77 MPs discuss bike safety and the "joy of cycling" in 3-hour debate

Carlton Reid
77 MPs discuss bike safety and the

And with even The Guardian recommending people sign up to The Times' #cyclesafe campaign, it's clear we've crossed the rubicon.

To cross the rubicon is to pass the point of no return. And given there were 77 MPs jostling to say (mostly) kind words about cycling in a packed Westminster Hall during today's three hour Backbench Business Committee debate it was apparent that cycling - thanks to extensive coverage in The Times - is now on the political radar.

The Guardian's James Randerson today said people should sign up to The Times' campaign, particularly "because it comes from the Times."

He wrote: "The paper's readership is naturally closer to Jeremy Clarkson than [the Green Party's] Caroline Lucas, so the policy changes that the campaign is demanding are likely to have traction with sections of the public and politicians who would otherwise dismiss them if they came from other quarters.

He added: "The other significant factor is that this kind of campaign is so out of character for the Times. This is a news organisation that sees itself as a sober paper of record – not a strident campaigning voice. It just doesn't do screaming front pages on 'issues', however worthy."

The debate had been secured by Cambridge MP and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, Julian Huppert. He was animated and lively during his intro and his summing up, and beautifully batted down dotty suggestions from MPs keen on hooters for bicycles and compulsory lamps. Towards the end of the debate, Norman Baker, the Minister for Cycling, was clearly uneasy at having to trot out the weak measures the Coalition Government has taken to address cycle safety since coming to office.

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Many MPs - especially Labour MPs - pointed out that the Coalition Government had made a major mistake by abolishing Cycling England, the body charged with delivering cycling programmes in England.

After the debate CTC urged the restoration of Cycling England. CTC’s Campaigns & Policy Director Roger Geffen, who briefed MPs ahead of the debate, said: 

“Following the hugely positive show of cross-party parliamentary support, the Government now has a clear mandate to get on with promoting ‘more as well as safer cycling’. It should seize the moment and draw up a co-ordinated action plan to create safe conditions for cycling, and to encourage more people to enjoy its benefits for our health, our quality of life and our wallets."

He added: “The wider public benefits of cycling span so many different Government departments, but so too do the actions needed to maximise those benefits The departments responsible for health, planning, climate change, air quality and environment, traffic law and policing all have roles to play, with similar 'joined-up action' needed locally. We urge the Transport Secretary to grasp the opportunity right now to get Olympic Britain back into the saddle.”

Phillip Darnton, now executive director of the Bicycle Association and the former chair of Cycling England, was sitting in the audience in the Westminster Hall. Later, he told BikeBiz: "What a day! It was a tremendous turn out of MPs and not one voice raised against any aspects of cycling. It was a triumph of cross-party conversation about the future of cycling. What we need now is to turn this into something concrete and long-lasting.

"We need now a strategic approach to cycling, handled like road safety, which is cross-party, consistent and with continuity. Cycling needs a level of funding, for ever."

Darnton will be one of key delegates at a 'Cycle strategy summit' being organised by Maria Eagle, the shadow transport minister. This summit will be held on March 1st, with Labour's cycle mad Ben Bradshaw acting as chair.

Perhaps one of the most significant outcomes of today's debate was the contribution of Eagle. She agreed with most of The Times' cycling agenda but also added further details, including policy promises that - should Labour form the next Government - would  impact on cycling in the UK (although the pledge of £100m spread across the UK, the same figure posited by The Times, is far too low).

Eagle said that cycle training was no substitute for improving road junctions, and creating separate cycle routes, and equipping HGVs with sensors and the like.

“We’d switch £100m every year to fund separate cycle routes, not just painting thin bit of road a different colour,” she said. 

Ian Austin, Labour MP for Dudley North, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, said The Times had "achieved a breakthrough" that people within cycling have been trying to make for years and showed that "this issue will not go away."

