§ Order for Second Reading read.12.37 pm
§ Mr. Cecil Franks (Barrow and Furness)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
During the past decade the number of cyclists has increased annually, reversing the steady decline in the years before 1974. Sadly, as cyclists have increased, so have cycling accidents. In 1982 alone about 300 cyclists were killed and 5,700 seriously injured, and 30 per cent. of the victims were aged under 15. Hon. Members should bear those horrifying statistics in mind when considering the Bill. Cyclists are vulnerable in traffic, and one way to help them is to provide separate cycle tracks either alongside or away from roads. The Bill addresses itself to the provision and protection of such cycle tracks.
Governments of both parties have recognised the need to take account of cyclists. In 1982, following wide consultation on future cycling policy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), the former Secretary of State for Transport, and my right hon. and learned Friend who is now the Minister for Health published a cycling policy statement containing a wide range of policies aimed at encouraging more and safer cycling. Those policies have been implemented under the watchful eye of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Transport, and in implementing them she has had the support of many hon. Members on both sides of the House
The cycling policy statement identified three areas where legislative change was desirable: first, to control the parking and driving of motor vehicles on cycle tracks; secondly, to simplify the procedures for converting all or part of a footpath to a cycle track; and thirdly, to give highway authorities the power to erect barriers on cycle tracks that are not alongside road carriageways.
Hon. Members with greater experience than me will be aware that such simply stated proposals can, when all aspects have been considered, result in some complex legislative drafting. That is true of the Bill, and so to assist the House I propose to go through it clause by clause to spell out exactly what it modestly seeks to achieve.
Clause 1(1) amends the definition of a cycle track in section 329 of the Highways Act 1980 so that in future mopeds will be excluded from new cycle tracks. Mopeds with pedals are legally classified as pedal cycles, yet they have a far higher speed than the pedal cycle, and where they have used cycle facilities they have been the cause of a serious contribution to the number of accidents on them. In Stevenage, for example, where cycle paths were designed for joint use by pedal cycles and mopeds, in a five-year period mopeds were involved in 82 of the 98 injury accidents reported to the police.
There will be many locations where the use of cycle tracks by mopeds will be objected to on environmental as well as safety grounds. While mopeds can currently be excluded from cycle tracks by making individual traffic regulation orders, it is appropriate to provide a specific prohibition. Clause 1(2) clarifies the position so that mopeds are also excluded from existing cycle tracks.
Clause 1 does not apply to electrically assisted bicycles, which are also classified as pedal cycles. Their speed is intended to be broadly compatible with that of a pedal cycle and, of course, there are few currently on the roads.
599 Should problems emerge with such bicycles, highway authorities will be able to exclude them from cycle tracks by making a traffic regulation order.
Clause 2(1) makes it an offence to drive or park a motor vehicle, wholly or partly, on a cycle track, and sets a maximum fine on the third level of the standard scale, which from 1 May will be set at £400. At present, unless there is a traffic regulation order or a local byelaw, it is not an offence to drive or park a motor vehicle on a cycle track. The presence of motor vehicles on cycle tracks is, at the least, an inconvenience, and at worst, a serious danger to cyclists. There was very strong support for this change in the responses to the cycling policy consultation paper which my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) issued in 1981.
Clause 2(2) provides a defence if the motor vehicle is being used in an emergency, or is engaged in work on behalf of the highway authority or by a statutory undertaker. Clause 2(3) defines statutory undertakers as including sewerage authorities and British Telecom. Clause 2(4) provides a defence if a motor vehicle is being driven on a cycle track if that is the most reasonable means of obtaining access to, or egress from, premises.
I deal next with clause 3. At present, to convert an existing footpath to a cycle track involves five procedures. First, it involves obtaining planning permission for a "new" cycle track. Secondly, it involves using that planning permission to obtain an order under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 to "stop up" the existing footpath. Thirdly, it involves making a compulsory purchase order, if necessary. Fourthly, it involves "constructing" the new cycle track. Fifthly, it involves making a traffic regulation order to ban motor vehicles from that track.
Those procedures are complicated and time-consuming. While objections can be made at many points during them, there is only a limited prospect of independent assessment of the conversion as a whole. Clause 3 is intended to simplify the procedures for converting all, or part, of a footpath to a cycle track. However, it is also intended that the position of objectors to such conversions should be strengthened, with provision for an independent assessment when there are unwritten or unwithdrawn objections.
Hon. Members will agree that the most appropriate way of improving conditions for cyclists is on the carriageway itself. Failing that, specific alternative provisions for cyclists should be considered. It is only if such provision is impractical that the possibility of sharing existing pedestrian-only facilities can be examined. In short, shared pedestrian-cyclist use should primarily be a cycle safety measure of last resort.
I am aware that my hon. Friend the Minister has been giving careful consideration to shared facilities. I am also aware of the particular concerns of the blind and partially-sighted people, which have been conveyed to me by representatives of the Royal National Institute for the Blind.
Clause 3(1) will enable a highway authority to designate by order a footpath or part of it as a cycle track, with a right of way on pedal cycle but not on mopeds, and a continuing right of way on foot. Thus, a single order will replace the existing complex procedures.
Subsections (2) and (3) give the Secretary of State powers to make regulations in respect of the procedures to 600 be followed when orders are being made, including regulations relating to the publication of any proposed order, the making and consideration of objections to such proposals and the publication of the making of an order. They can also cover the holding of a public inquiry, the appointment of an inspector and the modification of an order before it is made.
Subsections (4), (5) and (6) provide for the legal validity of an order to be challenged in the High Court within six weeks of the date of publication of the notice making an order. It also sets down the powers of the High Court to suspend the operation of, and, on final judgment, to quash, a defective order either in whole or in part. No other legal challenge can be made to an order. The subsections reflect the usual provisions applied to such orders.
Clause 3(7) allows the highway authority, under equivalent procedures, to revoke an order made by it under clause 3(1), with the cycle track reverting to a footpath. The power to revoke is essential, as it must be a basic principle of shared use that the use of such facilities should be monitored and that they should be taken out if they are not found to work.
Clause 3(8) gives the highway authority power to undertake the necessary work to give effect to an order and any work that would constitute development under the planning Acts is deemed to have been given planning permission.
Clause 3(9) obliges regulations made by the Secretary of State under the clause to be subject to the negative resolution procedure.
I should mention the two amendments that have been suggested, which I am prepared to accept. Clause 3 has been drafted on the basis that a local authority will propose making a footpath conversion order, that there should be a right of objection to such an order, and that unwithdrawn objections should be considered by an independent inspector, who would then report to the local authority which, having considered his report, either would not proceed with the order or would make it, with or without modification. Those procedures are based on those applied to traffic regulation orders.
When discussing the Bill with interested bodies, it has been suggested that shared use of footpaths is very different in concept from a traffic regulation order. When considering shared use, we are asking for a clear decision to be made between the possibility of improving cycle safety and the risk of inconveniencing, and possibly endangering, pedestrians.
