dramatic decrease in the number of individuals cycling. There is also evidence that many people disregarded the law altogether and that, too, is something that we should take into consideration.

Mr Ramsey also talked about some of the provinces of Canada that introduced the compulsory wearing of helmets. If we look at that evidence in the round, it is important to note that a number of improvements were made to pedestrian safety and general road safety, which coincided with that legislation, so it is unclear whether compulsory wearing of cycle helmets made the difference or whether there was a general change in the culture of road safety. At that time, there was a huge awareness campaign in those Canadian provinces. There was also some separation of traffic and more cycle lanes were introduced.

Legislation making the wearing of cycle helmets compulsory has been rescinded in some jurisdictions in the United States and in Mexico. We could trade statistics on this all day. However, an interesting thing for all Members to note is the position in the Netherlands and Denmark, where there are high numbers of cyclists. Anyone who visits the Netherlands and comes out of the central train station in Amsterdam recognises that there are hundreds of cyclists around. Indeed, they have priority over motorised traffic in Amsterdam.

Denmark and the Netherlands have many cyclists and among the best road safety statistics and the fewest injuries for cyclists. Importantly, they also have among the lowest numbers of cyclists who wear helmets. We have to ask ourselves why that is. If people in the Netherlands and Denmark are not wearing helmets, why do they still have a better road safety record? It is down to issues such as public awareness and the fact that the number of cyclists changes drivers’ attitudes. Drivers are more aware of cyclists and the dangers for them, and they adapt their driving accordingly. In some towns in the Netherlands, cycling traffic is separated from motorised traffic, which is also important.

Opponents of the mandatory wearing of cycle helmets point out that many other parts of the body can be injured in cycling incidents. It is not only about head injuries, and in many cases, a helmet would not necessarily save an individual’s life. That is an emotive issue and is difficult to debate, but it has to be taken into consideration.

Some major organisations claim that the benefits of wearing cycle helmets have not been proven. I do not necessarily sympathise with that argument, and I feel uncomfortable voicing it. It is similar to debates many years ago about boxing and whether the headgear that an amateur boxer wore actually caused him more damage because of the extra weight on his head and its impact on his neck. It is worth putting those concerns on the record and also the concerns of those who believe that cycle helmets could strangle an individual if he or she fell off a bicycle.

As the Chairperson said, we all have a responsibility to encourage cyclists to be careful on the roads. They should take whatever precautions that they feel are necessary, including wearing cycle helmets or reflective clothing. I encourage those individuals to do that. Occasionally, as I am leaving the Building, I see Mr McDevitt wearing his cycle gear and reflective clothing, which makes cyclists more visible, particularly in the evenings. It should not be illegal not to take those precautions.

People who favour legislation argue that it would prevent further head injuries for cyclists, but I am not necessarily convinced by that argument. There is no law to stop anyone wearing a helmet. People who take responsibility for themselves and wear helmets will continue to do so. It is argued that people must take personal responsibility for wearing reflective clothing, and so on. Parents also have a responsibility to ensure that they know where their children are and that they are wearing any required safety gear.

It is slightly disingenuous to argue that this legislation will prevent tragedies. There is evidence from around the world that in many tragedies involving cyclists — each one is a tragedy — the wearing of a cycle helmet would have made no difference. In accidents involving lorries or larger cars, cycle helmets make minimal difference. I listened to the arguments about seat belts and motorcycles, but the situation with bicycles and cycle helmets is different because protection is afforded only to the head. It is important to bear in mind those arguments.

There are differences between the mandatory wearing of seat belts and motorcycle helmets and the smoking ban. I do not think that that is a fair comparison. We know that motorbikes travel at considerable speeds and accelerate very fast, and cars are much the same. Likewise, seatbelts are different because they protect the whole body and other passengers in a car. If those in the back seat are shunted forward in an accident, the people in front of them are protected. There is a wider issue there.

Mr Ramsey talked about the smoking ban. In that case, the personal choice of someone to smoke has a direct effect on other people. Again, it is a different argument to make.

Many Governments around the world have debated the issue of cycling helmets and have ultimately decided against implementing legislation, with the exception of Australia and some states in the United States. It is my understanding that the Executive have discussed the issue but could not agree on it and will not support the Bill.

I have considered the issue and have looked at the evidence from many places around the world. I have listened to the concerns of cyclists and cycling organisations, and I have decided that I will not support the Bill. However, irrespective of the result of the debate, I hope that Mr Ramsey will continue his efforts and will work with officials in the Department of the Environment and DRD to ensure that there is greater understanding and awareness of cycling issues in an overall road safety strategy, perhaps to improve cycling standards or, speaking as someone who did his cycling proficiency test in primary school a long time ago, to ensure that children are taught safe techniques when they are learning to ride their bicycles.

It is the same for everyone. There is an awareness that people need to improve their riding skills. There should be a greater emphasis on individual responsibility for wearing reflective clothing and helmets and for understanding issues on the road. Arguably, improving cycling standards overall is far more important than whether we approve the Bill’s Second Stage tonight. I hope that Mr Ramsey will take up those issues with officials in those Departments so that we can ensure that the message gets out and the public are aware of it, which will mean that we will not have to legislate to make wearing cycling helmets compulsory.

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP 7:15 pm, 31st January 2011

I congratulate Mr Ramsey for all the work that he has done to put the Bill together. I was incredibly impressed by everything that he put into his argument. I feel slightly wrong in not agreeing with him about the route that he is going down because of the amount of work that he has put in. I also congratulate Headway on its thorough lobbying. Its representatives must keep that going. They will realise why when they hear my comments later.

All of us who received the e-mails on the subject will have been particularly hurt or will have great sympathy with the harrowing story of the family in Newry. We realise that this is an incredibly important matter and that wearing protective headgear while riding bicycles is important. It is not that which I oppose today. I believe that we must tackle the issue in a slightly different way.

I am concerned that we need to get the legislation right. We know that much of what we do in legislative chambers has effects that we did not think would happen. For example, the smoking ban, which seemed exactly right from a health perspective, has led to a reduction in the number of pubs and the loss of a whole way of life. We know that the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 created the very dogs that we were trying to prevent becoming the weapon of choice for criminals. We can all find more examples, but I use those to illustrate the need to do correctly whatever it is that we choose to do about the matter.