He called for 20mph to be made the default speed limit in residential areas and for local cycling commissioners to be put in place, two of the proposals in The Times' eight-point manifesto. He also said that cycling, like swimming, should form part of the national curriculum in schools.

Oliver Colville, the MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, said he would welcome banning HGVs from city centres during rush hour and referring to Tom Vernon's classic 1970s tome 'Fat Man On A Bike' said he could be persuaded to be a fat MP on a bike were cities made safer for cycling.

A number of MPs pointed out that while The Times' campaign focuses cycling in cities, the speed of drivers on rural roads also created danger for cyclists.

Sarah Woollaston, MP for Totnes, a regular on the annual parliamentary bike ride and who described how she had fallen in love with cycling on a tandem 30 years ago, said that "the joy of cycling" should be stressed.

A former doctor, she also called for use of the word "accident" to be dropped when reporting or discussing road traffic incidents, saying the word "incident" was more accurate.

Many MPs recounted tales of being knocked from their bikes, including Alison Seabeck, MP for Plymouth Moor View, who highlighted the dangers facing cyclists at junctions. Like Woollaston she also stressed the joy of cycling as well as its associated health benefits, and said majoring on danger wasn't a fair reflection of cycling as a whole.

Road safety minister Mike Pennning arrived at the debate late and didn't contribute (only one minister is allowed to contribute to Backbench Business Committee debates). 

Of the members of parliament present at the debate there were 35 Conservatives, 29 Labour and 13 Lib Dem MPs. 57 of the MPs commented during the debate. All were seated on cross party lines rather than being aligned with their respective parties. There are 650+ MPs in parliament and while 77 MPs doesn't sound like lot, the main House of Commons chamber was empty in comparison to the debate taking place in Westminister Hall. On Thursday's many MPs leave early for the weekend recess and to get 77 MPs - and two ministers - was actually a major achievement.

As pointed out by Oliver Colville MP, he was at the debate because he had been badgered to do so by his constituents:

"A large number of people from my constituency have written to me––around 30. I work very much on the basis that, for every one person who writes to me, 20 other people think the same way. If my mathematics is right, 30 multiplied by 20 comes out at 600, which is nearly half my parliamentary majority. I am therefore very aware of what the impact of that could be."

The moral of Colville's tale? Want stuff done for cycling? Badger your MP.

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List of MPs who spoke at the debate (57 of the 77 in attendance pitched in with comments):

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD)

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con)

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab)

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op)

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con)

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con)

Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab)

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con)

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD)

Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con)

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con)

Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)

Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab)

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD)

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab)

Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab)

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD)

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con)

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con)

Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con)

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab)

Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con)

Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con)

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con)

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con)

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con)

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab)

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab)

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con)

Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab)

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD)

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab)

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab)

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con)

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con)

Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con)

Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con)

Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab)

Jonathan Lord (Woking) (Con)

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab)

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab)

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD)

Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con)

John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD)

Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab)

Norman Baker, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (LD)

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con)

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The 77 MPs who attended are listed here, thanks to The Times:

