Read these words and weep – they could have been said yesterday, but they were, in fact, uttered sixty years ago. It’s a transcript from a speech made in parliament in November 1958 by Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett, the Tory MP for Croydon East. I have condensed it for clarity…
"It is in no spirit of levity that I call attention to the plight of cycling in the United Kingdom. It is not a light matter that a famous British industry should find itself in dire straits.
"I do not question, of course, that some fiscal assistance might not be helpful. On the other hand, I doubt whether the total abolition of Purchase Tax would prove a radical remedy for the industry’s difficulty. Surely, the basic trouble is the declining number of people who regularly cycle. Let me start, therefore, by saying a word about the extent of this decline.
"Unfortunately, there are no accurate figures, but it is estimated by the trade that there are about 9 million cycles in use today, and it is known that rather over 3 million of these are used by children under 15. It is further estimated that these figures represent a decline of about three million in the number of adult cyclists compared with 20 years ago.
"Most, although by no means all, of this decline has been brought about by fewer people cycling to and from their work.
"I must admit that the pleasure of cycling, at any rate on the main roads and in towns, grows less with every year that passes.
"Constant vigilance and sustained concentration are now necessary. One is continually near-missed by a veritable whirlwind of desperately driven cars – or, at least, that is the way it seems to the cyclist. Indeed, some drivers openly resent the presence of cyclists on the main roads and expect them to get out of their way. If the worst happens and they do not get out of their way, motorists rely very often on the fact that there will probably be a majority of fellow-motorists on the jury.
"To my mind, the most serious consequence of the decline in cycling is that it was once the principal means whereby the population kept fit. With the ever-rising proportion of the population who are employed on sedentary or static work, this ability to keep fit and take healthy exercise will depend more and more upon sport. Potentially, cycling can be the cheapest sport for the greatest number, and that is why I view its decline with so much concern.
"At the risk of making myself unpopular, I wish to advocate the far more extensive construction of cycle tracks. Segregation of different types of road user is, surely, the means to both safety and comfort.
“A revival of cycling in this country is in the national interest, and I appeal to [the Ministry of Transport] to make a conscious effort to foster it.”