Minister for road safety loses his marbles live on parliamentary TV

Carlton Reid
Minister for road safety loses his marbles live on parliamentary TV

Earlier today British transport ministers Norman Baker (Liberal Democrat, responsible for cycling) and Mike Penning (Conservative, responsible for road safety) gave evidence in front of the transport select committee.

Both Baker and Penning - but especially Penning - said the Netherlands could learn from the UK's record on road safety for cyclists, using deaths per 100,000 of the population, not deaths per head per kilometre, the standard measure for such comparisons. Critiques of the woeful use of stats are already appearing online.

Here's an audio except from the evidence session at the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport's enquiry into road safety. Baker is speaking first.

After the hearing, CTC was strongly critical of Penning's claim. CTC's Campaigns and Policy Director Roger Geffen said: 

"It is absurd for the Road Safety Minister to claim that cycling in Britain is safer than the Netherlands. More people cycle in the Netherlands. Per mile cycled the risk of a cycle fatality in Britain is more than twice as high.

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"[Penning] should be taking action to encourage more people to cycle and to improve safety for cyclists, not using misleading statistics to pretend that the problem doesn't exist."  

Before the ministers were called to give evidence the influential group of MPs listened to author Josie Dew; James Harding, editor of The Times; and Channel 4 newsreader, Jon Snow, who is also the president of the CTC.

The highlights of the evidence given by Harding and Snow can be seen on the following three-minute long videos.

 

 

[Uncorrected transcript]

Witnesses: Mike Penning MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, and Norman Baker MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport, gave evidence.


Q436  Chair: Good morning, Ministers. Welcome to the Transport Committee. As you know, we are focusing on cycling safety this morning. We called for a Twitter campaign about this. We received 775 tweets. The questions that we are asking are focused around the issues that were identified there. In some cases we may ask you the direct questions in the tweets themselves. Perhaps I could start by asking you, who is the Minister for cycling?

Norman Baker: I am the Minister for cycling and my colleague here—

Mike Penning: I am the Minister for road safety. Norman Baker: There you are.


Q437  Chair: So who is in charge in terms of safe cycling?Mike Penning: Cycling policy is my colleague.Norman Baker: And the Secretary of State, of course, is in charge.

Q438  Chair: So neither of you. It is the Secretary of State, but you both have responsibilities.What plans do you have to raise the profile and leadership in relation to cycling safety? This has been one of the key issues raised with us. I am asking that to both of you. I don’t know which of you feel is the one who should be replying to that.

Norman Baker: First of all, the profile of cycling generally has been increasing in recent years in a way that is very helpful. It has been increased, for example, through the Barclays bike hire scheme in London, through the provision of cycle superhighways and also by the very welcome Times campaign. The profile of cycling generally is higher than it was. That is something that I have been very keen to encourage. For example, I held an event with TfL just last month at which I invited local authorities from around the country to come and look at good practice and to give them the opportunity to exchange views. That was very well received by local councils. We have to recognise that the provision of cycling infrastructure and encouragement for cycling is of course partly a role for Government. It has to be delivered on the ground, not by the Department for Transport but by local councils up and down the country. Therefore, if we are going to make real progress with cycling, which I want to do, we have to make sure that local councils are fully engaged.


Q439  Chair: One of the questions we received was “How is the Government directly supporting the Times Cycle Safe campaign manifesto?” Are you engaged in any of the issues in that manifesto? There are eight points there covering quite wide areas.

Norman Baker: We are engaged, and you will have seen the fantastic turnout at the Adjournment debate that Julian Huppert, the Member for Cambridge, called in Westminster Hall. I think 77 MPs in total spoke at that debate, and on that occasion I went through the eight points of the Times campaign and indicated what we were doing on each one. As it happened, we had already made quite a lot of progress on some of the points that The Times had raised before its campaign began, which I hope indicates to you and the Committee that we were already there. We were not simply responding reactively to what The Times had done, although we very much welcome the campaign it initiated. Where there were not points that had been addressed beforehand, we have sought to do so. My colleague and I wrote on 28 February to the leaders and chief executives of each council across England in response to the campaign. We indicated what we were doing as a Department and what we thought they could help us with as well. For example, as part of the response to The Times campaign, I have encouraged each local council to consider whether they should have somebody in the organisation who would take a lead role on cycling—a cycling commissioner or a champion; whatever they want to call it—who could help drive these matters forward at local level. I think on each of the points we have responded.