It is envisaged that the Bill will be enacted in three years’ time. If that is the case, we should take more time over it. The Bill proposes a £50 fine, which, again, I would like to look at in more detail. The Committee for the Environment has been discussing £75 fines for litter, and the responsibility for numerous other measures will be transferred to councils, which will be able to enforce fines. I would like to look at that in more detail. Even on the £75 fine, it took much discussion to decide the direction in which to go.

The Bill sets out that it is to be the police who enforce the fine. Our police have plenty to do at the moment. Indeed, they have so much to do that we all complain that there are not enough of them on the streets carrying out all their other tasks. I am sure that all Members also know that the youths on the street, most of who act perfectly normally, feel that they are being treated unfairly by not just the police but the communities around them. A £50 fine, although aimed at parents, may increase that feeling among young people. I want to see more detail on how we will deal with that.

I take on board the fact that Mr Ramsey is not trying to criminalise people. That is absolutely right. We have to get the right balance with the legislation. We also know from the Bill that Mr Ramsey wants a database to be kept. Who will keep that database? Will it be kept by the police? We are trying to minimise the amount of red tape that the police have to follow, so that we will get more police on the ground rather than having them back at base buried by red tape. I want to know more about it. In Mr Ross’s very thorough speech, we heard about numerous other matters, such as injuries and the pros and the cons. I would like to have heard more.

In case Mr Ramsey thinks that I am against the Bill, I reiterate that I think that this is exactly the right way in which we should go, but not quite so quickly. I have been on the Committee for the Environment for just under two years, and the Bill has not appeared before us in my time. All that I have seen of it is what has come through in recent e-mails. It is very new to me, hence my doubts and my wanting to know so much more.

I want to see the statistics, but I also want a chance to hear all the arguments that go with them. In the past few weeks, I have heard and read statistics that indicate that the number of people bicycling in Australia went down. However, I also heard today that that number went back up again quite quickly. As we all know, we can use statistics in almost any way that we want. I go back to my point that I want to learn more. I would like to see the Bill in front of the Committee.

We have only 13 weeks left. Mr Ramsey may be aiming the Bill at the Committee for the Environment, but we have a busy schedule already, particularly with the Planning Bill. That reinforces my point. I would like to hear all the arguments. I would like a good amount of time. I would like consultation. I would like to know what the police think. We have heard from Mr Ramsey what the police said, but I would like to hear from the police themselves and for them to discuss the matter with the Committee.

There are many other things that we can encourage. Mr Ross and Mr Ramsey talked about having a good public awareness campaign and educating and campaigning, through parents, schools and even salesmen. I would like to know what we have in place at the moment. When I bought bicycles for my children, I was encouraged to buy helmets. That is right, but it should be enforced. I am told that VAT is not paid on helmets, which is also right.

We need to look at the speed limits such as the 20 mph speed limit that was mentioned and perhaps others. However, when we suggested a 45 mph speed limit on country roads, we were told that the police could not enforce it. We need to know whether it is possible to enforce what we are trying to put in place today. We can do much more, such as designing safety helmets in a way that makes children want to wear them. There is a whole mass of detail that I want to learn about. However, buried in the back of my head is the idea of freedom. We legislate too often, too much and on too many issues. I reiterate that I want to know more.

I went through the windscreen of my Mini when I was 18 years old. I was not wearing a seat belt. If I had been wearing a seat belt, I would not be here today. Cars have improved since then. They have airbags, they are stronger and everything else, and it is all part of making things safer. I went across to one side of the car, out through the windscreen and then hit my head. You can all make your own judgements about what effect that has had on me. [Laughter.]

I also spent a lot of time of riding, which as many Members will know is one of the most dangerous sports, and did not wear a helmet. My mother fell off once and landed on her helmet, and she did more damage to herself in that way. There are a lot of things that we need to get right when putting through legislation. I know that we have to do something about this issue and would, therefore, like it to be addressed during the next Assembly mandate. If Mr Ramsey and I are here and if I am on the Environment Committee, I will work with him to try to ensure that we get the right legislation through. However, I think that today is the wrong time to do that.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance 7:30 pm, 31st January 2011

Like other Members, I congratulate Pat Ramsey on all the work that he has done in the preparation of the Bill. I know that he has a long-standing commitment to road safety, because I worked with him on the all-party group and on road safety committees. I also know that he has a great personal interest in the issue and has certainly brought it to the fore in the Assembly in the manner in which it deserves.

I will certainly encourage my grandchildren, the eldest of whom is six, to wear a helmet when they are of cycling age and will ensure that their parents encourage them do that too. Some years ago, my friend came off his bicycle in the main street in Hillsborough, County Down. He was going up the hill rather than down, so there was not much speed involved, and there was not a vehicle involved either. He simply hit an obstruction or grating on the road, came off his bike and hit his head off the edge of the pavement. He has not worked since and will not do so again. It was the simplest accident that one can envisage, and I acknowledge that a helmet made to today’s standards would certainly have saved him an awful lot of grief and pain.

It has been some time since I have dealt with an issue that has produced such diametrically opposed views among the cycling fraternity and the medical profession about the right way forward. Pat quoted the BMA at some length. It now appears to be in favour of a Bill, but just not yet. The BMA wants a process of encouragement to try to increase the voluntary use of helmets, and, in advance of whatever Bill eventually comes before the House, that is to be absolutely encouraged. It amuses me slightly that organisations such as Sustrans and the CTC want a measure of personal freedom, given that I am absolutely certain that their representatives all wear helmets. I think that it has been confirmed that they do indeed wear helmets and other protective gear on their various rallies and runs.

I think that Mr Ramsey and others made the point that it would perhaps be better at this point if it were left to the Committee to bring the legislation back another day, almost inevitably during the next mandate. Now that the Minister is here, perhaps he will confirm whether it is even possible to take forward the legislation. However, he will have a job doing so, because it appears that everybody is opposed to it. Having said that, would it be practically possible to bring it to a conclusion, given the timescale and the workload of the Environment Committee? I very much doubt that it would.

