– in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 9th May 2006.

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Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith 11:00 am, 9th May 2006

I am delighted to have secured this debate. Debates on cycling policy are certainly not regular occurrences in the House, although I hope that will change, and the main purpose of my introducing the debate is to ask why cycle use has not in general increased in this country, despite the steps that have been taken to encourage it, and to make some suggestions of what we need to do to change that position and to bring UK cycling levels up to those enjoyed in some other European countries, for example.

Before I discuss the general policy, I want to spend a couple of minutes on an issue that is causing great concern to cyclists and cycling organisations, which is the proposal for changes to the highway code. Consultation on the proposals closes tomorrow, so the debate is timely. The Minister is, I am sure, aware of those concerns, as I imagine many other hon. Members will be, as about 11,000 e-mails and letters on the issue have been sent out by cyclists.

I will not set out the concerns at any great length, but will describe them briefly for the benefit of those watching or listening to the debate, or who read it in the future. It is proposed to change the wording of the recommendations on cycle facilities under the highway code. The Cyclists Touring Club, or CTC, which has provided a briefing note to many Members, for which I am grateful, believes that the new wording means that

"the use of cycle facilities will no longer be discretionary for any cyclist who wants to protect him/herself from the threat of adverse legal action."

It is suggested:

"If a cyclist was injured and there was a cycle facility nearby...the driver's insurer would have all the pretext they needed to argue that any compensation due to the cyclist should be reduced on the basis of 'contributory negligence'."

That threat is not just an academic nicety. Existing highway code rules have been used against cyclists in such a way, and cyclists have lost thousands of pounds as a result of not wanting to challenge such claims of contributory negligence when they are made against them in legal action following an accident.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

I know that my hon. Friend is a frequent cyclist, as am I, although I do not think that we have to declare interests in such debates. Does he encounter, particularly in urban areas—perhaps when he cycles in his constituency—badly designed or poorly maintained cycle routes or paths? It can often be safer for cyclists to use the main road. To have any damages to which they are entitled reduced because of that choice is a perverse interpretation, is it not?

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

That is a good point. I do not want to start sounding like the Jeremy Clarkson of the cycling fraternity, but we could all think of examples where a badly designed cycle path, one that is badly maintained or one that is blocked by traffic is more dangerous to use than not. All cyclists are aware of the position described by my hon. Friend. It is important not effectively to encourage the idea that cyclists should be corralled into a small, often badly-maintained section at the edge of the road, and that they should not be entitled to use the rest of the road, like other road users, if they consider it appropriate to do so.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

As we are talking about the highway code, one cannot, as a keen cyclist, avoid the issue of cycle helmets. I happen to disagree with the CTC and think that people should wear helmets—I would never cycle without a cycling helmet, and I cycle all the time—but I worry about how, having been put into the highway code, that subject has become a cause célèbre. People are almost going out of their way to advise others not to wear a helmet. Surely, the Department needs to pull people in and get some resolution on the issue. I find it difficult to encourage my children to wear a helmet, because it is not the done thing. Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue needs to be resolved one way or another?

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

My hon. Friend raises a good point. There have been lengthy debates on the wearing of cycle helmets, although I do not want to go into them now. Like him, I cycle regularly. I not only try to use cycle facilities and cycle paths, but wear a helmet and encourage my children to do so.

It is important that our approach should not only be rational, but encourage and facilitate cycling, the appropriate use of facilities and the wearing of appropriate protection in the right circumstances. We should not end up—to coin a phrase—driving people away from cycling because of ultimately self-defeating restrictions. The general thrust of what my hon. Friend says has a lot of merit.

I call on the Minister to ensure that, after the consultation period, any wording in the new highway code that could give rise to unwarranted contributory negligence claims against cyclists is removed. Moreover, he should take the opportunity to include clearer advice to drivers on how to interact safely with cyclists—for example, on how much space to leave when overtaking them, and on the importance of leaving cycle lanes unobstructed and not blocking up facilities such as advanced stop lines, which have been provided in many urban locations but are frequently ignored by a number of motorists.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury

Would it not be to the advantage of us all if advanced stop lines were made compulsory rather than simply advisory, so that if a motorist stopped within one, they would be committing an offence? At the moment, they would not be.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

That is a very good suggestion, and I hope that the Minister will consider it. There is also, perhaps, a role for those who employ drivers, including large public sector bodies. They could do a lot to train their drivers to recognise the importance of observing not only road traffic regulations in general, but cycle stop lines in particular. As my hon. Friend rightly points out, those are frequently ignored.

I turn to the wider issue of the steps that we need to take to achieve a real and significant increase in cycling in the UK. As the excellent background note from the CTC points out, cycle use has not increased in spite of ambitious targets. Although 68 per cent. of all trips and 58 per cent. of all car trips cover less than 5 miles, cycling accounts for less than 2 per cent. of trips made in Britain. That compares with a modal share of between 10 and 20 per cent. in many other European countries, and of up to 50 per cent. in some cities in the Netherlands.

I am aware that the figure for Britain may be a little misleading, as it does not take into account some of the increase in cycling on off-road routes. That is not included in the overall statistics. In some towns and cities, there has been notable success in increasing cycling's share of overall transport use. However,that must mean that it has gone down in other cities, towns and communities. The overall picture is still pretty clear.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for yet again being so generous in giving way. He referred to off-road cycling. He may refer to the organisation later in his speech, but will he pay tribute to Sustrans for all the work it has done to encourage and develop the national cycling network? I and others have used large sections of it—the coast to coast route, the Pennine way and so on. My observation, although anecdotal, is that usage of that network, particularly in my constituency, is rising steadily. That has to be good.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

Indeed it is, and I pay tribute to what Sustrans has done. Part of one of its routes runs through my constituency, near my home, and I regularly use it. It is also well used by other cyclists. Unfortunately, however, the overall picture is that we are nowhere near reaching the cycling levels of our European neighbours.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Is not one of the problems—and perhaps one of the reasons for that trend—the fact that not everyone has the joined-up thinking of organisations such as Sustrans? At the same time that Sustrans is planning its safe routes to schools and safe routes to work campaigns, thereare proposals for out-of-town railway stations, for example, which would encourage everybody to travel to the station by car, unlike in Cheltenham Spa, where I have regularly cycled to the railway station. Such counter-trends might be responsible for the figures to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

I do not feel able to comment on the position in Cheltenham, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand, but the general point about ensuring joined-up thinking on the issue atall levels of Government is essential. Those local authorities that exhibit joined-up thinking are the ones that have achieved increases in cycle use, while others have not.

How do we increase cycle use in the UK? I agree with those who say that above all we must tackle the perception—in some cases, the reality—that cycling can be dangerous. The danger is often exaggerated but nevertheless is, I am sure, the most significant factor in deterring, in particular, new cyclists, younger cyclists and children from cycling, and parents from encouraging their children to cycle. Part of the solution to tackling that perception must be a much more extensive network of cycle paths, routes and facilities in urban and rural areas.

