§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Wells.]
§ 10.4 am
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the question of bicycling and the Government's policy towards it. It is a particularly apt time to do so, because National Bike Week starts on Saturday. I would like to highlight that event, and I welcome its sponsorship by Hovis. I hope that as many people as possible—both in the House and in the country—take note of an event designed to highlight bicycling and to make bicycling a more acceptable means of transport. The Cycling Public Affairs Group is holding a reception this afternoon in the House of Commons to highlight the question of bicycling to the representatives of the nation.
I bicycle around London, and while I should say that I also drive from time to time, bicycling is the quickest way of getting around London. We should realise that bicycling is no longer a fringe pursuit—if, indeed, it ever was—and I do not see myself as a fringe person. I bicycle in a suit, and I do not own a pair of lycra shorts.
§ Mr. Robathan
Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to see me in a pair of lycra shorts—I hope not.
I am the chairman of the all-party cycling group because I believe that cycling is a part, but only a part, of improving the quality of life and of our urban environment. Cycling can play a part in solving the real problems with transport and traffic in this country. In the three years that I have been a Member, there has been a shift in attitudes towards transport, roads, general traffic policy and cycling. I hope this morning to help that shift of attitudes, because attitudes are the key.
From the age of 13 to 17, I bicycled to school every day. Many people did that, and it was an acceptable way of getting to school. I read in the Leicester Mercury on Friday one man's opinion of bicycling. He said:I make my personal choice—a car—as it is comfortable and keeps me dry and I don't arrive all sweating and smelly … I have to expend less energy too and arrive fresh at my destination without the pains I would suffer cycling…you keep your bike and I'll keep my car.That is entirely up to him, and I have no grudge against car owners—indeed, I am a car user myself. But there has been a change from believing that cyclists are a bit loony towards believing that cycling is a sensible way of getting about.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
The House will be grateful to my hon. Friend for obtaining this debate, and 128 for the positive way in which he is suggesting that we ought to promote cycling and walking as positive choices for those who have access to cars. Does my hon. Friend welcome the way in which the RAC and the AA have started to take the interests of cyclists into account, as well as representing other road users?
§ Mr. Robathan
I welcome my hon. Friend's point. As a member of the AA, I found it distressing that the AA seemed to think that cyclists and motorists cannot get on. Cycling is a part of transport, not a way-out activity for people in lycra shorts.
Cycling is viewed by some—such as the correspondent of the Leicester Mercury—as a fringe activity for the poor, but just because someone is on a bicycle does not mean that he is to be pitied because he cannot afford a car. It must be understood that cycling is an excellent and cheap way of getting around, and it is particularly suitable if one does not have a car. It is also a good way for a car owner who wishes not to use his car in order to save money. It must be got across that having a car does not mean that a person has to use it. Cycling is now coming in from the cold, but it has a long way to go.
At a reception yesterday, somebody told me that his child's school had just knocked down the bicycle sheds. Although bicycle sheds have many uses besides sheltering bicycles, it is essential that schools take the view that cycling is a sensible way for their pupils to get to school. When I was a young boy, I cycled to school. They may not have been halcyon days, but there was certainly much less traffic and less danger of being knocked down, the air was cleaner, there was much less noise, and traffic was slower, so those days had something to recommend them.
I welcome the policy statement issued by the Minister's predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), last June, which was a step in the right direction. It contained much talk of perception, which is the key. I hope that this debate will assist in changing people's perception of cycling. I also welcome the fact that a number of hon. Members are present this morning. It is a good turnout for an Adjournment debate, especially so early in the morning. It shows the rising interest in cycling in this place.
§ Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)
I thank my very fit and young hon. Friend for giving way. As a rather timid and exhausted cyclist, I find that London is full of mountains. What really puts me off cycling are the dangers. Is my hon. Friend aware that, every year, some 25,000 cyclists are injured on the roads and, of that number, 200 are killed? That is a considerable risk factor. Does he agree that much more effort must go into teaching other road users how to respect cyclists?
§ Mr. Robathan
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an excellent point. I shall come to the dangers of cycling in a minute. My hon. Friend is not unfit and London is not entirely full of mountains, although the Haymarket and St. James's seem mountainous as one ascends on a bicycle.
My great aunt used to live outside Hereford, which is pretty hilly. She used to cycle into Hereford—a distance of five miles each way—every day until she was well into her sixties.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
I think that Lower Regent street goes uphill, whereas Haymarket goes downhill. They are one-way streets.
§ Mr. Robathan
I thank my hon. Friend for his geography lesson. I certainly do not go the wrong way down one-way streets.
Why should cycling be such an important part of our transport policy? The first, and perhaps most important, reason is to reduce congestion. Outside this place even now, the traffic is stopped in Parliament square, and all the way along the Embankment, cars are bumper to bumper as people try to get to work. Some 70 per cent. of journeys made in urban areas are less than five miles. Cycling is a practical way to get around, because, instead of sitting in a traffic jam, one can move as fast as the traffic in central London, or even central Leicester just outside my constituency, and arrive at one's destination relatively quickly and, hopefully, safely.
The second reason is to reduce environmental pollution, which is closely linked to congestion. Among its many other recommendations, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended that a target should be set to increase cycle use to 10 per cent. of urban journeys in the next 10 years—a fourfold increase. I welcome that ambitious start.
§ Lady Olga Maitland
I appreciate my hon. Friend giving way so generously. On environmental pollution, has he noticed that many cyclists in London wear face masks to protect themselves from gassy fumes? It is impossible to remove all the fumes in the city right away. Does he agree that cyclists are in danger of exposing themselves to the very fumes that they should be protected from?
§ Mr. Robathan
I take my hon. Friend's point entirely. It can be extremely unpleasant to breathe in the particles that have been coughed out by dirty taxis and buses, and the carbon monoxide from motor cars. However, notwithstanding what cyclists may taste, they are in a much better position than those who sit in a small box on four wheels where the air circulates less quickly. Doctors confirm that people are better off on bicycles than in cars if they want to avoid pollution.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
That is an important point. We all know that car drivers and cyclists breathe the same air. If car drivers want to exclude the fumes they generate, they should wear the same masks as cyclists.
§ Mr. Robathan
People should take that fact on board. Although cyclists wear masks, they are in less danger than people in cars.
The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution said that it wants to reduce all urban journeys by car by 10 per cent. by the year 2020. We should all try to achieve that. Cycling can be only part of the solution. It is alleged that environmental pollution is causing a great increase in asthma. That must concern us all, especially those with young children who have asthma. Cycling can bring health benefits in that respect. We are in danger of becoming a nation of couch potatoes who watch television and sit in those boxes on four wheels getting fat eating crisps or chocolate. Cycling has a role to play in the health and fitness of the nation.