Mike Penning: As well as many of the points that The Times campaign and others on cycling are making, it is fair to say that one of the disincentives for cycling is if the public perception is that cycling is not safe. Cycling is safe. It is a very safe form of transport, but we have to be careful—and it has to be a balance—that we make sure that we address, for example, some of the issues in The Times campaign, but at the same time encourage people not just to continue to cycle, but to take up cycling when they have perhaps not done it before.

Q440  Paul Maynard: One of the questions that you have just been asked to focus on is how the Government have responded to The Times’ cycling campaign. If I try to drill down one level lower, has any budget or money been reallocated as a consequence of the campaign?

Norman Baker: Because of the prudent management of the Department’s finances, we were able to find £50 million recently, £8 million of which I allocated to Sustrans to help to provide off-road infrastructure. It has already got lots of schemes that it has got worked up, and was able to bring those forward and deliver some of those earlier. I have also allocated £7 million extra to the Cycle Rail Working Group, which is designed to help end-to-end journeys and to provide extra cycle provision at railway stations to try to ensure that people access the train station, take the train and have, therefore, an entire sustainable journey rather than taking a car all the way. So that has been provided. In addition to that, of course, the local sustainable transport fund is ongoing. There is £560 million in that particular fund, as you will know, which is a greater amount than all the various pots that the previous Government had for sustainable transport. There are 39 allocations of money so far from that, totalling £155 million. Of those 39 schemes, 38 have cycling elements. We are in a direct sense not only encouraging cycling through the terms of reference for that particular fund, but we are also seeing councils now responding very helpfully and sensibly to that particular fund and coming up with cycle elements for their local sustainable transport fund bids. They are now being delivered up and down the country.

Q441  Paul Maynard: A number of the Twitter questioners have focused on the practice in France and, I believe, the Netherlands, whereby the motorist is presumed to be at fault in any accident involving a cyclist. Do you know if any study has been conducted by the Department on that model?

Mike Penning: It has been looked at before. I am not saying there is a physical study. The legislation within those two countries you mentioned is different from ours. We have always steered away from presumed guilt in this country. It is something we are looking at, and we have looked at, but it is not something at the moment we are looking to proceed with. That is very much a Justice Department question, with all due respect, rather than a Transport question.

Q442  Paul Maynard: As we have just been hearing from our previous panel, there appear to be two broad philosophical camps in terms of improving the safety of cycling. One is focusing on trying to improve the behaviour of all road users, whether on two legs, two wheels or four wheels. Another is trying to design the danger out of the system. Just this morning we have seen in The Times how there is a strong correlation between a particular type of large roundabout dating from the ’60s and very high casualty rates. Do both of you, as Ministers, have any view on whether the emphasis of Government policy should be on trying to change behaviour, or trying to design risk out of the system in the first place?

Mike Penning: I will do the behaviour part because that is very much around my portfolio. I am sure Norman will agree with this. It has to be both. Everybody has the right to use the highway, but we have to make sure we use it safely for them as well as others. The infrastructure is predominantly in Norman’s portfolio and I am sure he will talk about it, but it has to be both. It is an educational process as well, which is vital if we are going to make sure that everybody enjoys the road, whether they are on two wheels—powered humanly, or motorcycles—the trucks that keep the country going and keep our growth going, or the person who just uses their car on a Sunday or who just cycles on a Sunday.  You have to do that across the board to make sure we train them much better. As for the road infrastructure, and I will pass over to Norman in a second, in the Highways Agency we are conscious—it is one of the things I was quite conscious of—that there is a full connectivity. Even as part of my infrastructure—taking the motorways out of it but on the trunk roads—you have cycle facilities that stop and then do not start again. That is something we were looking at before the Times campaign picked that up. It is something we are working on now to address where they are. I think I have the money within the budgets to address that as well.