The principle of shared use of a particular footpath can be questioned, as can the sort of shared facility that is proposed; whether there is to be some form of barrier or kerb between the pedestrian and the cycle parts of the facility, or a white line, or unsegregated sharing. I know that my hon. Friend's Department has prepared a comprehensive consultation paper on shared use and is finalising its advice to local authorities on the subject.
It has been suggested that, bearing in mind the nature of the safety judgment and decision that needs to be made, the inspector should report to the Secretary of State and not to the highway authority. Those who are concerned about the principle and practice of shared use see this as an additional safeguard. I know that my colleagues in local government will not take it amiss if I say that it could help them to avoid possible conflicts of interest. I accept these arguments, and having discussed them with my hon. 601 Friend the Minister I know that she accepts as well that this is the best way to consider objections on this difficult subject. The appropriate amendments to clause 3 can be considered in Committee.
One other amendment that has been considered to clause 3 merits support. As drafted, the clause gives the highway authority power to convert any footpath, including those rural footpaths that cross farmers' fields. Footpath conversion is seen as a safety measure for cyclists that is likely to be of greatest use in urban areas or on those clearly defined rural footpaths that run outside fields and link, for example, a village with its school. While the clause can be used to provide a recreational facility, that is not its primary purpose and we should provide an additional safeguard by prohibiting conversion of footpaths through agricultural land unless the consent of the landowner has been given. Again, an appropriate amendment can be considered in Committee.
On shared facility, barriers may be desirable to separate cyclists from pedestrians, to reduce the speed of cyclists and to exclude motor vehicles. Legal advice is that highway authorities do not have the power to erect or maintain barriers on cycle tracks that are not within the boundary of a highway that also comprises a carriageway. Responses to the cycling policy consultation paper support an extension of these powers.
Where a cycle track is adjacent to a footpath or footway, works that do not amount to a barrier, rail or fence may be desired to segregate the two ways. They may be no more than a hump on the boundary between a cycle track and the adjoining footpath or footway just sufficient to show the boundary between the two and encourage the cyclists to remain on the cycle track. Such works, together with tactile markings to signify the start of a shared facility, should also assist the blind pedestrian on the footpath or the footway.
Clause 4(1) allows highway authorities to provide and maintain barriers on any cycle tracks. Clause 4(2) allows highway authorities to undertake whatever work they think necessary in the interests of safety to separate persons using the cycle tracks from those using an adjacent footpath or footway. Clause 4(3) allows highway authorities to alter or remove any barriers or other works provided under this clause. Clause 4(4) defines, for the purpose of this clause, a cycle track, a footpath and a footway.
Because of their concern over certain forms of shared use, specifically white line segregation and unsegregated sharing, the RNIB has suggested that the Bill should be amended to ensure that the pedestrian and cycle paths on shared facilities should be of adequate dimensions and that there should always be segregation by some form of barrier. The effect of its proposals would be to prohibit shared use unless sufficient space was available to provide a barrier.
I understand the RNIB' s concern, but I feel that there are likely to be locations where white line or unsegregated sharing can work well and improve safety without endangering or inconveniencing pedestrians. I am thinking especially of the shared facilities provided on footpaths alongside some rural main roads which safely carry heavy flows of child cyclists to and from school. I think that highway authorities should have the full range of alternative forms of shared use available to them, always 602 bearing in mind the advice of the Department of Transport on such facilities and, of course, the strengthened right to object to footpath conversions proposed in clause 3.
Clause 5 covers compensation. Under the existing conversion procedures there are rights to claim compensation for any compulsory acquisition of land or of an interest in land where the use of a new cycle track which did not involve acquisition of an interest in land can also merit compensation under part I of the Land Compensation Act 1973.
Although there is no experience of claims arising under existing procedures, it is considered appropriate to give the right to claim compensation for the consequences of the new procedures proposed in clause 3 and the execution of works in either clause 3 or clause 4.
Clause 5(1) gives a right to recover compensation for damage consequent on the undertaking of work under clause 3(8), to give effect to a conversion order, or, under clause 4, the erection of barriers or works.
Clause 5(2) gives a right to claim compensation for any reduction in the value of an interest in land arising as a consequence of the coming into operation of an order made under clause 3, but it excludes claims which can be made or anticipated under clause 5(1).
Clause 5(3) refers disputes to the Lands Tribunal, linked to section 307 of the Highways Act 1980.
Clause 6 extends the Bill to cover land owned or managed by the Crown based on similar provisions contained in the Highways Act 1980. The remaining clauses, clauses 7 to 9, cover expenses, interpretation, and the short title, commencement and extent of the legislation.
I must apologise for the length and detail of my explanation of the Bill's provisions. I hope that it has helped to clarify the detailed provisions that it contains. I believe that the Bill will make a useful and valuable contribution to improving the safety of cyclists, while ensuring that the interests of others are protected. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) on the introduction of his Bill, which I agree is an excellent step forward in the provision of safety and protection for the cyclist. It has long been the feeling of many of us that as we move slowly towards a more leisured society the bicycle will come back into its own. Those of us who are old enough to have cycled in the 1940s and 1950s remember from boyhood the fun that cycling was, especially those of us fortunate enough to live on the edge of a rural area.
It is against that background that we should consider the Bill and its contents and the way in which it can help towards making cycling once again a sport that is safe, enjoyable and, in its own way, assisted by the Government.
There are certain other features which might have been contained in the Bill, and perhaps I may be allowed to commend them to the Minister. If we are to encourage the use of bicycles in the manner suggested by the Bill—and it will be an encouragement—at the same time we must extend the training available to young cyclists. I hope that the Minister agrees with me about the need to train young cyclists.
603 Some years ago, when I was a member of a city council in the north of England, one of the committees on which I served dealt with road safety and particularly with the safety of young children. Cycling proficiency tests and schemes have been established by various bodies and they are a great help, particularly to children, for it is crucial not only to learn how to ride a bicycle but how to ride it safely. It is all too easy to come to grief on a cycle because there is nothing between the rider and the object that is hit, and the road accident statistics show the tragic loss of life and permanent injury that result from such accidents. I hope, therefore, that the Government will take kindly to my plea that we spend a little more on the training of cyclists.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)
§ Mr. Bermingham
I welcome the Minister's indication of agreement. Children enjoying the countryside is one thing. Children enjoying it safely is more beneficial to all.
Moving away from training—having included a plug for some Government expenditure in that respect — I come to the Bill, which I welcome, though not in its entirety, and hope that some suggestions that I have will be heeded. The Bill sets out to create more cycle ways. A cycle track is a place where a cyclist can travel in safety, away from the danger of motorised vehicles.
I welcome in particular the acknowledgement at long last in motoring law that a moped is not a cycle. Those who over the years have had experience of appearing in courts in cases connected with mopeds know how great a danger they can be if they become entangled with cyclists. A number of tragic accidents have occurred, particularly to young children, when mopeds have been found in places which were meant for cyclists. Those who construct mopeds might have a greater eye to the safety of their construction, and perhaps the House can discuss that on another occasion.