A lot has been done, but we all know from personal experience of existing cycle networks with major gaps in them that, having travelled along a route that one wants to take, one has to join the normal street network at a particularly busy and apparently dangerous point. Experienced cyclists can perhaps cope, but those who are not experienced are deterred by those gaps in the network. They are also deterred by the localised gaps to which my hon. Friend David Taylor referred, which require cyclists to dismount or stop every few yards. To be blunt, that can make the cycle path quite useless and can occasionally increase the danger to cyclists as well.

We need to change that, and we need a significant extension of cycle facilities, crossing paths and cycle lanes. Depending on what is appropriate to a location, that is the approach we need to encourage a change in perception and to make cycling much more widely taken up in this country. If we do not provide cycle facilities that are of use to cyclists, they might not use them and motorists might get uptight because they think money is being wasted on those facilities. Unnecessary hostility could arise between cyclists and motorists—and sometimes pedestrians—because of facilities not being properly planned and thought through.

We need a comprehensive process that ensures the right approach for each road and location, and there are opportunities to achieve that. The Department for Transport is finalising guidance notes on pedestrian and cycle planning and shared-use facilities, and a promising first draft has been produced. However, the issue is not just about routes, lanes and cycle facilities. Cyclists, like pedestrians and the wider population, also benefit from traffic reduction measures, speed reduction measures, 20 mph zones and home zones. By reducing speed, those measures make the roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians—and indeed motorists—and could also help to improve the vibrancy of local streets and shopping centres, strengthening community life in our towns and cities.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I thank my hon. Friend for being so kind in giving way again. One thing that would instantly make cyclists feel safer is getting motorists to stop using mobile phones. When I cycle, I feel that the people who pose the most danger to me are those who continue to use mobile phones. I know that that is being dealt with in the Road Safety Bill and that additional penalties are being considered, but until we get people to stop using mobile phones, they will often be oblivious to cyclists and cyclists' lives will be in danger.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

My hon. Friend makes a good point not just for cyclists, but for general road users, including motorists. He and I are in danger from that practice.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. Is he surprised to learn that in every survey of categories of antisocial behaviour, greatest concern is registered not over litter, dog fouling, aggressive teenagers, drug dealing or neighbour noise, but over speeding in urban and rural settings? That problem needs to be tackled and the Government could generate some much needed popularity by addressing it systematically and effectively.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

As always, my hon. Friend makes a good point, which I am sure the Minister will take up.

How can we achieve a comprehensive approach throughout the UK? It would be appropriate to require every local authority to carry out an audit of an existing network to see how they could create a comprehensive cycle network fit for cyclists in the area. Some authorities have done this and some have a good record, but others do not. That is why we need to do something to improve those authorities.

There is great variation between different UK towns and cities in the facilities provided for cycling, and as a result great variation between cycling's shares of overall transport usage. In my city of Edinburgh, the percentage of journeys to work by bike has doubled and continues to increase. It is still only a small percentage, but that is a move in the right direction. It is partly due to the fact that, for 20 years or more, there has been a consistent policy of promoting cycling and facilities have been provided to encourage it, accompanied by the very effective Lothian cycle campaign, Spokes, of which I am proud to be a member.

That campaign ensured that the council was put under the microscope when cycle facilities were not as good as they should have been. There is always a need to do more and a need for more spending locally and nationally. Edinburgh and other cities—Cambridge is a good example—have shown where a difference can be made, and there are a number of such examples in London as well.

Local leadership is important as it can ensure that in all developments—for example, those in transport, roads and housing—cycle facilities are built in from the start when it is cheaper to do so, rather than added later. Too often, cycling is not incorporated when developments start, when it could be quite easily, and planning authorities must be encouraged by appropriate guidance from central Government to ensure that that happens.

The process must occur at a more local level as well. We need many more examples of people "thinking bike" in relation to new developments, buildings or whatever. Bluntly, we need only look at Parliament for examples of how that has not happened. Duringthe past year, some, doubtless necessary, security improvements have been made around the perimeter of Parliament. Those could have been used as an opportunity to improve cycle access into and out of the Houses of Parliament and to improve conditions for cyclists travelling past, but we have created a situation that is even more dangerous for cyclists. We could start by putting our own House in order.

I have spoken for longer than I intended, but I have taken quite a few interventions. We have to do something about the biggest single factor that influences the trend in cycle use in the UK, which is the provision of resources. I acknowledge the substantial capital funding that has been put into cycling by the Government.The funding programme for the development of a comprehensive strategy in six cities in England is particularly welcome, but I regret that my constituents will not be able to share that success: in Scotland, there has been a cut of more than a third in cycling spending from£12 million to £8 million a year.

In the same period, transport spending has increased from £800 million to £1,200 million a year. For the most part, that increase lies with new motorwaysand similar roads, which are being promoted enthusiastically by the Lib Dem Minister for Transport and Telecommunications in the Scottish Parliament. I hope that our Lib Dem colleagues will say something to encourage a change of approach in Scotland.

Whatever is happening in different parts of the UK, we must try ensure that, instead of pilots, studies and local projects, there is a comprehensive approach to cycling policy at all levels of central Government and local government so that there is an increase in cycling and in the resources needed to encourage and support it locally. We need capital funding, of course—there have been increases there—as well as a steady and secure revenue funding stream. That could be particularly important in providing more training for cyclists.

Training is important not only in schools, but for people at work, and it could be organised through and encouraged by employers. Training could be given in universities, colleges and other organisations with a large number of people who could be encouraged to cycle. More training would also, I hope, go some way toward discouraging those cyclists who break the rules of the road, ignore traffic lights, and endanger pedestrians and other cyclists who comply with the law. I condemn such behaviour. As one who cycles and also drives a car, I know that such irresponsible behaviour gives all cyclists a bad name. We should try to discourage it.

Cycling has countless benefits and should be encouraged. It is one of the most environmentally friendly forms of transport and it could contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Motor vehicles are one of the most important contributors to those emissions, and are likely to be for many years to come. A shift to cycling in our towns and cities would also reduce congestion. Cycling is a healthy activity and it could help us to tackle the problem of obesity, particularly in children, about which we are all concerned.

I congratulate the Government on what they have done so far and urge them to take account of cyclists' concerns about the changes in the highway code. I also urge them to build on what they have done and to adopt a joined-up approach involving civil servants, central Government and local government to achieve a shift in resources and a change in attitudes. They should work together to help to make cycling as popular as it is in many of our European neighbours.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Labour, Staffordshire Moorlands 11:22 am, 9th May 2006

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Lazarowicz on securing this timely debate. As he said, it is timely because tomorrow is the deadline for comments on the changes to the highway code.

I also congratulate the Cyclists Touring Club on raising the profile of cyclists. Far from being annoyed, as its briefing note suggests, by the e-mails and letters that I have received from CTC supporters, I am delighted to receive them. For too long, cyclists have moaned about facilities, but have not punched their weight in terms of political pressure by lobbying MPs, Ministers and their local authorities. The CTC says that more than 11,000 cyclists have e-mailed their MPs in response to its campaign about the highway code. That is absolutely brilliant, but I have a complaint: I do not think that I got my fair share.

Cyclists should now mobilise locally to put pressure on local authorities to produce local transport plans that provide for a cycle-friendly infrastructure. With cycling at an all-time low, it is unacceptable for local authorities to look at their local transport plans simply in terms of ensuring that there is no reduction in cycle use or achieving satisfactory minimum targets. The current state of affairs will not change unless there is pressure from local communities and the Department for Transport to make cycling a higher priority.

