HL Deb 21 April 1993 vol 544 cc1666-705

9.48 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government how they propose to maximise the environmental, public health and cost benefits of bicycling as a means of personal transport in Britain.

The noble Lord said: My Lords I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

When I put down this Question I did not realise that so many of your Lordships take an interest in cycling. Indeed, a number of other noble Lords who have been prevented by other engagements from being here tonight have expressed support to me for the cause of maximising the environmental, public health and cost benefits of bicycling.

I must report that there was some surprise and disappointment among the cycling community, which incidentally is most capably represented by the Cyclists' Public Affairs Group, that our own Transport Minister, my noble friend Lord Caithness, did not choose to reply to the debate.

However, unlike Lord Randolph Churchill, the Government have not forgotten Goschen. I have been able to reassure those outside the House that the decision that my noble friend, as a non-departmental Minister, should have been selected to reply underlines, I hope, the Government's recognition that bicycling is a wide-ranging issue which covers environmental, health and economic questions as well as transport. I have, of course, given my noble friend notice of many of the points that I intend to raise so that we may receive a comprehensive and satisfying reply.

I must, I fear, say at once that Britain's 15 million cyclists are not at present in a contented mood. They feel neglected, and even treated with contempt, by the Government. Indeed, I think that it would not be an exaggeration to say that their situation is not unlike that of disabled people 40 years ago. I suspect that some of us who are old enough to remember him wish that Ernest Marples, the last Minister of Transport who showed that he really cared about bicycles, were with us today.

That was 30 years ago. It was the time when Sir Colin Buchanan in his watershed report, Traffic in Towns, proposed as a fundamental principle the need to separate pedestrians from road traffic. I believe that the overriding need today is to separate bicycles from road vehicles. That is the only way in which the safety of both cyclists and motor vehicles can be improved. It is the only way in which the mutual antagonism between the two can be minimised. It is the means by which the greater use of bicycles can be achieved.

Few of our towns and cities were designed for either cycles or motor vehicles. Yet for years huge sums of taxpayers' money have been spent to redesign them for cars, often with catastrophic effects on the environment. When I refer to huge sums, that is what I mean. The one mile plus (1.8 kilometres) of road for the Limehouse link between Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs was contracted to cost £171 million. The latest estimate is £251 million. We all know that it is simply not possible to accommodate the free market demand for road traffic, especially private cars. Sooner or later we shall have to have road pricing.

Bicycles could have a huge role to play in reducing, or at least containing, traffic congestion. A large proportion of car journeys could be made by bicycle. In London 60 per cent. of cars carry only one person; 66 per cent. of car journeys are less than five miles, and 80 per cent. are less than four miles. In Amsterdam they have tried to accommodate the cycle, with great success. In Athens they have not. There are virtually none to be seen. I was there two weeks ago, and the traffic is a stinking disaster.

The evidence is that the Department of Transport has no proper plans to increase bicycle use. Do your Lordships realise that when traffic surveys are carried out the cyclists are not even counted? Can we believe wholeheartedly that my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport understands the environmental contribution that cycling can bring? Only last week he was asked in another place to list his environmental plans and achievements. He mentioned catalytic converters. That is good. He promised another £15 million to encourage the use of buses. That is good too. I then eagerly scanned Hansard for Mr. MacGregor's reference to cycles. It was in vain. His next reference was—wait for it, my Lords—the production of The Wildflower Handbook. I fear that I was reminded of the immortal words of Harry Lime and the Swiss cuckoo clock!

Therefore, what can and should be done? Let me say that I do not advocate additional expenditure. I am recommending a modest shift in resources. Treasury, please note!

First, the Department of Transport specifications should be changed so that all new road schemes are designed to take account of the need and potential of bicycles. Secondly, I should like to make it mandatory to include cycling in all traffic surveys, if the results are to be used to persuade the Government to spend public money on new road schemes. Thirdly, I wish to increase the provision of cycle lanes, especially in towns. Inevitably, that must mean some re-allocation of space away from private cars. Bus lanes, which are normally shared with bicycles, are a good thing and there should be more of them. It would be cost effective to put cycle lanes down the left hand side of many one-way streets where car parking is at present allowed on both sides. I also believe that the Department of Transport should at least investigate a proposal which I made earlier for a cantilevered wooden cycle shelf along the Thames from Chiswick to Wapping.

Fourthly, I believe that there should be hollowed out cycle tracks along the sides of many urban underpasses which do not have them. It is relatively cheap, they do not need to be the full height of the underpass and there would be few structural problems. A barrier would protect the cyclists from the motor traffic.

Fifthly, let us try to convert more wide pavements to shared use with pedestrians. That is a point which the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, would have mentioned, had he been able to attend the debate. I am glad that the long awaited report from the Transport Research Laboratory, published last week, says that there is much scope for increased shared use. I would just like to quote the conclusions of the Transport Research Laboratory, the Ministry of Transport's own outfit: The extensive observations made during this project have disclosed no real factors that justify exclusion of cyclists from pedestrian areas and indicate that cycling can be more widely permitted without detriment to pedestrians. It is important not to exclude cyclists from pedestrian areas and force them to use dangerous alternative routes. There are a wide variety of appropriate and satisfactory solutions (in terms of design and regulation) the choice of which will vary from place to place, and depend on local circumstances". Curiously, the Department of Transport does not seem to have made any effort to publicise that important and encouraging news.

Sixthly, in London, could we give the Director of Traffic the same responsibility for the 1,000 mile strategic cycle route network that he already has for the Red Routes? Incidentally, even the Government do not know how much of the strategic route has already been completed. The best private bet is that it is 125 miles and most of that already existed before the Government made the 1,000 mile target their own policy five years ago. At that rate, few of us will be around when the 1,000 miles is complete.

Seventhly, tying in with the earlier point, I think we should review the cycling policy in the Royal Parks. Eighthly, I must mention safety although I know that others will go into it in more detail. My noble friend Lady Brigstocke is sorry that she could not be here tonight but she is most anxious to know what the Government intend to do to protect school children. Ninthly, let there be appointed a senior official—by which I mean someone like an Under-Secretary, Grade 3—in the Department of Transport to an interdepartmental committee, with an outside chairman, to recommend to the Government improvements in facilities and safety for cyclists in towns. That would probably need to be followed by a cyclists' unit to implement the plans, rather as there is already a disability unit in the Department of Transport. Finally, let there be nominated a Minister to see that there is action over the next three years.

In conclusion, I must point out something that may—just may—have escaped Ministers. Cyclists have votes—I do not know how many, but let us cautiously assume that for one-in-five of the 15 million cyclists cycling really matters. That makes three million votes, which is of more than marginal importance in any general election.

I hope that the Opposition parties will produce cycling proposals which will set the pace for government action. I expect to hear more about them tonight. Obviously, I hope that my own party wins this particular race and, of course, I have total confidence in my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport. I wait to hear from my noble friend that the Government are under starter's orders.

10.00 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, before I begin, I should like to ask your Lordships' forgiveness if I leave before the end of the debate. I have not been very well recently, though I am recovering now. Also, I was up until 3 a.m. taking part in the Committee stage of the Education Bill.

Noble Lords might have expected that I, as a doctor, would devote most of my contribution to the health aspects of cycling, both positive and negative. I shall not disappoint them. I put forward two additional claims to speak in this debate on the Unstarred Question. I am a cycling and a car-driving doctor, and, similarly, a cycling and car-driving Peer, when wearing the hat that allows me to speak in this House—not, I venture to add, that I ever attempt to cycle and drive simultaneously. I think that the health aspects of doing that would be somewhat catastrophic, both for myself and for other road and pavement users.

Measurable benefits to health result from regular moderate-to-vigorous exercise. They have recently been clearly spelt out in very well documented reports by the Royal College of Physicians and, before that, by the British Heart Foundation. There are plenty of other reports and papers which testify to that fact.

The health gains are particularly apparent in physiological measures which are relevant to arterial health and coronary heart disease, which is our number one killer. The effects are: a lowering of blood pressure; a lowering of low density cholesterol levels in the blood—that is, the cholesterol fraction associated with atheroma, which is the build-up of fatty plaques in the arterial wall that cause narrowing of the artery; an increase in high density cholesterol—the fraction of blood cholesterol that appears to mop up loose low density cholesterol and other factors which damage arterial walls, such as the latest villains called free radicals. I would not know which Peers in this House might be both free radicals and villains. It would perhaps not be appropriate to name them.

Regular exercise also helps people to lose weight, not merely through calories being used up in the exercise itself, but because the basal metabolic rate is increased even after the exercise is over. Weight is shifted from fat to muscle, giving a better physique and greater ease in daily tasks involving muscular effort. The body's insulin sensitivity is increased, thus resulting in less liability to late-onset (Type II) diabetes, itself a cause of arterial heart disease. There is also evidence that exercise is good for mental health. It leads to a greater sense of well being and relaxation.

All exercise is better than none, but it must be reasonably regular. Half an hour of fairly vigorous exercise three times weekly makes a measurable difference to health. By "vigorous" is meant: fast walking; serious swimming—not just going down the flume; jogging; rowing; competitive sport; sawing wood; shovelling earth; and, of course, cycling. There are numerous other ways of undertaking aerobic exercise, including dancing; but to do good they should make one slightly breathless and should double one's resting pulse rate.

The main advantage of cycling as an exercise is that it is partially non-weight bearing, so that it does not cause wear and tear on joints, unlike a number of other forms of exercise—I do not refer to swimming, which is, of course, par excellence the one for that.

The other main advantage of cycling is that it has uses other than simply for keeping fit. I am sure that, like the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, other noble Lords will point out that, far from taking up time, in fact it saves time. It is an activity which moves people around much faster than walking or running and it does not pollute the atmosphere, burn carbon, cost much or take up much space while doing so. It can be slotted into a day's work usefully and routinely.

But there is the other side of the coin, which is the increasing danger of cycling not simply in cities but also on country lanes because of the relentless increase in motorised traffic and the speed with which it moves, especially on those country lanes. Although there has been an increase in cycle ownership in recent years—in 10 years it approximately doubled from 7.3 million in 1975 to 13.1 million in 1985–86, and the noble Lord has now given us the figure of 15 million—the proportion of all road travel by cyclists has decreased. The total number of kilometres travelled by bike has remained static. That is partly because of the cult of the car and increased car ownership but also because of the real dangers of cycling.

About 300 deaths and 30,000 serious injuries annually are suffered by cyclists in road accidents. The great majority of serious or fatal accidents is due to being hit by a motorised vehicle. I am sure that other noble Lords will take up that area of concern. The great majority of fatalities is due to head injuries, many of which could have been much less severe if the cyclist had been wearing a properly designed helmet. That again is no doubt a topic that other noble Lords will raise.

Having touched briefly on helmets, I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to answer to look at the possibility of exempting helmets from VAT, just as motorcycle crash helmets are exempt. The last time I raised that issue, I was told by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that it was a European-wide issue and we could not do it alone. Motorcyclists were exempt because they were VAT-exempt before the EC rules were imposed. I still feel that we should make a case for that tax to be lifted throughout the EC. Price is a major deterrent. Now at £25 to £50 a helmet, it is a substantial proportion of the whole cost of the bicycle.