A lot has been made of Sustrans’s opinion that making helmet wearing compulsory would lead to a massive reduction in cycling activity. Frankly, I do not know whether or not that would happen. However, there appears to be some evidence from around the world — Australia, Canada and New Zealand — that such a law causes a fall in activity. However, there is also evidence that activity increases again and that it does not really make much difference in the short to medium term. If I know the people of Northern Ireland, I think that they would probably continue to use their bikes and defy the law, rather than put them away because they had to wear a crash helmet. That would lead to another problem that Members highlighted: what do the police do about it?

It would not be a criminal offence; just a bit of paperwork. I would like to hear the views of the police in more detail. Perhaps the Member who delivers the winding-up speech can confirm whether any research has been done in that area.

Sustrans and the other main cycling organisations emphasise health issues and are concerned about the deterioration of the nation’s health. We should be doing everything that we can to encourage children in particular to indulge in physical activity for the very obvious reason that children are getting bigger every year. A bit of exercise would not do most of them any harm. I am in favour of anything that encourages physical activity. The question is whether the introduction of compulsory wearing of helmets would put a block on that activity. I really do not know. Are persuasion and education better than legislation?

If we reach a vote, I think that it is fair to say that my group would be slightly split. On balance, I think that we would vote to allow the legislation to continue its passage, but we would much prefer the more sensible course of action: that the legislation be left for now and brought back in the next mandate when the Committee would have the chance to have a proper look at it, as various Members have said, and have a proper discussion. The Committee could take evidence on the Bill in the normal way and bring that information back to the House in a more considered form so that, perhaps, we could reach agreement on it.

I must confess that I did not wear a helmet in my cycling days. In fact, in my cycling days, I do not believe that there were cycle helmets. If I tried to cycle now, I would not need one, because I would only be able to travel around 100 yds. However, I acknowledge the terrific work that has been done on the Bill. I hope that that work is not lost and that we can come back to it in due course. Hopefully, Mr Ramsey will be here to pilot it through its various stages once again.

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

I pay tribute to Mr Ramsey, who is one of the gentlemen of politics. He put a very sincere and eloquent case. I should say from the outset that, on balance, I do not think that the evidence supports that case, but there is an important debate to be had. The crucial point is that there is nothing to prevent anyone from wearing protective headgear. On the rare occasion when I get on a bike, I wear a helmet, and my two children wear helmets when they get on their bikes. Generally, when I am putting the bikes away in the garage at night, I put the helmets over the handlebars, so that when they wheel the bikes out of the garage, the helmets are there, ready to go on.

We should give every encouragement to people to wear a helmet. That should be a voluntary choice, based on a lot of the evidence that Mr Ramsey outlined. In setting out his case, he said that, on the rare occasion when someone has an accident, a helmet will afford a level of protection. For all those reasons, the message should go out from the House that anybody who cycles should wear a protective cycling helmet.

The question is whether we should impose legislation to effectively criminalise people for not wearing a helmet. Part of our job, which is often not reported, is to consider and scrutinise the legislation before us. My reading of the legislation is that it is not just when cycling on a public road that one has to wear a protective helmet; one must be worn when cycling on any open space. Therefore, up and down Portavogie or Cloughey or on many farms, if people want to cycle across a field, are we saying that they have to wear a protective helmet or else pay a £50 fine, or impose a £50 fine on the parent if they are children?

It basically says to the police that if they see a child on a bicycle who is not wearing a helmet, their duty is to stop them, take down their details and — not in the first instance but certainly in the second — fine their parents £50.

There are strong arguments for and against, and I know that some people think that the balance has gone too far in favour of a nanny state. I received an e-mail that congratulated me on being a child of the 70s. It listed all the things that we did: we were able to go out and play all day without a mobile phone, we went out and played and were told to come home when it was dark and we all drank lemonade from the same bottle. It finished by stating that we rode our bicycles without helmets and survived. There is something in that. People from Newtownards and other places have lobbied me saying that the choice should be theirs not ours.

Is this the most effective form of legislation? Speeding by people in vehicles causes much more damage and injury. Those who are guilty of speeding are fined £60 and given three penalty points, but people who ride their bicycles without a helmet will be fined £50. A balance has to be struck in favour of encouragement but not in favour of legislation that will ultimately mean that the Police Service must not only prosecute but must keep a database of all the people whom it has stopped without a helmet. The legislation must be approached with great sensitivity. Just because I do not support it does not mean that I do not empathise with the sincere testimony of people who have been injured.

The question is whether the legislation could do harm. The argument from those who are looking for sustainable transport and from cycling organisations is that the legislation would reduce physical exercise and cycling. Therefore, would the House not be better directing its mind towards legislative measures in road safety, better cycle routes and better encouragement and advice to drivers? Is that not a better use of legislation and legislative tools than a blanket ban? The question is whether the police could enforce it. In one sense, they can, because, if they are out and about and see someone without a helmet, they can stop them, take down their details and issue them or their parents with a fine of £50. If the cyclist is moving, do the police go after them in a car? How exactly would they go about it? Should bicycles have a registration plate? The task becomes extremely difficult and onerous.

Many of us have argued for different policing priorities —

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP 7:45 pm, 31st January 2011

The Member makes a compelling point about the practicality of police enforcement, but there is also a desirability issue. Is it desirable and in the public interest for the police to go after an elderly person who rides their bicycle a few hundred yards down the road to get a loaf of bread or a pint of milk and fine them? I think that most Members will agree that it is not.

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

I support that fully. The Member for East Antrim makes the point very well. If we manage to detect only seven out of 10 burglaries —

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

I understand the argument that the Member is making. However, in making law one tries to get across certain values, and the value here is one of personal safety for people, particularly children. There is a declaratory element in the legislation that the Member fails to take into consideration when he goes through that sort of legislative gymnastics.

The Member should look at the value of the Bill, which is about getting that message across firmly to the public, particularly young people. With respect, I think that that is what the Member is forgetting about.

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

I take the Member’s point about value. However, safety is the value that we should put across. I am not sure about the argument that he advanced about legislative gymnastics. If he means that the adequate scrutiny of legislation, which is our role, is gymnastics —

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

If the Member is saying that the Bill needs to be scrutinised more, will he assure the House that, when it comes to the Second Stage vote, he will vote for it to go to Committee Stage?