Julian Huppert, Lib Dem, Cambridge, Co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group;Mike Penning, C, Hemel Hempstead, Minister for Road Safety;Norman Baker, Lib Dem, Lewes, Transport Minister with responsibility for cycling;Maria Eagle, Lab, Garston & Halewood, Shadow Transport Minister;Jim Fitzpatrick, Lab, Poplar & Limehouse, Shadow Transport Minister;Ian Austin, Lab, Dudley North, Co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group;Steve Brine, C, Winchester, Vice-Chairman of All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group;Tom Brake, Lib Dem, Carshalton & Wallington, Vice-Chair of All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group;Dr Sarah Wollaston, Conservative, Totnes, Treasurer of All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group;Ben Bradshaw, Labour, Exeter, Patron of All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group;Sir George Young, C, North West Hampshire, Leader of the House of Commons;Simon Wright, Lib Dem, Norwich South;Robert Buckland, C, South Swindon;Stephen Pound, Lab, Ealing North;Sheila Gilmore, Lab, Edinburgh East;Robin Walker, C, Worcester;Sir Bob Russell, Lib Dem, Colchester;Diane Abbott, Lab, Hackney North & Stoke Newington;Jo Swinson, Lib Dem, East Dumbartonshire;Seema Malhotra, Lab, Feltham & Heston;Rushanara Ali, Lab, Bethnal Green & Bow;Stephen Lloyd, Lib Dem, Eastbourne;Oliver Colvile, C, Plymouth, Sutton & Devonport;Shailesh Vara, C, North West Cambridgeshire;Richard Graham, C, Gloucester;Andrew Jones, C, Harrogate & Knaresborough;Graham Evans, C, Weaver Vale;Paul Maynard, C, Blackpool North & Cleveleys;Nigel Mills, C, Amber Valley;Fiona Bruce, C, Congleton;Angie Bray, C, Ealing Central & Acton;Tessa Munt, Lib Dem, Wells;Jonathan Lord, C, Woking;Bob Stewart, C, Beckenham;Neil Carmichael, C, Stroud;Andrew Selous, C, South West Bedfordshire;Sir Alan Beith, Lib Dem, Berwick-upon-Tweed;Simon Kirby, C, Brighton, Kemptown;Andrew Bingham, C, High Peak;Michael Ellis, C, Northampton North;Mike Weatherley, C, Hove;Jane Ellison, C, Battersea;Gavin Barwell, C, Croydon Central;Mark Menzies, C, Fylde;Fabian Hamilton, Lab, Leeds North East;Guy Opperman, C, Hexham;Julian Sturdy, C, York Outer;Rehman Chishti, C, Gillingham & Rainham;John Howell, C, Henley;Richard Harrington, C, Watford;Rob Wilson, C, Reading East;Jack Lopresti, C, Filton & Bradley Stoke;Mark Hunter, Lib Dem, Cheadle;Tony Cunningham, Lab, Workington;Jim Cunningham, Lab, Coventry South;Karen Buck, Lab, Westminster North;Martin Horwood, Lib Dem, Cheltenham;Andy Slaughter, Lab, Hammersmith;Meg Hillier, Lab, Hackney South & Shoreditch;Jason McCartney, C, Colne Valley;Andrew George, Lib Dem, St Ives;Mark Lazarowicz, Lab, Edinburgh North & Leith; Zac Goldsmith, C, Richmond Park;Sir Gerald Kaufman, Lab, Manchester, Gorton;Nia Griffith, Lab, Llanelli;Sadiq Khan, Lab, Tooting;Jeremy Corbyn, Lab, Islington North;Heidi Alexander, Lab, Lewisham East;Stella Creasy, Lab, Walthamstow;Tessa Jowell, Lab, Dulwich & West Norwood;Kerry McCarthy, Lab, Bristol East;Andrew Smith, Lab, Oxford East;Lilian Greenwood, Lab, Nottingham South;Susan Elan Jones, Lab, Clwyd South;Kate Hoey, Lab, Vauxhall;Alison Seabeck, Lab, Plymouth, Moor View;John Leech, Lib Dem, Manchester, Withington.

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The Times has a blow by blow account of today's debate. There's also a Hansard transcript. Below are the full versions of the speeches that would been given today by All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group co-chairs Dr Julian Huppert and Ian Austin MP (had there been been no interuptions). For the likely outcome from the debate the Road Danger Reduction Forum has a worldly-wise critique.

JULIAN HUPPERT MP

I’d like to begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate on cycling. I’d also like to thank my fellow officers from the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, in particular the hon Members for Dudley North, Totnes, and Winchester and Chandler’s Ford for their support, and Adam Coffman, who runs the Group for us.