What is the balance of advantage? There are the years lost owing to death versus the life-years gained from increased health, even with cycling safety as bad as it is now. At this point I should like to refer to the last chapter in Mayer-Hillman's book written for the BMA and entitled Cycling towards Health and Safety, published last year. In 1989 there were 293 cycling fatalities with a total loss of 11,324 life-years—that is, expected years of life which the victims might have had, had they not been killed. That is an average loss of some 39 years of life per victim, since most of those killed were quite young. In that year there were some 15 million cycle owners, but most distance was covered by quite a small proportion of that total.

If one were to take an extreme view and say that all the fatalities were concentrated in only 10 per cent. of users (purely for ease of calculation)—that 10 per cent. of users who use their cycles regularly and therefore in fact could gain the health benefit from cycling—it could be simply calculated that the life-years lost would represent only two days for each of the 1.5 million serious cyclists. That is an exaggeration of the risk because many of the deaths occur among cyclists who use their cycles only occasionally and are not therefore experienced in the risks and the care that has to be taken in riding a cycle in traffic conditions.

It is quite difficult to calculate life years gained as a result of health improvements due to cycling, but a helpful study is that of Dr. Paffenbarger, who followed up 17,000 graduates from Harvard over a very long period—up to 40 years—and found that there was a big difference in life expectancy between those who took very little exercise, those who took moderate exercise and those who took a lot of exercise. The study concluded that those who cycled 60 miles a week from the age of 35 could add two and a half years to their life expectancy. I have not had the opportunity to look at the paper since I prepared my speech. He could be referring to all people who took an equivalent amount of exercise to that amount of cycling. Nevertheless, let us say that, if that is the only exercise as compared with people who do not have exercise, such as people who travel habitually by car, they have two and a half years' extra life—two and a half years added to life in comparison with a risk equivalent to the loss of two days' life, or even less, from an accident in regular cyclists.

I would not like noble Lords to take this figure and bandy it about as a truth. It is a thumbnail calculation. Many more careful statistical studies need to be done, and doubtless have been done, but I am afraid that I have not had time to conduct a full literature search before preparing my speech. Nevertheless, I think it is clear that even in today's conditions the gain to health, though less visible, far outweighs the danger of death, unacceptable though that is.

I very much look forward to reading other noble Lords' contributions which I am sure will fill in the picture and to which the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, will reply. I hope that the Government realise that they are on to a potential winner. Cycling can help to achieve the targets put forward in The Health of the Nation for reducing coronary heart disease by 40 per cent. by the end of the century. At the same time it will ease traffic problems, decrease atmospheric pollution and global warming and improve the balance of payments.

10.13 p.m.

Lord Broadbridge

My Lords, my wife and I have seven bicycles between us. To adapt a dictum of the American humorist James Thurber, you might say we have bicycles like other people have mice. But I hope that our bicycle bank at least indicates a dedication to this most important debate, to the introduction of which I am indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford.

The Question before us asks Her Majesty's Government how they propose to maximise the environmental, public health and cost benefits of bicycling. First, on the environmental benefits, everyone speaks of the environmental benefits of the process of cycling; but what—reverting for a moment to first principles—are the environmental benefits of its production in the first place? I claim relevance for this simply on the grounds of the scale of production. Since 1988 bicycles have consistently outsold cars, rising from 0.6 million in 1969, to 1.5 million in 1985, to 2.4 million in 1989, and forecast sales of 4 million for 1993. Motor car production is broadly comparable but smaller.

A typical bicycle weighs 30 kilos. The Palace of Westminster's pocket diary for 1993, in the section A Few Simple Yardsticks, says that a Mini weighs about 700 kilos. Assuming in a very generalised way that the manufacturing process of bikes and cars are broadly similar and not particularly user friendly, a 30 kilo cycle requires the processing of only 4.3 per cent. of the materials required for that smallest of cars, the Mini. If that seems an arcane statistic, my Lords, multiply it by 4 million and see where you come out. In use, the environmental disbenefits of motor vehicles are that, according to the DoE, they produce 90 per cent. of our carbon monoxide, 51 per cent. of our nitrogen oxides, 41 per cent. of volatile organic compounds and 19 per cent. of carbon dioxide. The bicycle produces only perspiration.

The motor vehicle wears out the roads; and the cyclist, to his peril, has to cope with the motorists' detritus, pot holes and, where poorly repaired, humps. Speaking from personal experience, a hump can be as destabilising as a hole. Although our new Highways Act may help deal with future roadworks, there seems to be a large backlog of unfilled holes. Indeed, in London, Bloomsbury is like the craters of the moon.

While still on the environmental aspect of this Unstarred Question, it is pointed out in the BMA publication about which we have already heard, Cycling Towards Health & Safety, that the physical exertion entailed in cycling requires deeper breathing, and its attractions are clearly influenced by people's perception of the quality of air that they breathe. The BMA states that ironically, an objection voiced by many potential cyclists, particularly those who would commute by bicycle, is the extent to which breathing air polluted by chemical components … may have adverse effects on their health". Is it too late to make the plea, hoarse through its repetition, that Her Majesty's Government should subsidise and otherwise encourage public and alternative transport to motor vehicles and stop seeing the solution to all transport problems in terms of building more roads which simply and inevitably encourage greater car and lorry traffic and, importantly in view of their polluting emissions, discourage the environmentally friendly cyclist? Perspiration before suffocation, please.

Finally, on the environmental aspects of cycling, motor transport is both noisy and an eyesore. Cycling is virtually silent and 10 bicycles can be stacked in the space required by one parked car. Our second question relates to the public health benefits of cycling. The BMA report already cited refers to, the health and fitness aspects of cycling, perhaps the least researched area of policy on cycling although it may provide the most compelling reasons for encouraging participation". As a result of the national fitness survey, the Sports Council and the Health Education Authority, but not Her Majesty's Government, there have been recommendations for taking regular exercise as an essential ingredient of healthy living. Cycling fulfils those recommendations perfectly. As we have heard from the noble Lord, regular cycling can improve one's health through improvement in strength, stamina, aerobic fitness and general muscle function. It can even help diet and giving up smoking. It lowers the risk of heart attack.

The BMA's coronary prevention group has listed 20 beneficial effects on health and fitness on page 13 of the publication referred to. It helps shed excess weight and reduces anxiety, stress and depression. If a drug were to come onto the market which did all those things, it would be widely prescribed and it would probably be available on the national health scheme. So why does it get such a low government priority simply because it is pedals rather than pills?

Thirdly, the cost benefits of cycling: a fully fitted new bicycle costs as little as £100 for a sound, basic model. Safety features such as a helmet and reflecting bands may add another £50—say £150 in all. That is about 2 per cent. to 3 per cent. of the cost of a new family car. If the car holds four people, then the cost of four bicycles is about 10 per cent. of the cost. The running costs are minimal. Indeed the bike costs little more than one year's road tax on a car, which is not spent on the roads anyway. A comprehensive insurance policy is a worthwhile addition, mainly to compensate for theft. It is a sad irony that this Aunt Sally of British transport modes is mainly at risk from other people trying to steal it.

And so to the pith of the Question; namely, how do Her Majesty's Government propose to maximise the environmental, public health and cost benefits of cycling? First and foremost, I think there is little point in setting targets for numbers of cyclists. This is simply pulling up one's policy by the bootstraps in the mistaken belief that utterance will become reality. What cyclists need above all are user-friendly conditions in which to cycle. As we have heard, there are 6 million regular bicycle users. But—and I stress this, my Lords—there are 15 million bicycles in ownership in the UK. That means that 9 million are in the garden shed, so to speak, and lying relatively unused. This, as it were, Pavlovian response is caused mainly by fear—fear of accidents and fear of breathing mainstream motor effluent.

Cycling is like gardening. The bicycle is fragile. Mulching and a little environmental sunshine will bring out thousands—perhaps millions—of these bikes. After all, the 1990 survey quoted in the BMA's Cycling recorded that 99 per cent. of men and 87 per cent. of women over the age of 15 claiming that they could ride a bicycle. The same survey recorded that 90 per cent. of both junior school boys and girls own a bicycle. These, and the 4 million expected to be sold this year, constitute a vast potential reservoir of cycling which, in my analogy with gardening, is all too often frosted in the bud by unfriendly facilities.

Her Majesty's Government, while overtly encouraging cycling, also overtly rely entirely on local authorities to implement friendly conditions. This is a radical difference, for example, to the USA where the promotion of cycling is part of federal transportation policy. Every state has to provide a transportation policy for walking and cycling. I ask the Minister who is to reply why Her Majesty's Government are so shy of doing something similar. It cannot be not wishing to be a nanny state, because this lady appears everywhere else in our lives. And nanny is needed because a majority of local authorities are totally devoid of cycling muscle.

The fact is that since the 1977 Transport White Paper local authorities have been informed that expenditure on provision for the needs of cyclists will be "eligible", but that the proposals must be aimed at reducing accidents and are only for roads of more than local importance. This "eligibility" is no substitute for a mandatory requirement. As a result, some local authority bids from Her Majesty's Government are derisively low—I believe £10,000 from one London borough—and the money does not have to be spent specifically on cycling but can be "lost" in the local authority safety budget.

Initiatives between the Department of Transport and local authorities have produced some startling results, as in the Greater Nottingham Cycle Route Network, completed in 1990. But I would have thought that the success of such schemes would urge on Her Majesty's Government to take on a much more dominant and demanding role on behalf of the cyclists they say they support. The Cyclists Public Affairs Group, an umbrella body, told me last week that it knows of only one or two civil servants in the Department of Transport with responsibility for cycling, and only for safety at that, and only part-time with other responsibilities at that. The BMA agrees.

The reorganised Road Research Laboratory has much reduced its research on cycling although I take the point of the quotation that was given by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, which indicated that, if much reduced, the laboratory is not entirely moribund. It has reduced its research on cycling to about £95,000 out of a £27 million budget and that, again, is exclusively on safety aspects. With the admirable exception of Red Routes, traffic surveys do not automatically include cyclists, so that with no requirement to monitor expenditure either, it is no wonder, but highly regrettable, that there is little meaningful local authority data on cyclists. Nearly all that there is emanates from private sector research organisations.