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

It is interesting that the Member asked me to assure the House about something that I have already declared I will vote against. Our role is to scrutinise the Bill and to ask whether it is valid. Is it valid to criminalise every child who comes home from school but forgets or, for whatever reason, decides not to put on a helmet? Is it valid to chase up each of those children and subject their parents to a £50 fine? Is that best value? In effect, that is what the Bill would mean. Anyone who scrutinises the Bill would find that that is exactly what we would be asking for. We would be asking a police patrol, which usually comprises two people in a car — sometimes, one car may be somewhere else doing something else, so only one car might be available — to pull over to stop a child, take down their details and go through a bureaucratic process of finding their parents, which would require the setting up an entire level of administration to register their names. As the Bill states, all that effort would be for something as simple as crossing from a yard to a field, because —

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

I thank the Member for giving way. Everybody in the House would agree that we want to ensure that as many people as possible cycle. We want people to cycle so that road congestion can be tackled and individual fitness and health improved. We also want increased road safety and safety for cyclists. I think that we can all agree on that. Members on this side of the House differ from Members on the opposite Benches on whether legislation is necessary to do that. The Member made the point well that an unintended consequence of the Bill might be that fewer people cycle. Members on this side of the House would point out that we could encourage more people to cycle and could increase road safety and awareness of road safety issues by perhaps using an awareness campaign or a road safety strategy. We believe that, through such a campaign, we could get to that point without legislation.

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

For those reasons, which I will not repeat, that is the point on which I will conclude. Let it not be said that there is anything less than the most sincere sympathy in the House for people who have suffered.

Photo of Dominic Bradley Dominic Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Member’s points are similar to those that were made when legislation on seatbelts was being introduced. It was said that they were an incursion on personal liberty and that the police would not be able to properly patrol the situation. However, as it turned out, all those arguments were false, and everyone now recognises the benefits of seatbelts in reducing the number of serious injuries and saving lives. Surely if the Bill were implemented, it would have the same effect. Therefore, the Member’s arguments do not stand up.

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

The first premise that needs to be examined is whether, as with seatbelt legislation, driving a motorised vehicle is the same as riding a bike. It is not. Is the speed of a push bike the same as that of a motorised vehicle? It is not. Is the volume of traffic the same? It is not. Therefore, if it is not the same for those and many other criteria that I could go through, we are not comparing apples with apples. We are talking about a completely different means of transport.

The message that should go out from the House is that the common advice — it is almost common sense — is that people should wear protective headgear. However, if a child takes a bike out, not just on the public road but on any open space at all, he or she is, under the legislation, to be penalised with a £50 fine for not having a helmet on. That is too excessive a tool.

I looked at the evidence from the cycling fraternity. I do not know whether I did so exhaustively, and I am sure that I did not consult everybody. However, that research gave me a very strong lead that I should not go for legislation. That is the view of the cyclists themselves. The information and evidence base suggest that, in Northern Ireland, where, let us face it, we do not exercise enough and are meant to be encouraging a more healthy lifestyle, the introduction of such a punitive measure would decrease the amount of cycling. There may be evidence to the contrary, but the evidence that I read strongly suggested that cycling would decrease.

The Bill asks for police enforceability, but in light of the level of policing and resources that we have and the criminal challenges that we face, I wonder whether it is right to divert the police from some of the most serious crimes. Many of us have been campaigning for a visible police presence in town centres, particularly at the weekends. Is it right to divert them to speed checks or, given all the administration and policing resource costs, to finding and penalising people who are cycling without a helmet on any open space? To me, that is not an effective police priority.

Photo of Pól Callaghan Pól Callaghan Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Member paints a picture of the Bill imposing a draconian requirement on every police officer who encounters a child or a pensioner on a bicycle with some groceries in the back basket to be, as he put it, criminalised with a penalty notice. Does the Member recognise that, in fact, the Bill provides for a police officer to use discretion? The wording in clause 4 is that the officer “may issue” a notice, not “shall issue” a notice. Furthermore, under the waiver clause, clause 6, the appalling vista of criminalisation can be waylaid if the person involved produces proof of purchase of a cycle helmet at a police station within 28 days.

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

I will deal with each of those points in turn. If I read the legislation correctly, the waiver is only for the first offence. Therefore, a police officer could, potentially, stop a seven- or eight-year-old child and have to consult a database to see whether a first offence has been waived. I will give way again if he can show me the second waiver in the legislation.

Photo of Pól Callaghan Pól Callaghan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I would be grateful if the Member could explain to the House where in the Bill is the requirement for the constable to establish whether a waiver was previously given. Either there was a charge or there was not a charge, and it is taken forward on that basis.

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

The answer to that is contained in the legislation that we are expected to be scrutinising and speaking on this evening. The legislation is clear, which is why I gave the Member the opportunity to respond. He suggested that there could be continual waivers. The legislation is clear: there can be a waiver only for the first offence. Therefore, the logic is that the police officer who stops the eight-year-old child has the option to waive the penalty if it is the child’s first offence. However, if it is the child’s second offence, the legislation does not allow for that to be waived. That is why the legislation is poor.

I agree with the Member that the thrust should be to wear a helmet. The Member’s argument is the same as mine: we should all encourage people to wear a helmet. However, the police have discretion or, in other words, the police should not enforce the law that is in front of them. If that is the case, it should not be law. If you are saying to a police officer that you are training them to do a job, but that, if they find someone who is breaking that law, you do not want them to prosecute, it should not be law.

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

Yes, one last time.

Photo of Pól Callaghan Pól Callaghan Social Democratic and Labour Party

Given that the Member has put out a challenge to me, I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify the position. Obviously, the waiver applies where a penalty charge has been issued for the first time. I was making the point that the constable has discretion to issue a penalty charge in the first place, before consideration of the waiver kicks in. I think that the Member is mistaken in assuming that the waiver is the discretion at the point of the incident that is encountered by the police officer. To my understanding, that is not the meaning of the Bill, and the discretion that I was pointing out in the Bill applies regardless of whatever waiver kicks in after any penalty charge is applied.

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

My reading of the legislation is that the waiver is there for the first offence, not for the second offence. If you are starting from the premise of having law but writing into that that it can be waived, does that not negate the need for legislation?

The Member raised a valid point about production of a receipt. According to the legislation, a person can have the offence waived if, within 28 days, they can produce a new receipt for a new helmet. What happens if the eight-year-old child already has a helmet? Effectively, the police person can waive the £50 fine but only if the parent can produce a new receipt for a new helmet. That is the way that I have read the legislation. It says that they have to produce a new receipt for a helmet. Does an old receipt for an existing helmet count, or do they have to produce a completely new receipt?

