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Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham): I am somewhat humbled by the fact that I am surrounded by right hon. and hon. Members who are clearly much fitter than I, and much more practically dedicated to cycling. However, I suspect that my experience is likely to be more typical of that of most of the population.

As a child, I was a very keen cyclist. I found it an exhilarating form of exercise, as well as the only means of travelling swiftly over considerable distances. However, as an adult, I found myself in a situation that is the reverse of the smoker's dilemma: although I wished to continue, I virtually gave it up.

I gave up cycling, firstly, because of the risk of accident; secondly, because of the unpleasant experience of cycling amidst thick traffic, with the fumes, noise and hassle of motor cars; and, finally, because, although I was attracted to cycling, it clearly was not always the swiftest or the most convenient way of travelling moderate distances.

Nevertheless, I endorse very strongly all that has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) in introducing the debate today, and by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). We should not be too starry-eyed about the cycle replacing other means of transport. I cannot see the 15,000 commuters in my constituency of Beckenham revving up their cycles and racing into London--although I would love to see it-- particularly when they are dressed in their business clothes. However, the cycle is an important mode of transport.

There is no doubt that there is public pressure to improve cycling facilities. I received a letter a few weeks ago from a constituent, Patricia Ewing, who is living temporarily in the Netherlands. She writes:

"Although this is one of the most densely populated areas of Europe, our suburban area feels far less congested than Bromley. Our quality of life is enormously enhanced by the extensive use of bicycles, made possible by excellent cycle tracks and widespread traffic-slowing mechanisms. My heart truly sinks at the thought of returning to the fume-laden scrum of cars around our local school in Bromley".

She is quite right, and she reflects the views that have been expressed to me by many people who have not lived elsewhere where more cycling facilities are available. I strongly endorse the views that Ms Ewing expresses in her letter.

I turn to the problems faced by children who ride bicycles. My children are keen to cycle. My 11-year-old daughter would dearly love to have a bicycle, and I have been put in the very difficult position of having to refuse her request, simply because I cannot risk allowing my daughter to cycle around the streets of Beckenham. I live on a main road where the traffic situation is extremely dangerous, and I must deprive my daughter of an experience that I enjoyed as a child and which she would

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desperately like to try. I would like to see measures introduced to make cycling safer and more readily accessible to children like my daughter.

The borough of Bromley does a great deal of work in the road safety area. Last year, it taught cycle proficiency to 2,000 children, which is more than any other London borough. Another borough instructed the second largest group, of 1,200 children, in the same period. Bromley is dedicated to heightening safety consciousness among cyclists. According to the latest figures, 122 accidents per year involve cycles. I regret that our road safety officer, Scott Pickering, has decided to emigrate to Australia, and is leaving the country on Friday. No doubt he will find that cycling is much safer in Australia, although I suspect that that is not his prime reason for moving there.

It is important to try to overcome the risk of cycle accidents in urban areas. Bromley has taken steps in this area, but I should like to see its work expand. At present, three cycle routes traverse the borough, but clearly many more are needed. They are usually arrangements that mix cycles and other traffic.

Although that is helpful, it is a second-best arrangement, as, ideally, one should have dedicated cycle routes. Bicycles and motor vehicles, particularly lorries, do not mix well on our roads, especially when lorries and cars are speeding. Although it is important to explore the use of more cycle routes, I should like to see dedicated cycle routes constructed wherever possible. I have mentioned speed: it is extremely important for road safety generally, but particularly for cyclists, that further action be taken to control the speed of motor vehicles. Speed causes many vehicle accidents and puts cyclists and pedestrians at risk. Firm action must be taken in that area.

As has already been said, it may be possible to introduce other traffic management schemes that will help cyclists at road junctions, crossings and so on. I know of three road junctions in Bromley where separate measures are in place which give cyclists preferential and protected treatment. I would like to see those schemes extended. One set of traffic lights has a specific cycle phase, and I would like that arrangement to be made more widely available.