The Thousand Mile Scheme for a thousand miles of cycle lanes, after a good start with 125 miles by 1982–10 years ago—had reached only 170 miles last year. To encourage Her Majesty's Government, one might point out that the Netherlands allocates 10 per cent. of its capital spending on roads to cycling facilities and by 1986 had an impressive network of 13,500 kilometres of cycle lanes. "But", I hear your Lordships say, "the Netherlands is flat". Well, Germany is decidedly bumpy, and, while the ownership level of cycles in Britain in 1985 was about 24 per cent., in West Germany it was 74 per cent. As the BMA says in Cycling: these higher levels on the Continent are not explained by lower levels of car ownership there. Indeed, people in West Germany are about 30 per cent. more likely than those in Britain to own a car". The BMA feels that government could take a much more positive role in using all the means at their disposal actively to promote cycling rather than treating it as a marginal form of transport. But their activities need to be co-ordinated—a director of cycling, perhaps, analogous to the Director of Traffic appointed to oversee the Red Routes organisation—so that cycling can be promoted as a means of travel and as a means of reducing road congestion (Department of Transport); secondly, as a means of health promotion (Department of Health); thirdly, as a means of conserving fossil fuels (Department of Energy); and, fourthly and finally, as a means of reducing damaging gaseous emissions from motor vehicles (Department of the Environment).

Finally, I have already said that cycling is like gardening. There is potentially an awful lot of it around, and in this respect it is like sowing grass seed: hundreds, thousands, millions of little green shoots. But like the grass seed, it needs watering to encourage it. Is it too much to hope that Her Majesty's Government might abandon their hitherto velvet glove approach, don their gardening gloves and get out their watering can?

10.26 p.m.

Lord Colwyn

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, made a valid point about the benefits of cycling and the analogy to the benefits of a drug. I hope that he will be able to repeat his thoughts in the debate on the pharmaceutical industry which we are to have in a week or so because I believe that it is important.

As a helpful response to comments I made at col. 1076 of Hansard on 7th February 1984 during discussions on the Pedal Bicycles (Safety) Regulations my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth sent me a copy of a statement made by the then Secretary of State for Transport on cycling policy which was issued in January 1982. That statement included an announcement that the Government, very much welcomes the revived interest in cycling which can bring benefits to the community in terms of reduced congestion, pollution and energy costs". The statement expressed hope that the growing recognition of cyclists' needs would lead to more widespread action to improve facilities which in turn would encourage more people to cycle. It went on to say that, the programme of innovatory cycle schemes will be extended to include one or two large-scale projects designed to monitor the effect on cycling demand of developing a continuous urban route or network". The statement's conclusion was clear: The Government welcomes the evidence provided by the responses to the consultation paper that local authorities, other interested bodies, and cyclists themselves are giving careful thought to ways in which cycling can be made safer and more pleasant. The Government remains committed to the encouragement of cycling and will continue to support these efforts, without attempting to impose central direction upon the variety of local circumstances". In answer to a Question from me in October 1992, my noble friend Lord Caithness said that the Government recognised the value of cycling and acknowledged its potential health advantages. He made a further commitment to safer cycling and stated that the Government were working to improve traffic conditions through publicity and by technical advice to highway authorities. What happened in the intervening years? I regret to say that little changed.

I have to declare an interest as a typical cyclist in a big city, doing an average mileage every working day—come rain, wind or shine—and I am not aware of any radical improvements, any real evidence, which my noble friend the Minister can honestly say has changed much in the nine years separating my Questions.

There was talk six years ago of a plan for 1,000 miles of strategic cycle routes for London. The plan was accepted by the Department of the Environment in its guidelines for London and boroughs were pressed during the unity development plans process. When my noble friend Lord Parkinson finally abandoned the assessment studies in 1990 he pledged that the Department of Transport would work with the boroughs to produce a network. By 1987 only some of the 130 schemes which had been implemented contributed to the continuous cycle routes envisaged and some cycle lanes have even been removed.

Today there are only 125 miles in place and 220 in preparation. The remaining 700 miles are still at the discussion stage and yet—as my noble friend Lord Marlesford said—we have evidence every day of new roads and traffic management schemes which continue to be implemented and which have absolutely no consideration for cyclists at all. We have heard of the relatively small cost of providing cycle lanes and yet despite assurances that cyclists will be given consideration they are consistently ignored. Progress has been very slow and the intended co-operation between the different authorities lacks the coordination that should be provided by a central agency. Even the new traffic director for London, who has set useful standards for considering the needs of cyclists and made the collection of data about cyclists mandatory preparation for all new schemes, does not have the jurisdiction to co-ordinate the overall development of the 1,000 mile scheme.

A report prepared for the European Cyclists Federation by planners, politicians and cycle activists in 10 European countries has found that cycling conditions in the UK are the second-worst in Europe. Riding a bicycle in the UK is the least fun and cyclists are given the least respect by those around them. The UK cyclist has the least amount of priority over motor traffic and has the worst winter maintenance service for bicycle facilities.

The report shows that we are lagging way behind the rest of Europe in promoting and providing for cyclists. Surely we ought to be able to enjoy the same level of cycling as Denmark or the Netherlands and at the same time dramatically improve our urban environment.

I am well aware of, and cannot condone, the way in which some cyclists break some of the rules that exist for motor vehicles. But I can confirm that the majority of rule breakers do it entirely for reasons of self-preservation. There is a cycle route which goes through Hyde Park and crosses Knightsbridge into William Street, which is a one-way street going north. Travelling south the cycle lane suddenly ends about 10 metres into William Street. There the cycle lane is replaced with metered parking leaving the cyclist with no alternative but to continue down the one-way street to rejoin the correct line of traffic flow. I find it hard to understand the planning decision that caused such an obvious problem.

I should be grateful if my noble friend would comment on the likely effect of the New Roads and Street Works Act which was passed in 1991 but is not yet operative. Once the Act is implemented local authorities will retain final responsibility for road maintenance. However, with limited funds for this work and no general policy requirement to keep routes used by cyclists in a good state of repair the situation may not significantly improve. Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear of the dangerous condition of many roads in our capital. The area used by cyclists is often pot-holed and affected by obstructions which remain for months. Illegal parking, parking in bus lanes and general congestion are a continual problem. I should like the Minister to join me and cycle down Bond Street to see the virtual restriction of the street to one lane, with chauffeur driven limousines, engines running, and unattended parked cars taking up the space which should be available for free traffic flow and for cyclists.

Another major hazard is the debris deposited in the cycle areas by waste disposal lorries. There is something about the design of vehicles which take away household and street rubbish which allows any glass that is crushed to fall on to the street. Most cyclists would be able to point out the places in a road where those vehicles stop to load rubbish as each stopping place is marked by a line of broken glass. This presents a major hazard for cyclists.

Provision for the parking of cycles is also totally inadequate. It should not be too difficult or expensive to provide areas for locking up cycles at major railway stations and other sites in big cities. Some of your Lordships will have seen the splendid facilities at, for example, Oxford station, where there is space to lock up hundreds of cycles. In London there are very few areas for locking up bicycles and there is a growing trend for landlords to place signs on railings—the easiest and most convenient place to secure a bicycle—to the effect that cycles will be removed if left attached to them. I have heard that similar signs are now appearing on parking meters in some areas; namely, that cycles will be removed if locked to the meters. Will my noble friend remind me of the law on this? Are landlords or local authorities entitled to place these signs and to physically remove parked cycles? If they are, some action for alternative parking facilities is of the utmost urgency.

As president of the Arterial Health Foundation—a new charity formed to promote the prevention of coronary artery disease and about which your Lordships will be hearing more from me on another occasion—it is clear to me that cycling is more healthy than other forms of transport as well as contributing to a reduction in air pollution. Coronary heart disease accounts for about 80 per cent. of heart disease and is responsible for a third of all deaths in men and a quarter in women. Treatment of heart related conditions cost the NHS over £500 million in 1988 to which should be added an estimated 41.5 million lost working days, costing industry about £1.8 billion as well as the costs in terms of personal and family anxiety.

It is now thought that a 20 per cent. shift to bicycles could cut coronary heart disease by 4 per cent. Regular exercise, taken on a day to day basis, is the ideal way of preventing heart disease. Given safe provision, cycling as part of a daily routine could represent an ideal straightforward and much more widely available means of maintaining fitness and gaining other health advantages.

In conclusion, I am sure that my noble friend will be most sympathetic and agree with most of what has been said this evening, but we have heard this sort of response before. Those of us who feel strongly about cycling have had discussion with the Cyclists Public Affairs Group and have identified nine simple actions which the Government could take to encourage cycling. They have already been carefully explained by my noble friend Lord Marlesford and I am sure that they will be repeated again this evening. Now is the Government's opportunity to make a real commitment to cycling and to ensure that positive action is taken in the very near future.

10.37 p.m.

Lord St John of Bletso

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for introducing this debate this evening which clearly focuses on the need for better facilities for cyclists. As a regular motorcycle commuter, I do not have the depth of experience and expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, who I understand is the most regular bicycle commuter of your Lordships' House. What has been established by several noble Lords who have spoken this evening is that there is an urgent need for the better promotion of cyclists' interests when decisions are made on the design of road improvements and the planning of traffic management schemes.

There is also a requirement for more incentives to promote cycling; for example, the proposed 1,000 mile strategic cycle route network for London which, if ever completed—and from what I have heard from other noble Lords who have spoken this evening, one cannot believe that it ever will be completed—can only be seen as a model for other similar schemes which could achieve greater cycling in the urban areas around Britain.

With well in excess of 15 million bicycle owners in Britain, and with scarcely over 1 million daily bicycle commuters, it is well known that we are well behind our European partners in cycle use. From figures that I have recently received from the Cyclists Public Affairs Group, only 2.3 per cent. of journeys in Britain are presently made by bicycle compared with 11 per cent. in Germany, 18 per cent. in Denmark and 29 per cent. in the Netherlands.

In my brief contribution to the debate, I wish to focus specifically on four areas: first, the need for greater safety for cyclists; secondly, the desirability of reducing traffic congestion and thereby reducing exhaust emissions; thirdly, ways to reduce the risk of cycle theft—a point that has already been made by several speakers; and, finally, a number of incentives to promote more use of bicyles as a means of transport.

In raising the issue of greater safety for bicyclists, that encompasses not just the provision of better facilities such as cycle lanes and cycle priority routes, but also the setting of guidelines for cyclists themselves; for example, the wearing of helmets and reflective bands. Statistics have shown that most cycling accidents occur at junctions and that there is a real need for more advance stop lines which will provide more space at junctions for cyclists, making them more visible, to other road users.

With the current insufficient facilities for cyclists in most urban areas, there is a perception among many bicycle owners who may be keen to commute to work that it is not safe to do so at the moment. There is also a feeling among many cyclists that other road users do not take bicycle lanes seriously. The police should be far stricter about cars parking and, for that matter, obstructing bicycle lanes and also, on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, bicycle lanes should be kept clean from broken bottles and refuse.

One of the main submissions of the Transport Committee's cycling report of 8th May 1991 was that cyclists suffer badly from the inadequate enforcement of traffic law. I know that many would say that it is just as important for the police to enforce traffic laws on bicyclists as car owners. Traffic laws must be enforced on both. It is quite clear that the result of insufficient cycle lanes has caused a major problem for cyclists mixing with the traffic flow. That is both dangerous for cyclists and, obviously, for motorists.