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

I fear that we are delving into the detail of the Bill when, at Second Stage, we are supposed to look at the generalities. I do not want us to get too far distracted from the main point. Whether the individual is a 70-year-old gentleman taking his bicycle to his local shop or whether it is a 10-year-old child, the question that needs to be at the forefront of Members’ minds is: is it in the public interest for the police and the courts to pursue that individual? If they fail to turn up at the police station within 28 days or refuse to pay a fixed penalty notice, is it in the public interest to seek a prosecution against a 70-year-old man who went to his local shop or against a 10-year-old child? That is the main issue on which we need to keep our minds focused in this debate.

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

It is in the interest of public health that we should encourage helmets to be worn, but it is not in the public interest that we should legislate against helmets not being worn. It is in the public interest to encourage exercise, but the Bill has the potential to deter significant numbers of people from cycling.

Why is the cycling fraternity largely telling us that it does not want a legal ban? Many people in the cycling fraternity wear protective headgear as a matter of course. Is the legislation enforceable and in the public interest, whether for a child or a pensioner who is on any aspect of open space? Is the correct tool a legislative instrument to penalise that person to the tune of £50? I say that it is not, but Mr Ramsey has made his argument very well on what we should advertise, educate for and encourage.

Photo of Conall McDevitt Conall McDevitt Social Democratic and Labour Party

I suppose that I should declare an interest in the debate. I arrived here this morning by bike, and, when we eventually leave here, I will do so by bike. It is worth noting that, weighing 7 kg, my bike is very light. When I cycle down the hill, it will probably hit around 35 miles an hour. Coming off anything at that speed is dangerous, so I never get on a bicycle without a helmet, irrespective of what other clothes I might have on.

This is an interesting debate, and it is interesting that it has polarised Members who care about and enjoy cycling. People who cycle tend to do so for freedom and because it gives them the opportunity to get around the city quickly. They do not have to worry about parking, and, to some extent, they are allowed to bypass some of the rules and regulations of the road in order to go freely wherever they want. While they are doing so, they are exercising, so cycling is fantastic.

This city is made for cycling. It is not particularly hilly, nor particularly large, yet we have designed it and continue to design it in a way that utterly impedes the take-up of cycling and puts obstacles — particularly for women, research suggests — in the way of people wanting to get on their bike. Those obstacles exist because we design everything around the basic premise that the only thing that ever goes on a road is a motor vehicle.

Mr Ross talked about Amsterdam and the fact that there is a preference for bicycles in great continental cities. As a result, there are more bicycles than cars. In this city, there is no preference for bicycles, so there is nothing but cars. It is worth reflecting on our shared ambition, which is to get more people to use sustainable transport. Cycling is a very affordable, healthy form of sustainable transport, and people should be as safe as possible when doing it. As legislators, we need to take every reasonable step that we can to ensure that they are safe while doing it.

There are many things that we could do, and making cycle helmets compulsory is just one of them. However, to my mind, there is no danger in sending the Bill to Committee for further debate. There is much more danger in pulling 98% of the cycling budget out of Belfast, which is what we did this year. There is a lot more danger in refusing to consider seriously 20 mph zones in urban residential streets, which we doggedly do, hiding behind small pilot schemes.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

I understand the point that the Member is making, but, at Second Stage, we are asked to support the Bill’s general principles. The general principle is that it should be a legal requirement for anybody on a bicycle to wear a helmet. I disagree with that. That is why I am voting against the Bill’s Second Stage this evening. I understand the argument, but the Member needs to understand that there are Members on this side of the House who disagree with the general principle of having to wear a helmet when on a bicycle. That is why I will vote against the Bill.

Photo of Conall McDevitt Conall McDevitt Social Democratic and Labour Party

I appreciate Mr Ross’s views. We should be debating the Bill’s general principles and its policy merits. That is the point at this stage of debate. It is not about the level of fine or the modality of the exercise of that fine. It should be about considering the evidence, and I think that we all come to the House with a desire to be evidence-based in our policymaking and to ensure that that evidence is deeply contested. I say that as someone who is a proud member of the cycling fraternity and cycles around City Hall at the drop of a hat to demonstrate against any Minister who threatens any budget for the cycling fraternity. However, it is not an open-and-shut case. There is ample evidence, and I have read it. I have a huge amount of sympathy with lots of it, which suggests that making anything compulsory can act as a barrier to uptake. However, equally, there is evidence elsewhere that contradicts that.

The fact is that all the evidence that we have been debating is now somewhat outdated. The advances in technology, particularly headgear technology, over the past decade have been massive. Any Member who rummages through the back of the garage or shed at home and finds a helmet that was bought a decade ago will see that it does not compare to the headgear that we wear now or might have bought in the past couple of years. Helmets today are entirely different pieces of kit. Therefore, there is a strong and significant argument for the debate on the issue to continue. I say that as someone who wants the debate to come down on the side of the cyclist. As someone with a vested interest, I say that I do not want anything on the statute book in this region that will be an impediment to cycling uptake. However, in all honesty, I cannot, at this moment, form a judgement on that from an experiential point of view or from the evidence that is available. The reason why I cannot do so is that I believe that globally, regionally and across these islands, we will benefit from looking at where we are on the issue; advances that have taken place in the past six or seven years; changes in the design and technology of helmets; and changes in behaviour.

I am sure that Members will agree that the number of people on bicycles in the city today is unbelievable compared with the number five years ago. That is probably because of the ride-to-work scheme, which is a fantastic and simple initiative. The Civil Service cannot get its head around implementing it yet, which is a bit of a joke. The Minister may take that away, and I am sure that he will. It is a fantastic scheme that simply incentivises people to get a bike. When they are incentivised to get a bike, as they were by the Minister last year, they may decide to use it to get to work only once or twice a year. However, if they do that just once or twice a year, it is a huge advance on the situation of 10 years ago when it was, frankly, considered uncool and socially unacceptable to be on a bike. It was a poor man’s thing, which is nonsense.

Therefore, I urge colleagues to reflect on the fact that, although there is a huge and significant debate to be had on the Bill’s policy merits, there are also significant evidential gaps on the type of policy evidence or research that we would need to consider in order to inform our view.