As it is proposed that there should in some cases be tracks containing cyclists and pedestrians, I have reservations about the Bill in that respect. On my way to the House on Wednesday, walking from my flat in London, I was nearly mown down by cyclists coming up on the pavement behind me. That reminded me of the dangers of intermingling pedestrians and cyclists. There is much point, therefore, in the argument of the Royal National Institute for the Blind. If we allow the two to be near each other, there must be a segregating feature, not only for the blind but especially for small children using the footpaths.
It has been suggested that there might be a curb to sector the area. In my view, that would be the minimum solution, and I should not be happy simply with white lines, which are meaningless to the blind and are ignored to a large extent by young children who have not yet acquired the safety techniques, so to speak, of being with traffic.
§ Mr. Franks
I understand the argument, which is much in the mind of those in the Department of Transport. I hope that in the reasonably near future the anxieties expressed by the blind will be satisfied.
§ Mr. Bermingham
That intervention reassures me. If the Department insists upon shared use with anything less 604 than a visible and tangible barrier the hon. Gentleman will have my support in fighting that decision. Physical separation is the only safe method.
The hon. Member said that he was prepared to consider amendments to the Bill. I hope that I misunderstood what he said about rural footpaths. One of the joys of cycling is getting out of the urban areas into the rural areas and the national parks. Other attractive areas are being developed under schemes such as Operation Groundwork on Merseyside.
To enjoy certain rural environments one must travel across agricultural land. Many rural footpaths pass through private and public land. I should be disappointed if such footpaths could not be used by cyclists because they had not been designated as cycle tracks.
I hope that I misheard what the hon. Gentleman said about landowners' consent. Landowners may be reluctant for cyclists to use paths even though they do not do damage.
§ Mr. Franks
I have explained that the purpose of the Bill is primarily to provide for the safety of cyclists. It is not intended to be a recreational or leisure exercise. Justified representations have been made by the National Farmers Union which believes that the Bill could enable local authorities to make footpaths through agricultural land into cycle tracks to the detriment of the farmer. The Bill is not intended to do that. One must strike a balance between the needs of the farmer and the desires of pedestrians and cyclists.
§ Mr. Bermingham
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. No one would argue that a narrow path through a plot of land on which crops are grown should be turned into a cycle track. I accept that unreservedly. However, I urge the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that many footpaths cross areas of great natural beauty. The same problem is not encountered when a path crosses moorlands, for instance. Such areas should be opened up to the cyclist so that he can explore and enjoy the rural environment. I have in mind the Peak national park and moorlands or wooded areas. I do not expect cycle tracks to be created in the middle of agricultural fields primarily designed to grow wheat, potatoes or other edible crops.
I understand the NFU's worries about cycle tracks on arable land, but a case can nevertheless be made to permit cycle tracks in areas of great national beauty—primarily moorland, wooded areas, and so on. Certain estate roads could be divided to provide cycle tracks.
Clause 3 provides for an expedited application system. I welcome it because it will improve the previously cumbersome procedures that had to be followed.
I shall be almost a devil's advocate on behalf of the objector, who has a right to be heard. His ultimate sanction is to apply under subsection (5) to the High Court. Such applications are expensive. We have an extensive system of Crown courts, but county court judges make able judgments, and the county court system might provide a better forum for dealing with this matter. As a lawyer, who always turns his mind to the question of costs, I believe that the costs would then be considerably lower. The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness might take this matter on board in Committee.
605 Regrettably, clause 9 limits the provisions of the legislation to England and Wales. I hope that at some stage they will be extended to Scotland, an area of great natural beauty in which many people enjoy themselves.
§ Mr. Bermingham
I note that the Minister worries about the hills. I thought that it was the order of the day for politicians to climb hills, so hills would be no deterrent to them.
This is a good Bill, although some small improvements could be made to it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider the points made about the cost of proceeding in the county courts and shared use of cycle tracks. I do not believe that any hon. Member would wish to see the Bill defeated or its passage hindered. I am sure that, by discussion, we can overcome the problems. In the end, all being well, we will have increased the safety of the cyclists on our roads and the availability of the areas in which they can enjoy themselves. That will add to our society's quality of life, and that is no bad thing.
§ Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)
It is appropriate that I follow the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), as we represent adjacent areas in Lancashire and Merseyside. Those areas have in common the fact that they are extremely flat and accessible to cyclists. My constituency contains vast tracts of rural land, and many cyclists from all over the country are attracted to it to enjoy their sport at weekends. On Monday 9 April the annual Sealink cycle race will start in my constituency at Skelmersdale and continue across the rural areas of Lancashire towards the coastline.
That shows that cycling is growing as a sport and as a means of transport in difficult times, such as during the London Transport strike this week. My hon. Friend the Minister led the way by cycling to her office on that day to avoid traffic problems. Cycling has a great future as a means of transport and exercise. I am in favour of anything that will encourage people to go to the country and enjoy it sensibly and respect its rights and beauties. The Bill gives a classic opportunity to enjoy the country in that way.
I welcome the Bill, as I am sure do most hon. Members. It covers different aspects of cycling. The first is the safety aspect. Parliament has recognised over and over again the seriousness of the number of cyclists killed on our roads. Fortunately, nowadays far more cyclists wear luminous clothing in the dark, which draws attention to them and helps avoid accidents. However, there are still too many accidents on our roads.
The Bill gives vital encouragement to the development of cycle tracks. If local authorities use the opportunity provided by the Bill, many cyclists will be taken off the main roads and will use cycle tracks. The safety aspect of the Bill cannot be under-estimated. It will save lives and encourage people to feel safe and free to take their cycles on to the roads. Children are restrained from going into the country because of the dangers presented by heavy traffic on narrow lanes. The Bill will help encourage children to use their bicycles.
The initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) takes account of the 606 views expressed in the 1981 cycling policy consultation paper. It is important that hon. Members should be seen to respond to the views of the public as expressed through such consultations.
The Bill gives local authorities the opportunity to develop their cycle tracks. I welcome the ease with which clause 3 will enable them to do so. It sweeps away the difficulties that were formerly put in their way. I wonder how many local authorities did not develop such facilities because of those difficulties.
The hon. Member for St. Helens, South mentioned the legal costs of overcoming the difficulties. I am a member of the Bar, and it is important that both sides of the legal profession should be represented in the argument. I invite my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness to reconsider using the High Court to deal with appeals. County courts and Crown courts with highly competent judges are available to deal with appeals, because cost is an important consideration for the public and for local authorities. We must keep an eye on ratepayers' money spent on such matters. My hon. Friend will find it easier to establish a quick and efficient system of dealing with such matters in the county or Crown court, rather than in the High Court. I commend that suggestion as a sensible way to deal with the problem.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
Does my hon. Friend agree that cyclists are under-funded from the rates? Cyclists pay rates like everyone else but they, of all sections of the community, receive especially low returns for their money. The Bill will go some way towards providing facilities for them in line with what they are paying. They are making the same contribution as that made by all other sections of the community.
§ Mr. Hind
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. Cyclists do not receive the benefits from public expenditure that are enjoyed by users of other forms of transport. I hope that the House will welcome the Bill as a sign that we are committed to the development of cycling as a form of transport.