While the costs of delays caused by traffic congestion to businesses throughout Britain are enormous, as I have already mentioned, there are the added problems of the increase in exhaust emissions from the increasing traffic flow into urban areas. As we all concur this evening, bicycling should and can play a major role in reducing the levels of urban traffic congestion. There must be considerable scope for encouraging more combined usage of bicycles and public transport which has, for example, been effectively implemented in Japan. Cities such as Cambridge, Oxford and, for that matter, York which have focused on improvements in cycle facilities, have shown that this has effectively increased the use of bicycles and reduced traffic congestion in those areas. It has been estimated that, with proper planning, 20 per cent. of non-walk trips could be made by cycles in a typical town in Britain. That would represent a 6 per cent. reduction in pollutants.

Cycle theft has been on the increase in the past few years. There is said to be a one-in-a-hundred chance of having your bicycle stolen each year. That compares to a one-in-50 chance of having your car stolen. Greater consideration should be given to the security of bicycles in part by the provision of more bicycling facilities in central areas. As the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, has already mentioned, 10 bicycles can be parked in one normal parking bay. Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, said, some stations already have extensive bicycling storage facilities. More stations should be encouraged to do this.

There are many ways in which bicyclists can be encouraged to use their bicycles to commute to work. I understand that several companies, for example, the Body Shop, have been offering incentives for their employees to commute by bicycle, such as offering large discounts on the purchase of bicycles, safe parking, as well as showering and changing facilities at work and other financial incentives.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rea, made extensive mention, it is well documented that Britain has a high rate of heart disease and strokes. Statistics have certainly shown that regular cyclists display a noticeably lower incidence of those diseases. Once the 1,000 mile strategic cycle route network is developed in London—if that ever happens—I am sure that it will act as a major incentive for more commuters to cycle to work rather than to drive.

As we all know, over the past few years there has been an increasingly higher rate of tax levied on the use of cars in the form of higher petrol taxes, but that does not appear to have reduced the levels of road traffic in most of the major cities around Britain. While it is well known that arrangements for cyclists fall under the auspices of local authorities, it is noteworthy that the Secretary of State for Transport has recently stressed that concern for the environment must be built into every aspect of transport policy and, an effective modern transport system is not an optional extra, it is a vital part of modern life". It is certainly to this end that the need for better facilities around Britain for cyclists must surely be a major contributing factor in this policy. I note that the Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, was not able to give the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, a satisfactory reply to his Written Question of 4th February this year asking what the Government have, spent on facilities specifically for bicyclists in the last five years, and what they plan to spend in each of the next three years".—[Official Report, 4/2/93; col. WA23.] While I appreciate that local authorities are responsible for deciding on bicycle facilities, what is the Government's overall strategy to encourage the development of safe and convenient cycling networks throughout Britain's urban areas? In conclusion, I hope that this evening the Minister can give us some assurance that cyclists' interests will in future be given greater priority, thus promoting the call of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, to maximise the environmental, public health and cost benefits of bicycling as a means of personal transport in Britain".

10.47 p.m.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Marlesford not because I am a bicycle enthusiast but because I live in London and see some distinct advantages in encouraging more people to ride bicycles and fewer people to drive cars. My noble friend has asked Her Majesty's Government how they propose to maximise the environmental, health and cost benefits of bicycling.

Before I propose some suggestions to encourage more bicyclists to take to the road, I believe it is worth looking at some of the advantages and benefits of bicycling. But I must emphasise that without proper conditions for bicyclists they are not only a danger to themselves but are also a danger to motorists. We have already heard that bicycling is a healthy activity. I am informed that bicycling for 20 miles a week reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and that a 20 per cent. move towards bicycling would cut coronary heart disease by 4 per cent., reducing the current National Health Service expenditure of £481 million on that disease.

As we have heard, bicycling keeps people fit, assists them in losing excess weight and for those using their bicycle as a means of personal transport it saves their travel fares. A second advantage of encouraging more bicycle riders is that it would lead to fewer motor cars on the roads and fewer demands on public transport, which should assist in an increase in the speed of London traffic flow and less pollution on the streets.

I now turn to how we can support and encourage the bicyclist. I understand that local government is responsible for bicycle lanes within its boundaries, but how do we get local authorities to ensure bicycle lanes are included in their planning and implemented during the construction phase? Bicycle lanes are an essential factor if present bicyclists are to continue to be bicyclists. Without properly and carefully planned bicycle lanes future bicycle riders will not be encouraged to take to the roads.

I should like to stress the importance of a carefully planned bicycle lane network within London linking the boroughs, local centres, main commuter working areas and the main line railway stations. On the 300 miles of Red Routes bicycle lanes should be mandatory. Local government should ensure that all future planning applications include secure storage areas for bicycles where relevant. British Rail should provide bicycle racking on its trains for commuters, who could then use their bicycles from home to station to place of work.

In conclusion, I should like to ask my noble friend how local authorities can be persuaded to increase the number of bicycle lanes, construct an inter-London bicycle route network and ensure secure areas for bicycle storage at commuter places of work. I suggest that the London Traffic Director sets up an action group involving the Department of Transport and local authorities to determine what is required to construct a London network of bicycle lanes and consider means of overcoming the many difficulties involved in implementing those lanes.

It may be of interest to your Lordships to know that the bicycle flow at the Finborough Road-Kings Road junction is eight bicycles per minute between 08.25 hours and 08.30 hours on a weekday morning. That is 40 bicycles every five minutes.

In summary, I believe that encouraging more people to bicycle will reduce heart disease, reduce the number of private and public vehicles on London's congested roads, lessen pollution and speed up the traffic flow. It is for those reasons, and others, that I support my noble friend's Question.

10.51 p.m.

Lord Amwell

My Lords, we have heard tonight of the desire of noble Lords to see pedal cycling encouraged to become a practical means of personal transport, such that by modest expenditure congestion in towns might be reduced. While I agree with much of what noble Lords have said tonight, I believe that that fundamental concept is unrealistic.

We have to start from the fact that, apart from perhaps Oxford and Cambridge which have very special circumstances, there is little significant use of cycles for personal transport anywhere else in this country at present, even in those towns especially designed to encourage them. The noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, has told us that 1 million cyclists are daily commuters. I am surprised that the figure is so high.

Stevenage, one of the new towns of the 1940s, has an internationally renowned system of cycleways which completely separate the cyclist and pedestrian from the car throughout the central area of the town. It is renowned because it was the first example of its kind anywhere in the world, and it remains a first-class example of what should be done when planning a new town. Obviously that is not practical in an existing townscape. I drive through Stevenage every day on my way from my home to my office. Those cycleways are hardly used. The same can be said of the modern equivalent of Stevenage - the Redways of Milton Keynes. They are excellent as road safety measures, but they do not seem to be attractive as a means of getting to work.

Some noble Lords will know that I am a civil engineer and an inveterate road builder. They may think that my views are the incoherent ramblings of someone dedicated to satiating the needs of the internal combustion engine. I hope that that is not so. Engineers have to look very hard at cost-effectiveness and, notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said, it is easy to see that the provision of special cycling facilities in an existing townscape is likely to be very expensive indeed. The concept of hollowing out a way beside an underpass, in engineering terms, is very difficult. On the basis of cost-effectiveness many cycle provisions will be non-starters.

However, what I want to see—and here I am absolutely behind the noble Lord's Question—is an ever greater commitment to expenditure on road safety measures. As pedal cyclists are the most vulnerable of road users it is only right that the most urgent measures should be for them.

A couple of years ago, the Institution of Civil Engineers in its report on congestion observed that congestion increases the risk of accident for cyclists and pedestrians. While the lower speeds diminish the severity of the accident, congestion increases the frequency to the extent that 70 per cent. of all accidents occur in urban areas. One does not have to be a genius to reach that conclusion intuitively, but it is encouraging to see it written down in an authoritative report.

It was good therefore to see that the Department of Transport's TSG for local safety schemes rose from £31 million two years ago to £43 million last year. That is very good news indeed. But in the context of the department's total expenditure it is a trifling sum. The department should really spend far more in that direction and should encourage local authorities to come forward with enterprising schemes for road safety, secure in the knowledge that if their schemes are sound they will obtain the money. I am sure that they would respond if the department put that forward as a concept. I hope that the Minister may be able to give us some encouragement on that issue.

One area which is in urgent need of reform is that of how a cyclist crosses a road. It is legal for him to push his bike across a Pelican crossing on foot but it is not legal for him to cycle across. That law is widely abused, as we all know. I do not believe that the Government have yet stated their position on the experimental Toucan crossings. As they seem to be a good way forward, perhaps the Minister will be able to give us some encouragement on that issue too today.

The Department of Transport has said that its safety campaign for child safety helmets showed increasing awareness and that sales of helmets rose as a result. That is good news, but it was a little disappointing in the department's expenditure plans for the coming years not to be able to read that the campaign will continue. I do not know whether or not it will. It is my observation that the youngest cyclists now wear helmets as a matter of course, but older children and young adults do not. Having two teenage sons, I know that they will not be seen abroad in a safety helmet, even though they belt up on the front or back seat of a car without a second thought. Safety campaigns need to be continued for long enough to take proper effect across the whole age range, rather than to be set aside by the Government when the initial results have been seen to be encouraging.

Finally, perhaps I may comment on new roads, in particular town and village bypasses. We have heard noble Lords state today that they are dangerous to their most vulnerable users just because of the higher speeds. The road safety evidence does not support that; it denies it. Town and village bypasses are very much safer roads. Despite what has been said today, as someone who has been designing new roads for 30 years, and continues to do so, we make provision for cyclists. We make special provision, for example, for cyclists to cross the end of slip roads, the most dangerous place on a new road. Despite making that provision and signing it, we can all of us observe that cyclists do not take notice of such provision and signs. They continue to cycle across the most hazardous areas. I do not know what we can do about that; but we need to do something.

However, where a bypass has been provided, we should be reminding ourselves of the improved conditions on the old road through the town or village where conditions for cyclists and pedestrians alike will be vastly improved. That is the environment, close to the centre of gravity of the short trips which most cyclists undertake, where the greatest safety benefits will accrue. That is where local safety measures can be most effective. However, and despite the statistics, I believe that we all have a duty to discourage the young and inexperienced cyclists from using the highest speed roads. In their inexperienced condition, the highest speed roads place them at ever greater risk.

In summary, I am at one with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and others in everything that they have said on expenditure on road safety. However, I regret that I can never see the pedal cycle as a serious competitor for Ford or Rover.

10.59 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I wish to thank my noble friend Lord Marlesford for suggesting that I might make a contribution to the debate on his Unstarred Question. I was a trifle apprehensive when my noble friend admitted that he occasionally rode on the pavement. Having heard too from my noble friend Lord Colwyn of his experience of a particular cycle track which I often cross in a car when driving to the House, I can quite understand that there are difficulties. It was put most colourfully by my noble friend.

I shall try to concentrate on the environmental advantages of cycling and other health advantages which have been indicated by various noble Lords, not least by my noble friend Lord Colwyn. Of course, cycling is a clean, cost effective and space effective method of transport. As for public health, let alone the health of the cyclist, I have no specialist knowledge, but I try to keep to the average fitness of noble Lords, which requires not just exercise but also discipline in the amount of energy and calories we put into ourselves each day.

