Cycling

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:56 pm on 23rd May 2007.

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Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 4:56 pm, 23rd May 2007

The hon. Gentleman is correct. Before I continue, I want to make it clear that the Government can justify their position as being in favour of cyclists' greater use of the road network, but cyclists must be responsible.

I must remind colleagues that cycling on the pavement is also an offence under section 72 of the Highways Act 1835, as amended by section 85(1) of the Local Government Act 1888. The police will enforce the offence as appropriate, either by way of prosecutions or by the use of fixed penalty notices. Similarly, local police forces have the discretion to enforce in respect of the too-common practice of cyclists going through red lights, where they deem that approach appropriate.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East and other Members have expressed concern about the proposed changes to "The Highway Code". However, for the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife to claim, as he did, that the draft highway code forces cyclists to use cycling facilities is patently untrue. I shall discuss that later.

The benefits of cycling are well known, but they are perhaps worth repeating all the same. It not only benefits the cyclist in the form of improved health and cost saving; it has positive implications for the community in the form of reduced congestion and reduced pollution. To that end, we set up Cycling England in 2005, which has a remit to work with local authorities and others with an interest in cycling, to encourage more people to get on their bikes.

A broad range of key organisations is represented on the board of Cycling England, including Sustrans, the Cyclists Touring Club, to which reference has been made, and British Cycling. The board also includes experts in health and sustainable transport, as well as representatives from local authorities. It has developed a programme of work to make the most of its initial annual budget of £5 million, in order to deliver its aim of

"more people cycling more safely, more often".

That aim will find unanimous support in this Chamber.

The recently published "Manual for Streets" approaches local planning with a focus on community, safety and the environment. With that in mind, it places pedestrians and cyclists at the top of the user hierarchy to ensure that their needs are considered. In addition, the Department issues a number of local transport notes and traffic advisory leaflets, and some time ago it published "Cycle-Friendly Infrastructure", which we are in the process of updating. All of those offer local authorities advice on how best to cater for cyclists.

Before I come on to "The Highway Code", may I offer some words of agreement with the concerns of the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife about the maintenance and design of cycle facilities in local areas? He will accept that I do not have a remit over such matters and nor does this House. Local authorities are responsible for the design and maintenance of particular facilities. I am sure that he and his local authority are working to ensure that the decisions on design and maintenance are taken where they ought to be taken: at local level.

We also provide information on safety in "The Highway Code". I should clarify that the purpose of the code is to give sound advice and guidance to all road users on safe use of the roads, as well as to explain where the law applies. The code is intended as general guidance only, and cannot provide road users with detailed instructions or cover every eventuality. More detailed guidance can be found elsewhere—for example, through the driving test and supporting materials for car drivers, and through Bikeability for cyclists.

May I take this opportunity to emphasise that the advice on using cycle facilities in both the current and the proposed revised version of "The Highway Code" is not a legal requirement? It places no compulsion on cyclists to use cycle facilities, and it remains their decision whether or not to follow this advice. The distinction between legal requirements and advisory rules is made clear in the introduction to the code.

We consulted on proposed changes last year, and the version that has now been laid before Parliament includes many revisions following the consultation process. More than 40 changes relating to cycling were made to the draft, in response to representations made by cyclists and cycle groups. These include removing the words "where they are provided" from the rule on cycle facilities. I acknowledge that cycling organisations, particularly the CTC, still have concerns about some of the proposed wording in the code. As the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife said, we have been discussing these concerns with them. I am confident that those discussions will result in a form of words that is acceptable to all sides.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned bike and rail integration, which was the subject of a debate in this Chamber on 8 May. We continue to encourage all train operating companies to provide facilities at stations to promote more bike and rail journeys. Apart from anything else, such an approach makes good business sense. According to the Countryside Agency's bike and rail good practice guide, which is a joint publication with the Department for Transport, cycling to a station can increase its catchment area by 15 times. That assessment is based on a journey time of 10 minutes.

In addition, we are also encouraging train operating companies to work with local highways authorities to promote easier and safer access to stations. Some highways authorities are also assisting with cycle parking at stations. This is an important point, because increasing the number of cyclists who are able to cycle to the station can increase passenger numbers and revenue for the train operating companies, and help local authorities to reduce local traffic congestion.

The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that I have signed a large number of letters to parliamentary colleagues, including him, on the subject of bikes on trains. I might have even signed one to you, Mr. O'Hara. I have signed so many that I cannot remember them individually. I believe that I have signed letters to about 646 colleagues.

We continue to encourage train operating companies to carry bikes on trains where possible. Having said that, it is important to recognise that during peak hours, when capacity is under pressure, there might be circumstances—I suspect that this is inevitable—when it is in the interests of the majority of passengers not to permit non-folding cycles on trains. I accept that that message will not be palatable to certain cycling organisations and to individual cyclists, but it would be understood by anyone who has stood cheek by jowl on a busy commuter service into London Victoria.