The current Ministerial team consists entirely of cyclists – to a greater or lesser extent. Two of them have taken part in the annual Parliamentary Bike Ride – I hope the Minister can confirm he will join us this year, perhaps with his colleagues.
I obtained a 30-minute adjournment debate on ‘Cycling in England’ last year, but MPs have not had a substantial debate on cycling for several years now, despite its importance. To me, that is very worrying, and I welcome the Committee’s decision to rectify it. The number of Members here today, and who have signed my Early Day Motion 2689, is testament to how many people care so deeply about this issue – as is the 1500 cyclists who came to parliament last night to show their support.
The impetus for today’s debate is The Times’ ‘Cities fit for cycling’ campaign, and I congratulate them wholeheartedly on launching it. 

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They have an eight-point manifesto looking at lorries, junction redesign, national cycling audit, infrastructure investment, training, 20 mph zones, cycle superhighways and cycling commissioners.

Around 30,000 people – including myself – have now expressed support for those eight points. This campaign has already raised the level of public debate around cycling and brought it further to the Government’s attention. Yesterday, at PMQs, the Prime Minister responded to my calls for him to support the campaign. Later today, my own City Council, Lib-Dem controlled Cambridge, will be debating and hopefully passing a motion in support of the Times campaign – the first Council to do so formally.

The Times has rightly highlighted the shocking rise in the number of cyclists who have been killed or seriously injured. Between 2010 and 2011 this number rose by 8 per cent.  And this is in the face of increasing safety in almost all other forms of transport.

However, while each of these injuries is a tragedy, cycling is still a fundamentally safe form of transport – and the increase in injuries is against the backdrop of increasing cycling numbers. 
But in spite of this, a recent survey by Sustrans found that 56% of the British public fear that urban roads are unsafe to cycle on.

Government policy has been largely driven by the intense media interest in personal interest stories where cyclists have been killed or injured. 

These stories are vital, and often harrowing. The Times campaign is partly based on the awful injuries suffered by Mary Bowers, a Times journalist and ex-student in my constituency. They highlight the need for improved safety. But the result of this narrow narrative is that Government policy has been largely reactionary which, in turn, has put people off cycling. 
The evidence is clear that the more people who cycle, the safer it gets – there is a group effect. One study showed that if you double the number of cyclists then the accident risk is reduced by over a third. The Dutch have a lower accident rate because of, not in spite of, the number of cyclists. Anything that deters people from cycling is therefore very damaging and actually risks increasing the dangers for others.

Today I hope that all Members will have a chance to focus on how cycling in this country can be further improved and encouraged. Both The Times’ campaign and the All-Party Group take a holistic view which seeks to promote cycling as a whole. That is what I hope we can discuss today. The debate is long overdue; and the need for change is more pressing than ever.

Positives of cycling

First, I will turn to the positives of cycling.

Cycling is the most efficient form of transport in the world. Countless studies have highlighted its energy efficiency in comparison to cars, trains, buses, planes and even walking. A 2009 study by Prof David Mackay found that an average cyclist will use less than a third of the amount of energy required to walk, a sixth of the energy needed to travel by coach and an eightieth of the energy a car would use.

When you consider this efficiency in light of the average distance we travel, cycling becomes a bit of a no-brainer. Three-quarters of our journeys in this country are five miles or less. Most cyclists could travel these distances in less than half an hour – although I accept that cycling is not the answer for everyone to every one of those journeys.

So cycling is efficient and it has the capacity to fulfil our basic transport needs. 

Yet, here in the UK, cycling accounts for just 2% of all trips. This number should be far, far higher.

So why are there so few people cycling?

It’s certainly not for a lack of bikes. There are more bikes sold in the UK each year than there are cars.

And clearly the costs are very low. A bike is nowhere near as expensive as a car, or a travelcard for that matter. There’s no need for an AA membership, and maintenance costs are very low. Your fuel is the food that you eat and people on bikes are far better at converting this energy into transport than a car ever will be.