As regards the environmental aspects of cycling, I concur totally with everything that has been said about attempting to separate cycle traffic from motor traffic. The noble Lord, Lord Amwell, put it superbly and we are grateful for his professional views of how to design systems of transport so that cyclists and motor drivers may go about their business in the greatest possible safety. Noble Lords mentioned Hyde Park Corner. Anyone who rides a bicycle around there is extremely courageous as well as being fairly able.

In my career at the University of Oxford, I recall the A.34—if it has been renumbered, my noble friend on the Front Bench may be able to advise us—which leads out to Woodstock. Even in my time at Oxford it was dual carriageway. In Oxfordshire, there is plenty of space. So between the hedgerow, field and the ample dual carriageway, which was even at that time heavily used by traffic travelling between Oxford and the Cowley motor factories and the Midlands, there was an excellent pavement for pedestrians. There was also a nearly five-foot wide cycle path virtually all the way to Woodstock. It was an excellent track. I used it on a regular basis.

I wonder whether the Minister agrees that cyclists are to be admired and that cycling is an excellent method of transport in London. However, as a pedestrian and a motorist, I have been somewhat worried by the behaviour of a tiny minority of cyclists. They ride mountain bikes with fairly robust wheels and tyres and behave as motorists or wheeled transport until they come to a red light with motorists waiting. Quick as a flash, they change their attitude to that of pedestrians and cross with them, mount the pavement and set off again. I believe that it is a small minority of cyclists. It is in areas like Sloane Square or Hyde Park Corner that one sees such cases.

My noble friend Lord Marlesford was perhaps just hinting—I hope I understood him correctly—that cyclists might share space with pedestrians. I invite him and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, to accompany me to Leicester Square, which is a fairly large pedestrian precinct. They might agree with me that there would be a certain amount of danger. We tend to regard noble Lords crossing the road outside Parliament as being either the quick or the dead. There might be the possibility of pedestrians not perhaps being dead but otherwise engaged if they had to avoid cyclists in going about their business.

I wish to draw noble Lords' attention to one aspect of the health and recreation of cycling. It may not surprise your Lordships that about 35 years ago I suffered a serious accident when ski-ing which caused a long-term fitness problem for me. It may not surprise my noble friend Lord Colwyn, who is a great supporter and adviser to many noble Lords on health aspects, that my orthopaedic surgeon jokingly suggested that I would benefit from cycling to rebuild my leg, ligaments, knees and ankles.

In that same summer of 1959 I obtained very valuable free French lessons from the radio and became an avid student of the Tour de France bicycle race and of cycling as a major sport. In 1960 I do not think that mountain bikes had even been invented. People had what one might call "proper" bicycles. The last time I saw my noble friend Lord Colwyn riding his bicycle he had what I think of as a proper bicycle with fairly large wheels and excellent brakes. I do not know whether it was multi-geared but he had what I call a proper bicycle.

In 1960, sports, lightweight and racing bicycles were available. Indeed, in 1993 the only difference seems to be that the price makes one gasp. Certainly, the price of racing bicycles that I was studying yesterday would have bought an E-type Jaguar in 1962 when I was at Oxford—£2,500 for a racing bicycle with graphite and Campagnolo gears and all the rest. So there have been technical advances as well as advances in price.

I admire cycling as an aid to health and fitness, but I am no zealot. Last summer I was advised, taking a day's respite in the Alps, that there was an easy cycle tour available. I rented a mountain bike, and I was told: "It's all right. You're only going 10 kilometres". What nobody explained was that there was a climb of 1,200 feet. I arrived at the end of my 10 kilometres in a state which would have given great pleasure to my noble friend Lord Colwyn. Back at the resort, when I told people that I had bicycled up there, they were genuinely concerned—not just about my physical health, but about my mental health too. I had attempted to do something which they said was foolhardy. I was used to it. I am used to many things in this House. I was certainly used to a cycle trip of that nature. It did me a lot of good and I enjoyed it greatly.

It is indicative of cycling as a recreation that the very day that my noble friend put down his Motion for debate in this House a photograph appeared in the press of my honourable friend the Minister for Sport, who was, with Bernard Hinault, five-times winner of the Tour de France, in Trafalgar Square with a racing bicycle. They were promoting the arrival next year, on 6th and 7th July, of two stages of the Tour de France which will race over roads—I understand they will be closed roads—in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire. I give notice to my noble friends on the Front Bench that whatever takes place, I shall be watching that great sport on those two days.

I reiterate everything that has been said by my noble friend and by other noble Lords this evening. Cycling is indeed an excellent and a very healthy method of transport. But I stress—I hope that my noble friend will agree with me and that the Minister will also agree—that cyclists have a great deal of responsibility both for their own personal health and fitness and the health of others. I look forward to hearing the views of my noble friend on the Front Bench and of the noble Viscount on the Liberal Democrat Benches. I was not aware that they were great fans of pedal cycles, although they possibly are of other forms of two-wheel cycling. Given the enthusiasm engendered by the debate, we look forward to hearing the reply.

11.9 p.m.

Viscount Craigavon

My Lords, I should declare my interest as a fair weather cyclist and fairly frequent motor cyclist. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for raising the cause of cycling in this way. I hope that the House will allow me at this time of night to mention just a few points which I believe are important in the area of cycling.

It has been apparent this evening that progress in bicycling has to be made on a number of different fronts. There is no single solution. We should be particularly grateful for the energy and youthful enthusiasm of the lobbying group centred around the Cyclists' Public Affairs Group, which many speakers have mentioned. Against all the odds, it continues to look after the interests of cyclists. I say that, having been receiving for many years the excellent magazine of the London Cycling Campaign—it is called the London Cyclist—as well as the very informative and readable Cycle Digest of the Cyclists' Touring Club. The other member of this group is the Cycle Campaign Network.

I shall briefly mention, for those who may not know it, the existence at Westminster of the all-party group on Cycling. As the present Treasurer, I should be very pleased to enrol new members from those enthusiasts present this evening or, indeed, any noble Lords who would like to join. Although recently the group has been rather quiet, it may be that after this debate the all-party group could act as a focus for further follow-up of what emerges this evening. One of the advantages of being a member is that one should automatically receive the excellent magazines to which I have just referred.

As a Londoner all my life, I have always used bicycles for short journeys. I have recently noticed new cycle routes, markings and signs in Kensington where I live. That is a useful attempt to connect the central parks with Hammersmith and Fulham. I understand that in Kensington local politicians are taking cycling much more seriously and constructively.

I support what has been said so far about the 1,000-mile route and its problems. Personally, I would advocate a separate cycle traffic director for London with considerable powers to encourage co-ordination. As other noble Lords have said, I too believe that there is much that the Government can do in setting a positive framework and tone to encourage all aspects of cycling.

I commend to the House a successful charity called Sustrans (the name stands for sustainable transport) which designs and builds traffic-free routes for cyclists and walkers. These are for commuters as well as for recreation. It is based in Bristol and is probably best known for converting disused railway lines. I was able to see a presentation of its work at Westminster some months ago. Its methods are an example of what can be achieved with considerable skill and hard work. One of its almost heroic longer term aims is a cycle path from Inverness to Dover, which would include on it some minor roads. I hope that the Government will be able to give continued support to such enterprise.

There is a series of international conferences devoted to cycling called Velo City. I believe that much can be learnt from the experiences in other countries and I hope that the Government will encourage dissemination of the papers and information that are available in this way. This year it is the turn of this country. The conference is to be held in Nottingham in September. I hope that the Government will give it their full support and perhaps, as is sometimes the custom, use the occasion to launch some bicycling initiatives.

Finally, I should like to touch on a matter that I know the following speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, will mention in more detail and which is in fact probably only partly relevant to this debate; namely, the problem of unfair dumping of Chinese and Taiwanese bicycles, leading to possibly severe damage to British manufacturers. The case has been argued for some time, but in my opinion it has not been adequately dealt with by the Government. I hope that the Minister can give us some hope that this issue will be resolved soon.

11.14 p.m.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Marlesford, to whom we should be very grateful for this evening's short debate, mentioned health, social, environmental and transport issues. For just a very short moment at this late hour I should like to widen the debate, as the noble Viscount did a minute or two ago, to the economic issues. I do not believe that I have ever heard in your Lordships' House so much consensus on a subject as I have heard this evening. It appears that everybody in your Lordships' House and outside it would approve of attempts to promote cycling as a recreation and a useful form of transport for all the different reasons that we have heard.

I would hope to count on a similar level of consensus if I were to ask noble Lords to join me in supporting the idea that the more people who ride bicycles the better, and the more of those people in Britain who ride British bicycles the better still.

The noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, mentioned that 4 million bicycles are bought in this country every year. That is a larger figure than I have heard but it is undoubtedly a very large market. What is much more important, and what I should like to bring before the House today, is the fact that an enormous number of the bicycles coming into this country and indeed into the European Community are, as the noble Viscount has just said, bicycles from the Far East that have been dumped.

I do not want to bore the House with figures at this late stage but it is worth pointing out that in 1992 424,000 bicycles came to this country from China and 20,000 came from Hong Kong. Now 20,000 does not appear to be a large figure but it is very large when one considers that Hong Kong does not have a bicycle industry. We can assume where those bicycles have come from. The number from Indonesia was 114,000; Malaysia, 146,000; Taiwan, 554,000; Thailand, 252,000. Those add up to 66 per cent. of the bicycle market.

This would not in itself matter because I am, like many noble Lords, a free marketeer. I believe in competition. There is nothing wrong with people trying to sell their bicycles in this country, wherever those bicycles come from, except when it is not a free market and is not a level playing field. In this case it is not, and it is this that I wish to draw to your Lordships' attention.

China has been given the status of the general system of preferences. That means that the Chinese have preferential loans from the World Bank to set up their business. Set up their business, my Lords! They have 40 per cent. of the world market. They produce 60 million bicycles every year. I ask: do they need our help, if they can do that? Why should China have this status when it makes that many bicycles?

All bicycles are required to get in component parts—Shimono parts—from Japan. Our manufacturers have to pay 8 per cent. duty to do that. The Chinese, the Taiwanese and the other Far Eastern producers do not have to do that when they bring those bicycles into this country or into the European Community to sell. That is an unfair advantage. Why indeed should the Chinese Bicycle Corporation be given preferential Western loans when its owners have made such enormous profits on their share issue in the Far Eastern markets? That is not fair, either. The result of this will be unemployment in the United Kingdom and the European Community. The potential UK job losses are 3,000 to 5,000 in the bicycle industry itself and 12,000 throughout the country. The potential European Community job losses are 25,000 to 30,000 in the industry itself and 70,000 to 100,000 overall. I should not have thought that was desirable. I should have thought that the Department of Trade and Industry—I know that my noble friend on the Front Bench does not speak with its brief—would want to do all that it can to help our industry and not hinder it, as is currently being done by the rules and by Common Market rules.