It is important to consider the costs of transport in future. There will be a reduction in North sea oil supplies, and as the world oil supply is depleted we may see an increase in transport costs. We have not yet invented an efficient battery-powered car as a substitute for the petrol engine. It is important to remember that two legs were invented before the engine and that they provide a most efficient way of travelling.
It is important that we take advantage of the opportunity presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness. If the Bill is enacted, it is estimated that it will cost initially about £500,000 a year. No doubt there will be difficulties with the Treasury, but it appears that the economy is beginning to grow. It appears that even the Bank of England is now accepting that the economy will grow at the rate of 3 per cent., and it appears that Britain is getting back on the rails. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will have discussions with her Treasury colleagues to ensure that money is made available for the sort of expenditure that would take place following the Bill's enactment.
From the point of view of many of my constituents and of those who represent rural areas, this is a good Bill. It is a progressive step in the right direction, and I welcome it.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I, too, welcome the Bill. I apologise to the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) for not being in the Chamber when he moved the Second Reading. On my way to the Chamber from the Norman Shaw building I was nearly bowled over by joggers as I walked through the underpass. I was worried slightly because the joggers were moving rather faster than many cyclists on the roads.
It is interesting to observe that all those who have contributed to the debate come from the north-west. The Minister of State also represents a part of the north-west. Perhaps the north-west will be the campaign hot seat for ensuring that cycling receives the additional support and encouragement that it deserves. I have no doubt that that support and encouragement will bring many advantages.
My recent experience of cycling has been in the capital. I used to take a route which took me via Hyde park corner, past Buckingham palace and along the Embankment to the Temple. It was a route which was full of incident. I am happy to say that I travelled along it regularly in safety. It was enhanced when it became possible to use Hyde park instead of using the main road as it enabled me to escape, for about five or 10 minutes, the risk of being squashed between the kerb and articulated vehicles, or squashed between the kerb and slightly less large vehicles and covered in spray.
There are many hazards with which cyclists have to contend. The largest group of hazards is presented by motorised transport. The second largest group is potholes and unexpected obstacles in the road. Unless the cyclist is holding the handlebars carefully, he can be dislodged by the impact, or the items that he is carrying can be dislodged. A series of difficulties is presented when other road users do not know that the route that a cyclist is following has been designated for cyclists.
It is important to put the matter into context. Where cycle tracks have been provided they have clearly been successful and there have been very few accidents to either pedestrians or cyclists. A survey of the 14 busiest cycle ways carried out by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory showed that between 1979 and 1981 there was only one accident involving a cyclist and a pedestrian. In the three years since then, so far as I know, no accidents have been reported involving cyclists and pedestrians on the cycle ways in Hyde park. Those figures show how much safer it is to move cyclists off the roads to clearly defined cycle tracks segregated from pedestrians.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that when, unfortunately, accidents occur, those involving a cyclist and a pedestrian are far less dangerous than those involving a cyclist and a heavy vehicle?
§ Mr. Hughes
That is certainly true. On the road, if one falls off or is knocked off one's bicycle, or even if one is unsettled by a pothole, the risk of being run over or into carries a great deal more risk of injury than if one falls on a cycle track or, more probably, on to the grass beside it.
Nevertheless, the accident rate for cyclists on roads is still very high. I have received figures on this from the London Cycling Campaign, which is based in my constituency. I must therefore declare a constituency interest in that cycling is alive and well in north Southwark and wanting to be more clearly seen in the inner city and 608 elsewhere, The Minister will no doubt confirm that there are still between 4,000 and 5,000 cycling casualities each year. That must be in the minds of the Minister and the Department — I know that it is — as an important objective to deal with and a motive for fully supporting the Bill and making it as effective as possible.
The great advantages of the Bill are as follows. Clause 1 would take mopeds and other motorised transport off cycle tracks, which will remove many problems for cyclists. I hope, however, that the Depertment will encourage local authorities to take more care to provide within their bounderies areas for the recreational use of motorised two-wheeled vehicles. Many youngsters begin with small push bikes and BMXs, for example, and go on to motorised vehicles, which they often ride on private property such as council estates before they are legally entitled to take them on the road, with the result that pensioners may be in considerable danger. On many estates there are complaints that kids with bicyles, mopeds and motor bikes use the footpaths in a way that is not compatible with pedestrian use, especially pedestrian use by the elderly and others less able to protect themselves.
In encouraging the use of two-wheeled transport, we must ensure that the recreational and learning value as well as the safety aspect are encouraged in areas such as parks and industrial areas that are ripe for development. In my area, Surrey docks includes plenty of land where youngsters could learn to ride motor cycles and perhaps even cars rather than occasionally being tempted to break into them illegally and take away cars that they should not have. That would provide considerable recreational opportunities.
The Bill states clearly that mopeds cannot be used on cycle tracks. I hope that this will lead to encouregement from the Government and local authorities for the creation of other areas to accommodate motorised two-wheeled transport with the associated recreational learning value for youngsters.
Clause 2 provides appropriate penalties for those who trespass on cycle tracks. That is good, because, having created such tracks, nothing is worse than having something in the way which could cause an accident. The great advantage of clause 3 is the flexibility that it encourages, as it provides easier mechanisms for the provision of cycle tracks. Local authorities must be able to be flexible. Some cycle tracks in Southwark are probably not the best routes and the local authority will have to consider whether there is a better alternative. There ought to be a quick method of designating an alternative route if the traffic flow makes the former unsatisfactory. Clause 3 makes that much simpler.
Clause 4 provides the opportunity for segregating pedestrians from cyclists. The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) rightly advanced the case of the handicapped, especially the visually handicapped, who should, whenever possible, have clearly segregated routes. That is possible in rural areas and by main roads as there is sufficient space, but it is not so easy in urban areas. It is nevertheless important for pedstrians, especially blind people, to know that they will not be confronted by a cyclist who may reasonably be going quite quickly on the wrong path. It is also important to encourage the use of traffic signals that allow people adequate time to cross. There is an excellent crossing near the Elephant and Castle where the cycle path crosses the 609 main road from Kennington. Cyclists are given time to cross, but pedestrians sometimes do not have enough time to cross the cycle track. That affects elderly and disabled pedestrians most. They should be protected against any risk of accident.
I do not know why all those who have spoken so far are lawyers—perhaps they represent a substantial proportion of the cycling population — but it is right that we provide the easiest and cheapest court procedure for all of the challengers. I hope that such an improvement can be made in Committee.
It would be to Britain's advantage if the helpful encouragement that has been given to cyclists and potential cyclists was increased. That would be of service to the environment as pollution, congestion and the costs of private and public transport would be reduced. We should do everything possible to improve recreational opportunities by giving every support to the cycling lobby and community. Anyone who has used a bicycle regularly will find that it is often the most efficient and, in London, quickest means of getting from A to B. It is only when the mountains are at their highest and the hills are at their steepest that we wonder whether we should have chosen another form of transport.