The fourth benefit of cycling is recreation. Cycling has come a long way in that respect, too. Bicycles can now be hired around Rutland Water. One can cycle around my constituency along the rolling lanes of Leicestershire on any weekend and find people cycling for recreation either 130 on their own or with their families. An excellent scheme, SUSTRANS, which the Minister supports, aims to set up a safe, segregated cycle way all the way from Inverness to Dover—and beyond in the future. We would all wish to support that.
Following this debate, I hope to see further Government progress. I hope that the Minister will talk about a national cycling strategy. Should he be thinking of devising such a strategy, I should like to make a few suggestions.
My first suggestion is on safety, which was mentioned by hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). The greatest deterrent to people cycling in an urban environment and to parents allowing their children to cycle to school is the danger. A young cousin of mine was killed by a lorry on Clapham common some five years ago at 7 am; my brother has been knocked off his bicycle on several occasions; and I have had many close squeezes. I was hit by a car outside my office in Westminster.
The Cycling Safety Bill, which I introduced two years ago, would have led to a charge of dangerous driving being brought against a motorist who, through his or her own fault, struck a cyclist. I commend such a legislative measure to my hon. Friend the Minister. Last year, Camden and Islington health authority issued an interesting report on lorries, which showed that, in inner London, a heavy goods vehicle is 30 times more likely to kill a cyclist than a car in relation to traffic volume. That is an amazing statistic. I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to look at the question of heavy goods vehicles in the urban environment.
Some of the best measures would be traffic restraint, segregation, traffic calming and reducing speed in the urban environment. As someone who is always late for everything and always trying to reach my destination five minutes ago, I accept that we cannot use our cars as fast as we are able where there are cyclists, pedestrians and vulnerable road users.
My second suggestion to my hon. Friend is that of security. The risk of returning to one's bicycle and finding that it is no longer there is another major deterrent to cycling. We need better facilities. This problem was noted in the policy statement by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury ( Mr. Key) last year but I urge the Minister to work towards encouraging local government to provide better facilities.
I also urge him to speak to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, as I have twice returned to my bicycle, which was legally left in London, to find it moved because the Metropolitan Police Commissioner believes that bicycles will explode. It is possible to get Semtex down the crossbar of a bicycle—in Crossmaglen, a bicycle was found with its crossbar packed full of high explosives—but a bicycle can be effectively used as a bomb only if it is carrying a package. That is the same as with any package sitting in the street or anywhere else.
I therefore urge my hon. Friend to stop the Metropolitan Police Commissioner moving everyone's bicycles on, so that the left hand and the right hand of local government policy each knows what the other doing.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)
Not only do the police move bicycles; there is a problem in parking bicycles. Is my hon. Friend aware that the staff of Government buildings are hostile towards Members of 131 Parliament who ride bicycles, considering that it lowers the tone of the building? Does he agree that all Government Departments should have cycle bays so that visitors can arrive as well as staff? I am sure that the Minister will say something helpful, but does my hon. Friend agree that such bays are needed?
§ Mr. Robathan
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because that is absolutely right. When I visit Government Departments, sometimes people look at me aghast, and sometimes, if I telephone in advance, they will kindly allow me to put my bicycle behind a desk. At the Department of Health, I regret to say, I was consigned down a lift with my bicycle into a back room miles from anywhere. I might just as well have walked from the House; it would have been quicker.
§ Mr. Robathan
Well, I thought that the bicycle was helpful at the time.
I tabled a series of questions last year to encourage Government Departments to set an example. If they talk about encouraging bicycling, they must set an example and provide space for bicycles. I am grateful to my hon. Friend.
That brings me to my next recommendation, which is that we should have more user-friendly employers. Parking for cyclists is important, but—as was recognised in a policy statement in June 1994—so are showers. If one has bicycled five or six miles into work, one may have worked up a slight amount of perspiration—if my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam will excuse me.
§ Mr. Robathan
However, it is important that there is the facility for employees to wash and get changed when they reach work. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will go further to encourage such facilities.
My fourth argument relates to a subject that I have mentioned. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will discuss with the Department for Education encouraging children to bicycle to school, as they did once. It is ludicrous that, at 8.30 or 9 o'clock in the morning, our roads are jammed with people driving one or two miles, taking their children to school. I know that there is another safety factor, regrettable as it may be, concerning the possibility of children being abducted, but, statistically, that is very much more in people's perception than it is in reality. If more children bicycled, there would be a much smaller chance of their being abducted, and they would be safer on the roads.
Bike sheds, schools' attitudes and local education authorities' attitudes are important, but so are the mobility, independence and health of a child. Too many children are becoming dependent on being driven to school. That is surely not the way to develop independent and healthy minds.
§ Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)
Encouraging schoolchildren to cycle to school is the key, because it is at that stage in life that one gets into the habit of cycling, if one is ever going to. An all-party study in Taunton 132 Deane in my constituency brought up the issues of safety on the roads. Abduction was mentioned, and other factors. At a time when traffic is becoming more and more congested, my hon. Friend makes a vital argument.
§ Mr. Robathan
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support, because I think that is a way in which we can make a real difference by means of Government policy, not any great legislation.
Mentioning children and bicycling and the health of children leads me to my further recommendation. I understand—I hope that the Minister will discuss this—that a physical activity task force is being set up. Bicycling can play a major part in health. It is aerobic, therapeutic and non-polluting. We must make strides to encourage people to consider cycling as a sensible, good way of taking exercise—something which I know my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health would encourage.
§ Mr. Heald
Well, I wanted to ask my hon. Friend about a specific matter. In many parts of the country now, there are cycle routes, such as at Grafham water and Rutland water. In Sussex, there is a cycleway between Polegate and Hailsham, which is being expanded. Does my hon. Friend envisage a role for the Millenium Commission in providing funding to organisations that want to set up routes of that type, and does he feel that that might improve the leisure aspect of bicycling?
§ Mr. Robathan
That is an excellent idea, which I hope the Millennium Commission will consider carefully. As recently as last week, in the recess before rushing back for the debate last Wednesday, I walked along something called the Tarka trail in west Devon, which is, similarly, set up on an old railway line—I would rather that it was still a railway line, to be honest—where people walk and bicycle and hire bicycles. That is a growing leisure activity.
Finally, I recommend to the Minister that targets be introduced. I suggest that the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution is being over-ambitious. I recommend that we consider doubling the number of cycle journeys in the next 10 years by involving local authorities, which are the local transport managers, and applying Government policy seriously.
All those recommendations help to change attitudes. Cyclists continue to be deprived. I read continually, in my local Leicester Mercury, of people saying, "I saw a cyclist on the pavement, and he nearly knocked me down." I have, as a boy of about 16, hit a pedestrian when the pedestrian ran out into the street at school, chasing another boy. Let me assure the House that the pedestrian was fine, although he was half my size. I bounced heavily on the ground, ruined my suit and received several big grazes. Any cyclist has similar tales to tell.