Cycling is also eminently reliable. There’s no waiting around for a bus or a train. You’re much less likely to be severely delayed by traffic. If you’re late, sadly it’s normally because you left late.

The health benefits of encouraging cycling are huge – but consistently underestimated. Obesity already costs our country £20 billion a year. That’s nearly as much as the entire Department for Transport budget. Investment in active transport – walking and cycling – pays massive dividends. Studies have shown that the average life expectancy of cyclists is up to two years longer than non-cyclists.

And finally, cycling is good for the environment. Even if you take into account the food you eat, where it comes from and how it was produced, CO2 emissions are a fraction of those from other vehicles, and there is little other pollution.
So cycling is efficient, cheap, reliable, healthy and environmentally friendly. By all accounts, it’s a public policy makers’ dream. 

And all that leaves out cycling as a leisure activity - road biking or mountain biking – and as a sport; we have some of the best international cyclists in the world! Just last week Great Britain came top of the medals table in the Track World Cup, with an outstanding five gold medals. Our national cycling team is now world renowned – yet our provision for cyclists is deeply inadequate.

So how can the Government take action to encourage our most effective yet underrated form of transport? 

Small changes that make a big difference to encourage cycling. It’s not just about spending large amounts of cash.

There are a number of small and cheap changes which will make a very large difference to cycling in this country. 
And these are not new. Many of the proposed reforms which we will hear about today have been called for by cyclists for years. In particular, organisations like the national Cyclists’ Touring Club, CTC, and local groups, like the excellent Cambridge Cycling Campaign, have pushed very hard for sensible policies and support. 

And these are the kind of bottom-up passenger-focused changes that the Liberal Democrats have been arguing for for years, and that the Honourable Member for Lewes is promoting in Government as the Minister for Cycling.

As an example, just a few weeks ago, he announced an extra £15 million for cycling. £7 million went to improve cycle-rail integration. Any cyclist who travels by train will tell you that cycling facilities are frequently nothing more than a token bike rack. I’ve been fighting to get decent provision at Cambridge station – and hope to win that fight shortly – but there is much more still to do. And the need for decent levels of cycle parking applies throughout our towns; 10 bikes can fit in the space of one car, and remember that cyclists spend more when they shop than those who go by car!

One issue is getting people started – and helping them to find a route to where they are trying to go. Cyclestreets, an excellent Cambridge based company, have developed cycle route software for the entire UK. It’s free online or on iPhone and Android via the Bikehub app, and can even avoid hills. All for a development cost of around £40,000. This was done entirely through open public data and private sector initiative. I hope councils, train operators, event organisers and others will link up with them to provide cyclist-specific information – easily.

Finally, there are plenty of measures which companies should be encouraged to adopt. Showers and lockers at work can go a long way to promoting cycling – an activity which improves employee wellbeing and productivity. The cycle to work scheme works well. It should be extended – and the tax problems resolved.

Encourage large scale uptake
So that’s the small scale – and it matters. But there is also a clear need for Governments to encourage a much broader, long-term shift towards cycling. And some of this costs money. But not a vast amount - £10 pounds/person would drive European-standard cycling towns.

In 2010 the honourable member for Lewes announced a new Local Sustainable Transport Fund worth over half a billion pounds. Every local authority applied, and 38 out of 39 successful bids included cycling aspects. This is a huge step forward which I am delighted to endorse.

Clearly, more can and should be done over the coming years. I’d like to see this fund grow– and a clear message from the Minister that schemes with lots of cycling in them would be more likely to be successful! We need to increase our national spend on cycling infrastructure substantially.

Authorities are investing in safe cycle parking and cycle paths – but need to do much more. They should also be unafraid to look at increasing permeability using things like contra-flow cycle lanes, which we have used safely in Cambridge for many years.