I hope that the Bill will be supported and that it is just one of many measures that bring about a change in financial support and other methods by which to advance the cause of cycling. My impression is that, bearing in mind the flatness of some of the country, regular, as opposed to recreational, use of the bicycle is not fully exploited. It is obvious that we shall never rival the Belgians or the Dutch, but we must encourage cyclists as that would benefit the entire community. I wish the Bill a speedy passage to the statute book and hope that it is the first of many such measures.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I am pleased to be the first non-lawyer to take part in the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) on presenting this admirable Bill and hope that the House will forgive me if I do not stay for the entire debate; I have a constituency engagement. I look forward to the increased provision for cyclists which the London borough of Ealing envisages is possible under the Bill. I hope that there will be greater provision for cyclists all over London, because by their nature cyclists do not restrict themselves to boroughs or areas.
Perhaps my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister of State will take on board some positive suggestions. Could the Bill include a provision to encourage motorists to be more aware of cyclists whom they must pass, especially in relation to the driving test? The man who tested me told me that I nearly failed my driving test because I did not give adequate room to the first cyclist that I passed, although subsequently I did give enough clearance to cyclists. I cycle regularly in London and I am a member of the all-party cycling group in the House. I am often alarmed by the lack of room given to cyclists by motorists, especially by the drivers of juggernauts. Lorries are so long and wide that, especially in narrow streets, cyclists can be flattened against the kerb. Once or twice I have had to jump off my bicycle and get on to the pavement just to get away from a lorry. The 610 Minister is a regular cyclist in London and a treasured member of the all-party cycling group, and I should be glad to hear her sympathetic response to that suggestions.
Hon. Members have mentioned the need for safe cycling. The cyclist has a responsibility to ensure that he knows the rules of the road, that he gives clear signals and that he keeps as close to the kerb as is reasonable. It is also important to keep the roads clear of potholes. The GLC has signally failed to do that in London, and cyclists are battered round terribly on streets not far from here.
We must do something while children are at school to ensure that each child who wishes to cycle to school passes the cycling proficiency test first. I had a rule in my last school and in other schools where I worked of not allowing children to bring their bicycles to school unless they took and passed the cycling proficiency test. I conducted regular tests, and the children knew that they could sit tests at least once a week. I also sent letters to their parents so that they would know that the facility was available. It is important that children should start cycling safely at an early age. One thing that city children especially enjoy is receiving a new bicycle. In the schools where I worked many children whose parents were fairly hard up managed to receive new chopper bicycles. Cycling was often their only recreation. Once they get bikes, children must learn to ride them safely, and they need facilities other than the pavement. Cycling tracks would be welcome, and the Bill takes us very much in that direction.
There must be areas other than Hyde park where we could have near dual use of facilities. The cycle track in Hyde park was mentioned by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness. I was in Hyde park this morning and had the pleasure of galloping a horse alongside cyclists who were using the cycle tracks. Indeed, the horse overtook several of them, and it was not going flat out either. The Army regularly uses the riding track in Hyde park, and other people take the air or use Hyde park for recreational purposes, walking alongside the cycle track that my children have used purely for pleasure, but which others may use as a means of getting to work.
This morning many people were cycling through the park on their way to work, and I should have thought that the principle could be extended to national parks and other areas. I do not see why it should not be. It would be nice if horses, cyclists, pedestrians and hikers could have reasonable use of the same facilities, while at the same time having regard for the safety of all, as that is important and needs to be thought about.
I regret that Members of Parliament no longer travel by horseback to work. Just a week ago, at the memorial service for that great man the Duke of Beaufort, I met a gentleman who said that he was the nephew of the last Member of Parliament to ride to work. He travelled to Parliament by horseback until 1942, and I was told where the horse was tethered. Indeed, the tethering rings still remain.
The facilities formerly available in Parliament to horse riders have now been turned over to cyclists, and it is good to see row upon row of cycle racks in the precincts of Westminster. It shows that hon. Members realise the value of fresh air and of the exercise achieved through cycling. Anything that can advance such values is to be welcomed, and I warmly support the Bill.
§ Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)
I have no interest to declare, and I feel rather like a member of "athletes anonymous", in that if any of my colleagues are feeling energetic I usually talk them out of it. Nevertheless, I welcome the Bill, and I know that it will also be welcomed by many of my constituents, particularly the members and supporters of the Derby cycling group and the Cyclists Touring Club.
I support the Bill basically for two reasons. First, cycling is growing in popularity, so it is only right that we should see that proper provision is made for it. Secondly, the present procedure for converting a footpath into a cycle track is extremely complex and militates against many local authorities making provision even though they may be considering doing so. I understand that one needs to obtain planning permission for a cycle track, first, under the Town and Country Planning Acts. Secondly, planning permission is needed to stop up the existing footpath. A cycle track then has to be constructed under the Highways Act 1980, and often that may involve having to issue a compulsory purchase order. Local authorities have to follow a tortuous and complex procedure. Therefore, I welcome clause 3, which I believe amends the Highways Act to allow a local authority to convert a footpath into a cycle track in one step, without the additional need to apply for planning permission. That is most welcome.
Several hon. Members have spoken of the need to educate cyclists. However, if any road user needs to be educated it is not primarily the cyclist or motorist, but rather the pedestrian. I hope that in due course pedestrians will pay a little more attention to the needs of other road users. I fear that that may not be the case unless we eventually introduce a system similar to that in continental countries, where pedestrians are sometimes prosecuted for jaywalking.
I accept that that is a debate suitable for another occasion, but some of the criticism levelled against cyclists is unjust. Quite often, if anyone is to blame for an accident, it is the pedestrian who walks into the road or across a cycle way wholly oblivious of the fact that others may be using it.
This is an overdue measure. I support and welcome it, and I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading today.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
It is important to recognise that we owe a duty to travellers to make them as safe as possible. Cyclists, like pedestrians, are in great danger from motor cars and lorries. The experience of those of us who cycle and who are not yet members of "athletes anonymous" have recognised the value of the cycle tracks that have been introduced. If my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) wishes to join the House of Commons football team this Sunday, perhaps he will have a word with me later behind the Chair.
The experience of cyclists has been one of growing danger. The amount of traffic on London's bridges has risen by 50 per cent. during the past 10 years. That is a demonstration of the increased number of vehicle miles. As the number of cyclists has also grown during the past 10 years, there is an increased danger all round.
There was a time when the movement for cycle tracks was seen as a fringe enthusiasm. That has changed. My 612 experience in cycling around London is that it is slightly less dangerous than travelling on a moped, but still highly dangerous. All hon. Members will have experienced sadness and sorrow when they hear of children having been killed and adults having cycle accidents.
The improvements suggested by the Bill of making it easier to have cycle tracks enacted and to cut away some of the bureaucracy presently associated with that will encourage more local authorities to press ahead with the good ideas that are being argued for by the various cyclist groups and those concerned with road safety.
At the same time, we must mention the responsibility of cyclists to take measures towards greater safety. I remember that when I was growing up and cycling it was rare to see a cycle without lights at night. During the past few years, there has been a growing tendency for lights to be absent from bicycles or, if they are present, not to be used. One reason for that is the increased amount of vandalism and petty theft which has made it more risky for people to leave lamps on parked cycles. Indeed, it is risky to leave a cycle almost anywhere because we often see a frame chained to a lamp-post with its wheels removed.