I decry those cyclists who break the law by not using lights, by bicycling on the pavements and so on. They may feel that they have good reason, but I do not accept it. Of course it is wrong to break the law, but that does not invalidate the need for more bicycling. We must change the perception against bicycling.
133 Two years ago, when I made my cycling safety speech, an hon. Friend said—albeit in jest—"I would get all cyclists off the road." I am afraid that that is an underlying feeling among many motorists who are held up by a couple of cyclists. They think, "Why are those two riding two abreast? Get them out of the road." We must change that perception, so that bicycling is accepted as the best way, in the urban environment, to go swiftly for two or three miles.
As well as hitting the targets, we need further joint action by the Minister, with the Department for Education, the Department of Employment—for employer-friendly attitudes—the Department of Health and the Department of the Environment. We may even need further joint action with the Lord Chancellor's Department, because I notice that Sir Richard Scott is a bit of a cyclist, to introduce a topical note; with the Department of Trade and Industry, where Howard Davies of the Confederation of British Industry is a bit of a cyclist; and with the Cabinet Office, because Sir Robin Butler is also a bit of a cyclist.
§ Mr. Robathan
Indeed, in the House of Lords; Lord Tebbit has made some very apt comments about bicycles.
In Denmark, nine times more cycle journeys are made, and it is 10 times safer to bicycle, than in this country. More cycling will make for cleaner, clearer roads, and it will mean that motorists are used to cyclists and their attention is gained by cyclists, so that they do not come round a corner and not expect to see one. If there is more cycling, it will become safer. It will become self-fulfilling.
I call for no legislation, except perhaps introducing a cyclists safety measure, such as I have suggested, in the next Road Traffic Act. I look forward to my hon. Friend the Minister's reply.
I recently noticed my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary walking to his office in Marsham street. I note that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has recently taken to walking to Parliament for Prime Minister's questions. That is common sense and should not be remarked on, because it is quicker than taking a car.
Cycling is only part of the process. At the moment, traffic jams Parliament square. I look forward to Parliament square being semi-pedestrianised, when there are few cars, cleaner buses, perhaps horses, a lot of pedestrians—
§ Mr. Robathan
Indeed; horses are very clean, and an attractive means of transport. There will also be more cyclists. I believe that that will happen in about 20 years; the sooner the better, because the quality of life of the nation will be improved if there is more cycling.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I am grateful to be able to support the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), not only in the Chamber, but as vice-chairman of the all-party cycling group.
This is an all-party occasion up to a point, and if I bring other matters into the debate, I am sure that no parliamentarians will blame me for doing so. Although 134 there has been plenty of support for cycling from Conservative Members, the Government have done certain things, and they might do certain things that might make things rather better.
My contribution could be described as a little more plebian than that of the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), whose remarks I support. I have been cycling in London continually for 50 years. I have had the privilege of being able to cycle to work in London for the past 40 years—for probably 80 to 90 per cent. of my journeys.
I decided to reveal today that, for the past 25 years, as a Member of the House I have cycled not much less than 100,000 miles, most of which have been in London, with a proportion in rural areas in the holidays. I try to match precept with practice, and the practical with the legal. The work of organisations such as the Cyclists Touring Club, of which I have been a member for many years, the Youth Hostels Association and the London Cycling Campaign, which has official support, has been helpful.
As I was travelling in this morning, I took a count—in the course of about five miles, I saw 55 cyclists awheel, apart from several hundred cycles at the side of the road. Cycling is an increasingly important mode of transport in the capital, even on a dull day. I am not convinced by some of the statistics that suggest that there has been a reduction in cycling nationally. In London, particularly in the past 10 or 12 years, the numbers awheel seem to have been increasing.
§ Mr. Steen
I think that the hon. Gentleman's work for cycling should be recognised by the House. As long as I have been a cyclist—20 years—the hon. Gentleman has always been on two wheels, whatever the weather, and has made a great contribution to the cycling debate.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the number of cyclists coming into London alone has reached about 130,000 a day? In view of that, does he not believe that a much more serious contribution should be made by the Government to provide for those 130,000 cyclists who come in and out of the capital?
§ Mr. Spearing
The hon. Gentleman is right, but cyclists do not just come in and out of London: they travel around it. Short journeys by bicycle can easily be undertaken, even in central London, if certain routes are used. The subject should be taken up by the boroughs. I am glad to see that one inter-borough organisation, the Association of London Government, has been established. It may be able to get the London cycle network going faster.
Road surfaces in London are dangerous; the number of holes is distinctly unpleasant. That safety problem should be looked at as a priority. I also commend some of the individual initiatives that have been taken. There is talk of advanced stop lines for cyclists. One of the hazardous places for cyclists is when they turn left at crossroads—where vehicles and cyclists turn left together. We do not necessarily need to change the lights or make expensive electrical changes, but we could try pushing the white stop line back a few feet and ensuring that there is an advanced stop line for cyclists on the near side.
There is an active cycling policy, with a full-time cycling officer, in the borough of Newham. With me, Friends of the Earth have undertaken pioneering rides. The Department of Transport was asked to send a 135 representative along one day. He emerged from a car with a portable cycle, and promptly skidded and fell on the A13. It turned out that the borough was not directly responsible for the maintenance and road sweeping of the A13; the borough was paid to sweep the road twice a year by the Department of Transport. The Department's official suffered from his own departmental policy.
§ Mr. Spearing
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I will not give way, as many people wish to speak and the hon. Lady has already contributed. I must press on.
§ Lady Olga Maitland
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I know that time is precious. He has made an important point about the difficulties faced by cyclists turning left. Does he agree that further studies should also be made into the problems involved in cyclists approaching junctions, roundabouts and crossroads, as three quarters of all accidents happen at those very places?
§ Mr. Spearing
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for endorsing precisely what I was saying.
I shall now hasten on to a less pleasing subject, to which the Opposition and the Government may take slightly different approaches: precept and practice. Earlier in the week, I became aware that, if someone wished to leave a bicycle in Whitehall outside any Government office, he would encounter notices stating that the bicycle would be taken away. That matter was given some publicity.
I hope that Westminster city council or the Government will ensure that visitors to this place—those who may not officially be present in the Chamber—who wish to come by cycle can, with relative ease, find a place to leave their bicycle. Perhaps there could be signposts showing the places for leaving bicycles instead of the prohibitive signs.
Cyclists should be able to leave their bicycle and walk the last 100 yards, perhaps under supervision. It is an anomaly that we should be discussing this important topic for an hour and a half, but that, if someone wants to come to the debate, he or she is virtually prohibited from leaving their cycle outside. I am glad to see that the Minister for Transport in London takes that point.