I appeal to those Members who make it back to the Assembly after the summer break to make a concerted effort to get here at least once a month on their bike.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I welcome the opportunity to consider the Cyclists (Protective Headgear) Bill, which has been proposed by the Member for Foyle Mr Ramsey. Outside the Chamber, the mandatory wearing of cycling helmets is a hotly debated subject. That has been matched by views that have been expressed here this evening. It has been a good debate thus far. It has certainly provided Members with the chance to make their own contribution to the debate. It also allows me to clarify my position on the proposal to legislate to require cyclists of all ages, whether on the road or off-road, to wear helmets while cycling.

Before I get into the arguments for and against legislative intervention, I want to recognise the time and energy that has been given to the issue by the Member for Foyle Mr Ramsey. I know that his views are sincerely held. He means well in bringing the issue before the House. I welcome the fact that he has done so and that Members have exchanged views on the issue.

The Bill seeks to prevent injury. The excellent work that has been carried out in that complex area by the medical profession and others, such as the brain injury association Headway, has also been highlighted. I am sure that all Members will agree that we should commend the efforts and commitments of those who are involved in the Health Service and the work that they do, particularly in dealing with head injuries. The lifelong process of adjustment that is required of individuals affected by brain injury and those who care for them is a highly emotive subject. Certainly, the personal story that Mr Ramsey related to the House was emotive. However, emotion is not a sound basis on which to make good legislative decisions. The best legislation is based on clear objective evidence; will be effective in addressing the issue that it is intended to resolve; and will not have significant unintended consequences. Therein lies the problem: although a lot of research has been done in this area, findings have been interpreted in very different ways. In fact, one of the few things that are clear is that there is absolutely no consensus on the benefits of making cycling helmets compulsory. Therefore, it is not surprising that there is no legal requirement elsewhere in the UK or, indeed, in the Republic of Ireland for cyclists to wear helmets.

As the Minister with responsibility for road safety, I will make my position clear on the use of cycling helmets. I am convinced that, in the event of a collision, when a cyclist hits their head, a cycle helmet can be effective in reducing injury in some cases. My Department’s policy is demonstrated in the advice that is given in the ‘The Highway Code’. It reflects that position by strongly encouraging all cyclists to wear an approved helmet of the correct size and that is safely secured. That might make Members wonder why we do not want to go that step further and make the wearing of helmets compulsory. Although the Bill is well intentioned, I believe that it overlooks some significant downsides in requiring the compulsory wearing of cycling helmets.

With its complex system of warnings, penalties, appeals and intrusion into what many people believe should be a personal choice, is the legislation the most effective way to improve road safety, personal health and well-being? Will it convince people to exercise that responsibility? I do not believe that it will. Many other steps can be taken in the first instance. We can look at training, particularly the training of young people, and the opportunities to take young people through another series of steps on how to use the roads safely while cycling. There are also issues around the training of drivers. As I said before in the House, I do not believe that the current driving test is fit for purpose. It is largely a test of manoeuvrability, as opposed to a test of driving skills and how drivers should respond to other road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists or horse riders. All those people are more vulnerable as a consequence of poor driving.

I also have a responsibility to protect and promote the natural environment. Cycling is a sustainable form of transport that brings environmental benefits. I stress to the House that cycling is not a dangerous form of transport. Mr McDevitt, who gave his experience of cycling, will agree with me. In that respect, we do not want to give it the appearance of being dangerous, and, as a consequence, something that people will choose not to do, so as to avoid the perceived danger.

Cycling is also a leisure and sporting activity with huge potential to improve personal and public health. Although there is no question in my mind, therefore, that we must encourage cycle helmet use, we, as a Government, also want people to cycle more. There is a bit of a difficulty with that, to say the least. A real worry for me is that the evidence seems to indicate that, if you force people to wear a cycle helmet, you will end up with fewer people cycling. As Members may be aware, many prominent cycling organisations in Northern Ireland are strongly opposed to the introduction of compulsory helmet-wearing for that very reason. They raised concerns that the introduction of similar laws in other countries has led to reductions in people cycling. In Northern Ireland, only 0·25% of the 6,000 miles that we travel each year is on a bicycle, and around 0·5% of the 900 journeys is on a bicycle. Can we afford to reduce that usage further?

My views on road safety are well known. No level of road death is acceptable, and I strongly believe that that is the case for all road users. In comparative terms, cycling is not a major contributor to the overall road safety problem in Northern Ireland. Figures indicate that the non-legislative interventions that are in place are having a huge and positive impact. There were no adult cyclist deaths in 2009 or 2010, and there have been no child cyclist deaths in Northern Ireland since 2005. Data show that the number of road casualties involving cyclists has fallen dramatically over the past decade, despite a concurrent increase in cycling as a mode of transport. Some of the deaths that have occurred would have occurred in any event, regardless of whether the cyclist was wearing a helmet. A lot of the impact was taken in the lower part of the body and was a result of impact with a heavier vehicle.

Setting aside the possible impact on the level of cycling and the potential loss of the wider environmental and health benefits, there will be significant costs associated with the Bill. I did not mention costs until this point, as it is never easy to talk about money when talking about road safety. However, I can assure Members that, if I genuinely believed that the Bill would be effective in further reducing road casualties, I would strongly support it.

Road safety work carried out by my Department is, like all other work, determined by budget resources, and our work is prioritised by identifying the main causes of road deaths and serious injuries and then allocating resources accordingly. Members will see that, if the Bill were to be passed, it would have significant cost implications for my Department. Those would include the funding of a campaign to promote the voluntary use of cycle helmets and raise awareness of the Bill. Alongside that would be the establishment of an adjudicator’s appeal system, with the associated accommodation, administration and staff costs. All of those would likely have to be met from existing budget allocations, meaning that some of the resources directed at the main causes of death and serious injury would inevitably have to be diverted. That would mean moving our focus away from inattention, carelessness, speeding, drink- and drug-driving and failure to wear a seatbelt. Those are the very issues on which, all the evidence tells us, we must focus the bulk of our efforts and resources. Indeed, many of those measures are currently keeping cyclists safe on our roads.