With political activism at such a low ebb, well-organised local cycling groups could achieve a great deal on issues such as increased congestion and tackling the obesity epidemic. In that context, I want to mention Leek Cyclists Club, which is running some excellent events in August to celebrate its 130 years of existence—it was established in 1876. I hope to be supporting those events. I like the fact that the club is putting on a range of activities, including sportive rides, time trials and family rides. Continental cyclists will be involved as well. The proceeds will go to the local air ambulance service and to the first responder service. I hope that the club will not confine its activities to such events, but enthuse others and get much more involved with local schools to promote cycling, and with the local authority to ensure that more is done locally.

I agree that under-resourcing is an issue. I must accept some responsibility for securing an allocation of only £5 million a year to Cycling England when I was in the relevant Department. The hoped-for £70 million was never on the cards; it was not going to happen. However, the creation of Cycling England has been a huge step forward.

It is also important that we now have the new, accredited, national standard for cycling training, which is extremely welcome, as is the three-tier level. It will equip not just children but adults with training for on-road cycling and dealing with real traffic conditions, rather than involve just going round bollards and so on. Such things are great fun, but they do not always equip people for cycling on the road.

It is hugely important to improve cycling skills and safety, as well as to give people much-needed confidence, because it can make a huge difference on the road. When I was in the Department, I was amazed to discover that the cycling proficiency scheme that I knew as a child no longer existed; it stopped 10 years ago. It is no wonder that fewer and fewer children cycle to school. Parents have to be convinced that their children will be safe cycling to school. Training is a vital part of that equation, although it will not necessarily overcome the overwhelming perception that cycling is dangerous.

The "Bike It" scheme, which is particularly geared towards schools, will help to create a greater perception of safety, because it is working on personalised safety routes from home to school and on ensuring proper secure storage for bikes at school. It is important that when people embark on cycling they try to work out a safe route where they can deal with the hazards along the way much more securely.

I met a group of enthusiastic child cyclists in one school who happily cycled in rain, snow or in any other conditions. Some were young and others were slightly older, but they all found the process incredibly empowering. They told me that they did not have to wait for their mum or dad to get the car out of the garage, because they could cycle to school at any time, and that gave them huge independence, as well as increased physical fitness, which is a welcome side effect. That independence is important, because nowadays children are often shepherded to school and to shops, dance classes and so on. The fact that children could go out on their own in safety—along a safety route—meant that they felt independent, and they enjoyed that feeling of freedom.

I am sure that the proposed changes to the highway code are intended to improve the safety of cyclists. However, many cycle lanes are poorly designedor badly maintained. John Grimshaw of Sustrans demonstrated that to me when he took me to Bristol along such routes. Given that cyclists are just about the most vulnerable road users, it is important that they can make their own choices about whether to ride along a cycle route or along the road without fear of adverse legal consequences.

Of course, a minority of cyclists behave badly and illegally, flouting traffic laws, and I find them as annoying as anyone else does, but let us be realistic. Many motorists also flout traffic laws, not least by using mobile phones. Unbelievably, some people also use mobile phones when cycling. I cannot understand why they do that; it is appalling. However, the highway code should not be drafted as though all cyclistsare irresponsible. Most are not. They want to cycle safely and survive in what are often difficult traffic conditions. No one wants the risks to cyclists to increase, or cyclists to be penalised for deciding not to use a cycle lane. I think we all know examples of cycle lanes that go just a few yards or that come to an abrupt end at a junction or, worse still, at a roundabout.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

Does my hon. Friend agree that a short stretch of cycle lane can be extremely dangerous in that, at the end of the lane, the act of joining the main route puts the cyclist at much greater risk than if they had not entered the cycle lane in the first place?

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Labour, Staffordshire Moorlands

That is absolutely right. The point at which a cyclist joins the rest of the traffic is a clear area of real danger, and the evidence shows that most accidents occur at junctions. Often, that is just because motorists do not see cyclists. It is vital that we change the culture in this country so that it is much more akin to that in France, where cyclists are noticed. In London, a critical mass of cyclists has been created, so motorists are more aware of cyclists there, but we have much more to do in other towns where cycling is not so prevalent.

I want to make a plea for far more active promotion of the scheme that enables people to obtain tax-free loans from their employers to buy bikes. A similar scheme involving computers has been very successful in the past, and such schemes make absolute sense.

An excellent employer in my area, Britannia building society, has often been criticised for the number of cars that spill out of its car park on to the road. The car park is overflowing and the building society is having to build a new car park, but if it could only encourage some of its employees to cycle to work, that would free up space in the car park. The building society is very well placed, just outside Leek. If the canal towpaths could be opened up for cyclists, its staff could enjoy a leisurely cycle ride to work in one of the most beautiful parts of England—a perfect start to the working day.

Sustrans has done tremendous work in my constituency by opening up cycle ways, one of which is the Biddulph Valley way. That cycle route is ideal not only for employees, but for children going to school. Sustrans seems to have an amazing facility to take public money, increase it twofold or threefold and use it incredibly effectively throughout the nation.

In conclusion, I should like to ask the Minister a few questions. Will he review all local transport plans in respect of their proposals to boost cycling? It is vital that we consider what local authorities are doing countrywide, not just in the towns that Cycling England is promoting as its project towns. Will he examine again the proposed changes to the highway code and take on board the concerns of both the CTC and cyclists? Will he promote much more actively the tax-free loans for bike purchase and work with employers' organisations to increase cycling among their staff? Will he do much more to expand cycle training for adults as well as children through "Bike It" and other local initiatives?

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Rt Hon David Miliband, Secretary of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 11:34 am, 9th May 2006

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Lazarowicz both on obtaining the debate at a good time and on obtaining it at all, because it is important in its own right that we talk about improving cycling.

My bicycle for many years has been a sturdy black mountain bike. I have done my best to cut out short journeys by car, and walk and cycle to replace them. This is the time of the year when I love to get the bike out on a warm summer evening or a sunny weekend day and cycle into the beautiful countryside around the Stafford constituency. The pace of life on a bicycle is wonderful, and one enjoys sights and sounds along countryside roads and cycle ways that cannot be caught when driving. It is a beautiful experience, and I urge everybody to do the same.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Rt Hon David Miliband, Secretary of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am happy to give way if my hon. Friend wants more details about the routes around the Stafford constituency.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

Will my hon. Friend confirm that when he undertakes short journeys in his constituency, he does not have a driver who carries his shoes and papers to his destination?

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Rt Hon David Miliband, Secretary of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I can give that confirmation. Looking along the rows of seats, the score in the category of Daves who support cycling is Labour 3, Tories 1.

There is good support for cycling in Stafford, thanks in large part to the LA21 team at Stafford borough council, particularly the outstanding Karen Davies who leads it so well. We enjoy family cycling days that are organised by her team. Under the Back 2 Bikes recycling scheme, people give up their damaged or old cycles, which are repaired and made available to new users. They are rented out, hired out or even loaned to people who cannot afford to buy a bike. We do what we can in my constituency to support cycling.