An even bigger anomaly is the Government's failure to provide adequate facilities for taking cycles on trains. I do not think that cycles, particularly modern ones, are much heavier than a normal suitcase, and they cannot add to the cost of train travel. The right hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), whose selection to contest the seat was not entirely unconnected with his cycling activities—the previous occupant of that seat also indulged in that mode of transport—
§ Mr. Spearing
The seat disappeared through boundary changes.
In co-operation with the Cyclists Touring Club, the right hon. Member for Ealing, Acton introduced a wonderful arrangement on British Rail, whereby virtually any train on any day could take a cycle if there was room. In those days, the luggage compartments were larger than they are now. Network SouthEast still continues with that policy, except 136 in the rush hour. It is a useful policy, but elsewhere things are getting worse. Matters are even worse as a result of the recent policies of Her Majesty's Government in respect of different parts of the railway network.
Different routes have different rules and different times, most of which are ridiculous. Cross-country trains, which were designed by British Rail, can officially carry just one bicycle on a first come, first served basis. Passengers do not take their bicycles, because they know that someone further up the line may have placed a bicycle on the train already. That is a terrible disincentive, particularly for those in rural areas, to use trains and bicycles—the combination of which is an economical form of transport and a viable alternative to motoring. It is the sort of thing that I am sure those in rural Leicestershire would welcome.
Such a policy must be considered. Present legislation and the regulator clearly do not require such facilities at present, so perhaps the hon. Member for Blaby, the Opposition or someone with cross-party support will introduce an appropriate private Member's Bill. I will not say that it would be successful—it might be objected to at 2.30 pm one Friday—but, as A. P. Herbert found, the threat of legislation sometimes moves Governments to action before legislation is drafted and laid. I hope that I am being sufficiently constructive and not too controversial.
The subject involves more than simply the trains themselves; we must consider the terminals. One used to be able to leave a bicycle at a London terminal, go off and return later. I went to Paris on an official duty not long ago. I thought that I should get to Waterloo quickly from here, and did so in just four minutes.
When I arrived, I found that the left luggage facilities had not only been let out to a contractor and were closed at 9 pm, after the train from Paris returned, but there was a £3 charge. If one does not return before 9 pm, which I did not, the charge is £6—the cycle is removed. I understand from the London Cycling Campaign that one can leave a bicycle there and lock it up if one knows where to leave it.
Such facilities should exist, but they are not as accessible as they should be in many terminals. The fee of £3 a day for leaving a bicycle can mount up if one is taking a two-day journey, and it seems excessive to have to pay £3 to take it on the train. There should be some places, as there are at King's Cross, to leave bicycles in relative security, locked up to a Sheffield bar or a cycle rank. I commend that thought to British Rail. If more cyclists travelled by train, British Rail would collect more money, as the right hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) said when he introduced the successful scheme.
That excellent magazine The Big Issue addressed the question of cyclist safety recently when one of the people associated with the publication, Miss Kate De Pulford, died while riding a cycle on London roads. Its edition of 22 May pointed out the problems, to which the hon. Member for Blaby has alluded, of heavy goods vehicles, and the difficulties for cyclists who wish to turn left at intersections. The magazine stated that 60 per cent. of cycle accidents in inner London were related to those two factors.
The number of cyclists who died as a result of accidents involving cars and heavy goods vehicles were about the same—although, as the hon. Gentleman said, the ratio of cars to heavy goods vehicles is 30:1. The British Medical Journal of 11 June 1994 contains a paper written by Dr. Mark McCarthy, who is from the health authority mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. It points to the awkward figure of 58 per cent. for that type of accident.
137 I am sure that all hon. Members are grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving us the opportunity to debate these matters today. I look forward to further constructive debate on the subject, and I hope that we will see common-sense, across-the-board, pro bono publico, pro-cyclist legislation and administrative action from Her Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)
I am somewhat humbled by the fact that I am surrounded by right hon. and hon. Members who are clearly much fitter than I, and much more practically dedicated to cycling. However, I suspect that my experience is likely to be more typical of that of most of the population.
As a child, I was a very keen cyclist. I found it an exhilarating form of exercise, as well as the only means of travelling swiftly over considerable distances. However, as an adult, I found myself in a situation that is the reverse of the smoker's dilemma: although I wished to continue, I virtually gave it up.
I gave up cycling, firstly, because of the risk of accident; secondly, because of the unpleasant experience of cycling amidst thick traffic, with the fumes, noise and hassle of motor cars; and, finally, because, although I was attracted to cycling, it clearly was not always the swiftest or the most convenient way of travelling moderate distances.
Nevertheless, I endorse very strongly all that has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) in introducing the debate today, and by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). We should not be too starry-eyed about the cycle replacing other means of transport. I cannot see the 15,000 commuters in my constituency of Beckenham revving up their cycles and racing into London—although I would love to see it—particularly when they are dressed in their business clothes. However, the cycle is an important mode of transport.
There is no doubt that there is public pressure to improve cycling facilities. I received a letter a few weeks ago from a constituent, Patricia Ewing, who is living temporarily in the Netherlands. She writes:Although this is one of the most densely populated areas of Europe, our suburban area feels far less congested than Bromley. Our quality of life is enormously enhanced by the extensive use of bicycles, made possible by excellent cycle tracks and widespread traffic-slowing mechanisms. My heart truly sinks at the thought of returning to the fume-laden scrum of cars around our local school in Bromley".She is quite right, and she reflects the views that have been expressed to me by many people who have not lived elsewhere where more cycling facilities are available. I strongly endorse the views that Ms Ewing expresses in her letter.
I turn to the problems faced by children who ride bicycles. My children are keen to cycle. My 11-year-old daughter would dearly love to have a bicycle, and I have been put in the very difficult position of having to refuse her request, simply because I cannot risk allowing my daughter to cycle around the streets of Beckenham. I live on a main road where the traffic situation is extremely dangerous, and I must deprive my daughter of an experience that I enjoyed as a child and which she would 138 desperately like to try. I would like to see measures introduced to make cycling safer and more readily accessible to children like my daughter.
The borough of Bromley does a great deal of work in the road safety area. Last year, it taught cycle proficiency to 2,000 children, which is more than any other London borough. Another borough instructed the second largest group, of 1,200 children, in the same period. Bromley is dedicated to heightening safety consciousness among cyclists. According to the latest figures, 122 accidents per year involve cycles. I regret that our road safety officer, Scott Pickering, has decided to emigrate to Australia, and is leaving the country on Friday. No doubt he will find that cycling is much safer in Australia, although I suspect that that is not his prime reason for moving there.
It is important to try to overcome the risk of cycle accidents in urban areas. Bromley has taken steps in this area, but I should like to see its work expand. At present, three cycle routes traverse the borough, but clearly many more are needed. They are usually arrangements that mix cycles and other traffic.
Although that is helpful, it is a second-best arrangement, as, ideally, one should have dedicated cycle routes. Bicycles and motor vehicles, particularly lorries, do not mix well on our roads, especially when lorries and cars are speeding. Although it is important to explore the use of more cycle routes, I should like to see dedicated cycle routes constructed wherever possible.