Norman Baker: On the infrastructure point, there is a problem going back decades in this country, to be honest with you, where there has not been either an understanding or consideration given to the needs of cyclists by successive county engineers, or whatever they were called, up and down the country in different local authorities. We had a mindset, particularly in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, that roads were designed for motorists and everybody else had to be pushed out of the way. Pedestrians were shoved underneath the road in underpasses. Cyclists were encouraged not to cycle there. You get places like Hyde Park Corner where it is almost impossible to get across the road other than in a motor vehicle. That is the inheritance we have to deal with. Now that we want to get people cycling, we have to deal with those points or encourage local councils in most cases to deal with those points because they are not user-friendly. Even recent road infrastructure additions have not always considered cycling properly. I have seen traffic calming schemes, including in my own constituency as a matter of fact, where in order to slow the vehicles down, cobbles or pinch points have been created. The cobbles mean that cyclists cannot sensibly cycle over the road surface that has been put in place. The pinch points mean that they are pushed out into the path of the vehicle instead of having a little channel where the cyclists could go down beside the pinch point. Those sorts of design problems have been endemic in the country, to be honest. You cannot suddenly change all that overnight. What we can do, from the Department for Transport’s point of view, is encourage local councils, as we are doing, to take account of the needs of cyclists in the way they design their road infrastructure. When there is a particular problem at the moment in terms of any points where accidents occur on a frequent basis, we can try to look at what can be done to retrofit those particular points to try to make those junctions or roundabouts safer for cyclists.

Q443  Chair: Will that come out in specific guidance to local authorities?

Norman Baker: We have guidance already, but we are certainly happy to look again at what we are saying to local councils in terms of best practice and how they can best design their road infrastructure to take account of cyclists. I am very happy to engage, as I am doing, with local councils to try to make sure that the best knowledge that we have is imparted to them, and indeed that the experience they have is passed back to us.

Q444  Julian Sturdy: A number of tweets came in on infrastructure, which you have already touched on, Mr Baker, and the need to have more engagement with local authorities and new projects, and about why aren’t cyclists taken into consideration when planning new projects. Also, a number of tweets came in on the investment side about segregated cycle lanes, which was talked about a lot in the previous debate. Sweden invested heavily in segregated cycle lanes about eight years ago and that was seen to cut cycle deaths by 50%. Do you both think that the Government should invest more in dedicated, segregated cycle lanes? I know you have talked about £8 million going to Sustrans, but I am talking about much bigger sums than that. To be honest, that is potentially just a drop in the ocean. If the Government should invest more, which is what is coming through on the tweets, obviously that would have to come as a consequence. If you think they should invest more, where would it come from?

Norman Baker: There are a number of different answers to that question. First, I mentioned the historical legacy that we have. That is because councils up and down the country, of whatever persuasion, have not regarded cycling as important, which is why I think that part of the answer is to have somebody quite senior at local level—a cycling commissioner or cycling champion; whatever you want to call them—to ensure that a council or local authority does take these matters properly into account rather than being an add-on. There are plenty of very good cycling officers up and down the country who have no power and are very low in the organisation. They know what they are doing, but they do not have any clout to get things delivered. That needs to be sorted out. In terms of infrastructure investment, I have mentioned the money we are providing to local councils and otherwise. There is a tension, as you will appreciate, in central Government seeking to intervene and direct too much at a local level. We are not in a position to do that. As a Government, we are trying to get away from that arrangement whereby we micromanage everything from the centre. The local highway authorities are the people who are best placed to ensure that the cycling provision is properly delivered locally. We can give help and guidance, and point them in the right direction, but, ultimately, if there is a particular junction problem in Kettering or Devizes, it is the local council down there that has to sort it out, not us.

Q445  Julian Sturdy: With that in mind—this was talked about in the last session and was part of the Times manifesto—could you see scope for investment in segregated cycle lanes from private sector businesses? If so, could they be incentives put in place from Government, and potentially local government, perhaps through business rates and so on, for those sorts of investments and sponsorship within dedicated cycle lanes?

Norman Baker: I personally think that we need to get cleverer about securing money for investment in infrastructure generally. The Times campaign referred to the idea of rolling out or encouraging the sort of Barclays bike hire scheme that we have in London. This example in London demonstrates how, with a bit of ingenuity from the local authority, you can attract business to provide some of the infrastructure you want.

Q446  Julian Sturdy: If I can butt in there, Minister, there is a fear, in that that although that works well in London and has been a success, and although that sponsorship of potential dedicated cycle lanes could really work well in London, how do we get that into our northern cities and should they be something given from Government—as I say, perhaps through local government on business rates—to try and incentivise that?

Norman Baker: I do not think that London is necessarily as different from the rest of the country as you think it is. There is a huge population in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham—in our great cities. As we are moving towards an era where we give more responsibility to these great cities, as I think we should do, I think they will step up to the mark. There are many ways in which you can get extra infrastructure other than directly providing it through the public purse. There is planning gain, of course, as part of any major investment process that takes place on a planning application. Rather than simply saying as planning gain, “We will have a kids’ playground”, which often happens to be the default position of a local planning authority, why don’t they say, “You are creating big employment that we welcome in this particular part of your city. Here is where the employment is likely to be. We will have a dedicated cycle way, please, as part of the planning gain from that particular application.”?  Indeed, if you look at some of the schemes that we are funding from the local sustainable transport fund, they are directly to help to create growth and cut carbon by linking up places of employment with places where people tend to stay. Local councils sometimes need to be a bit smarter than they have been at identifying potential sources of income to help to move this agenda along.