The borough is now looking at taking specific action to try to deal with the risk that lorries pose for cyclists. Because of their sheer size, lorries which are crammed on narrow roads must drive very close to the pavement, and they pose particular problems for cyclists. I hope that action will be taken to deal with that problem. Some steps have been taken to allow cyclists to share routes with pedestrians. I welcome the introduction of those dedicated routes, and I think that we can make considerable progress by mixing cycles and pedestrians. However, it is an extremely sensitive issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby talked about pavements. A dispute is presently going on in my borough as to whether certain pavements should be made available to cyclists, particularly young cyclists. Reasonable arguments are advanced on both sides. Some say that it is much safer for children to ride their bicycles on pavements than on the roads, but pedestrians--especially elderly pedestrians--believe that young cyclists pose an immediate safety risk to pedestrians.

Cyclists cannot win: if they ride on the pavement, they are accused of presenting a risk to pedestrians; if they ride on the road, they are at risk from cars and lorries.

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I should like to see more studies on the mix of cycles and pedestrians. It is possible that means could be devised to enable that mix to be extended in some areas by the possibility either of cordoning off part of a pavement, if it is particularly wide, or the use of some pavements for mixed purposes--perhaps pavements that do not run alongside drives and houses. That is worth examining. Although I would not want to prejudge the result of such examination, it could provide a possible way forward.

Mr. Robathan: One of the problems with cycle lanes that cyclists identify very quickly is that people park in them. They then become worse than useless, as one has to pull out of the cycle lane into the main stream. Perhaps the Government should consider that.

Mr. Merchant: I quite agree. That is one reason why I am suggesting that we should examine the possibility of cycle lanes being included on wide pavements, or an extension of the mix to which I referred, with shared facilities, as cycle lanes on the side of roads pose a risk, particularly if the roads are busy. There is no simple solution to the problem, particularly in heavily built-up urban areas with high levels of traffic.

All those different measures are producing benefit. If they are extended, more thought is given to them and further studies are carried out, we shall find a way forward to encourage cycling by making it safer and by raising the importance of the issue in the public consciousness and taking steps to control the overwhelming priority that at present seems to be given to cars and lorries on our urban roads, which often were once quiet enough to enable cyclists to use them safely, but now regrettably are not.

10.51 am

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), not just on achieving this morning's debate, which is of great value, but for the persistent and consistent way in which he has advanced the cause of cyclists. I know that hon. Members present on both sides of the House share that objective, and have done great work.

I was tempted to say that a funny thing happened to me on the way to the House this morning, and in a sense it did. I walked along the embankment, my usual way to work. I do not cycle, as it is a relatively short journey and I find it easier to walk, although I have cycled in the past and found the facilities as daunting as other hon. Members clearly do.

As I walked along, I saw a new RAC traffic sign saying:

"London at War until 7 January 1996".

What surprised me was not that London was at war, but that the RAC knew that the war would end on 7 January 1996. We are discussing a permanent and difficult conflict between different types of transport usage. Sadly, the cyclist is all too often squeezed between other much more powerful interests.

It is symbolic when, all too often, we see the public transport vehicle and the car, and the poor old cyclist in between. That is a symbol of precisely what has happened as the volume of traffic has increased, not just in London, but in all our major cities since the war.

There have also been several different conflicting political pressures. There was a period when transport planning was dominated by the municipal bus barons. I

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worked with the bus industry, and I respect the talents and achievements of those big men who dominated public transport for many years. However, their interests were primarily in trying to make the public transport system work.

Then we had a new era, and a new breed of public transport planners, who were obsessed with making the car move from A to B much faster. In my planning and architectural days, I recall reading that monumental and extremely important seminal work, "Traffic in Towns" by Colin Buchanan. He warned what would happen if London and major cities were simply rebuilt to accommodate all the private vehicles that wished to use their streets. His report was intended to be an awful warning, but some of those who were then responsible for transport planning in our cities took it at as a blueprint of what was needed to accommodate cars in our cities--precisely what Professor Buchanan was trying to avoid. Between those two strong and powerful interests came the poor old cyclist, and to some extent the pedestrian.