I have mentioned speed: it is extremely important for road safety generally, but particularly for cyclists, that further action be taken to control the speed of motor vehicles. Speed causes many vehicle accidents and puts cyclists and pedestrians at risk. Firm action must be taken in that area.
As has already been said, it may be possible to introduce other traffic management schemes that will help cyclists at road junctions, crossings and so on. I know of three road junctions in Bromley where separate measures are in place which give cyclists preferential and protected treatment. I would like to see those schemes extended. One set of traffic lights has a specific cycle phase, and I would like that arrangement to be made more widely available.
The borough is now looking at taking specific action to try to deal with the risk that lorries pose for cyclists. Because of their sheer size, lorries which are crammed on narrow roads must drive very close to the pavement, and they pose particular problems for cyclists. I hope that action will be taken to deal with that problem.
Some steps have been taken to allow cyclists to share routes with pedestrians. I welcome the introduction of those dedicated routes, and I think that we can make considerable progress by mixing cycles and pedestrians. However, it is an extremely sensitive issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby talked about pavements. A dispute is presently going on in my borough as to whether certain pavements should be made available to cyclists, particularly young cyclists. Reasonable arguments are advanced on both sides. Some say that it is much safer for children to ride their bicycles on pavements than on the roads, but pedestrians—especially elderly pedestrians—believe that young cyclists pose an immediate safety risk to pedestrians.
Cyclists cannot win: if they ride on the pavement, they are accused of presenting a risk to pedestrians; if they ride on the road, they are at risk from cars and lorries.
139 I should like to see more studies on the mix of cycles and pedestrians. It is possible that means could be devised to enable that mix to be extended in some areas by the possibility either of cordoning off part of a pavement, if it is particularly wide, or the use of some pavements for mixed purposes—perhaps pavements that do not run alongside drives and houses. That is worth examining. Although I would not want to prejudge the result of such examination, it could provide a possible way forward.
§ Mr. Robathan
One of the problems with cycle lanes that cyclists identify very quickly is that people park in them. They then become worse than useless, as one has to pull out of the cycle lane into the main stream. Perhaps the Government should consider that.
§ Mr. Merchant
I quite agree. That is one reason why I am suggesting that we should examine the possibility of cycle lanes being included on wide pavements, or an extension of the mix to which I referred, with shared facilities, as cycle lanes on the side of roads pose a risk, particularly if the roads are busy. There is no simple solution to the problem, particularly in heavily built-up urban areas with high levels of traffic.
All those different measures are producing benefit. If they are extended, more thought is given to them and further studies are carried out, we shall find a way forward to encourage cycling by making it safer and by raising the importance of the issue in the public consciousness and taking steps to control the overwhelming priority that at present seems to be given to cars and lorries on our urban roads, which often were once quiet enough to enable cyclists to use them safely, but now regrettably are not.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), not just on achieving this morning's debate, which is of great value, but for the persistent and consistent way in which he has advanced the cause of cyclists. I know that hon. Members present on both sides of the House share that objective, and have done great work.
I was tempted to say that a funny thing happened to me on the way to the House this morning, and in a sense it did. I walked along the embankment, my usual way to work. I do not cycle, as it is a relatively short journey and I find it easier to walk, although I have cycled in the past and found the facilities as daunting as other hon. Members clearly do.
As I walked along, I saw a new RAC traffic sign saying:London at War until 7 January 1996".What surprised me was not that London was at war, but that the RAC knew that the war would end on 7 January 1996. We are discussing a permanent and difficult conflict between different types of transport usage. Sadly, the cyclist is all too often squeezed between other much more powerful interests.
It is symbolic when, all too often, we see the public transport vehicle and the car, and the poor old cyclist in between. That is a symbol of precisely what has happened as the volume of traffic has increased, not just in London, but in all our major cities since the war.
There have also been several different conflicting political pressures. There was a period when transport planning was dominated by the municipal bus barons. I 140 worked with the bus industry, and I respect the talents and achievements of those big men who dominated public transport for many years. However, their interests were primarily in trying to make the public transport system work.
Then we had a new era, and a new breed of public transport planners, who were obsessed with making the car move from A to B much faster.
In my planning and architectural days, I recall reading that monumental and extremely important seminal work, "Traffic in Towns" by Colin Buchanan. He warned what would happen if London and major cities were simply rebuilt to accommodate all the private vehicles that wished to use their streets. His report was intended to be an awful warning, but some of those who were then responsible for transport planning in our cities took it at as a blueprint of what was needed to accommodate cars in our cities—precisely what Professor Buchanan was trying to avoid. Between those two strong and powerful interests came the poor old cyclist, and to some extent the pedestrian.
The pedestrian, however, has survived better than the cyclist in the past few decades, because pedestrianisation took off in the 1960s and 1970s and to some extent the momentum has been maintained under successive Governments since. Yet the cyclist is still squeezed between public and private transport interests.
I have two quotations. The first is from John Grimshaw, the director of SUSTRANS. He said recently:Although the bicycle is perhaps the ideal vehicle for today's small, crowded and polluted planet, it is dangerous and unpleasant to cycle on today's heavily trafficked roads.That is a good summary from someone who obviously knows precisely what he is talking about.
The Minister for Transport in London, who is in his place, said on 3 April in answer to the hon. Member for Blaby:Cycling is environmentally sound and healthy and is a thoroughly desirable form of transport, but most people do not exactly relish the prospect of challenge a 40 ft articulated lorry for priority on the road."—[Official Report, 3 April 1995; Vol. 257, c. 1380.]That is exactly right.
Let us not fool ourselves that other countries all over the world suffer the same problem and have not found solutions. Some of them have. We have much to learn from Freiberg on the edge of the Black Forest, where, according to an excellent assessment of the problem by the Glasgow Herald recently:a combination of cyclepaths and new trams have swept the city centre almost free of traffic in little more than a decade.I was recently in Amsterdam, where, outside the central station, there is a vast array of cycle racks—all safe, properly supervised and secure. Of course, as a result, the mix of effective longer-distance public transport by rail and short-distance cycle journeys is working extremely well.
We all expect London to be the crux of the problem, and it is significant that so many right hon. and hon. Members representing constituencies in and outside London are here today, and that the debate is likely to concentrate on London.
141 I raise two points about London. First, the Minister announced that the £3 million will be made available for the 1,000-mile cycle track that is intended for greater London. That sounds fine, but how much will that buy?
§ The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris)
So that we can all save time, I should explain that the £3 million is not strictly for the 1,000-mile cycleway, as that is already in existence. It has been allocated to a much broader project, and is merely the money to finance the planning stage. In order that we can get on, as I am listening with great interest to the hon. Gentleman, I say now that, frankly, the eventual cost is likely to be many times more than that. I am quite well aware of that, and have made it clear that we want to fund it.