It is important for people to have respect for other people's safety. They should be willing to change society so that it will again be safe to leave a lamp on a cycle. We should perhaps encourage the police to pay rather more attention to cycles without lights.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister is gracing the debate with his presence. He like me, wants to reduce the cost of accidents to the National Health Service and to reduce the number of avoidable accidents.
The concept of cycle tracks should be spread. Obviously, different provision is needed for the countryside and for the towns and cities. In the countryside, it will be possible to allow cycles on some footpaths where they are currently not allowed. In the towns, it is more a matter of separation from the roads. It would be sensible for all those involved as cyclists or in the cycle manufacturing industry—which has a vested interest in ensuring greater opportunity for safe cycling — to get together with local authorities to encourage them to make use of the Bill when it becomes law.
The job of local authorities is not an easy one. 'They have conflicting priorities. If it becomes easier for them to say yes to something that is eminently sensible, they are likely to respond more to the campaigns of those who want to reduce the number of accidents and the toll of injury and death on the roads, and to make it possible for cyclists to go about their lawful travelling in a way that is consistent with the greatest possible safety.
I look forward to the day when it is possible for people to make journeys of a reasonable length in greater comparative safety. No form of travelling can be made perfectly safe, but in promoting this Bill my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness has made it possible for Parliament to respond to the need with a non-controversial helpful measure and to get the support of the Government so that local authorities can be of more service to those who want to travel in their areas.
§ Mr. Colin Moynihan (Lewisham, East)
Hon. Members may know the words of Lord Randolph Churchill 100 years ago in a speech on a financial report in Liverpool—a topical subject—when he said that Mr. Gladstone,for the purpose of recreation has selected the felling of trees, and we may usefully remark that his amusements, like his politics, are essentially destructive … The forest laments in order that Mr. Gladstone may perspire.I note that my hon. Friend the Minister, whose intellectual ability is highly renowned and matched only by his interest in this important subject, knows the speech well. The words that I have quoted may reasonably be translated 100 years later as saying that, for the purpose of recreation and safety, my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) has selected cycle tracks, and we may usefully remark that his amusements, like his politics, are essentially constructive. The forests — indeed, the woodlands and countryside — will celebrate so that my hon. Friend may perspire. They, along with hon. Members and all involved in cycling, should celebrate this private Member's Bill because it serves to assist all those who seek high safety standards in all recreational facilities, including many who hold this view in the London borough of Lewisham, and in my constituency in particular.
The popularity of cycling is well known to hon. Members. Some 30 per cent. of households now have bicycles. Cycling is a cheap and efficient method of travel, and it is enjoyable and healthy. To the particular advantage of hon. Members, it is a quiet pursuit that does not pollute the atmosphere. Today, to offer relief from boredom for those in an increasingly leisure-oriented society, it is important to encourage cycling. This Bill matches that development by encouraging high levels of safety for all involved in cycling. Much time and energy of the Sports Council, of which I am a member, is directed towards finding ways and means of co-operating on facilities for recreation and safety, and as Members of Parliament we should encourage that.
It is important to recognise that the words of my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport are still valid. He said:I am anxious to increase opportunities for all people to participate in sport and recreation, individually or as a family or a local community." — [Official Report, 22 July 1983; Vol. 46, c. 251.]Many new facilities have been provided in recent years and since 1979 the Government have substantially increased spending through the Sports Council and other programmes. We shall maintain that commitment.
This Bill matches such expansion of recreational facilities with increased safety for participants. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness recognises that in this Bill, which seeks to increase the safety of cycle tracks and footways and footways adjacent to cycle tracks.
It is important to recollect that in part—and in my view it is a major part—this initiative came out of a number of consultation documents, not the least of which was an important consultation paper on cycling, published, I seem to recall, by the Department of Transport and the Welsh Office in 1981. That said:In an ideal world we could solve many of these problems by giving cyclists their own tracks, separating them from other users of the roads.614 In that context, we must always have in mind the special difficulties of the disabled and the blind.But there is not enough space and not enough money to do this everywhere. Nevertheless, within the resources available for transport, the Government will continue to take positive action to meet the needs of cyclists … The Government can help cyclists in the following ways: first, by providing and encouraging the provision of facilities for cyclists; second"—and most important, in my view—by helping to make cycling safer; and, third, by promoting legislation to help cyclists and to protect their interests.Clause 1 goes yet a stage further, and, overall, the Bill should be welcomed by the Government as a development of all three of those intentions outlined in the consultation paper on cycling in 1981.
I want for a moment to concentrate on clause 2. It is all too easy for accidents to happen where byelaws are not in situ, where the law is not clear and where the definition of exactly what cycle tracks are and where they should be is not clearly evident. I was pleased to hear the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind). Those who ride will be aware of the dangerous driving and other problems which result in an appallingly high level of accidents. It should not be under-estimated or played down, because there are far too many accidents. The Bill recognises that, and I hope that this debate will put it on the map. The Bill is drafted to tackle that problem, and we should not fail to voice our concern about the incredibly high level of appalling accidents, not only in our cities but in rural areas, as a result of cycling errors, bad driving and the lack of demarcation of exactly what can be done by what type of vehicle and where.
It is important to concentrate on the provisions in clause 2. It proposes to make it an offence to drive or to park a motor vehicle on a cycle track, with exemptions for emergency, public utility and maintenance vehicles as well as for access to any adjacent property with no other approach. The penalties envisaged are rightly related to those for existing parking and obstruction offences. There was strong support for such a change in the responses to the consultation paper since, as I understand it, under present arrangements it is an offence only if there is a traffic regulation order or a local byelaw to that effect. The key to this issue, obviously, is safety.
At the very heart of the Bill, clause 3 has enormous relevance. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he has done to highlight clause 3 and on the way that it is worded. It is the most significant clause in the Bill.
In practice, where we really move forward in road safety terms is the proposal to simplify the present complex procedures for converting existing footpaths to cycle tracks while retaining the right of way on foot. At present, an authority has to obtain permission for a new track, to stop up the existing footpath and then to create the track, together with the possible need for both a compulsory purchase order and a traffic regulation order. This proposal provides the opportunity for objections at several stages. At present, there is only a limited prospect of an independent assessment of a conversion scheme.
The Bill proposes that, subject to procedural regulations governing advertising, consultation, objections and inquiries, all of which must be considered, the highway authority should have the specific power to convert part or all of an existing footpath to a cycle track and to reverse that step. Simplification here will encourage recreation and the pursuit of cycling.
615 The thinking behind the clause goes to the heart of increased recreation with minimal bureaucratic intervention and increased safety, greatly simplifying the implementation of such studies as that entitled "Study of Disused Railways in England and Wales" — critical bedtime reading for all interested in how Britain's cycle tracks should and could be developed. That outstandingly good publication identified some of the complexities involved, for one cannot just say, "We will identify this and that pathway for the use of cyclists." It is a highly complex matter.