My reasons for cycling are mainly to keep my weight down—we attend far too many dinners in this place—and to keep my carbon dioxide emissions from transport to a minimum. If people cycle often, they enjoy health benefits and multiply the benefits to the health of our nation and our environment. There are, of course, additional social, economic and environmental benefits. For example, if people were to cycle rather than drive their vehicles in city and town centres, we would have cleaner air. That would mean less incidence of asthma and more pleasant surroundings for people who want to shop, window shop or simply stroll. It would make areas more attractive to people who want to shop and visit as tourists. Cycling provides all those wider benefits.

Cycling can help with rising obesity by increasing regular physical exercise, and it addresses the growing concern about climate change by contributing to reduced emissions of greenhouse gases. It can boost the retail sector, promote tourism and open up the countryside to more visitors. It can reduce the pressure on an over-congested road network, and, most important, it canbe fun.

It is necessary to stress the downside. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith spoke about the perception of danger, but in fact there is danger on roads from congestion, big vehicles and drivers who are less than attentive to their duties as drivers on busy roads. However, it is clear that the positives far outweigh the negatives, and the debate rightly aims at pushing the Government to do more to promote cycling.

Like my hon. Friend, I believe that we ought to direct this debate to local authorities as well. They now have good levels of funding, thanks to the Government's generosity. They have local transport plans for strategic planning in their areas of roads, cycling and transport generally, and we want them to give the same priority to cycling as we are urging on my hon. Friend the Minister.

My hon. Friend gave some examples of local authorities that have been successful in promoting cycling in their area. There has been a marked increase in recreational cycling, and cycling remains an important transport mode for many people, but, according to the Government's walking and cycling action plan for 2004,

"across England as a whole, we have not succeeded in raising cycling levels significantly above the 1996 baseline."

There is one bright, sparkling spot of success that contradicts that conclusion: the national cycle network, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend David Taylor. The figures that I have are for 2004, when there were more than 201 million trips on the national cycle network, an increase of some 11 per cent. in just one year. The Sustrans report for that year states:

"Traffic-free urban routes are crucial to the increased usage of the Network. Whilst the Network grew by 9.3 per cent. in urban areas between 2003 and 2004, cycling...trips on these routes grew by 16.0 per cent.".

No doubt that is why the Department for Transport describes the national cycling network as

"the strongest success story in walking and cycling" in that very walking and cycling action plan of 2004. That is one good example of action to improve safety and security, and to reassure cyclists that their activity is safe as well as healthy. We must consider other ways of giving the same reassurance and support to cycling. Part of that strategy will mean more dedicated cycle lanes.

My hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, North and Leith and for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins) touched on the revisions to the highway code. In any collision between a car and a cyclist, it is inevitable that the cyclist will come off worse than the driver of the car. The onus is much more on the driver of the vehicle to take care, and cyclists' worry about revising the highway code is based on unscrupulous drivers and insurance companies using the highway code to try to make spurious counter-claims against cyclists who get hurt in collisions. They are right to possess that fear. The law on driver insurance needs to be changed so that non-motorised road users can claim injury damages from drivers who hit them, unless it can be shown that they were reckless in causing the collision that led to their injury.

When I was a solicitor, which is an increasingly long time ago, I experienced making claims in countries other than Britain for people who were injured in road collisions. Countries such as France already have rules that put the onus on drivers and their insurance companies to compensate other people who are injured by the actions of vehicles. Their pedestrians and cyclists have stronger protection by law, and I urge that approach on our Government.

Another important consideration for the protection of cyclists is the education of motorists. We heard about the bad habit of driving while using a mobile phone, and about drivers who do not see cyclists even though they are in front of their eyes. In my constituency, I have seen drivers driving too close to cyclists as they try to pass them, and opening their car doors as cyclists go past, because they forgot their duty to look over their shoulder. We must draw motorists' attention to their responsibilities.

Recently, I saw some Government-sponsored advertisements on the television that were successful in drawing attention to the presence of motorcyclists on our roads. We need much more of the same for cyclists as part of the Government's publicity campaign. I should also like more use of 20 mph zones, where all traffic slows down. They give cyclists a fairer chance of a safe journey.

The Commission for Integrated Transport looked throughout Europe at transport best practice in 2001, and as part of its report it found that area-wide 20 mph limits are

"the one critical success factor underpinning best practice in promoting walking, cycling and public transport as alternatives to the private car".

Living Streets, a charity that promotes safer streets, is part of the Safer Streets Coalition, which comprises organisations including CTC. It wants safer roads for all road users. When I met Living Streets, it argued that there are three big reasons for making 20 mph the default speed in most streets. It said:

"It is the one thing that will do most to cut casualties, make streets vibrant and people centred, boost sustainable transport."

I agree with those arguments, adopt them myself and urge them on the Minister.

I also received the great sheaf of letters that my hon. Friends mentioned, objecting to the highway code changes. I have had letters about another campaign—CTC-inspired, I think—to integrate cycle and rail transport. It is a policy, as one of my constituents called it, of doorstep to destination. It was urged on me that the Government should have a national policy framework that puts cycling and rail use together, covering things such as station access and parking, and storing cycles safely at stations. In the nine years that I have been going to platform 1 of Stafford station to catch my train to Parliament, I have seen the growth of a safe parking area for cycles on the platform. As it has grown, so has its use, and there is a large number of bicycles there every Monday morning when I am waiting for the train to Euston.

The letters that I have received also urge that the national policy framework should cover on-board cycle carriage facilities, information about cycle use and carriage, the possibility of cyclists reserving places on trains for their cycles, and the wider use of consultation and monitoring. Again, I ask the Minister to consider those options.

We already have policies on safe routes to schools, and those should clearly include cycling. It is particularly important that we reassure parents that it is safe for their children to cycle to school. That is why 20 mph limits are important, particularly around schools, and why safe parking and storage for children's cycles is vital in schools. In my constituency, I speak to students in schools and listen to representatives of schools councils, and there is tremendous interest in safe parking and storage facilities for cycles. However, there is not always enough money for every school that wants such facilities to have them, and I hope that we can put that right. It is also important, as my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands said, that pupils have proper, structured instruction on safe cycling.

My hon. Friend also mentioned employers, and I have seen examples of good practice in my constituency in terms of green travel plans. A small number of employers have taken the issue on board enthusiastically and developed plans to reduce demand among staff for coming to work in their own cars. Staffordshire county council gives good support and advice on that and has a small amount of money to assist employers in making changes, such as giving priority to parking for cycles, providing showers for people who cycle to work and so on. However, a bit more money to get such schemes up and running would be useful.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

Would my hon. Friend care to speculate on ways in which we in the House of Commons could improve the record of employers and, indeed, Members on cycling to work? How could we assist and encourage them to do so?

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Rt Hon David Miliband, Secretary of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I entirely adopt my hon. Friend's comments about making it easier to get cycles into this place and making the streets around the building more accessible, and I would certainly like more Members than Ministers to have access to showers here if they cycle to work. In fairness to our colleagues, however, I should say that I see a lot of them cycling to Parliament each day as I walk here from my flat in London, and I congratulate all those who do so.