§ Mr. Tyler
I am grateful to the Minister, and accept what he says. I wanted to use the £3 million as a litmus test of how much was available.
According to the Minister's predecessor, the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), the current cost of a two-way 3 m wide cycle lane on one side of an average road is £400,000 per mile. That is a huge sum. Perhaps the noughts are wrong, or maybe Hansard got it wrong—perhaps the Minister will tell us later—but if it is really £400,000, are we putting the money in the right place?
I take the point made by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) that, for a whole series of reasons—parking was mentioned, and conflicts with other traffic and turning will always be difficult—the cycle lane beside the main road will never be as satisfactory as the dedicated route, whether or not it is in conjunction with a pedestrian route.
Most continental cities have moved away from the cycle lane to the dedicated track. If we are talking about such huge sums—perhaps in London we are—we have to think more seriously about getting good value for money. I re-emphasise the sum of £3 million buying only 7.5 miles towards the 1,000 mile cycleway. I am only using that £3 million as a test of what can be bought for a comparatively modest sum.
Who will take the initiative and co-ordinate? There seems to be some conflict. Some London boroughs have been much more imaginative and innovative than others. Will they be allowed to get on with it and have the resources, or will they find that they are increasingly constrained by Ministry policy or funding restrictions?
The Minister recently referred to thepower for the Secretary of State to designate a coherent network across London and to ensure co-ordinated implementation of effective measures."—[Official Report, 18 June 1992; Vol. 209, c. 610.]There is no use having such commitment without money. The Minister told the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dowd) that it is up to local authorities to co-ordinate implementation.
I hope that, when the Minister replies, he will say where in London he expects initiatives to originate. Who will make the push? Will it be his Department or London boroughs? Who will decide how to set initiatives in motion? We do not want initiatives always to follow new road schemes, because the prime need may be in areas where no road improvements are intended.
142 In other parts of the country, exceptions are much more evident than the rule. There is an exceptional situation in Wadebridge in my constituency, which is fortunate enough to be halfway along the Camel Trail between Bodmin and Padstow—an old railway line used to run right through Wadebridge.
As a result of a bypass and an enhancement scheme, Wadebridge has incorporated facilities for cyclists, but no other town in Cornwall or Devon has anything like that provision—as you, Madam Deputy Speaker, are well aware. That is true of most counties in England, Scotland and Wales. In those circumstances, we must find new mechanisms, and they must get financial backing. We are grateful for the work of the cyclists public affairs group and its identification of the need to incorporate public passenger transport provision for cyclists, which is of critical importance.
In the current year, only £6 million is being used specifically to promote cycling and cyclists' activities, which is a tiny percentage of the total transport budget. For the reasons that hon. Members in all parts of the Chamber have advanced this morning, it is extremely important to address the problem. Before the right formula and the right amount of money are found, a change of attitude must be achieved. We must not send out a signal that the Government and Parliament are only paying lip service to the need for increased resources, priority and attention. We should be determined to achieve a real change of gear.
§ 11.3 am
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)
One understands why the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) spoke with such feeling. His party identifies with cyclists squashed between the public sector that is the Labour party and the private sector that is the Conservative party.
Every speech in the House must have a preface in which one declares one's interests. I declare first an interest in cycling and that I am vice-president of the Cyclists Touring Club—and receive a 10 per cent. discount on bed and breakfast as a result. I also have a British-built bicycle. I used to have one that was made in eastern Europe, but the pedals fell off and the brakes did not work in wet weather. I was a founder member of the House of Commons all-party cycling club in the mid-70s, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) on his skill in securing this debate.
I am a cycling addict. For 12 years, I was a 10-mile-a-day man—cycling to and from the House until it became too dangerous. Cycling in London has become dangerous. The road is like a battlefield, with every inch contested. The cyclist feels under ever-increasing pressure to be seen off the road. Constant attacks by lorries, buses and cars to see cyclists away has resulted in the new breed of the cyclist terrorist, who thinks that he owns the road. Such cyclists gesticulate, shout and kick one's car, believing that they have priority. The new cyclist terrorist believes that he has the moral high ground. In many ways, he is right.
While a free-for-all on the roads is the easiest option for public authorities, it is short-sighted and leads nowhere. If a cyclist can reach a city—and that is difficult enough by train because so few services now carry bicycles, such is 143 British Rails's hostility—the policy in cities should be public transport, pedestrians and cycling. There should be priorities, but there is none, which is why cyclists are on the rampage.
They used to be the most courteous and considerate road users and the least dangerous—one rarely hears of pedestrians being killed by cyclists. However, cyclists in cities are under such pressure that they cycle on pavements and through parks, and their terrorism is displayed by hostility to authority—cycling without lights at night and with no audible means of announcing their presence.
There is a huge criminal underworld in cycle theft. I had three bikes stolen near the Palace of Westminster in the past 10 years—cut from their chains. I am told that one of the most lucrative forms of theft requires only a van and a pair of cutters. One can earn £1,000 a morning cramming bicycles at £100 a piece into the back of a van.
Main roads should be cleared of parked cars. Every morning, too many cars flashing hazard lights obstruct bus, taxi and cycle lanes. I want to know what my hon. Friend the Minister will personally do about that. It is no use saying that it is enough to paint lines indicating red routes. The army of traffic wardens should concentrate on the main arterial routes in and out of London in the morning.
Although I would not impose a compulsory cycling proficiency test—more rules and regulations, which I am dead against—if cyclists are to be given more road space, they must be better behaved and more responsible. Paul Newman's book "Defensible Space" explains that human beings need so much space, and the problem on the roads today is that people have less and less space.
The cycling epidemic, and the mobility of the population, have led to environmental erosion on Dartmoor, and perhaps on Bodmin moor as well. More and more mountain bike riders are using the innermost parts of Dartmoor's wilderness. That national park authority is facing a serious problem between balancing the need to offer the park for leisure pursuits and preventing the irretrievable scarring of the landscape. My hon. Friend the Minister should consider that aspect.
As to dumping, Britain builds the best bicycles in the world, yet, with many other countries, it is giving vast sums of money through the World bank to the Chinese to build bicycles in the most modern factories at a knockdown price because of the subsidies that China enjoys, and its low labour costs. Those bicycles are then imported in bits, which means that there is no problem with tax or limit on the volume. They are subsequently assembled in this country and sold at one tenth the price of a British-built bike. We must be crazy. What other nation would fund a third world nation to undercut and reduce the profitability of its own industry?
I said that I would make a short speech, and it is rare for me to do that. I promised to complete my speech in seven minutes, and I have now been speaking for six. I have one more minute. I shall use part of that time to talk about the millenium-led bid by SUSTRANS—in other words, sustainable transport. I am told that I should declare an interest because I am the vice-president of that charity.