Q447  Mr Leech: Are there any plans to improve driver awareness, attitudes and behaviour around cyclists?

Mike Penning: Yes. As the Committee knows, there is ongoing work with the driving test, which we are changing on a regular basis. We are not only doing it at that level with new drivers, but we are doing a lot of work on the Think! Campaign—the Think! brand works very well. I am looking at what TfL has done in London. Some of its billboard advertising in London is exceptionally good. I do not intend to pay a lot of money for someone else to come up with the same idea; I am going to poach it, and we are going to run some of that out round the country through the Think! campaign.

Q448  Mr Leech: There is a particular issue surrounding the interaction between cyclists and HGVs, or cyclists and buses, for instance. Has any consideration been given to having a compulsory element of large vehicle training, forcing people out on to bikes so that they can appreciate how a cyclist has to interact with the HGV?

Mike Penning: I am not saying that we can force people on to bikes, but I know exactly what you mean. Some of the trade associations are already doing that voluntarily and we are starting to get that through. There are some issues, particularly in London. We have had some terribly sad situations with tipper lorries in London where cyclists have been killed when tipper lorries have turned left. There is an investigation into that at the moment. I intend to extend that around the country into buses because TfL is doing that at the moment. We do not seem to have a problem with buses and cyclists here in London, but we do in other parts of the country.

Q449  Mr Leech: We heard some examples this morning about certain companies taking a very proactive approach to this with their drivers. I have also given the example of my writing to bus companies in Manchester suggesting, at a constituent’s request, that they should send their trainee bus drivers out on the roads so that they appreciate how cyclists feel next to large vehicles. The response was, “It is too dangerous to do that.” Surely, if there is no level of compulsion, a lot of organisations and companies just simply are not going to do it.

Mike Penning: I understand exactly what you mean. Interestingly enough, 18 months ago, there were no drivers going out there on these schemes and the companies were not involved. That will increase as we go forward. If there are bus companies that have written back in such a negative way—and my colleague is the Minister for the bus operators—they have a responsibility as well. We must not take the responsibility away, whether they have been on a cycle or not. As a driver of a PSV or a HGV, you have a responsibility to make sure you drive that safely for all road users. If they are not doing that, they need to make sure that their training incorporates it.

Q450  Mr Leech: Do the Government have the option in the future, though, to have some level of compulsion if companies are not going to apply?

Mike Penning: At the end of the day, the Government can legislate however they want, but we are a deregulation Government. I will be honest—I am always honest to this Committee—that I think it would be very difficult to make it compulsory for all PSV or HGV drivers to go on a pushbike and learn what that is like. I think for some, medically, that would probably not be possible as well. At the end of the day, we must make sure that we do not take the responsibility away from the driver of a vehicle to make sure they drive it safely. Whether you have been on a bike or not, there is no excuse as to whether you drive safely—that is your responsibility.

Q451  Kwasi Kwarteng: I am not getting a very clear idea—this is probably my fault—of your goals for this area. How do you judge your success, in particular with regard to cycling by the end of this Parliament? Do you want more people cycling? What are your targets with regard to cycle safety on the roads? Could you give us some more information about that?

Mike Penning: Very simply, yes, we want more and more people of all ages to cycle. The figures are there to see how successful that is becoming. More and more people are cycling. I measure that against—sadly—numbers of killed and seriously injured per head of population. Earlier, for instance, my colleague was alluding to Sweden. Sweden has 0.22 per 100,000 population killed. At the present time we have 0.17. So, without the scheme that Sweden has, we are not at the top.  Anybody who is killed is a loss, but we do very well considering how many people cycle on a regular basis. That figure needs to come down and the other figure needs to go up, but the more people you get to cycle, the more people you will, by logic—

Q452  Kwasi Kwarteng: Have you anything to add on that?