My hon. Friend Mr. Drew mentioned wearing cycle helmets, which is the final thing that I want to raise. I always wear my cycle helmet when I am cycling, but a resident who lives just around the corner from me, in Newport road, went out on a recreational cycling run with some friends without wearing one. Sadly, he fell over the handlebars, landed on his head and received a dreadful injury, as everybody can imagine. I therefore urge all cycle users to wear a helmet and all parents to encourage their children always to wear a cycle helmet. When my hon. Friend Mr. Martlew introduced a private Member's Bill to make it the law for everybody to wear a helmet, it was disappointing that there was a split in the cycling lobby over whether that was a good or bad thing. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, I urge the Minister to bring the cycling organisations together and to try to reach a consensus on a law to make helmet wearing the norm for all cycle users.

Those are the points that I urge on my hon. Friend Minister. If he wants to enjoy the pleasures of cycling around my constituency, he would be welcome any time.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury 11:49 am, 9th May 2006

I begin by congratulating my hon. FriendMark Lazarowicz on giving us the time and space to debate this important issue. I speak as a cyclist and chair of the all-party cycling group.

I shall speak on behalf of an oppressed minority who spend much of their time in the gutter, who always seems to be in the wrong, and who are told that they are a danger to themselves, and possibly to pedestrians, and that they are definitely an annoyance to taxis and should get out of the bus lanes. However, we are clean, green and healthy, and cycling is the future of transport. The number of cyclists has doubled in London since 2000. Indeed, we have reached a critical mass in the capital, and motorists know that we are there.

The more cycling there is on the roads, the safer they become, because the real danger is the metal boxes—the cars. We must encourage cycling and change attitudes to it. Cycling presses so many policy buttons. It helps with the environment, helps to make our lives easier, helps to ensure that our roads are no longer full and helps with the obesity epidemic. Cycling is the answer to so many of our problems, and I urge the Government to give greater priority to this important policy issue.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I am pleased that my hon. Friend is now chair of the all-party cycling group. Cyclists have always been ahead of their time and the Clarion cycling clubs—people forget that they were the early socialists—formed the wedge that allowed us tohave freedom of access. Going back 100 years, which would help socialism in this country, would give predetermination to the vital role of the bike in our society. Does she agree that that is a jolly good thing?

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury

It is a jolly good thing, as well as a timely reminder of our history and the close links between the socialist movement and cyclists. We hope to continue to push that forward.

I was talking about London, and particularly how things have changed there and how in so many respects it shows the way. The speed of transport in central London is 9 mph, which is the same as it was at the turn of the last century when transport consisted of horses and carts. The statistics from Transport for London show that the time it takes to travel 4 miles is 22 minutes on a bicycle, 30 minutes on the tube,40 minutes in a car and 62 minutes on a bus. It is much faster to make a 4-mile journey in London by bicycle, and cycling in London has already doubled.

Another problem is that we are victims of some of the wackier suggestions and criticisms that are levelled against us. Unfortunately, some of those come from another place. A recent suggestion was to ask the Government whether they would be willing to consider carefully whether

"a new requirement that cyclists display on their clothing a clearly readable personal registration number and carry a registration card containing relevant information would confer benefits that outweighed the bureaucracy and costs that sucha system would entail?"—[Hansard, House of Lords,27 April 2006; Vol. 681, c. 256.]

May I urge the Government to ignore that advice? It is crazy to suggest that cyclists should carry numbers on their clothing so that they could be identified, and it would be equally insulting and crazy to expect pedestrians to do that. Cyclists are a special class and we need support. We do not need that eccentric criticism.

There was also a suggestion in another place that 1,000 pedestrians in London were injured by cyclists last year. May I put an accurate defence of cyclists on the record? Last year, more pedestrians were hit and injured by mopeds than by bicycles. In 2004, one pedestrian was killed in a collision with a cyclist, but that is the only recent known death. Motor cyclists, of whom there are a similar number on the road as cyclists, killed 20 people and seriously injured another 200 last year. The number of direct pedestrian deaths caused by cars in the same year was 388, with another 5,000 people seriously injured and 20,000 moderately injured. On top of that, there were another 2,000 deaths on the road, all caused by motorised transport. It is a simple fact that the more cycling there is on the roads, the safer our roads become.

May I take this opportunity to put in my ha'penny-worth on the highway code campaign? More than 11,000 cyclists contacted their MP about the matter. Several thousand sent in responses to the highway code consultation last weekend and succeeded in jamming the Driving Standards Authority's e-mail server, so several hundred cyclists have been unable to submit their views. However, I presume that I know what they are saying. They are asking the Government, "Please do not make it our responsibility if we are injured or hurt by cars on the roads," because without the cars there would not be those injuries.

In fact, if there were to be a policy initiative to help and protect cyclists, I would still strongly recommend that the Government continue to put money into cycle training, which is important, and not only for children. I had cycling training a few months ago—I have been cycling on the roads in London for nearly 30 years—and I was amazed at how helpful it was. I was told that it would simply be assertive cycling training, and those who know me were surprised that I needed that, but assertive cycling made me think about cycling in a different way.

For example, I was taught not to cycle in the gutter; we are entitled to cycle on the road like anyone else. I was told not to cycle right by parked cars, but to move away from them, so that when a parked car's door opens, the cyclist does not get hit. When cyclists stop at traffic lights, they should stop in the middle of the road. They should make eye contact with drivers behind them, because once eye contact is made, drivers begin to think of the cyclist as a person, rather than an annoying blob. That is what is taught through cycle training, and anyone and everyone can benefit from it. It is a way for us to convince people that cycling can be safe, clean, green, healthy and good for us all.

Finally, I would like to plug a couple of events. This afternoon in Room 8, at 4 o'clock, John Grimshaw is talking about his vision for enabling access to cycle paths by bike and for leaving permanent routes available after the Olympic games to cyclists who want to cycle round east London. Everyone is welcome at that meeting. I must also plug bike week, Bike2Work and the parliamentary bike ride on 21 June, which starts at 9 o'clock outside St. Pancras station. We chose St. Pancras to highlight the importance of integrating transport, including rail and bike transport, and to highlight the unfortunate lack of facilities for bicycles at Europe's largest rail hub. Everyone is welcome.

We cycle to Parliament, but, unfortunately, visitors to Parliament will have difficulties parking their bicycles, although the all-party cycling group is working on that, too. It has had meetings with Westminster city council and the parliamentary authorities, and we keep our fingers crossed that we can make some progress.

Once again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith for giving us the space to debate this issue, and I look forward to the Minister's response. I hope that cycling continues to go up the agenda.

Photo of John Leech John Leech Shadow Minister (Transport) 11:58 am, 9th May 2006

I add my congratulations to Mark Lazarowicz on securing what has turned out to be a very interesting debate on cycling. I confess that I had hoped that my first transport debate would be on something very specific, so I was alarmed when I saw the title "Cycling", and I thank him for giving me some idea of the issues he wanted to raise.

I would like to comment on a few issues. Thehon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Stafford Mr. Kidney) raised concerns about proposed changes to the highway code. I add my support to the campaign to avoid those changes, which could discourage people from cycling. The hon. Members for Stafford and for Stroud (Mr. Drew) raised important points about the compulsory wearing of cycle helmets. In the short term, making helmets compulsory would probably reduce the number of people cycling, although a debate is needed on whether such a move would improve the safety of cyclists in the long term. That is an important question.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith made a good suggestion about forcing local authorities to audit their cycle facilities, but if there are no additional resources, we might find that although local authorities recognise that cycling facilities seriously need to be installed, they might not be able to install them.

