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Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 29th March 2012.

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Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

I congratulate Alison Johnstone on using her party’s business time to bring this very important issue to the chamber. I think that it is the first time during my five years in the Scottish Parliament that we have had the opportunity to debate it.

To pick up on Elaine Murray’s theme, I should probably declare an interest, being a cyclist myself. Last summer I spent a week in the French Pyrenees and cycled more than 700km in six days, including 12 of the tour de France’s toughest mountain passes. I might not win all the debating points, but surely I will win that one.

The number of people who cycle in Scotland and across the United Kingdom has grown at an incredible rate in recent years. There has also been an increase in the public debate about cycling, following the successful cities fit for cycling campaign by The Times, which I fully support. About 30,000 people have now expressed their support for its eight-point manifesto. Perhaps more important is that the campaign has also been backed by organisations such as the Automobile Association and the RAC.

The benefits of cycling have been mentioned by others, but it is also important to recognise that

“Cycling is the most efficient form of transport in the world. ... A 2009 study by Professor David MacKay found that an average cyclist will use less than a third of the amount of energy required to walk, a sixth of the energy needed to travel by coach and an eightieth of the energy a car would use.”

Given that

“three quarters of our journeys in the UK are five miles or fewer”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 23 February 2012; c 343WH.]— it is clear that cycling could and should be promoted as one of our basic transport needs. It is clearly not suitable for all journeys, and there are additional challenges in rural areas such as those in my constituency. However, rural areas and towns can all do things to promote cycling, although the exact details will be different in each case.

The health benefits of cycling are significant, and my colleague Nanette Milne will cover them in her speech. Cycling is good for the environment: even if one takes into account the food that a cyclist has to eat, where it comes from and how it was produced, carbon dioxide emissions are a fraction of those from other vehicles.

If we hope to encourage cycling—I think that we should—we must ensure that the safety of cyclists is improved. One way to do that would be through improved training. One training organisation suggested that two hours of training, costing £70, would transform the safety of cyclists on the road. We must also look at what our schools are doing to ensure that our children are introduced to the benefits of cycling at a young age, that they are encouraged to cycle to school, and that they are given training to do so safely.

However, it works both ways. Some cyclists ignore red lights, thereby endangering themselves. Many others do not use proper lighting on their bikes either at night or when visibility is poor. That is not the responsibility of Government or motorists; it is up to the cyclists to behave properly.

When cycling in Europe, I am always struck by how considerate other road users are towards cyclists. Indeed, I understand that in most other European countries the law states that the less-vulnerable road user causing harm is deemed to be responsible or culpable, unless evidence is produced to the contrary. Similarly, other countries often insist on minimum passing distances.

Local authorities need to do more to improve the safety of cyclists. Some councils have very good cycle-friendly schemes, but others have been found wanting. We must do more to invest in cycling infrastructure, not least to ensure that our roads are up to cycle quality. As a cyclist and a car driver, I know that what might be a relatively small hole for a car often becomes a more serious problem for a cyclist.

We will support the Scottish National Party and Labour amendments. I lodged my amendment simply because I feel that the motion is slightly too prescriptive and does not recognise the potential involvement of the business and third sectors in developing and promoting cycling.

With the Olympics and the Commonwealth games fast approaching, the next few months and years will give us a huge opportunity to transform cycling in Scotland. If our cyclists are as successful as we hope, many more people—particularly youngsters—will get on their bikes.

Finally, I will be taking part in the Galashiels triathlon in about nine days. I encourage Alison Johnstone—or any other member who wishes to join me—to take part, because cycling is very important.

I move amendment S4M-02522.1, to leave out from “considers that active” to end and insert

“; commends the Cities fit for cycling campaign by The Times, which has led to cycling being given more prominence in public debate; supports greater business and third sector involvement to boost infrastructure development, and notes the potential that the Olympic and Commonwealth Games can have in contributing to an increase in the number of people taking up cycling.”