Referring to a beautiful part of the country—Penrith —that study said:An idealised cycle route running through an urban area on relatively quiet residential and minor roads would have to cross a major road about every kilometre. Many of these roads would require a signal controlled crossing according to the criteria illustrated … It would clearly be prohibitive to build such a protected network in its entirety in a short time period. By the same token most cycle routes in urban areas involve stretches of road or crossings which are potentially dangerous, particularly so for children and inexperienced cyclists. Similar considerations apply to routes extending into rural areas where the potential minor road network is still dissected by primary roads. The great attraction of a disused railway lies in the fact that it cuts across all of this, it provides a route separated from the traffic, and because it is unique (i.e. its location cannot be altered) it provides a core, or a spine, to act as the basis for subsequent development of a more detailed network of cycle routes. Without the railway, or some other 'obvious' route, as a catalyst it is often difficult to get started at all because of the problems associated with every route.That shows how complex it is to identify cycle routes. The complexity over the years has built up into such an appallingly difficult state — including a tremendous number of byelaws and an enormous procedural network —that at the end of the day it damages cyclists. That is why I support the clarification that has resulted from our discussion of the Bill and has been espoused at length, and rightly so, by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness.
The Bill is to be welcomed because it simplifies many of the issues involved and greatly enhances the safety of the participants of this recreation, and does so at minimal cost. When it comes to safety, we should consider even high cost. There is nothing more important than the safety of the individual. However, where safety can be achieved at much lower cost, as envisaged by the Bill, all power to the elbow of those proposing such a scheme. The cost here is so low that it should receive our immediate investment for the safety of cyclists.
I can do no better than emphasise again the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness, for if every point that I have made must come second to one other, it should be the safety of cyclists. Let that safety lead many more to share the sentiments of Jonathon Swift, who lovedto begin a journey on Sundays, because I shall have the prayers of the church to preserve all that travel by land".That applies as much to the cyclists of today as to the pedestrians of the past. The Bill has my whole-hearted support.
§ 2.5 pm
§ The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)
As a cycle-friendly Minister, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) on the presentation of his most useful Bill. I am grateful to hon. Members of all parties for their 616 support for the measure. We shall have suggestions to make in Committee, but I hope that the Bill will be given a fair wind.
The Bill is supported by the Friends of the Earth, various cycling groups and by all who have taken the trouble to understand why it is so necessary to have on the statute book a measure to provide for cycle tracks.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness said, the measures in the Bill stem from the proposals contained in the cycling policy statement issued in January 1982 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who were then Ministers in the Department. Hon. Members will know that we are implementing the policies in that statement. The Bill is most helpful in that respect.
In case anyone should think otherwise, the Bill, as clause 3 clearly states, is confined to footpaths. Many people do not realise that the official terminology for pavement is footway. The path at the side of the road is a footway and is not affected by the Bill. There is no provision for the shared use of footways. Footways continue to be covered by the Highways Act.
§ Mr. Bottomley
Do the same bureaucratic complications apply to providing cycle tracks on footways, or whatever are the opposite to the paths provided for in the Bill?
§ Mrs. Chalker
The Highways Act provides special safeguards for footways—that is, the pavements at the side of roads—and it is sensible that they should be continued. In the Bill we seek to make provision for cycle tracks along footpaths and to get rid of bureaucracy in that respect.
We have encouraged local authorities to provide facilities for cyclists, and we have been considering cyclists' needs in our trunk road proposals. Local authorities have been much aided by the Manpower Services Commission's railway path project and have been converting disused railway lines for cycle and pedestrian use, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) said. They have converted 226 miles, and more conversions are in hand.
My Department's programme of innovatory cycle schemes continues to expand, and in January I announced our research programme into cycle routes in five towns — Canterbury, Stockton, Exeter, Bedford and Nottingham. We hope to start implementing two of the schemes, in Canterbury and Stockton, a little later this year. We shall soon see some progress from the schemes. We are monitoring them through the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, which will provide us with valuable information for the future.
The Pedal Cycle (Safety) Regulations 1984 seek to improve the standards of bicycles and to increase their conspicuity. Hon. Members have referred to lights on bicycles. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) made a point about that. I very much regret seeing, night after night, cyclists without properly functioning forward and rear lights on their bicycles. They do themselves no benefit. They put themselves and others in great danger. I hope that the cycling community will work with the Department to ensure that cyclists have properly functioning forward and rear lights, to provide for the safety of all.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)
Will the hon. Lady emphasise that that practice is even more dangerous when roads are wet and the light is in patches? Cyclists put their own lives and those of others at risk.
§ Mrs. Chalker
The hon. Gentleman is right. Parents have a responsibility to ensure that children's bicycles are in good order. All those factors are involved in making cycling safer.
In our safety publicity and in our work with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents we continue to stress the need for continued cycle safety, especially for child cyclists. It is noteworthy that about 300,000 youngsters per annum are taking the national cycling proficiency scheme, and the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) is interested in that.
§ Mr. Bermingham
Does the Minister agree that, because of the number of accidents that are now occurring, the time has come when the quality, design and candlepower of the lights displayed on bicycles should be looked at again, especially bearing in mind the variations in lighting features in our cities and other urban areas?
§ Mrs. Chalker
The hon. Gentleman has a valuable point. The Department has been examining the problems caused by the batteries and bulbs in those sensitive lights. If the hon. Gentleman has, as I have, removable lights on his bicycle, he knows that from time to time they need more attention that the old dynamo-driven lights, which have gone out of fashion, partly because of what thieves do to them if they are left on bikes.
The Bill covers the major outstanding points from the 1982 policy statement and has the Government's support.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness cited the Stevenage accident figures. He showed clearly the desirability of excluding mopeds from cycle tracks, and every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate has supported that aim. I believe that making the prohibition general, so that the driving or parking of motor vehicles on cycle tracks is an offence, will not only increase the cyclists' safety and convenience but will lift from local authorities the onerous task of making individual traffic orders for each cycle track, which is a time-consuming business.
Many hon. Members and people outside the House are worried about the shared use of facilities by cyclists and pedestrians, and I agree that this is a difficult matter. In March last year my Department issued a consultation paper following a review of its advice on shared use. Almost all of those who commented on the advice recognised that shared use could contribute to cyclists' safety. Groups representing blind and partially sighted people and pedestrians have expressed worry about certain forms of sharing. Yesterday, I had a most useful meeting with members of the joint committee for the mobility of the blind and partially sighted, when we went into those measures in detail. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness has met those people, too.
The matters which those people put to my hon. Friend and myself are those of which we are only too well aware. We understand them and intend to introduce the best possible measures to facilitate the passage of the blind and partially sighted as pedestrians, and of cyclists, if there is any question of shared use. We have now completed our consideration of the comments that have come in, and I 618 am about to finalise the advice, which we shall put out to local authorities in the form of a local transport note. We shall take as much account as we can of all the comments made to us, consistent with giving clear advice to local authorities.
The advice will stress that shared use is to be an exceptional measure, to be considered only when there is no other way to improve cyclists' safety, and only when full consideration for pedestrians has also been taken into account. The need for careful survey and for wide consultation when considering such facilities will be stressed. I also intend to stress that the advice on shared use is likely to be inappropriate where there are facilities of limited width carrying heavy pedestrian flows or significant numbers of elderly, blind, disabled or young pedestrians.