As I have stated, the Bill is undoubtedly well intentioned, but it is not needed. Evidence from eminent bodies such as the BMA and the Department for Transport has led me to what I am convinced is the correct view: there is no compelling case for compulsion. We should continue to do all that we can to encourage helmet-wearing through voluntary initiatives and other non-statutory measures. I strongly counsel against the diversion of scarce, finite resources to implement such potentially counterproductive legislation.

I will also indicate that the Executive, from DRD’s perspective, wish to encourage more people to cycle and would therefore have difficulties with the Bill. The Health Department faces something of a dilemma because, on one hand, if we introduce the compulsory wearing of helmets there might be a small downturn in the number of head injuries, but, on the other hand, there might be a significant further rise in obesity and other health problems associated with lack of exercise. I have outlined my own Department’s issues. The Department of Justice feels that it is not implementable and would not be a good use of police resources. So, within the Executive there was a clear view that we would not support the Bill, and I speak on behalf of the Executive on the issue.

I call on Members to consider the wider implications of the Bill and support my position and that of the Executive in opposing its further passage. There is not adequate time to properly address the issues, in any event. I was criticised for bringing a Bill before the House in December — I think by members of the party opposite — because there would not be enough time to discuss the Bill. It is now February, and this Bill is at the same stage. I therefore do not think that we would do the Bill justice if we gave it the go-ahead to go to Committee Stage. The Member would perhaps be better coming back in the next term — I trust that he will be here in the next term to do that — and giving some further thought to the issue.

Photo of Pat Ramsey Pat Ramsey Social Democratic and Labour Party 8:15 pm, 31st January 2011

I thank all Members for their contributions. They were not all favourable, but the point of my exercise all along was to ensure that there was public discussion of the use of cycle helmets. Hopefully that will continue. There may not be an appetite for the Bill at the present time, but I certainly have hope. There is evidence out there that is clearly steering me towards the legislation point of view. Members can talk, and I listened to the Minister intently. Other than cycling groups, I am not sure who else he consulted.

There is clearly uncertainty about the evidence, and that was my principal point. When there is uncertainty and clarity is required, it is more important that a Committee should have the opportunity to audit that, bring in evidence, write to other jurisdictions and get a definitive answer as to whether there has been a detrimental effect cycling across the world.

The Minister said that no other jurisdiction in Britain or Ireland had such legislation. However, the States of Jersey is bringing forward a proposition requiring the wearing of cycle helmets, particularly among children. Twenty-two states in America have passed legislation, as have Australia, Canada and New Zealand. It is my view, which I make on behalf of the parents to whom I spoke, that the children of Northern Ireland need the same protection as the children in those states in America or in Australia and New Zealand. That protection is vital.

I met Michelle Donnelly here today. Michelle is from Strabane. Her daughter fell off her bike in July. She was not travelling on her bike, but she fell off it and was rushed from Altnagelvin Hospital to intensive care in Belfast. She said on the radio that she would have much preferred to pay a £50 penalty than face the stress and trauma of having to take her daughter to hospital and its aftermath. I will not go into the details or circumstances.

If the Bill became law, I would not expect the PSNI to drop everything and run down lanes or into private areas to apprehend people; I did not want them to start targeting cyclists either. I expect — it is in my Bill — the police to use discretion at all times when enforcing the law. I expect them to give advice and warnings where appropriate, as they generally do anyway. However, I want the police to be armed with the sanction to enforce the law on cycle helmets. Why do I want that? Because of the unnecessary pain and suffering of the families who have been in contact with me and who initially came to an all-party road safety group meeting here at Stormont.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

I understand the emotive argument that the Member is making. However, there is nothing preventing any cyclist from wearing a cycle helmet. What is important is that in the cases that the Member mentioned — there is a powerful argument to be made there — there is an argument for increased awareness of road and cycling safety. That does not need to be done through legislation, which, whether he intends it or not, could affect the 70-year-old gentleman cycling to his local shop or a child. That is where the problems are for this side of the House.

Photo of Pat Ramsey Pat Ramsey Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member. He was clear that he was absolutely opposed to any form of legislation. However, I say to him again and to all Members that the important thing was to allow the Committee to examine all the facts thoroughly, including the rights and wrongs and uses of cycling helmets and to look at other areas.

The Minister outlined in great detail his Department’s position. I met departmental officials on this issue and sensed some encouragement from them. The Minister said that he had listened to cycling groups. Did he listen to any other groups? There is a raft of groups. I must say that he acknowledged the contribution of Headway and the significant contribution of the medical profession, which works in difficult and distressing circumstances when dealing with parents.

I admit that there is a bewildering array of arguments, and that is why I wanted the Committee for the Environment to examine the Bill much more thoroughly than we are doing here. This was about the general principle of the Bill. Members opted to cherry-pick elements of it. That is up to them; that is what we are here for.

Cathal Boylan, as Chairperson of the Committee, spoke about the Committee seeking information and evidence from the Department.

He said that the Committee asked the Department whether it would consider the introduction of the compulsory wearing of cycle helmets. That was so long ago. As my colleague Conall McDevitt said, we need to be looking at up-to-date models of best practice, even when it comes to the manufacturing of helmets. I am not sure whether the Environment Committee had the opportunity, and I will give way if necessary, even to look at the Bill. It would have been a good measure for the Committee to do that.

I made the point very early in the debate that there were no circumstances under which I wanted to criminalise anyone for not wearing a cycle helmet. That was clearly instilled in the Bill. The Chairperson referred to that.

I know that the Committee is under serious pressure, given that other pieces of legislation are coming through, but, because of the sensitive nature of the Bill, I am disappointed that more time could not have been taken to deliberate on it.

Alistair Ross was honest enough to say that he was totally against the Bill. He talked about awareness and the general principles of the Bill, saying that it was well intentioned. He made a point that we all agree with: we want to see more people wearing cycle helmets. The figures are alarming. A 2008 survey indicated that on major roads, in built-up areas, 34% of adult cyclists and only 17% of child cyclists wore helmets. That is not good enough when it comes to trying to reduce the number of accidents on our roads.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP 8:30 pm, 31st January 2011

Will the Member also acknowledge the argument that I made that countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark, where a very low proportion of cyclists wear helmets, have a much better cycling safety record. That leads us to deduce that the argument is not about whether it should be a legal requirement to wear cycle helmet; it is about the awareness among the public and those who are driving cars and are sharing roads with cyclists. That is where the Assembly should focus, instead of going down the route of legislation, which, as I said, regardless of whether the Member intends it to or not, will criminalise people.