On the point about resources, the hon. Gentleman raised concerns over funding cuts for cycling in Scotland and made special mention of the Liberal Democrat Minister for Transport and Telecommunications. However, I should point out that, thanks to the Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment of 2003, the new ScotRail franchise has been negotiated so that bikes can be carried on trains, which will encourage the use of bikes.

Similarly, under that Liberal Democrat Minister, spending on public transport as a proportion of overall transport spending will rise by 70 per cent. between 2003 and 2007, compared with an increase of less than 50 per cent. under Labour's stewardship. Perhaps the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith ought to speak to his colleagues in Scotland as well as preaching to the Liberal Democrats about their commitment to cycling.

No one will dispute that we should encourage more people to cycle. The benefits are clear: cycling keeps people fit and healthy—it is nice to see so many fit and healthy Members here today, who are all committed to cycling—cuts congestion, reduces pollution and makes our streets safer because there are fewer cars out there. Unfortunately, cycling has been in decline since Labour came to power. During the first two terms of the Labour Government, bicycle trips fell by 22 per cent. Equally worryingly, the length of the trips that people make has gone down. According to figures produced by the CTC, which were mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, only 2 per cent. of road trips in Britain are made by bicycle. We all agree that that must change.

To be fair to the Government—no one has mentioned this—one of the main reasons for cycling rates not being as good as they are elsewhere is our pretty poor weather. According to Mr. Kidney, the sun is always shining in Stafford.

Photo of John Leech John Leech Shadow Minister (Transport)

I should invite the hon. Gentleman to come to Manchester with his umbrella, because it is usually raining.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

I am not going to dispute the hon. Gentleman's description of the British weather, but it is important to do away with the myth that one musthave a perfect climate to encourage cycling. The Netherlands does not have a climate drastically different from that in much of the UK for much of the year, but it has a much higher cycling level. Before anyone says that that is because the Netherlands is flat, plenty of places in urban areas in the UK are pretty flat too. Let us not get caught up with the idea that bad weather is the reason for people not cycling more in the UK.

Photo of John Leech John Leech Shadow Minister (Transport)

I accept the point made by the hon. Gentleman, but he will accept that more people are encouraged to cycle during better weather than during poor weather. I vividly remember when I was only a cyclist and not a car driver, always dreading the thought of waking up—

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury

There is no such thing as being "only a cyclist". One does not graduate from being a cyclist to being a motorist.

Photo of John Leech John Leech Shadow Minister (Transport)

I take the hon. Lady's point, but she did not let me finish mine. I was going to say that when I was only a cyclist, as opposed to a cyclist and a motorist, I used to dread waking up and hearing rain on the window before I prepared for my 6-mile cycle ride to work. It certainly discouraged me from getting up in the morning when I thought the weather was going to be poor. I am sure that poor weather is the only reason that Mr. Cameron has a car following him to work with his suit and shoes, because he does not want to spend the rest of the day in a soggy suit and shoes. Instead of having a car following him, perhaps he ought to get a wardrobe—

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

Order. You are drifting, Mr. Leech.

Photo of John Leech John Leech Shadow Minister (Transport)

I apologise, Mr. Hancock.

I accept that this is not just a question of the weather, which is why the Liberal Democrats have a five-point plan for cycling. First, we need to create an environment that accommodates and supports cycling. Most roads are less than inviting for cyclists. Even where cycle lanes have been introduced, they are often too short, or only advisory. I am sure that other hon. Members will have been as frustrated as me at seeing cars constantly parked in the green cycle area, forcing bikes on to the main part of the road. More and better consultation on cycle lanes is needed to ensure that they are put in the right place and that they suit cyclists' needs. I am sure that there are cycle lanes in the constituencies of other hon. Members, as there are in my constituency, that are rarely used because they are in the wrong place and inconvenient.

We need to ensure that there are adequate facilities for the safe storage of bikes. I recently received a complaint from a constituent who told me that there was not a single cycle rack within a half-mile radius of his office, and that the council had told him that there was nowhere suitable in the area for a bike rack. Remarkably, there appear to be plenty of metered car parking spaces, but there is nothing suitable for a bike rack.

We need to be smarter when using the planning process to encourage cycling to work. It is all very well forcing developers to put bike sheds in their new developments, but how many members of staff will use them unless there are adequate changing facilities in those developments? Surely we should ensure that such facilities are included, as part of encouraging the use of bikes.

Perhaps Members of Parliament need to do a little more. Rather than give 20p a mile for cycling and 40p a mile for cars, perhaps we should turn that round and give 40p a mile for cycling and 20p a mile for cars.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury

Does the hon. Gentleman seriously think that if Members of Parliament were to be given another 20p a mile, more of them would cycle to Parliament?

Photo of John Leech John Leech Shadow Minister (Transport)

Perhaps not, but that might discourage car use. If hon. Members got less mileage for using their cars, they might be discouraged from doing so, and perhaps they would be encouraged to use a bike. Who knows?

We also need to improve integration of public transport with cycling provision. I have already mentioned ScotRail being forced to allow passengers to carry bikes. I know someone who has been forced to buy a car because he cannot take his bike on the train. Without being able to cycle to the train station and at the other end cycle from the station to work, he cannot take that route.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Labour, Staffordshire Moorlands

Why did not the hon. Gentleman's friend buy a second bike?

Photo of John Leech John Leech Shadow Minister (Transport)

I cannot answer that except to say that perhaps he did not want to leave a bike overnight somewhere. Given the crime rate in parts of the country, I could understand that.

We must encourage young people to cycle regularly. Most people cycle when they are kids, and one of the most disappointing statistics is that they do not continue to do so. In my opinion, the main reason for that is the fact that among younger people cycling is seen more as a recreation than a form of transport. We should be more successful at persuading people to continue cycling if we get more children into the habit of cycling to get from A to B, as well as for recreation.

The best way to achieve that is to persuade more young people to cycle to school. When I became a school governor, I was appalled to find that there was not a single cycle rack at the school. Was it any wonder that people did not cycle to school when they had nowhere safe to leave their bike? Fortunately, the situation has improved, but all too often schools do not make the necessary provision for bicycles.

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster Conservative, North East Milton Keynes

I apologise for being late, Mr. Hancock. I was caught up in Committee elsewhere. The hon. Gentleman is making an important point, but may I commend to him the system operated in Milton Keynes? We have a red way system, which is an entirely separate grid road system designed especially for walkers and cyclists. That has been an enormous help to people who want to cycle to school. Does he believe that that system should be used more widely when we build new communities?

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

Order. I remind Mr. Leech of the time.

Photo of John Leech John Leech Shadow Minister (Transport)

Thank you, Mr. Hancock. Yes, I agree that that should be encouraged, especially in new developments. Developers should be forced to provide such alternative routes for cyclists and walkers. As well as people enjoying cycling, we have to emphasise the health benefits of cycling for adults and for children. That might sound straightforward, but the message is clearly not getting through to people.