The much-lamented Cycling England was excellent at having accurate information and advice, so that councils could find out ahead of time what works and what doesn’t. They could advise on junction design and the disadvantages of mixed shared-use pavements. Cycling England was excellent value for money and a great resource for the country. To quote Jed Bartlet: ‘can we have it back, please?’

But improving road layout doesn’t have to be an expensive thing to do. The changes to the rules this government has made for 20 mph zones – which are safer – reduce the costs of implementation. Good planning can also ensure that cycle facilities are integral to new developments, rather than retrofitted later.

But it’s not just about infrastructure. We have to look at training and education for cyclists and drivers alike. 

I’m pleased that the Government has committed to fund the Bikeability program for the rest of this Parliament, teaching 400,000 9-11 year olds per year. It’s vital that our children are introduced to the benefits of cycling at a young age, that they’re encouraged to cycle to school and that they’re given the training to do so safely. I would like to see all cyclists cycling safely and legally – indeed all road users should!

On the other side it’s important that drivers, particularly of HGVs, are educated about how to deal with cyclists. Driving tests in this country are rather bad at preparing drivers for the presence of cyclists on the road. We must rectify this as soon as possible; will the Government look at this?

I know we can achieve this modal shift. A quarter of adults in my constituency of Cambridge already cycle to work or education.

So I’d like to see the Government, go further and faster on some of the good work they’re already doing, and listen to the concerns which Members express today.

Safety
Finally, as The Times has so powerfully advocated, we must have a cohesive strategy regarding cycle safety. 

For me, the most sensible way we can look at cycle-safety is from the bottom-up. The work done by Caroline Pidgeon and the London Liberal Democrats epitomises the kind of grassroots local changes that can make a real difference.  Caroline has been a strong advocate for cycle safety in London. Tragically, 16 cyclists died on London’s roads last year. Caroline has met with a number of the families affected by these tragedies and they are united in calling for better protection for cyclists. On the road we need to see segregated cycle lanes, Trixi mirrors and 20mph speed limits.  Off the roads we need to see training for HGV drivers, better route planning and joined up cycle routes. Through local campaigning, these demands are now at the forefront of the London elections, The Times campaign and the national agenda – with immediate changes expected over the coming months. The Honourable Member for Lewes has already taken swift action to allow councils to install Trixi mirrors at junctions, at a cost of just £120 each. Action has been taken on 20mph limits. The Government should also consider promoting segregated cycle lanes, training for HGV drivers, as well as regulations for HGV sensors and mirrors – as in the Private Members Bill promoted by Friend the Right Hon Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed.

In addition, the Government must review sentencing and prosecution with respect to crashes involving cyclists, and consider new measures such as proportionate liability. There are far too many stories of people who have been killed or seriously injured, while the guilty party seems to get away scot-free. It is absolutely appalling that so many cyclists feel excluded from justice.

The Government has taken steps regarding safety. But there is always more that can be done to prevent tragedies on our roads. I hope the Government will take these measures into consideration.

Conclusion
On March 14th the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group will launch the “summer of cycling”

We have brought together the key cycling organisations to work together under one banner this year, linking together events such as National Bike Week, the Tour of Britain, and the Big Pedal. Our aim is to persuade each of the millions who get involved each year to get one new person on a bike. I hope all members – and Ministers – will support our summer.
For years cyclists have worked from the bottom up through campaigns such as these to promote cycling and put it on the national agenda. But the Government must also do its part. In the year of the London Olympics we have a unique opportunity to take radical steps to promote our most efficient form of transport.

This Government has already done some work to do just that.  And yet - with increasingly congested cities, more competition for resources and the need to improve public health - the need for investment in cycling has become more acute. 
We cannot miss this golden opportunity to create a safe, sustainable transport network. For too long cycling has been undervalued and not supported. The Government must listen to Members today, and take further action to promote cycling now.