Photo of Pat Ramsey Pat Ramsey Social Democratic and Labour Party

It would not criminalise people; at most, people would receive a penalty notice.

In the Netherlands, the Government have invested hugely in infrastructure. That is why the Netherlands has such a vast array of cycle lanes — far more than in any other European country.

Danny Kinahan thought that my approach was reasonable. He was very sympathetic, particularly towards the families of those injured as a result of not wearing a cycle helmet. He was struck by some of the e-mails and testimonies. He made the point that wearing cycling headgear was very important. He also made the point that we should be taking time to give the Bill more consideration. That is what I was asking for from the very start.

We talked about police enforcement. I was not totally won over by the argument that the police should enforce the legislation. Had somebody suggested another method of enforcement, such as a local government idea under the new structure, I would certainly have examined it. However, such suggestions would have been made when the Bill was going through its scrutiny stages. If somebody had tabled a reasonable amendment to the Bill, I would have considered it. When I and the Bills Office staff examined the issue of enforcement, the police seemed to be the obvious choice.

I sensed, and Danny conceded this, that the Committee is so busy that it might not be able to take on something else. He talked about speed limits and alternatives to the Bill. We all agree about speed limits. While the Minister is here, I want to say that something has to be done in residential areas, such as imposing 20 mph limits to reduce the number of people, particularly children and old people, who, unfortunately, are at the wrong end of things when accidents occur.

Trevor Lunn said that he would ensure that all of his grandchildren were well wrapped up when they went out on bicycles. He acknowledged that helmets can make a serious difference. There is no doubt that that is true. He said that there were a range of views on other matters and asked whether the Bill could be brought to a conclusion. I was not rushing the Bill through, expecting to get a definitive answer before the mandate was over. In fact, in private conversations that I had with a number of Members, I said that I was prepared to allow the Committee to take its time.

If they had to wait until the next mandate, that might allow the Department to kick-in, if there were evidence available, about whether it is correct to proceed with the Bill. Mr Lunn talked about the Alliance Party being split on the subject, but he was generally supportive of Bill progressing to Committee Stage.

Jonathan Bell felt that the debate is important. I know that he is intensely opposed to the £50 fine, but, having spoken to Michelle Donnelly, Sinead King and parents, I know that they would have paid that fine gladly, rather than have their children being injured. Indeed, Michelle and Sinead have championed the use of cycling helmets to ensure that other children wear them. Children are at a higher risk of injury from cycling accidents, and the vast majority of injuries occur not on roads but when children are outside their own houses and when they are getting on or off their bikes. That is the evidence that I have received, and the incident in Strabane, which left a three-year old girl in intensive care in Belfast, occurred after she came off her bike in her own back garden.

The Assembly’s function is to scrutinise legislation. Jonathan made that point also, and that is why I want the Bill to proceed to its Committee Stage. If it does so, it can be scrutinised for the next six months, and we can find out who is right and who is wrong, and whether there is any conclusive evidence.

Jonathan also made the point about better road safety and creating more cycle routes, and we all support that. We need investment for that, and, in my initial comments, I referred to the Programme for Government and the importance of encouraging greater participation in sports such as cycling. Cycling groups made the point that the Bill will have a detrimental effect on participation in cycling. However, the evidence that I saw is that participation rates stabilise after a period of time.

Conall McDevitt supported the Bill, and he is one of the key Members of the Assembly who is a cyclist. He raised the point that 90% of the budget for cycling in and around Belfast has been cut, which is worrying when we take on board some of the points that were made by other Members about trying to encourage greater participation in cycling. Conall also has a passion for 20 mph zones, as most Members do. We need to deal with that issue and I call on the Minister to take that up. I know that the jury is out with Conall as to whether we should go down the route of legislation, but he is clear about the need to get evidence and look at global, regional and local situations. There are arguments on both sides. We must examine all the evidence and not just whether it has a detrimental effect. We need to conduct a major case study, and the only way that that can happen is if the Bill progresses to Committee Stage.

In contributing to the debate, the Minister of the Environment talked about this as being hotly-debated subject matter, which it is. However, it is only hotly debated within cycling groups. I make the point again: the only people who are objecting to the Bill, from the hundreds of consultation papers that were issued throughout Northern Ireland, were members of cycling groups. I received responses from district policing partnerships, local authorities, health authorities and surgeons across Northern Ireland who were supportive of the Bill. I say to the Minister that he should consult and take opinions from that community. District policing partnerships comprise councillors, community representatives and professional people, and the vast majority of those who responded to me supported the Bill.

The Minister said that Members favour improving public health, and I certainly agree with that.

However, and with this I will finish, I became involved in the all-party group on road safety when it commenced in the Assembly and, for personal reasons, I have a passion for road safety. Headway encouraged me to introduce the Bill, and I believe that the parents who have been in contact with me are correct: the best way to make our children safe is to have legislation to make them wear helmets. At the last minute, I appeal to Members not to agree on legislation but to agree to allow the general principle of the Bill to go to Committee and be scrutinised further so that professionals can study and gather evidence so that we can decide which side we are on.

Question put.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 20; Noes 18.


Mr Attwood, Mr D Bradley, Mrs M Bradley, Mr PJ Bradley, Mr Burns, Mr Callaghan , Mr Dallat, Dr Farry, Mr Gallagher, Mrs D Kelly, Mr Lunn, Mr A Maginness, Mr McCallister, Mr B McCrea, Mr McDevitt, Dr McDonnell, Mr McGlone, Mr P Ramsey, Ms Ritchie, Mr Wells.

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr PJ Bradley and Mr A Maginness.


Mr S Anderson , Mr Armstrong, Mr Bell, Mr Boylan, Mr Butler, Mr T Clarke, Mr Girvan, Mr Hamilton, Mr Kinahan, Miss McIlveen, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Poots, Ms S Ramsey, Mr G Robinson, Mr Ross, Ms Ruane, Mr Storey, Mr Weir.

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Bell and Mr Ross.

Question accordingly agreed to:


That the Second Stage of the Cyclists (Protective Headgear) Bill be agreed.

Adjourned at 8.52 pm