It is an imaginative and enterprising vision. A bid for £37 million has been made to the Millenium Fund to set up a cycle network from Plymouth to Inverness, to be 144 completed by the year 2005 if the project is given the go-ahead. It would be possible to cycle from the west country to London. It is a good idea. West country Members could all cycle to this place. It would be possible to cycle from London to Dover, Holyhead, Glasgow or Aberdeen. We would be pedalling for the millenium. What a magnificent vision. I hope that the Government will back the idea.
Finally, we should have bells back on bicycles. This place knows about bells. Once we hear a bell, we start running. People should have bells on bicycles. There should be an audible warning when a cyclist is coming up behind someone. I hope that the Minister will respond to some of the points that I have made at such lightning speed.
§ Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)
I join those who have congratulated the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) on obtaining the debate. I only wish that it were longer, because there is more to say. Would-be contributors to the debate may be able to make their speeches on another occasion.
I think that the Government are helping cyclists. An old friend of mine, Walter Reuther, went to the Nissan factory in Japan in 1960. He saw cars being made, but he saw also that the parking lot was full of bicycles. He said to his hosts, "You will never build an auto-economy on bicycle wages." Thanks to current Government policy, we are moving to bicycle wages in the United Kingdom. As a result, more and more people are moving to the bike.
I agree that it is important to get bikes off mountains and away from natural wildernesses, and on to our streets. I am an urban cyclist. I tuck my trousers into my socks. I do not wear one of those silly gas masks. However, cycling through the slow-motion gas chamber that is Tory London is an extremely worrying health prospect. It is extremely dangerous. I was knocked off my bike soon after becoming a Member. I was knocked down by a car opposite the St. Stephen's entrance. The driver did not stop. I understand that that is now the official practice of Conservative Members in SW postal districts.
Various policies have been advanced by hon. Members on both sides of the House. We await the Minister's reply with interest.
§ Mr. MacShane
I shall give him a chance. I promise the House that I shall make the shortest speech in this debate.
In addition to the various policies that have been advanced, we need more symbolic acts that would not necessarily cost a great deal of money. First, we need to increase parking places for bicycles in London generally and here in this place. In Palace Yard, there are only six places for Members' bicycles. That provision is deplorably insufficient.
We need to instruct those engaged in all new road-building projects to incorporate either bicycle lanes or the dedicated tracks to which the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) referred. When we visit other European countries, we see evidence that these schemes are workable if the orders are given.
145 It would be of great symbolic importance to the nation if Ministers were to decide that there could be a car-free day. "On your bike," said Lord Tebbit to the unemployed of the nation several years ago. I suggest that we should say, "On your bike," to Ministers, thereby encouraging them to set a good example.
I was impressed by those who talked about the problem of their children going to school on bikes. Living in Pimlico, I would not dare allow my girls to go to their school on their bikes. A car-free 20 minutes at about 9 am or 3.30 pm would be a symbolic gesture that would show our commitment to reducing pollution, reducing the number of cars on the roads—I accept that cars are important—and encouraging the use of bikes.
I take the point made by the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) about importing bikes from China. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that bicycles are quite expensive. They seem to have many gears and to incorporate much technology. It is difficult to buy a simple, boring, old-fashioned bike with only one gear and with no high technology. To equip a large family with bikes is a major cost.
There are lessons to be learned from Europe and symbolic acts that Ministers could undertake. There is much improvement that we can offer from this place. The message should be: citizens of Britain and the world unite, you have nothing to gain but your bicycle chains.
§ Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
The success of the debate is plain for everyone to see. I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) on ensuring that it took place. Our Wednesday morning sittings are currently up for review; they may not continue in their present form. Many Members have been squeezed out of this debate because of lack of time. They wanted to contribute to it. Let us ensure that these morning debates continue. I am sorry that so little time is left when so many Members want to speak.
We have the opportunity now to draw attention to the Hovis National Bike Week, which will start next week. Let us highlight that and ensure through this debate that everyone throughout the country is involved in the debate about cycling, not necessarily by talking about cycling but by doing something about it. Perhaps we can set an example here and ensure that it is taken up throughout the country. In that way, we would make some real progress. By adopting that approach, we could ensure that the perseverance of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and other hon. Members on both sides of the House, who cycle frequently, achieves results.
I put on record our thanks to the cyclists' public affairs group, the Cyclists Touring Club, the cycling campaign network and the London cycling campaign. I have not forgotten SUSTRANS, of course. I hope that all the organisations which are now lobbying us will continue to do so after the debate, which will help us to ensure that cycling is examined closely.
We have heard much this morning about how we can promote cycling. It is not that easy. We must make cycling safer, which means turning our attention to enforcement. I am concerned that traffic regulation work is no longer the priority that it once was to our police 146 force. The Department of Transport must work closely with the Home Office to ensure that action is taken to make cycling safer in London and throughout the country.
We have heard a great deal about the health advantages that come from cycling, and they are indeed tremendous. By encouraging cycling, we could reduce the risk of asthma. We could deal with urban congestion by a better promotion of cycling. We must work closely with the Department of Health.
Children should be encouraged to start as they mean to go on, through the provision of safer cycle routes to school. As I have said, we must reduce urban congestion.
I should declare an interest, because I have a bike. I tend to use it only for excursions on cycle routes. I want to feel safe about cycling, and I want all the children in my constituency similarly to feel safe. I hope that the Minister will tell us how he proposes to work alongside his colleagues at the Department of Education.
Money must be made available for pilot projects to introduce safe cycle routes to school. The guidance issued by the Department of Transport must take account of transport policy programme submissions. Local authorities should not regard cycling and provision for it as appendages to traffic proposals. Cycling must be integrated within those proposals.
I want Minister to say how he proposes to do that. As I have stressed, there must be safe cycling routes to school. Local authorities should work in conjunction with education departments throughout the country. There must be a switch to cycling. That will lead to a lessening of congestion in inner urban areas. Public transport is not the only answer. In addition, we must promote cycling and walking.
I would like to mention briefly the work of SUSTRANS. Reference has already been made to this wonderful visionary project: a national cycle network that will go the length and breadth of the country. I do not want it to go just up the east coast. I want it to go up the west coast as well. I want it to go through the various constituencies near the one that I represent. I want it to go from the west side to the east side, and that must be reflected in the bids that are made by local authorities.
We must have an undertaking from the Minister that, rather than the balance towards the roads programme, to which his Department has given money, he will be prepared to fund, with the SUSTRANS proposals, the cycling proposals that could give us a national network, which would then offer wonderful opportunities for tourism as well.
Reference has been made to the railways. In the short time that the Minister has to reply, we really must hear how much further his Department is prepared to take forward the whole issue about bikes and trains.