Norman Baker: To reinforce the point Mike was making, the average number of people killed between 1994 and 1998 in terms of cyclists was 186. It is now 111. That is 111 too many, but it is broadly going in the right direction. In terms of the number of people cycling, we do want more people cycling for all sorts of reasons—for health reasons. Some 50,000 people die each year from coronary heart disease, so not cycling is far more dangerous to your health than cycling is. The risk of dying from not cycling and walking is the risk of obesity and all the other health problems that occur. That is one of the reasons why I have been working with Anne Milton from the Department of Health to try and make sure that we are joined up across Departments. It is also the case that if you get more people cycling—I cannot prove this, but this is anecdotally what I observe, as has happened in London—it modifies the behaviour of car drivers. Car drivers are more tolerant of cyclists when there are more of them around than when they are an oddity on the streets and they don’t see very many of them.

Q453  Kwasi Kwarteng: Just as a follow-up, do you see significant amounts of extra spending as a way of achieving the goals that you have outlined?

Norman Baker: I would be very keen to encourage local councils—not just through the local sustainable transport fund, but through the integrated transport block money they have—to think about cycling. Cycling is good for the environment, it cuts carbon emissions and it is good for public health in terms of the individual’s benefits from it. It is good for the driver of the motor vehicle who is still in his or her car, because there are fewer people in their cars and that eases congestion. So, in all ways, it is good. It is also good for the economy. The Department for Transport had some evidence to suggest that people who turn up in a town centre on foot or on bike actually spend more money than those who turn up in cars. I find that quite counter-intuitive, but that is what the figures tend to suggest. Certainly, when I was on holiday last year in Bavaria, the towns that I went to see had no cars in them—everyone was on foot or on bicycle. They were packed out. Every single shop was busy. They were selling lots of stuff and the economy was booming in these places, and that was without cars being there. So, there is an economic benefit to cycling as well. For all those reasons, we are very keen as a Government to support cycling, but that ultimately has to be delivered on the ground by local authorities rather than by the DfT. We can give a lead, but we cannot micromanage what happens in town centres.

Mike Penning: There is one extra point. If you are building something from scratch, there is no real extra cost in building into it that you are going to make sure that cyclists and pedestrians are in it. As was alluded to earlier on, it is the adaption from the really old networks that becomes the really difficult thing. We do not have the money to go and rip everything out. I have more people knocking at my door asking for new road programmes—I never knew I had that many friends. We have only a limited amount of money, but when we do adapt, especially within my network, one of the things I am very conscious of is that we must make sure that the connectivity is there. There should not be any extra cost if you start from scratch. A classic example of that, in many ways, is Cambridge. Going back to what Norman was saying, my daughter has just spent the last three years up in Cambridge. As a driver it is a nightmare; she cycles everywhere, and I can assure you that you will not find a busier town centre on a Saturday than in Cambridge.

Q454  Chair: But the strategic framework very consciously does not have targets, so how are you going to be able to tell if you have made cycling safer and if you have done as much as you could have done? If you have no target that you are aiming for, how are you going to judge what you have done?Mike Penning: We have discussed this in other areas of my portfolio. The Government as a whole are not a fan of targets. As I have explained before, if you have a target, the easier bits get done first and the hard things don’t necessarily get done. The reason we will know is how many people are cycling—whether that increase comes—and whether the figures of killed per head of population continue to drop. You do not need a target to prove that; it will be there.

Q455  Chair: But if you do not have a target that says what would be a reasonable reduction in a given period of time, how will you know if you are making reasonable progress?

Mike Penning: Because any death is a death too many. How can you have a target on how many people you want killed? That is my view.

Norman Baker: Targets are superficially attractive but can produce perverse consequences. For example, any sensible target on the reduction in number of deaths among cyclists would have to take into account the number of cyclists out there and the number of miles that they cycle. That is the relationship that counts. It is the deaths per 100,000 miles or whatever way you want to describe it. That is quite difficult to tie down. As Mike rightly says, you could end up just getting to that figure and then sit back on your laurels satisfied and not thinking you need to go any further, but actually we want to go as far as we possibly can. It is better in a way to try to do the right thing and not to have a target that you meet, and then stop, but instead to try and continue forward. I want to get more people cycling. I do not want to quantify how many people that is, not because I do not want a target for it that is going to be difficult to meet or something, but just because I think it is an abstract that does not help. I want more people having Bikeability training—more children in particular. I want more children cycling to school.

Q456  Chair: But you do not want to have any figures of what you should be aiming for in a given time scale.Norman Baker: I do not think it necessarily helps, Chair.  I really don’t, and that is why I am reluctant to have targets for those sorts of things.
Q457  Iain Stewart: Our previous panel of witnesses highlighted the need for cross-departmental working on this issue. Mr Baker, you have already indicated that you work with the Department of Health. I would like to ask how you work with CLG on urban planning issues. It was suggested, for example, that provision for cyclists should be as formal a part of a planning process as the process—I think I am right in saying this—that the fire service has to be consulted on access for their emergency vehicles. I am wondering on that specific one, and more generally about how you see working with CLG.