We have talked about the consumer interest. It is worth pointing out that none of the bicycles coming into our country meets the British standards. Our manufacturers have conducted tests. They have done the fairest tests they can. Out of 15 imported Far Eastern-made bicycles that have been tested—perfectly fairly and openly—not one of them passed the tests for braking in the wet. That does not strike me as being safe for the consumer. I should have thought that Her Majesty's Government would have been interested in that fact. These are bicycles made in Far Eastern sweat shops with preferential loans from the World Bank. They do not have to have duty paid on them and they are not safe for our consumers. Furthermore, their arrival will lead to unemployment.

So this evening, when we turn our attention to trying to encourage more bicycling in this country and more people to get out for healthy exercise and easier commuting which is better for the environment, let us think of the economy, too. Let us hope that the Government will do all they can to make sure that those people ride British bicycles, but at the moment they are not. We are not asking, nor should we ask, for preferential treatment. That is not the idea and that should not be. I believe that the bicycle industry, like the bicycle rider, could do with a level playing field.

11.20 p.m.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, at this late hour I shall not keep noble Lords very long. We must all be grateful to my noble friend Lord Marlesford for introducing this debate. I have seldom heard such unanimity in a debate in your Lordships' House. As we all know, cycling is a very low-cost means of transport. It is beneficial to the health and, in modern parlance, it is "green". I am surprised that no one has used that word before in this debate. It is also economic of road space and parking space.

I have fond memories of my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, before he attained the lofty heights of the Woolsack, pedalling happily along. I wonder how many of your Lordships can remember that. I hasten to disillusion your Lordships who may imagine that I am an ardent cyclist. On the contrary, I confess that I have not ridden a bicycle for many years. The last time I rode one in London I was scared stiff. I rode a borrowed lady's cycle from Fulham to Mayfair. It was only then that I realised just how many hills there are in London. The most alarming part was when I was cycling up Park Lane intending to turn right across the stream of traffic into Upper Brook Street. That experience put me off cycling in London for life. I am afraid that my cycling days are over. However, I am glad to say that my wife is a possessor of a bicycle which she sensibly rides only when the weather is fine. It stands in our hall and takes up rather too much space.

As has been said already, cyclists are very vulnerable. I am glad to see that many of them are now coming to realise that, but often too late. They are now beginning to wear hard hats, reflective safety harnesses and the rest, which we must all welcome. Their size enables them to infiltrate the traffic easily and in heavy traffic. Although they can be left behind on the straight between the lights, they can very easily weave their way through the traffic when it is held up at the lights.

However, many show a plain disregard for the traffic rules, going the wrong way down one-way streets, jumping the lights and riding after dark without lights. The worst habit of all is the developing custom of riding a bicycle along the pavement. Here I must take issue with my noble friend Lord Marlesford. He will remember that a couple of months ago when there was a debate on traffic in London he said happily that he often rides a bicycle along the pavement. It is a practice which I deplore. I have always looked on him as an upright and law-abiding citizen. I was very rudely disillusioned a short time ago and I am shocked. Although I am sure that he takes very good care himself, it is nevertheless a pernicious practice which is becoming more and more popular. My noble friend is probably well aware that it is against the law, but very few people are aware of that. On the rare occasions when I have dared to remonstrate with an offender I have generally received an answer in what can only be described as unparliamentary language.

My noble friend must realise that he is setting a thoroughly bad example. The pavement is for pedestrian traffic and for pedestrian traffic only. Cyclists on footpaths are a great source of danger, especially to elderly people and small children. I am tempted to refer also to skateboards and roller skates but I realise that they are outside the scope of the Question.

I should like to put one or two questions to my noble friend on the Front Bench. I do not expect him to answer them straightaway but, if he is unable to do so, I should be grateful to receive an answer in due course. First, are the Government aware of the increasingly dangerous practice of riding cycles on the pavement? Secondly, do they agree that it is illegal? Thirdly, what action do they propose to take about it? Fourthly, how many prosecutions have been brought for cycling on the pavement during the past 12 months? As has been said, we need to separate cyclists from the rest of the traffic. That cannot be done by allowing them to ride on the pavement, but it could be done by setting aside dedicated cycle lanes for their use. We also need a publicity campaign to encourage cyclists to obey the traffic rules and to stick to the cycle lanes. I look forward to a few crumbs of encouragement from my noble friend when he replies.

I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Tebbit is not in the Chamber but, had he been here, I am sure that he would have had good reason to use the well known exhortation, "Get on yer bike!"

11.26 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I have enjoyed the debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for giving me the opportunity to talk about a subject dear to my heart. In fact, being a restless soul, all travel is dear to my heart and I have come to this House on practically everything except a horse and cart. I have both a bicycle and a motor cycle in the House. But perhaps I should not have two means of transport parked here.

I am surprised at the tone of the debate. In a way, it has been very British. I have learnt a great deal, but I have not really understood a lot of what I have been told because the statistics and the health details have been so specific. As far as I am concerned, the main thing about cycling is that it is enormous fun. Perhaps it has become less fun, but I do not find it so. It has certainly become more dangerous, but it is still enormous fun - perhaps there is some fun in that danger.

I wanted to continue the fun of cycling when I went to school and I discovered that at my school, which was one of those establishments beset with rules, I could use a bicycle if I joined certain privileged societies. So I joined the natural history society, which enabled me to visit various cinemas, race-courses and - boys being boys - even a local nudist colony in the environs. I have continued to enjoy cycling although laziness besets one with age and today I tend to ride a motor cycle perhaps more than a bicycle.

As far as government action is concerned, I agree that the Government can do a lot more which affects cyclists, but I do not think that there is much that can be done specifically for cyclists. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, that many of the plans and dreams of cyclists are unlikely to be realised. However, a lot of the action which the Government can take affects all road users. The condition of the roads in London—for example, that of the roads just over the bridge from here—is deplorable whether one is on a bicycle, motor cycle or in a car. There are pot holes and the surface of the road is breaking up to an extent which I would have found surprising in Entebbe or Dar es Salaam. The Government need to take immediate measures to encourage local authorities to put that to rights as quickly as they can.

Although I found a lot of what the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, said about health interesting, I would not go down the road that he mentioned. Having been through quite a tough battle recently with other motor cyclists on the subject of the European Commission meddling in motor cycling, I should be very careful about encouraging European participation in any decisions that we take here on cyclists. Heaven knows the kind of things it is trying to introduce for motor cycles without any evidence to support them. We may find the European Commission wanting to legislate for us all to wear fluorescent leotards and pointed helmets to match. Anything could happen. I would not bother too much about Europe at present.

It is boring to cycle in countries such as Belgium and Holland. I have done it. It is much more fun to cycle here. There is much more variety. There are hills, even in the London area. There is no fun in Europe. They know nothing about cycling through the beautiful British countryside. That is the kind of cycling we can enjoy here. The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, made the point about railways. I hope that if the Government's plans for the privatisation of the railways reach fruition, facilities for carrying bicycles on trains, and at stations, will be improved.

An interesting remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, is fresh in my mind. He talked about unparliamentary language. Cyclists are a very eccentric lot. Some of their language is strange. They do use unparliamentary language. Motor cyclists and car drivers do too. They usually refer to one's ancestry or call one things which are usually parts of the body below the belt. The other day a cyclist came alongside me at a traffic light. He banged my wing and my wing mirror. He then shouted through my window and told me that I was a divot. I am not sure what a divot is. I know what it is on the golf course. It is apparently a term of invective used by cyclists. It may reflect the higher education nature of many of the cycling fraternity. One can hardly take real offence at that language, but it is clearly not complimentary. Whether calling someone a divot is using unparliamentary language, I do not know. I remain to be advised.

There are charities which are trying seriously to improve the lot of the cyclist. I am not sure whether I should like to be able to cycle along a cycle lane all the way from Inverness to Kent, which I think was suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon. It is useful to have special paths for cyclists. Perhaps railways lines could be converted for cyclists to use. They could be used for families and to teach young children to ride. The charities working for cyclists—I believe that Sustrans is one of them—are admirable, although I should not like to see their aims carried through to the extent that the noble Viscount suggested.

Of course, cycling is healthy, but I do not particularly care whether it is healthy. I did not understand much of what the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said. Being a doctor whom I consult occasionally, I am sure that he is right. But I do not go out thinking about my pulse rate or my longevity and whether it will be improved as a result of cycling. I feel jolly good after I have cycled. I seldom feel stressed or irritated.

Those of your Lordships who are not cyclists should be aware of the dangers. The main dangers in London—if your Lordships see them coming, even in the distance, you should beware—are Post Office vans and diplomatic cars. If your Lordships see them coming, you should draw aside, let them pass, and then continue on your way, because they are a perfect menace. I would add to that—I do not want to be sexist here—Peugeot GTIs driven by attractive young girls between the ages of 19 and 25. The same goes for motor cyclists. I am sure that with experience they will find that going close to a two-wheeled vehicle is not a wise thing to do, but they do it, and it is extremely irritating.

I am not sure what the cantilevered cycle shelf described by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, means. It sounds interesting and picturesque. I can see all kinds of other uses for a cantilevered cycle shelf. It would be very good for racing because we could have an annual cycle race and perhaps raise a lot of money for London. However, I am doubtful whether one would want to use that shelf regularly.

I do not wear a helmet and I hope that we shall not have legislation to make that compulsory. I read in a magazine which was given to me before the debate that in New Zealand their wearing is compulsory. They look pretty idiotic. In fact, if I understand the word correctly most people who wear them look "divots". Maybe a more sensible-looking helmet will be designed but for the moment I shall wear my flat hat.

As I am the chairman of a motor cycle industry theft action group, I must point out that the theft of cycles has reached epidemic proportions. Mostly mountain bikes are stolen, which leads me to remark on the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. As he said, mountain bikes are extremely expensive and usually originate, if not wholly, in part from the Far East. Whether people are buying secondhand or new, I recommend that they buy a British bike. I have a 28-inch wheel policeman's bike made in 1948. It has a side stand and is beautifully equipped. It cost £45 and was advertised in a tobacconist's window. There is no need to pay £300 or £400 for a mountain bike which is badly welded and has none of the old British workmanship. I am sure that Raleigh continue the tradition of fine workmanship of British bikes. That is also happening in the motor cycle industry because Triumph has come back in a big way and is producing some of the best motor cycles in the world.

I shall continue to enjoy my cycling. I shall come to your Lordships' House and I shall take enormous care when I do so. I have been lucky thus far during my many years of cycling. Nothing serious has happened to me on a bicycle or on a motor cycle. I take immense care and I am extremely defensive. I urge all noble Lords who have children to urge them to do the same. I urge them to participate with their children in cycling because it one of the best family activities. Children love it and it is a good way to learn whether your children have road sense. It gives the family many opportunities to criticise their elders, which is always healthy.

This has been a good debate and once again I thank the noble Lord for giving me the chance of speaking in it. I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, will have something cheering to say. I know he is sympathetic because both he and I are two-wheel fans.