Finally, we need to make roads safer to give people the confidence to get on their bikes. According to the CTC, the biggest discouragement to cycling is the perception that it is dangerous. Sometimes that is a perception; sometimes roads clearly are dangerous. In some cases, the answer is having cycle lanes where they will make a real difference, but getting cars off the road and getting people on to public transport are equally important, as is tackling speeding traffic. The Government have failed to tackle the congestion in our towns and cities effectively. No wonder people have given up cycling, when our roads are full of fast-moving vehicles.

Cycling is a healthy, environmentally friendly and inexpensive mode of transport. More needs to be done to provide better facilities and support for existing cyclists, and to provide the conditions to encourage many others to get back on their bikes.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 12:11 pm, 9th May 2006

I congratulate Mark Lazarowicz on securing this timely debate, given that the review ends tomorrow. I, too, was a keen bicyclist when I was younger. There was one sport that no one has mentioned, which is bicycle polo. All that is required is an old bike, equipment such as an old hockey stick or cricket bat and any old ball, and it is a good use of grounds—football or rugby grounds, or whatever—that are too hard to play those games on. A minimum of only two players is needed on either side. It is a vigorous game that leads to exciting accidents, and I commend it to those who know nothing about it.

Bicycling is the Cinderella of transport activity. We have 3.6 million people who bike on a weekly basis. Well over 1 million commute daily, and 40 per cent. of people use their bikes for leisure. The British Cycling Federation has 14,000 members, the Cyclists' Touring Club has 50,000, and Sustrans has 37,000. A lot of people will be interested in our debate.

Activity seems to be extraordinarily patchy across the country: 28.2 per cent. of people in Cambridge commute, while 0.2 per cent. commute in the Rhondda. Charlotte Atkins made an interesting point about danger. There is a perception of danger, which is partially backed up by the facts: casualties per 100 million km travelled in the UK are eight, while in the Netherlands they are 0.8. Against that, 2.3 per cent. of journeys are made by bicycle in the UK and a massive 27 per cent. in the Netherlands. She made a valid point not only about the perception of danger but about the real danger associated with cycling.

Cycling is a major business. It employs 20,000 people in the UK and there are 4,000 bicycle shops. Mr. Kidney mentioned the health benefits, which appear to me to be massive. The British Heart Foundation says that cycling at least 20 miles a week reduces the risk of heart disease to less than half that for non-cyclists who take no other exercise.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury

Is it not possible to mount an argument that a regular cyclist is Britain is more likely to live longer, and that far from being dangerous cycling is life-enhancing?

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am most grateful to the hon. Lady, because she takes the words out of my mouth.The National Forum for Coronary Heart Disease Prevention says that regular cyclists enjoy a fitness level equal to that of a person 10 years younger. If one third of all short car journeys were made by bike, national heart disease would fall by between 5 and 10 per cent.

Mr. Drew mentioned space and commuting. Cyclists require far less space to get about than car-borne travellers. For example, a4 m wide cycle path can carry five times the number of people catered for in cars on a road that is twice as wide, according to Friends of the Earth.

The Conservatives have a strong record of supporting cycling. My right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron and my hon. Friend Mr. Johnson have given spectacular publicity to the activity. The former said:

"We must give people, particularly those living in our towns and cities, serious travel options that don't involve the car. Around a quarter of all car trips are under 2 miles in length. If we're serious about tackling climate change—and incidentally about improving public health too—we need to help make it possible for people to walk or cycle on these shorter journeys."

He was going right back to our strategy of 10 years ago.

In 1996, the Conservative Government produced a national cycling strategy that set the ambitious target of doubling the number of cycle trips by 2002 and quadrupling it by 2012. The strategy listed a series of actions to be taken by the Government and by local authorities to enhance the activity of cycling. Sadly, I do not have the time to mention them, but they were effectively endorsed by the new Labour Government in the 1998 transport White Paper. However, everything fizzled into the sand.

We did not achieve the results that were promised. Targets became aspirations. The most damning document was the Government's review, published in March 2005. In many ways it is a symbol of what happened to the huge ambitions that the Government had when they came in, which were scaled back and changed when they hit reality. They set off with a national cycling strategy, and we were to have a national cycling forum, but that was reduced in number, as were the targets. Indeed, we did not meet the targets; according to the Government's review, the number of cyclists in England fell by a fifth in the past decade.

Considering how much depended on local government input, it is extraordinary that none of the best value indicators took account of cycling, as one of the main delivery agents was bound to be local government. Nor was it in the Audit Commission's comprehensive performance assessment, because cycling did not have a category of its own; it was lumped in with transport.

There appears to be a conflict on funding. Although cycling is covered by a number of Departments,they seem to be muddling around with the funding. There is Department for Transport funding; there is Department for Education and Skills funding; and there is the travelling to schools initiative. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is involved. Indeed, Hull's local initiative on cycling is one of the success stories, although it does not appear to have changed the outward profile of the Deputy Prime Minister. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is involved through the Countryside Agency, with its quiet lanes and rural transport partnership initiatives; the Forestry Commission is involved; and so is the Environment Agency. The Department of Health mentions cycling in its action plan on diet, physical activity and obesity; and then there is Sport England.

What measures have been taken since the review to co-ordinate better that kaleidoscopic group of Departments? They all have the best intentions, but they do not seem to be well co-ordinated.

There are some interesting examples. I mentioned Hull, and my hon. Friend Mr. Lancaster mentioned Milton Keynes, but perhaps the most interesting is Bristol, where a 14 km bus priority lane increased cyclingmore than any initiative targeted on cycling itself. What is the Government's current policy? Three optionswere mentioned at the end of the review—working exclusively through non-governmental organisations, reforming and refocusing the national cycling strategy board, or working more closely with local authorities. I would be interested to know the current state of play, because in a somewhat Irish manner the conclusion appeared to be in the introduction to the review, which said that the intention was to create a clear steering board of funding Departments to co-ordinate the Government's cycling strategy and to direct the work of Cycling England. I will be grateful if the Minister can tell us how that was brought together.

I want to touch on the vexed question of cycle helmets. Like many hon. Members, I have received numerous letters from constituents. For instance,Mr. Adrian Hanson-Abbott of Wollerton said that he is worried about having compulsory cycle helmets. He thinks that they are poorly designed and that some are positively dangerous. He also raised the conundrum of the insurers of a driver who had been negligent and injured a nine-year-old boy wriggling out of liability on the ground that the parents had not made the child wear a helmet. This is a vexed area that the hon. Member for Stafford was right to raise.

Cycle helmets are compulsory in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Iceland, the Czech Republic, Canada and 20 states in the United States, and there is clear evidence that a good, properly designed helmet will reduce brain, head and facial injuries. My worry is enforcement. Several hon. Members have mentioned mobile phones. We have enough trouble enforcing existing traffic laws without putting a huge extra burden on police. There is also a valid problem of deterrence, and it would be unfortunate if compulsion deterred people from wearing helmets.

I would also like the Minister to comment on research on helmets that work. The CTC briefing, which was most helpful, said that helmets are currently designed for impact speeds of about 13 mph, whereas 93 per cent. of serious and fatal accidents for cyclists occur on roads in collisions with vehicles, and 22 per cent. with HGVs, where the speeds will obviously be far more than 13 mph. The work should be on better technology and cycle helmets that really work. I wonder whether there has been any discussion of that with the equestrian industry, which has done an enormous amount of work on riding helmets. Finally, has the Minister also examined the merits of reflective clothing?