We are already looking at the investment that is needed in the railways. The Labour party is absolutely opposed to the privatisation of the railways, but the Minister must tell us how far the Department of Transport will go to see what can be done to get the new train operating units prepared to introduce facilities for cyclists.
Is it the case that the regulator, John Swift, will be prepared to go further on this issue? If we cannot get bicycles carried on trains, if we cannot get a truly integrated transport system, people will continue to be cyclists—like myself—who just go out on special excursions and do not make the journeys in inner-city areas and rural communities that we want to see.
147 My message is that we must all go out and do what we can to ensure that we have a truly integrated transport system, and that cycling takes its place in that.
§ The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris)
I agree with the hon. Member for (Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) about one thing: it is a great shame that these debates are not longer. It is one of the best that I have listened to in many years.
There is often a temptation for people who gather for a debate like this to translate the particular esoteric subject under discussion into the most important item on the national agenda, and it is perfectly natural that they should. I think that this is an occasion on which a group of hon. Members have recognised that this subject is treated as a poor cousin, and that it simply ought not to be. That was a theme that ran through all of the speeches today.
For me, it has been a very enjoyable debate in the sense that I believe that there has been agreement—on both sides of the House, with remarkably little exception—about what the agenda should be, about the challenges, about the dangers and the hazards, and about how we get there.
I start, as others have done, by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). I wonder whether I am the only Member of the House who has drawn, with some amusement and no little affection, a contrast between the present hon. Member for Blaby and his predecessor, Lord Lawson, of whom Commissioner Kinnock once said, "Lawson and energy—now there's a contradiction in terms." How much our former right hon. Friend would have enjoyed this debate, I cannot for a moment imagine.
Then I come, of course, to the figure of my good self, probably the most unlikely convert to cycling that the House can contemplate, a man who has been—somewhat, erroneously, I may say—identified as an advocate of a car economy. It has indeed fed the Norris children for a few years, but I have no more interest in that than in any other part of the extraordinarily interesting portfolio that transport is.
I say to the House, in all seriousness, that, as I have looked at the problem of how one deals with urban congestion in a modern city centre, over the past three years, with huge interest and enthusiasm, I have become convinced that this country has hugely undervalued cycling.
Let me put the figures into context. It came to me, as often happens, after one had spent a long time debating how we could get the best out of public transport. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who spoke from the Liberal Benches, was quite right when he said that all our great energy went into improving public transport, and rightly so; that is where the mega money gets spent. No doubt that will continue in many ways to be the case.
We have all been overlooking something that is staring us in the face. It came to me, I may say, in a statistical table that SUSTRANS itself deployed: in this country, about 2.5 per cent. of journeys are made by cycle, that the European average is 15 per cent., and in other cases it is higher.
148 Earlier, from a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who I know enjoyed the earlier part of the debate, when cycling in this country was discussed and after somebody had mentioned Holland, said, "It's flatter." He is right, of course; it is indeed flatter. But the great mistake that we have made in this country is to say, "Of course they cycle in Holland, because it's flat."
The hon. Gentleman should have been with me in Birmingham, at the SUSTRANS conference, where we had an extremely interesting exposition from a Swiss delegate. Whatever one likes to say about Switzerland, it is not flat. The reality is that Switzerland has a cycle strategy, and there is a huge difference between the proportion of cycle journeys made there and in this country.
I believe that the crucial link has been mentioned already. If one really wants to know the difference between this country and others, it is the fact that, in Denmark, one is 10 times saferas a cyclist. That is why the Danes make 10 times more journeys by cycle than we do in this country. I do not think that it has anything to do with the weather or the terrain. After all, the terrain in this country differs hugely from town to town. Yet we see massive variations in cycling as a proportion of the total number of trips, depending on the community we are in.
§ Mr. Norris
I did say to the hon. Gentleman that I would let him intervene, and as he is about as likely a cyclist as I am, I shall let him in.
§ Mr. Graham
I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. As he quite rightly points out, Scotland is very hilly. A week on Saturday, I am launching a Bobath cycle race for nearly 2,000 people in Scotland. For the Minister's interest, I have given up smoking. In the past 12 weeks, I have not had a smoke. I am hoping to go a least a couple of hundred yards, and perhaps the following year to do a hundred miles. I invite everyone in the House to come along and take part in that cycle race, which is a good healthy pursuit, an environmental pursuit, and at the end of the day is for a good cause.
§ Mr. Norris
The hon. Gentleman makes a shameless advertisement, which I applaud him for. I am delighted to say that I thought that he was looking rather well. I am glad that he has given up the evil weed. All I will say to him is, for goodness' sake, do not wear lycra. I can see him doing more damage to the lycra industry in one fell swoop than a mountain of urban terrorists have done in 10 years.
My dubious contribution to the Hovis National Bike Week—now there is a shameless advertisement on national television—will be to join a gentleman who I believe is called "Mr. Motivator". I had assumed that that referred to Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, but I am told that this gentleman is a televisual performer. He and I, and a number of hon. Members from both sides of the House, will be cycling to the Palace during this week.
Let me get down, if I may, in the last couple of minutes to some serious points that we must put on the record. It is about safety. It is about separating cyclists from other road users. It is therefore about priority. It is about pedestrians, cyclists, public transport, the private car and 149 so on. It is about recognising that in all our planning. It is about ensuring that our transport supplementary grant recognises cycling right at the centre of the strategy. That is why our transport policy programme advice stresses cycling in a very new and specific way.
In answer to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley), our transport supplementary grant expenditure, through the package approach, which she should be up to date with, will have cycling right at its centre. That means working with education authorities. It means taking on a great many of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby made, in an excellent speech, about the way in which we treat the cyclist in urban traffic. It simply is not good enough to have cyclists competing with 40 ft trucks. We have to give them their own discrete road space.
In answer to hon. Members who mentioned parking, I have become convinced that it will not be enough simply to give the cyclist a white-lined area as part of the main carriageway. In many cases, the continental experience teaches us that we can look to offering a discrete part of the whole road area to the cyclist—to pedestrians, cyclists and then other traffic. Nothing irritates elderly pedestrians more than cyclists who say, "Well, I'd sooner be a threat to them then have the truck be the threat to me." There was a lot of that in what my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) called "cycling terrorism". There is no doubt that that is the direction in which we must move.
§ Mr. Norris
The hon. Lady, from a sedentary position, says, "Targets." She knows that I have only 30 seconds left.
There is an excellent amount of mileage to be got from the idea of defining for ourselves in the national cycling strategy a way in which to take all the issues forward. I would very much welcome the opportunity to discuss that with interested Members at length. Targets certainly have their place in that, and, to the extent that we want to build them in, recognising the difference between Bradford and York in terms of terrain, history, tradition and so on, I am sure that it is right that we should do so.
I am delighted that the debate has taken place, and only sorry to have had such an inadequate amount of time in which to reply to it. I blame none of those who have contributed, because their contributions have been superb.