Norman Baker: The workings of Government, as Tom Harris and others will know, involve Departments having to consult other Departments when they want to introduce new policies. Certainly there has been engagement with all the Departments in terms of a new planning framework that CLG has brought forward. The Department for Transport has clearly been involved in that process and we make our views very clear on that. As a consequence of the Government working reasonably harmoniously across Departments, our points are taken on board. That is the way we work. The mechanisms of government do ensure that you do not have one Department doing something that then has an unwanted consequence for another Department. We do have a process for engaging actively on that. As well as that formal process, there are all sorts of other processes. I have already mentioned discussions I have had with Anne Milton at the Department of Health. They are quite important. The Department of Health is represented on the cycle stakeholder forum, which I set up last September. It deliberately has a place on there to make sure that it is plugged into that. I have had meetings with Tim Loughton, the Children’s Minister, about children cycling to school and how they get to school. We do have these connections and we try to make them work, while recognising that each Department has its responsibilities, but that no Department should have a silo mentality.

Q458  Iain Stewart: But specifically on the point that cycling provision should formally be part of the planning process, is that something you have a view on?

Norman Baker: I am not sure we have made that specific point. I will have to check and come back to you. What we have done is to make sure that our CLG colleagues are aware of our commitment to sustainable travel. I think they are aware of it and support it, but we have made them aware of our commitment to sustainable travel. They need to ensure that there is proper provision in the planning regime to take account of that.

Q459  Mr Harris: Do you both cycle?

Norman Baker: Yes. In fact, as a former Transport Minister, you will be pleased to know that when I was offered a ministerial car on day one, I refused it and said I would have a ministerial bike so that I could get to the Commons to vote, because it is 10 minutes’ walk from DfT headquarters and eight minutes for the Division Bell. I now have a departmental Brompton, which I use to get from the Department to the House of Commons. I know Theresa Villiers is a keen cyclist as well, and indeed the Prime Minister is a keen cyclist.

Q460  Mr Harris: I think events have rather changed her mind on that.

Norman Baker: No, she has not changed her mind on that, I am happy to tell you. The Prime Minister and others are keen cyclists as well, so this is a culture change. When I was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 1997, one of the first things I did was to attend a county council establishment for a meeting. I arrived by bike. When I arrived by bike, there was a parking space allocated for me with a bollard in the middle and a sign saying “Member of Parliament”. There was nowhere to put my bike. I wheeled my bike into the reception area because there was nowhere else to put it. The receptionist looked at me in horror and said, “You can’t bring that bike in here. We’re expecting a Member of Parliament.” That demonstrates the mindset that there is about cycling. Cycling is not a second-class activity. It is not something done by people who have no other alternative. Cycling is now a choice that many people of all strands of society now want to embrace and that is very good. You will find plenty of cyclists in the House of Commons and in ministerial teams up and down different Departments, and that is how it should be.

Q461  Mr Harris: Mr Penning.

Mike Penning: I do. Sadly—or not sadly—it is in the garage more often than it is out. I am honest about that. I get nagged to death by my daughters about it. Anybody who has had students at university will tell you that they cycle everywhere because it is cheap and the best way to do it. However, do I get out as much as I would like? No, because I would rather be out on my Triumph very often.

Q462  Mr Harris: I was not asking in order to give you an opportunity to say how great you are because you use a bike rather than a car. There is a very practical reason. When you are cycling in London, Mr Baker, do you go through red lights?

Norman Baker: No. I don’t go through red lights and I think it is very important that cyclists respect the law. We must have traffic rules—which apply to all road users, whether they are car drivers, bus drivers, cyclists or pedestrians—that we all respect. That is the way we should go forward. I condemn people who do not obey traffic signals.

Q463  Mr Harris: But do you accept the arguments that are made by some of the cycling organisations that there may be a safety argument that for some cyclists going through a red light makes them safer from a possible collision from behind?