11.37 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for initiating an interesting debate. It has been interspersed with many interesting experiences and some humour. The noble Lord, Lord Swansea, wondered whether the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, had sparked the subject in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. I do not know about that but the noble Lord certainly spoke of his father getting on his bike in order to search for work. On the other hand, the subject might have been sparked by a Chilean politician called Viera Gallo—that will defeat the Hansard reporters because I am not going to tell them how to spell the name! —who said that socialism can only arrive by bicycle. I do not know what that meant, but there is an interesting contrast between that comment and the experience of Lord Tebbit's father.

In his opening speech, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, made a powerful indictment of the Secretary of State for Transport when he urged him to alter his transport priorities to take account of cycling. I look forward to receiving help from him in no less an important transport debate dealing with the railways, when again it is a question of priorities which must be adjusted.

However, he was right to say that he searched almost in vain for any comment by the Secretary of State about the value of cycling and about its significance in relation to transport policy general. I too have made some search in that regard —and I shall return to that.

It is a neglected issue. It is neglected in terms of the environmental advantages, to which a number of your Lordships drew attention. It is energy efficient. It creates no pollution. It does not add to congestion. It has all those advantages. And yet overall, few, if any, incentives are offered to give any kind of encouragement to that form of transport. Indeed, the situation is more marked by the disincentives that prevail. It is certainly neglected in terms of safety and public health. Common sense standards and regulations should be applied as regards cyclists themselves—and I shall turn to that in a few moments—and some public provision should be made to support cycling on the part of the Government.

I thought it was odd that, having made that powerful indictment on the various grounds set out in the Motion, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, should have concluded his speech by saying that he had every confidence in that silent Secretary of State when it comes to cycling. What grounds for confidence could there have been in the light of his own observations?

It is neglected too in terms of the cost benefits which cycling confers. Above all, it has been neglected by this Government who, in the detailed joint evidence given by the Department of Transport and Department of the Environment to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution significantly paid only the slightest obeisance to the importance of cycling. In the 68 pages of that document, which I commend to your Lordships, there is one short paragraph in the introduction, there is an even shorter reference in Annex D and there is a brief reference to a commitment entered into by the Prime Minister at Rio to encourage non-motorised modes of transport by providing safe cycleways and footways in urban and suburban centres. A fat lot of hope there is given by this Government when it comes to these matters because they always say—and one of your Lordships referred to it—that it is the responsibility of local authorities. They are suggesting that they have no responsibility whatever in these matters and it is the cash-starved local authorities which should pick up the burdens all the time.

There is all that, despite the fact that there are 15 million cyclists in the United Kingdom who are manifestly not properly catered for and who are poorly served by comparison with many other countries in North-West Europe. Some interesting statistics have been provided. Eleven per cent. of the journeys in Germany are undertaken by cycle, 18 per cent. in Denmark, 27 per cent. in Holland, and 2 per cent. in the United Kingdom. Therefore, the Government have not done very much to encourage the greater use of the cycle in this country.

The environmental advantages are self evident. I hope that when the Secretary of State says: it is the Government's responsibility to minimise adverse environmental effects as far as transport is concerned so far as is practicable", or: I want to ensure that concern for our environment is built into every aspect of our transport policy", it will prove to be more than mere rhetoric. I hope that the Secretary of State will turn his mind, however grudgingly, to the important issue of cycling in relation to transport policy.

We know that traffic pollutants represent a major danger to health. That has been touched upon by my noble friend Lord Rea. We all understand why he has been unable to wait until the end of the debate. I suspect that he did not want to hear from me and perhaps the Minister as well. But we do understand. Of course, it is a danger not only to cyclists, even if they wear a mask, but also—perhaps even more so—to car users who are exposed to all those obnoxious pollutants. There is no safe refuge from traffic pollution.

So far as concerns safety and public health—the second leg of the debate—subject to the caveats to which I have already referred it is incontestable that there are also advantages in that field. Some of the statistics that have been quoted in reports speak for themselves. In 1991, 125 people were killed on pedestrian crossings or on central islands by motor vehicles. In the same year, nearly 2,000 pedestrians—in fact, 1,862—were killed. I do no know how many were injured. Yet only one person was killed by a cyclist. One has to try to assess the terrible cost in terms of human suffering on the part of the victims and their loved ones, the working opportunities that are squandered and the burden on the health services that those statistics represent.

I shall not go into the benefits conferred by cycling as regards health; indeed, that has been dealt with by a number of speakers. But why, against all the background of the discussion that we have had this evening, should such scant regard be offered to cyclists? They are exposed to unnecessary perils on congested and dangerous urban roads, so why are such inadequate facilities provided? Why, with one or two exceptions—another point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford—are cyclists banned, for example, from Royal parks even though they could offer a haven from the kind of perils about which we have heard tonight. Indeed, someone cited the Marylebone Road and the appropriately named Kensington Gore. Why are they given such inadequate attention by highway authorities and planners?

Why do not cycle manufacturers recognise their responsibilities for the life and limb of the cyclists who buy their machines? Car manufacturers increasingly recognise such responsibilities. They know that their responsibilities do not end at the point of sale in relation to the safety and welfare of drivers and passengers. If British cycle manufacturers want to expand their sales—and that has been encouraged by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft—why do they not turn their attention to that aspect of the matter?

What about the responsibilities of cyclists themselves? It is all very well to talk about them having increased rights and to say that more attention should be paid to them—and I have already indicated my support for that—but those rights should also be accompanied by their bearing greater responsibilities. Those should include ensuring that their bikes are properly illuminated at night. It is quite a rarity these days to find a cyclist ensuring that his bicycle is properly illuminated both at the front and at the rear. Cyclists believe, I suppose with some justification, that the law will not be enforced against them. I wonder how many incidents there have been of prosecutions, successful or otherwise, initiated by the police to ensure that that law is properly observed. I suspect that the number is very limited.

Cyclists have an obligation to wear properly reflective strips. As to whether or not that is imposed by the European Community is by the way. We are talking about a moral obligation towards other users of the road. They should not weave in and out of traffic, thus putting themselves and others in jeopardy as too many of them do. They should not overtake suddenly and silently on the nearside of cars in the hope that they can get away with it. They should wear helmets, or "skid lids" as I think they are called, even though they may not be the most attractive form of headgear imaginable. They should avoid terrorising pedestrians by speeding along pavements, as some of them do. They should also observe the law and appreciate that policy to enforce the laws far more rigidly than is currently the case is a burden upon government which is simply not fulfilled at present.

Moreover, some of the cyclist courier companies that seem to be proliferating at a great rate should, in my view, bear some considerable responsibility for giving cyclists a bad name these days. I think their employees come under thoroughly undesirable pressures, operating as most of them do on piece rates, to take risks for the sake of speed. Perhaps those riders should be licensed in some way. That is a matter which needs further investigation.

What are the possible incentives and measures that might be considered? The Government would do well to consider the recommendations that have been made by the British Medical Association in its report entitled Cycling Towards Health and Safety. I only have time to summarise the recommendations that have been made. It suggests that measures should be taken to reduce motor vehicle speeds in urban areas. That is worth considering. Moreover, it recommends that consideration should be given to cyclists' needs when designing traffic calming measures. I very much agree with the point that I believe was made by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and another speaker earlier on.

Cycle networks need to be introduced, it is recommended, to provide safer cycling conditions in urban areas. It is just not good enough, as I said before, to repose all responsibilities on local authorities. These actions should include the provision of dedicated cycle tracks. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Swansea. It is extraordinary that when Kensington and Chelsea took over responsibility from the GLC in 1986 for looking after roads it wantonly ripped up cycle lanes. Why on earth it did that, I do not know. That is hardly an encouragement to cyclists. Cycle lanes on all-traffic roads are obviously desirable. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, referred to that matter in his speech.

There are other matters that are dealt with in this report but I wish to draw particular attention to the special arrangements that need to be made at junctions and road crossings which are particularly hazardous for cyclists. It is recommended that the interests of cyclists should be given greater priority at every stage of the planning process for roads and transport routes. That means that cycling has to be given a far higher profile by the Government, who should take a pro-active role in improving the safety of cyclists.

A further recommendation is that local authorities should encourage cycle use in towns by providing secure cycle parks, as indeed is done in Sheffield. That is a real incentive. It is recommended that facilities should be developed to integrate cycling more fully with other means of public transport. That should be seen as complementary to the provision of other modes of transport. Better, more secure cycle parking at bus and train stations and improved arrangements for carrying bikes on trains are also important measures. All those measures represent real incentives. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, made that point in his speech.

It is stressed in the report that local authorities should promote cycling for utilitarian, recreational, economic, environmental and health reasons. It is further recommended that cycle manufacturers should assume greater responsibility for the safety of cyclists. That reinforces the point I made earlier.

I turn finally to the political response. It is high time that the Government elevated their sights to recognise that cyclists exist in large numbers and that transport policy is not just about piling more and more cars onto roads. That situation is simply unsustainable. In our policy document entitled London: A Strategy for Transport, the Labour Party specifically urged the importance of giving proper recognition and priority to cycling and to walking. I say that in response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, when he urged other political parties to do that. We have done it and we have done it repeatedly from 1990 onwards. We called inter alia for the implementation of the 1,000 mile strategic route network. Again, we did not merely suggest that that could be—irresponsibly, in my view—left to local authorities, which are hard pressed enough.

We pressed for improved provision for cyclists on trains and at stations. We pointed out, as a research report in 1988 had already pointed out to the European Commission, that Britain had the worst environment of any European Community member state in which to cycle. That report also called for more cycle parking facilities and for British Rail to undertake a systematic improvement of cycle parking at all stations in the London region and for new rolling stock to accommodate transportation of cycles. What have the Government done in terms of their discussions with British Rail in order to ensure that that sort of policy is carried out?

In other words, the Labour Party and the BMA in its report were marching hand in hand so far as concerns the provision of proper conditions for cyclists.

What have the Government ever done in any of their much-vaunted budgets to encourage cycling? They have had every opportunity to do so and they have done nothing to provide incentives, for example, for employers to offer cash alternatives to the company car for those using cycles. Cyclists have simply not ranked, largely because their lobby is not seen as powerful in comparison with the road lobby. That is the reality of the politics behind this matter.

The Government have a powerful case to answer. Some of your Lordships have let the Government off the hook much too easily, though implicit in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, were very potent criticisms, which he somehow allowed to be weakened in the peroration. That was a pity. Now the Minister has his chance.

11.56 p.m.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Marlesford for introducing this Question and giving us the opportunity to debate cycling issues. As has been said this evening, my noble friend has done much to raise the profile of cycling in recent months with a series of interesting Questions.

The environmental, health and cost benefits of cycling are being recognised by increasing numbers of people. Best estimates are that there are at least 15 million bicycles in the UK. Around 11 million people cycle, nearly 4 million doing so regularly.