The advice will clearly state that segregation by barrier or kerb is best, but that under strict circumstances white line segregation and unsegregated sharing is a last resort available to highway authorities. We can discuss that in greater detail. Such facilities, as the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, have worked well in practice, and a review of the use of certain shared facilities is being undertaken by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. It has not so far identified any major problems. It is a matter of detail, which I hope we can discuss further. The advice that we will send out will state that if shared use is found to be unacceptable in practice, it should be removed.
Hon. Members will be aware of the tactile surfaces that have been experimentally laid at a zebra crossing in Parliament square. Hon. Members will be interested to know that the TRRL is undertaking research into forms of tactile warnings to help blind and partially sighted people, in shared facilities which are not separated by a barrier or kerb, to know exactly where they are. In working that out, scientists are considering not just a surface which will be a marker to a blind or partially sighted person, but one which might also be an effective deterrent to the cycle user. That is a possibility. Initial tests have produced promising results, but I want to see further tests undertaken at specific sites to be sure of the efficacy of any of these measures. Clause 4 gives highway authorities the power to provide such facilities, and in that sense my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness has thought the matter through well.
When my hon. Friend referred to clause 3, he said that he proposed to accept some amendments. I agree that inspectors considering objections into footpath conversions should report to the Secretary of State. I shall offer my hon. Friend any assistance that he may need to draft amendments to make that a reality.
Hon. Members will have noted that clause 3 also gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations. We have had time to consider what those regulations could contain, and while we clearly need to consult widely on any draft regulations, it might help hon. Members if I were to indicate our current thinking.
We are considering asking my hon. Friend to include a requirement for prior consultation with the police, other local authorities responsible for the area, statutory undertakers whose land a footpath may cross and other interested organisations. That would be sensible. When consulting and advertising its intention to convert a footpath, a highway authority will have to indicate the length or lengths of footpath that it is proposed to convert, 619 the type of conversion that it is proposed to undertake and what segregation is intended between the cycle tracks and the remaining footpath, or whether, in the most exceptional cases, the whole footpath is intended to be a cycle track.
Representations and objections will be able to be made at the appropriate time both on and to the principle of converting the footpath and the type of shared use that the authority intends to provide. If unwithdrawn objections are received, they will be considered at a public inquiry before an independent inspector, who, if the Bill is amended as proposed, will report to the Secretary of State. I hope that that provision and my response to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness will meet with the agreement of those who consider the Bill in Committee if, as I hope, it receives its Second Reading this afternoon.
A number of other matters have been raised by various hon. Members, including our band of lawyers, who led off the debate. It was said that appeals should go not to the High Court, as specified in the Bill, but to a Crown court or county court. I understand that this way of proceeding has not been used before in legislation. I accept the contention of the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) and others that there are many time-consuming procedures connected with the High Court and that they become extremely costly for the individuals involved and for local authorities. I am prepared to take some proper legal advice—I hope that the lawyers in the House will not misunderstand me—by consulting my right hon. and learned Friends the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General to ensure that there would be no particular objection if "High Court" in clause 3(5) were amended to "county court" or "Crown court". If my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness is in agreement —I notice that he is indicating assent—I shall take up that matter between now and the Bill returning to the House, if it is given a Second Reading.
The hon. Member for St. Helens, South described the Bill as a good measure, and he went on to describe his unfortunate experience on Wednesday when he was trying to get about London, as I was, by bike. He commented on cyclists using footways—in other words, the pavement. Cycling on the pavement or footway is illegal, irrespective of the age of the cyclist. I know that a blind eye is sometimes turned when small children are riding their bicycles on the pavement, but it is an illegal activity and it is dangerous. This is why we need more cycle tracks, and the purpose of the Bill is to ensure that cyclists are able to cycle in safety, while leaving everyone else in safety.
Occasionally the enthusiasm of cyclists overcomes them and they do some crazy things on the road. On my travels about central London on Wednesday I saw things that I hate seeing cyclists doing. Some cyclists were weaving in and out between vehicles, while others were going almost on to the pavement at times to get across junctions instead of adhering to the rules of the road and obeying traffic lights. Cyclists do their fellow cyclists a great disservice by ignoring the highway code and the rules of the road. In addition, they put their own lives and safety in jeopardy, as well as the lives of others. If cyclists behave with more common sense and obey the rules of the road, we shall have fewer frustrated motorists, who tend to try to ease cyclists out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) referred to large vehicles passing cyclists, which can be most unpleasant for the cyclist, especially 620 in wet weather. In trying to educate motor vehicle drivers to avoid cyclists, however, we should encourage cyclists to help themselves by not infuriating the drivers of four-wheeled vehicles, as they so frequently do, especially in rush hours, when there are no cycle tracks and the new route through Hyde Park cannot be used. I make a special plea to cyclists to obey the rules extremely carefully when cycle tracks are not available.
An important aspect of safety is respect for the pedestrian in all circumstances. Our roads have become ever busier, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham made clear in his reference to the vastly increased traffic over the bridges of central London. Unless cyclists respect pedestrians as well as drivers of four-wheeled vehicles, there will be a real problem. As my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) said, pedestrians must also think about what they are doing and not dash out in front of cyclists, assuming that a cyclist is going much more slowly than a four-wheeled vehicle. Many hon. Members present today are cyclists themselves and will no doubt confirm that pedestrians often do not realise how fast a cyclist can go and therefore jump in front of him, thus causing many problems, in addition to the possibility of the cyclist going into a pothole while his attention is distracted. We must be far more conscious of the need for every road user, on foot, on two wheels or on four wheels, to respect every other user.
Another safety problem which arises where there are no cycle tracks relates to the use of BMX bikes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North said, children Love to receive bikes as presents and they are often the sole means of lone recreation. In the right place and the right circumstances that it is to be encouraged, but I urge parents and youngsters who hear of this debate to realise that where there are no cycle tracks and no separate BMX tracks in the local park, much more care must be taken by BMX riders than seems to be the case at present. Hon. Members frequently write to me expressing concern about the misuse of parks, especially in city areas, by youngsters riding these bikes in places where they should not be and in a manner calculated to cause real disruption to pedestrians. That, too, makes us conscious of the need for the Bill.
I very much liked the idea advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North, who said that when he was a headmaster children were allowed to cycle to school only if they had taken their cycling proficiency test. It is crucial that staff in our schools should encourage that. About 300,000 children take the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents course annually. I hope that that figure will rise by leaps and bounds. I believe that that can be achieved. With its "Think Bike" campaign, the Department is doing its best to improve cycling safety. We are also trying to ensure that child cycling becomes a good deal safer.
I assure the House that I share its hope that the Bill will help increase safety for cyclists, while safeguarding the interests of others. For those reasons I warmly welcome the Bill and urge the House to give it its full support so that we can have safer cycling.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of Bills).621
§ Mr. Bottomley
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Earlier today we had a Division on the Third Reading of the Juries (Disqualification) Bill. I should like to know whether, when the Bill returns for consideration next week, it will still be debated, or whether there will just be an opportunity for another Division.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an answer off the cuff, but if he seeks advice I am sure that it will be readily available to him.