Norman Baker: No, and I think it may also make pedestrians less safe because many of our traffic light arrangements in London and elsewhere have pedestrian phases. A pedestrian relies on the red light for the traffic to tell them that it is safe to cross the road. If you have a cyclist coming round the corner when pedestrians are crossing, that is not a safe arrangement. What I do think is worth looking at are arrangements where we have cycles placed at the front. We increasingly have that at junctions, where there is a space for cyclists so that they can get ahead of the vehicles and leave first. The vehicles can see them and that is very good. You can also have a segregated cycle arrangement—I know TfL is looking at this at the Bow roundabout, and Mike might know more about this than I do—whereby cyclists are allowed to go first on a different light. Those sorts of arrangements are safe and recognise potential safety problems for cyclists, but allowing them to compromise a red light would not be the right way forward.

Mike Penning: As the road safety Minister I share that view. We have not discussed this, interestingly enough, but my job is to protect everybody, including pedestrians. A red light is a red light, and, if any colleagues on the Committee go out in front of Carriage Gates at that crossing where you go across to Westminster Abbey, you will see, sadly, people jumping the lights, especially at this time of the year with the sheer amount of pedestrians trying to get across there, even when they should not be doing it. We have a law in this country and it is for a reason: because it is safer if you don’t go through a red light.

Q464  Mr Harris: Our earlier witnesses made the point that since traffic lights were introduced in the 1930s they have not really evolved in any shape or form at all. Are the Government considering any change to traffic lights—for example, allowing cyclists or other drivers to turn left at a red light, as they do in some states in America—or are we beholden to the status quo in terms of how traffic lights work?

Mike Penning: No Minister is going to sit here and say, “We are never going to look at that again.” One of the issues about turning left on a red light for me, frankly, is cyclists. In the Bow flyover incident, sadly, a gentleman died. I have met his widow and they have been brilliant as to how they have complained. That was because a tipper lorry turned left on a red light. I cannot say much more than that because there is a police investigation going on. If we start allowing one, the others will think, “Well, I’ve got the right to do that.” It is very difficult. I accept where we are on this. What we must make sure of is that people sitting at traffic lights are safe. One of the ways to make them safe is to put them in front of the traffic. However, I have also seen a situation where the motorcyclists also like to be at the front of the queue at traffic lights and you have this disparity in speed away and things like that. We will keep an open mind. You are right that traffic lights have not dramatically changed. One of the reasons they have not dramatically changed is because they do what it says on the tin. They actually do their job.

Q465  Mr Harris: Mr Baker, have you done your Bikeability badges?Norman Baker: I have done my cycling proficiency. I am too old to do Bikeability; I did cycling proficiency.

Q466  Mr Harris: When I was a Minister I did all three Bikeability badges, so you should do it as well.Norman Baker: I stand chastened. I have been out to participate in Bikeability but I have not done the badges.

Q467  Mr Leech: In our previous session I thought Mr Snow made a fairly unfair comment that the vast majority of people would not know who the cycling Minister was. Most people in this room would recognise that Mr Baker has been a fairly active and prominent cycling Minister, but I think it shows an attitude that most people do not recognise the importance of cycling and who the key players are. How do we raise the profile more so that your position as cycling Minister is very key in people’s minds?

Norman Baker: I think if you ask anybody who the Minister of anything is, you are unlikely to get a response that tells you who they are. Probably some people think Churchill is a dog that sells insurance. I am afraid we have got to that stage. I am not confident that we can ever get to a stage where the cycling Minister, the road safety Minister, the Education Minister or anyone else is known as a public figure. In a sense that is not important. What is important is that there is a mindset change throughout the country about the value of cycling, and particularly in local authorities about how they approach cycling. That is much more important than concentrating on one individual. We are, for example, promoting the summer of cycling. We have allocated some help towards that from the Department. Obviously, with the Olympics coming up this year, there is a big opportunity to reinforce sport, healthy activities and cycling in particular. We are working with DCMS to try to make sure that happens.

Q468  Mr Leech: You advocated having a local person with a responsibility for cycling within local authorities. How senior should that person be?

Norman Baker: That is up to the local authorities, but personally I think it needs to be someone who has some clout. They are the delivery agents for some of the infrastructure in this country. There is a bit in the Highways Agency, but frankly most of it is done at local authority level. I would like to see someone reasonably senior in the transport team in each local authority to be able to do that. It would either be someone who is a senior officer or a lead member in their cabinets. I do not think it is for me to specify that, but it needs to be someone who is able to command the support of the local authority, and when they come forward with an idea, they need to be able to enact it rather than simply having it filed away somewhere.

Q469  Chair: Mr Baker, you say that whoever is responsible in local authorities should have some clout. Do you have enough clout to influence things such as planning policies, regulations for cycle lanes and the allocation of funding for cycle lanes?