 

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IAN AUSTIN MP



Thank you and let me start by thanking my co-chair of the All-Party Cycling Group, the Hon Member for Cambridge for leading this debate and all of the members present And let me thank The Times, whose cycling safety campaign triggered this debate I’ve been cycling all my life It’s a great form of transport, a great pastime and a great sport too It’s a great way of keeping fit and improving health It’s good for the economy, gets cities moving more efficiently and tackles climate change          

And that’s all great – but this campaign is important for a much simpler reason: If people want to ride a bike, they should be able to and they should be able to do it safely. When it comes down to it – it is as simple as that. I’ve been a member of British Cycling and the CTC. I’ve tabled PQs, raised issues in the chamber, backed loads of campaigns, attended countless meetings, conferences and seminars.

But the Times has achieved a breakthrough in a few short weeks for which we’ve been campaigning for years. Triggered by the tragic accident which injured their friend and colleague Mary Bowers so badly, the paper has raised the profile of cycling safety, encouraged readers to lobby their MP, forced it on to the agenda and lobbied ministers for change.

Already 30,000 people have backed the campaign’s demands. Over 20,000 on Twitter. Despite the weather, 2,000 rode to Parliament last night. More have lobbied their MPs to sign the EDM and be here this afternoon.

The editor and his colleagues are personally -- emotionally committed to this campaign – they’re here today as well –showing how important they think this is. And all this should show ministers that this campaign will continue, gathering pace and strength, attracting more supporters in Parliament and the country until its demands are met I want to ensure that everyone who wants to speak is able to, so I’ll move on to the issues raised by the Times and on which we want to hear specific responses from the minister: 

First, what consideration has he given to requiring by law lorries in city centres to have sensors, audible alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars? As Road Peace points out, HGVs cause more than half cyclists deaths in London, so can I also ask whether he’ll support their proposal that lorries with safety technology qualify for lower premiums? 

Second, will he ensure the 500 most dangerous junctions are identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and mirrors so lorry drivers can see them? 

Third, will he undertake a national audit to find out how many people cycle and how cyclists are killed or injured to underpin cycle safety work? Will he earmark two per cent of the Highways Agency budget for next generation cycle routes – with clear signage so cyclists can safely find their way? On this point, why can’t he his colleagues spend a larger proportion of their department’s budget on cycling? Cycling is booming in Britain – worth around £3 billion to the economy – but where £25 per person is spent on cycling in the Netherlands, Britain spends just a pound. The benefits are clear from what has happened in London where £5 per person has been spent each year for more than ten years, leading to huge growth, compared to the average 79p spent elsewhere in the UK. And given the benefits to economy, and the huge savings cycling could bring to the NHS, it would save huge sums in the long run.

Next, what plans does he have to improve training for cyclists and drivers – particularly those using bus lanes - and to ensure cycle safety is a core part of the driving test? 

One of the best ways of improving safety is getting more people cycling, so will he meet ministers in the Department for Education to discuss putting cycling on the curriculum – like swimming – so that every child learns to ride a bike safely and more children take part in cycling? 

One of the big barriers to getting more people cycling is the fear many people have of cycling, so ensuring more people learn properly would help address this perception too.

Making cycling safer in local residential streets would also help on this, which is why the Times’ wants 20mph to be the default limit in residential areas without cycle lanes. They want businesses to sponsor cycleways and cycle hire like the Barclays-backed scheme in London. 

And they want every local authority area to appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms. On this, I’d go further. Cycling obviously involves the department for transport, but local roads are run by local councils, so DCLG needs to be focused on cycling.

We need commitment from the Department for Education if we are going to get more youngsters learning to ride at school And given the health benefits of cycling and the need for dangerous drivers to be caught and then prosecuted properly, the Department of Health, the Home Office and a Ministry of Justice need to take cycling much more seriously too so can I ask the minister whether he will convene a cross-government cycling summit to get the government focused on all these issues? 

How can we get a minister given the power and authority to get all these departments working together? Failing that – how about having a minister in each department appointed as a cycling champion or a cross-government committee of ministers? 