As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, the past few years have seen an increase in people's awareness of how their everyday decisions may have an impact on the environment. Nowhere has that been more clearly shown than in the area of transport. The Government recognise that cycling is an energy efficient and environmentally friendly means of transport. There is scope for cycling trips to increase, and if those journeys are made at the expense of the car, that in turn would lead to a reduction in traffic congestion and pollution. Increased bicycle sales over recent years show that there is potential interest in greater use of the bicycle.

The Government also acknowledge the health benefits, highlighted by my noble friend Lord Colwyn, the noble Lord, Lord Rea, and the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, which can be derived from cycling, in common with other sporting activities. However, we do not accept all the findings of the BMA report. In particular, we believe that road safety implications have not been given proper weight.

As the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, stated, cycling is essentially a convenient means of travel over short distances, though some cyclists cover considerably greater distances, particularly in sporting and recreational activities, as described by my noble friend Lord Lyell. It is not surprising, therefore, that the overwhelming volume of cycling takes place on local authority roads, which make up 96 per cent. of the national road network. It is for local highway authorities to decide on the scale of facilities for cycling on those roads, taking account of what they can afford. Rightly, therefore, authorities have a wide range of powers, without central government interference, to provide cycle lanes, cycle tracks and other traffic engineering measures which can enhance the safety of cyclists.

My noble friend Lord Marlesford suggested a number of potential traffic engineering schemes. First, I can reassure my noble friend that the Department of Transport takes the needs of cyclists into account when considering all construction, reconstruction or improvement to trunk roads, and it advises local highways to do the same. Modifying urban underpasses to give extra space to dedicated cycle facilities would indeed be an expensive undertaking and would be a matter for individual highway authorities to consider against particular local circumstances.

Local authorities already have a wide knowledge of technical means of providing better and safer facilities for cyclists. But it is for those authorities to judge the extent of the provision they make for cycling against other competing priorities.

To answer a point also raised by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, I should add that the Department of Transport has already published technical advice on the use of advance stop lines and is undertaking further research which should result in additional guidance being published later this year. Also the conversion of footways and footpaths to cycle tracks is extensively covered in the Department of Transport Local Transport Note 2/86 entitled Shared use by cyclists and pedestrians.

But there is a wider role for central government. We are committed to helping overcome the practical difficulties faced by cyclists and those who might cycle, in particular on the major concern of safety, which has been raised by a number of noble Lords today. Thus we have concentrated on initiatives to improve the behaviour of road users through education and publicity and through traffic engineering, a policy which seems to have complete support from noble Lords who have spoken today.

The Government are spearheading a major campaign to encourage people to drive more carefully and at speeds consistent with the area through which they are passing. The strategy has been detailed in a publication Killing Speed and Saving Lives. The document stresses that the speeding driver is the major cause of death and injury on the roads. The problem of speeding is being tackled in a number of different ways—improved detection through radar devices, the admission of photographic material as sole evidence to convict speeding motorists, increased penalties in the courts to deter people from speeding, a long term publicity campaign to make drivers aware of the dangers of excessive speed, the introduction of self-enforcing traffic engineering measures to help secure compliance with speed limits, a requirement for speed limiters to be fitted more widely; and advice which encourages the setting of appropriate speed limits. Those initiatives are central to the policy of reducing road casualties by one third by the year 2000. They will bring benefits to all vulnerable road users, including cyclists.

To address the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, the Government have recently launched a road safety publicity campaign focused on child cycle safety. The campaign is fronted by a television commercial aimed at persuading children to wear cycle helmets. Its importance has been illustrated by the noble Lord, Lord Rea. It has been designed to encourage the participation of organisations and commercial companies. It will extend to other issues such as improved conspicuity, greater awareness by drivers of cyclists, improved cycle training and machine maintenance.

The Government have produced a wide range of technical advice on the design of cycling facilities which is available to local authorities and other bodies. Particular attention has been given to providing advice and guidance to highway authorities on ways of implementing safe cycling routes and crossings of busy roads. The results of our sustained programme of research are contained in our Local Transport Note series of publications, available from HMSO, the latest of which is called Making Way for Cyclists. Detailed information on specific schemes and facilities to enhance the safety and convenience of cyclists is contained in our Traffic Advisory Leaflets which are distributed free to all highway authorities. Some 30 or so of those leaflets have been published since 1986.

The Department of Transport encourages the provision of cycle networks and other features which can improve the safety of cyclists. We have assisted in the development of the 1,000 mile cycle network for London. However, since 96 per cent. is on borough roads, it is for them to determine the level of provision in their areas and to liaise with neighbouring boroughs where the routes are to continue over boundaries.

The department will provide cycle lanes and crossing points on those parts of the network that are on trunk roads. In answer to the point of my noble friend Lord Marlesford, the traffic director for London will fund those parts of the network which are complementary to the operation of Red Routes and crossing points of the priority route network.

As the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, highlighted, the transport supplementary grant is largely devoted to expenditure on roads of more than just local importance which carry a large proportion of through traffic. However, since 1991–92, local safety schemes, which could include low cost road improvements at accident black spots, on all local roads have been eligible for TSG because of the valuable contribution they can make to achieving the Government's target of reducing road casualties by a third by the year 2000. Specific cycling schemes, in addition to those which qualify as a local safety scheme, or as part of one, can also qualify for TSG support if they are intended to reduce accidents on roads of more than local importance. This can involve not only the construction of facilities on main roads, such as cycle lanes and cycle crossings, but also the development of cycle routes on minor roads which attract significant numbers of cyclists away from through routes.

The responsibilities of cyclists themselves have been a subject that has caused a great deal of anxiety, not least from the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. Although there is much that central and local government can do, my noble friend Lord Marlesford will, I am sure, agree that cyclists can do much to improve their own safety by ensuring that their bicycle, their lights and their reflectors are properly maintained, and by wearing conspicuous clothing and, most importantly, by obeying road traffic laws.

In answer to my noble friend Lord Swansea, cyclists who ride on pavements, ignore traffic lights or who ride the wrong way down one-way streets are a danger to themselves and other road users. Cyclists must remember that the rules of the road apply to themselves as much as anyone else. The police take action against cyclists who ignore road traffic laws. In 1991, there were 1,207 successful prosecutions for cycling offences.

In addition to safety measures, the Government have sponsored and encouraged the growth of traffic calming measures in the UK. Last year support was given to the passage of legislation, resulting in the Traffic Calming Act 1992. The Department of Transport is now bringing forward regulations to provide a clearer framework for local authorities. It is proposed that a range of features will be covered, including chicanes, narrowings, rumble strips and gateways. The development of schemes over significant areas will have a marked effect on drivers' behaviour and will help constrain the speeds.

The introduction of 20 mile-per-hour zones has accelerated this process. Fifty such schemes have already been developed. The early indications are of a considerable reduction in both the number and severity of accidents. The benefits for cyclists, as well as for pedestrians and people living in and near such schemes, can be considerable.

To answer the points raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, the Department of Transport is well aware of the work of SUSTRANS, having commissioned the original survey 10 years ago of the potential of redundant railway lines in England and Wales to provide cycle routes. The department has assisted SUSTRANS in the past with crossings of the trunk road network and will continue to help where and when crossings can be justified.

The Department of Transport has been actively involved from the outset with Velo City 1993 to be held in Nottingham at the beginning of September. The department is represented on the organising committee and has made a significant contribution within the programme committee which has been putting together the business side of the conference. I understand that Ministers are likely to speak at the conference. Departmental officials will be giving papers, chairing sessions and helping with the organisation behind the scenes.

To answer the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, on Toucan crossings, the Department of Transport has been carrying out research to establish the crossings which allow cyclists and pedestrians to cross the road together under traffic light control. The department intends to publish guidance on the topic in the next few months.

I cannot agree with my noble friend Lord Colwyn that very little has happened with regard to action on cycling matters. As I said, the Government have already undertaken research and published a wide range of technical and administration advice to local authorities. Many authorities have recognised the part that cycling can play within the traffic matrix. Cities and towns across the country such as York, Nottingham, Cambridge, Peterborough, Milton Keynes, Bristol, Southampton, Manchester and parts of London can demonstrate a range of good facilities intended to help cyclists. In response to the question put by my noble friend, measures introduced by the New Roads and Street Works Act of 1991 will do much to alleviate the problems which road users generally, and cyclists in particular, encounter from the utility street works. These include making utilities fully responsible for the reinstatement of their excavations in the high road, and better signing and guarding of street works, including the provision of robust barriers.

In framing codes of practice under the Act, the specific needs of cyclists were given due attention, notably in the codes dealing with signing and guarding, reinstatement and co-ordination of street works and highway authorities' works for road purposes.

In answer to my noble friend Lord Vivian, the Government have given clear guidance to local authorities on the importance of providing well-designed and sensibly located parking facilities for cyclists. Signs attached to railings and private property are not the responsibility of government. It has to be remembered that cycles attached to railings can cause damage and can obstruct a public thoroughfare.

I thank my noble friend Lord Mancroft for referring to Chinese imports, which have caused concern in the industry. It is for the European Commission to consider complaints about cheap imports under the Community's anti-dumping legislation. The Commission is currently carrying out an anti-dumping investigation into imports of Chinese bicycles. Pending completion of its investigation, it imposed a provisional anti-dumping duty of 34.4 per cent. on these imports with effect from 12th March 1993. If that duty is confirmed in due course, it will last for five years.

The European Community, like most developed countries, operates a generalised system of preferences scheme, which allows duty-free entry for products, including bicycles, from developing countries as a means of increasing their export earnings, promoting their industrialisation and accelerating the rate of their economic growth. Although comparatively advanced and competitive in a number of fields, China's overall industrial development and GNP per head remain at a comparable level to those of most developing countries.

However, it is because it is recognised that beneficiaries of GSP may be highly competitive in specific product areas that the scheme allows member states to request a re-imposition of duty once a pre-determined level of imports has been reached, when it can be shown that those preferential imports are causing damage to domestic industry. Following consultations with interested parties, the Department of Trade and Industry has asked the European Commission to re-impose normal duty on Chinese bicycles for the remainder of 1993.

The Government have concentrated their efforts on making cycling safer. That policy is borne out by the statistics. In 1991 there were 25,042 reported accidents involving pedal cycles, in which 242 cyclists were killed, 3,946 cyclists were seriously injured and 20,650 cyclists were slightly injured. Total casualties and fatalities fell by 6 per cent. between 1990 and 1991. Compared to the 1981–85 average total casualties have fallen by 22 per cent. and fatalities by 32 per cent. Provisional figures for 1992 show that cycling casualties have continued to decrease: 204 cyclists were killed; 3,769 were seriously injured; and 20,803 were slightly injured.

It is for individuals to decide whether or not to cycle. We recognise that cycling has the potential to confer considerable environmental, health and cost benefits. However, a significant inhibitor to people's willingness to cycle is concern about safety. The Government have therefore promoted measures to improve the safety and convenience of cycling. We shall continue to seek an advancement in driver behaviour and conditions which can assist cyclists.

I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and in particular my noble friend Lord Marlesford for giving us the opportunity to discuss cycling issues which have attracted such interest at this late hour.