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 12:20 pm, 9th May 2006

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Lazarowicz on securing this interesting debate. I also congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins) and for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) on their contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands did a lot of work when she was a Minister in the Department and I should like to recognise that. I also recognise the tremendous work that the all-party cycling group does to promote cycling and address the issues that relate to it.

Many people have an interest in cycling, whether they cycle or not—although I suspect that we have all been cyclists at some stage. The Government want to encourage more people to cycle; the basic advantages of cycling are convenience, health, cost, environment and enjoyment, as hon. Members have mentioned. To put it simply, cycling contributes to a better quality of health. As some hon. Members pointed out, there has been a decline in cycling, and people continue to use their cars even for short journeys. Between 1999 and 2001, one quarter of all car trips covered less than two miles. In many cases, those journeys could have been made by cycle and we want to promote that.

The Government are committed to reversing the decline in the number of cycling trips. If we are to attract people out of their cars and on to two wheels, we have to make cycling safe, easy and as convenient as possible. That means seeing cycling as a solution to problems of accessibility, health, affordability andthe environment. That is why Cycling England, our advisory body on cycling, reports not only to my Department but to others with an interest in cycling, such as the Department of Health, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Education and Skills. That is also why I will host a meeting of Ministers next week to discuss how cycling can help to deliver a range of Government targets across Whitehall.

Encouraging cycling means having the right facilities at schools and places of work, and training youngsters to enjoy riding a bike. There are many good examples of improvements and good practice in cycling. For example, as one of my hon. Friends made clear, there has been a considerable increase in cycling to work in London thanks to investment and commitment from Transport for London and the development of the London cycle network. I cannot recall seeing as many cyclists on the roads in recent months as I saw this morning on the way in. Perhaps that has something to do with the good weather, but there are tremendous numbers of cyclists on the road.

The Mayor announced last year that the number of recorded cycle journeys on London's key roads had doubled in the previous five years, from 59,000 in 2000 to 119,000 in 2005. Even more impressively, London has experienced a reduction in casualties among cyclists, as other road users have become more aware of their presence. Transport for London reports that since 1990 there has been a 35 per cent. reduction in cycling casualties. That shows that, with the right support and infrastructure, casualties will not necessarily rise if cycling increases.

As has been mentioned, there are also good examples of increases in cycling in the rest of the country, such as in Hull and York, where the national trends have been bucked and a successful cycling programme has been implemented. We undertook a review of the national cycling strategy in 2004, which led to the appointment of Cycling England, the new advisory body made up of experts from the main cycling organisations. Cycling England has been given an annual budget of £5 million, which is in addition to nearly £55 million that has been provided for cycling through local transport plans and Transport for London. Outside London, there has been an increase from £29.5 million in 2001-02 to £36 million in 2005-06.

One of the key elements of Cycling England's work plan is six cycle demonstration towns. Cycling England is investing some £8.4 million in Aylesbury, Brighton, Darlington, Derby, Exeter and Lancaster over the next three years. I return to an earlier point about incorporating cycling into the design of new housing developments and towns. One reason why we picked Aylesbury was the expansion in housing that will take place there soon and the opportunity to incorporate cycling into the design of the new housing development and expansion there.

Work has already begun to showcase best practice in design and planning in relation to the promotion of cycling. The aim is to test the hypothesis that if we spend levels per head of the population equal to the levels spent in European cities where there has been a significant increase in cycling, we can achieve similar increases here. I assure hon. Members that I take a personal interest in those developments, and I will visit each of the cycling demonstration towns. We have already had a meeting in London to discuss their progress, which will be regularly monitored.

Journeys to school were mentioned. Only 2 per cent. of children cycle to school. Increasing that figure is important not only to increase cycling but to reduce obesity levels and generally invest in healthier future generations. Some £2 million was invested in 2005-06 to extend the links to schools programme, which several hon. Members mentioned, on top of £10 million of Government investment in the previous year. That money has drawn in additional funds, so that £31 million has been spent on the project. So far, more than 300 schools have been linked to the national cycle network by more than 230 km of new routes, of which about 70 per cent. are traffic-free.

Cycling England has a number of other initiatives under way, and is developing and promoting a new national cycle training standard to replace the old cycle proficiency test—I took that test in a previous life, as other hon. Members might have done—so as better to equip children with the skills they need to ride safely on today's roads. Cycling England is also working with health authorities, improving the skills of local authority practitioners through a free advisory service backed up by training programmes and improving the marketing of cycling schemes.

Tomorrow I shall attend Cycling England's first annual forum. I am looking forward to discussing its achievements to date and meeting many of the partners who are helping to deliver new initiatives on cycling.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I will not give way, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, as we are short of time and I want to get some comments on the record.

Although local authorities are the key to unlocking increases in cycling, we have also enlisted the help of a wide range of cycling organisations and NGOs to work with us. The CTC is helping to deliver improved cycle training by leading a project to provide grants and bursaries to help build the capacity to roll out the new national cycle training standards. Sustrans is delivering the very successful links to school programme, British Cycling is helping us and the cycle industry is contributing to the "Bike It" project, which my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands mentioned. I congratulate Cycling England on bringing together so many experts, and I am very much enthused and impressed by the way in which all the organisations are working together and by the amount of work and commitment that they are putting in.

I reiterate that local authorities are the main key to unlocking increases in cycling. Many are already doing a fine job and have been boosted by increased funding. We now need the rest to follow. Cycling England is in a good position to help authorities to spend their money effectively and efficiently, as it is about to launch a free expert advisory service. I encourage authorities to seek such help if they need it. Cycling England is also well placed to promote co-operation between several Departments, of which I hope to see more.

Alongside authorities, we need more employers to adopt cycle-friendly policies and introduce cycle-friendly facilities for their workers. Pioneering work has been done on that issue by GlaxoSmithKline, the BBC and the London cycling campaign to promote cycling to work. In Glaxo's case, the impact has been impressive, with the number of registered cyclists rising from 50 to more than 300. The BBC has also achieved high levels of people cycling to work. The Department has played its part in that, having negotiated with the Office of Fair Trading to implement a cycle-to-work tax benefit scheme that allows employers who purchase cycles for employees who commute to work to save the VAT on the cost of the bicycles and to make other tax savings. Cycling England aims to promote the scheme more widely in 2006, and the cycle scheme providers estimate that 100,000 cyclists might participate and benefit from it this year.

Research shows that many cyclists are prevented from cycling to work or hampered by the fact that their employers are less than cycle-friendly. We have to show more companies that a healthier, fitter work force is more productive and profitable. Many cycle commuters use their bikes for only part of their journey to work, combining cycling with public transport—mostly rail. Such journeys are important because they allow bikes to be used as part of a longer journey. As Minister with responsibility for both bike and rail, I am keen to encourage such journeys wherever possible. We will continue to encourage all train operating companies to provide facilities at stations to help facilitate more bike-and-rail journeys. We also recognise that there are pressures—

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but the rules are the rules. I thank all hon. Members who took part in the debate.