We need the Government to ensure cycling provision and safety is properly considered at the outset, during planning and implementation of all major transport issues and urban developments. That would mean we would never again see junctions like Vauxhall Cross which can only be put right at huge cost later This is the central point made by British Cycling’s road safety manifesto. It is clear that this is currently not the case. For example, earlier this month, the road safety minister admitted there’d been no specific consideration of cyclists’ safety in the research being carried out on trials of extra long lorry trailers. 

I also want to speak about the derisory sentences drivers often receive after killing or injuring cyclists. For example, British Cycling employee and well-known cyclist, Rob Jeffries, was killed when hit from behind on an open straight road in daylight by someone who had already been caught for speeding. Unbelievably, he got an 18 month ban, a re-test, 200 hours community service and a small fine. It’s in line with the guidelines so there’s no hope of appeal A lorry driver who killed Eilidh Jake Cairns admitted in court that his eyesight was not good enough for him to be driving … and was fined just £200. When Cath Ward was killed the driver was convicted of careless driving and received a very short driving ban. He’ll be back behind the wheel again soon Her friend Ruth Eyles wrote to me: “What shocks me,” she said, “is that the driver who killed Rob Jefferies will be able to drive again in 18 months.

Surely someone who has made such a terrible mistake through careless driving does not deserve to drive again for a very long time, if not for life?” 

She went on: “If that young man had had a legal firearm and had accidentally shot and killed someone through carelessness, would he be given a new licence 18 months later? “This country’s attitude to driving is that it is perfectly acceptable for a driver who has killed through careless driving to drive again after just 18 months.

What does that say about the value of Rob Jefferies’ life compared to a young man’s ‘right’ to drive a car?” 

We need the sentencing guidelines revised to better reflect the harm caused to the victim, much in the way that the guidelines for assault have been revised, so will he lobby the Department for Justice to change the sentencing guidelines, ensure the punishment fits the crime and – more importantly – deters drivers from the stupid and dangerous driving that puts cyclists at risk? 

But my central point is that – as I said earlier and as the CTC’s report “Safety in Numbers” points out - the more people that cycle, the safer it will be. Since 2000 bike use in Britain has quadrupled cycling in London has soared by 150%, and the number of deaths is down by 60%. Between 1985 and 2005 cycling rose  by 45% in the Netherlands and fatalities fell by 58%. 

This summer gives us a huge opportunity to transform cycling in Britain Britain’s brilliant cyclists – Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins and the rest – look set for huge success here in the Olympics and in some of the world’s biggest races too As a result many more – particularly youngsters – will get on their bikes.

And with the Summer of Cycling – which I hope the minister will commit today to fund – we’re aiming to double the number of people cycling So let’s get all political parties, cycling organisations and the media working together to transform the number and safety of people cycling.

There’s lots of things I disagree with the Prime Minister about, but it was absolutely fantastic that one of the ways he showed he was a different sort of Conservative was by getting on his bike. It was great as well that he backed the Times’ campaign in PMQs yesterday, but the truth is that he has the power – more than any of us – to act and really get the government focused on improving safety for cyclists.

This campaign and today’s debate show is that this issue will not go away. The Times is committed to campaigning on these issues for as long as it takes. 

Whether you’re Sir Chris Hoy or Victoria Pendleton, a club cyclist or commuter, if you ride once a year on holiday or you’re a parent who wants their child to be able to cycle safely - email or write to your MP. Go to their surgeries, persuade them to back this campaign.

And I want every MP here today to join the All Party Cycling Group, table questions, raise these issues in the chamber and back our campaigns to boost cycling and improve safety for cyclists. Because that is the biggest tribute we could pay to Rob Jeffries, to Eilidh Jake Cairns, to Cath Ward and of course to Mary Bowers and all of those injured or killed whilst cycling.

Tags: the times , cyclesafe

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