Norman Baker: I think I do all right in Government terms within the Department. It is not difficult in the Department because I have two colleagues—Mike here and Theresa—who are supportive of cycling. Therefore I am pushing at an open door to get stuff done on cycling. When there has been spare cash identified through our prudent financial management of the Department’s finances, that has been made available on occasions for cycling. There is no resistance to that agenda. As far as cross-Government is concerned, I have already referred to some of the links with other Departments. I have also engaged with the Treasury on the Cycle to Work Scheme, for example, and it has been helpful on that. I do not detect resistance particularly, either from inside the Department or from elsewhere in Government, to promoting the cycling agenda.

Q470  Chair: Has any money been specifically allocated for cycle lanes?

Norman Baker: Michael mentioned whether the Highways Agency has done that, but in terms of cycle lanes from local authorities, we would not get into doing that, in the same way as we do not allocate money for bollards. We just do not get involved in allocating at that micro level. We allocate a transport block to local authorities, which they are able to spend as they see fit for their transport priorities. I have supplemented that on occasions through either the local sustainable transport fund or the specific allocations to groups like Sustrans, but I do not think we would not ever get involved in allocating to that level. Our job is to try to get the right culture at a local council level to help that to evolve, rather than starting to specify to the nth degree in that way.

Q471  Chair: Are any changes being considered for heavy goods vehicles—compulsory sensors, additional mirrors that will allow them to see cyclists in their blind spots and things of that nature?

Mike Penning: Yes. The Trixi mirrors are fixed mirrors at traffic lights. We have trialled them in London and they are now available to local authorities. They do not need permission from central Government, which they used to have to do. We have signed the deregulation of the legislation and they can do that. As I said at the last evidence session, we are leading in Europe on the mirrors in particular. There was a meeting at the Commission only last week where we have moved to the next stage. It is like watching paint dry, but it is happening. New lorries have to have much better mirrors. I am still told that it is probably going to be the end of 2013 or 2014 before that legislation comes through. It is not just about the UK. We have to do this within Europe; the sheer amount of overseas lorries on our roads will tell us that. Sensors are much more difficult. We are looking at that. We have asked the Commission as well. We are going to have some research done. For those who do not know, the difficulty with sensors is that they are light-reversing sensors, but on the side of the vehicle. They will pick up literally anything that is on the side of the lorry. Yes, if you are a cyclist, it could well pick you up there. If it is a bollard, a lamp post, post box or pedestrian, it will pick it up.  As I have said before, what really worries me—and what I want to emphasise—is that we must not take the responsibility away from the driver to do what the driver should be doing, which is observing around his vehicle. Some companies have looked at this and it has not worked for them, but we will do this through the European channels as we are doing with mirrors and come to a consensus on it. There is a degree of scepticism as to whether it will do what it says on the tin. In other words, the sensors will go off quite a lot, which means that the drivers will not look in their mirrors. That is a negative and then we will have more problems than we had before.

Q472  Chair: Can we learn anything on safe cycling from countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark?Norman Baker: I am always happy to look for lessons from elsewhere. We should always be open to that. I have been over to look at cycling in Holland, which is very well known for that. Earlier on, my colleague Mike referred to the rate per 100,000 of the population in terms of cycle deaths. We actually come above the Netherlands. We have a better record on that.

Mike Penning: We are substantially above.Norman Baker: What we can learn from the Netherlands, in my view, is probably not on safety issues particularly, but about how to encourage people to cycle more, to improve the public infrastructure in the public realm and to join up different modes of transport like rail and cycle. That is what we can learn from the Netherlands rather than safety. I went to the station in Leiden, which is a medium-sized town. I think I am right in saying that there are something like 13,000 bicycles parked there every day and no cars—or hardly any cars. We are never going to get to that situation, but we can make a lot more progress on it. They are the lessons that we can learn, rather than necessarily safety lessons.

Mike Penning: That is a classic example. As you massively increase the amount of people who cycle, your figures for deaths go up. On the European table I have here, the Netherlands is fourth from the bottom, with 0.84 per 100,000 of population, whereas we are seventh with 0.17. That is not because they do not care about cycle safety; it is because there are so many people cycling in the Netherlands, so you will get those ratios going up. I think the Netherlands might want to come and see us to find out how we are making sure that so few people are killed in cycling terms as we increase the numbers of people cycling, because the figures would indicate that we can perhaps do a bit better than them.

Chair: Thank you very much.


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