The pedestrian, however, has survived better than the cyclist in the past few decades, because pedestrianisation took off in the 1960s and 1970s and to some extent the momentum has been maintained under successive Governments since. Yet the cyclist is still squeezed between public and private transport interests.

I have two quotations. The first is from John Grimshaw, the director of SUSTRANS. He said recently:

"Although the bicycle is perhaps the ideal vehicle for today's small, crowded and polluted planet, it is dangerous and unpleasant to cycle on today's heavily trafficked roads."

That is a good summary from someone who obviously knows precisely what he is talking about.

The Minister for Transport in London, who is in his place, said on 3 April in answer to the hon. Member for Blaby:

"Cycling is environmentally sound and healthy and is a thoroughly desirable form of transport, but most people do not exactly relish the prospect of challenge a 40 ft articulated lorry for priority on the road."--[ Official Report , 3 April 1995; Vol. 257, c. 1380.] That is exactly right.

Let us not fool ourselves that other countries all over the world suffer the same problem and have not found solutions. Some of them have. We have much to learn from Freiberg on the edge of the Black Forest, where, according to an excellent assessment of the problem by the Glasgow Herald recently:

"a combination of cyclepaths and new trams have swept the city centre almost free of traffic in little more than a decade." I was recently in Amsterdam, where, outside the central station, there is a vast array of cycle racks--all safe, properly supervised and secure. Of course, as a result, the mix of effective longer-distance public transport by rail and short-distance cycle journeys is working extremely well.

We all expect London to be the crux of the problem, and it is significant that so many right hon. and hon. Members representing constituencies in and outside London are here today, and that the debate is likely to concentrate on London.

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I raise two points about London. First, the Minister announced that the £3 million will be made available for the 1,000-mile cycle track that is intended for greater London. That sounds fine, but how much will that buy?

The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris): So that we can all save time, I should explain that the £3 million is not strictly for the 1,000-mile cycleway, as that is already in existence. It has been allocated to a much broader project, and is merely the money to finance the planning stage. In order that we can get on, as I am listening with great interest to the hon. Gentleman, I say now that, frankly, the eventual cost is likely to be many times more than that. I am quite well aware of that, and have made it clear that we want to fund it.

Mr. Tyler: I am grateful to the Minister, and accept what he says. I wanted to use the £3 million as a litmus test of how much was available.

According to the Minister's predecessor, the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), the current cost of a two-way 3 m wide cycle lane on one side of an average road is £400,000 per mile. That is a huge sum. Perhaps the noughts are wrong, or maybe Hansard got it wrong--perhaps the Minister will tell us later--but if it is really £400,000, are we putting the money in the right place?

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) that, for a whole series of reasons--parking was mentioned, and conflicts with other traffic and turning will always be difficult--the cycle lane beside the main road will never be as satisfactory as the dedicated route, whether or not it is in conjunction with a pedestrian route.

Most continental cities have moved away from the cycle lane to the dedicated track. If we are talking about such huge sums--perhaps in London we are--we have to think more seriously about getting good value for money. I re-emphasise the sum of £3 million buying only 7.5 miles towards the 1,000 mile cycleway. I am only using that £3 million as a test of what can be bought for a comparatively modest sum.

Who will take the initiative and co-ordinate? There seems to be some conflict. Some London boroughs have been much more imaginative and innovative than others. Will they be allowed to get on with it and have the resources, or will they find that they are increasingly constrained by Ministry policy or funding restrictions?

The Minister recently referred to the

"power for the Secretary of State to designate a coherent network across London and to ensure co-ordinated implementation of effective measures."-- [ Official Report , 18 June 1992; Vol. 209, c. 610 .] There is no use having such commitment without money. The Minister told the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dowd) that it is up to local authorities to co- ordinate implementation.

I hope that, when the Minister replies, he will say where in London he expects initiatives to originate. Who will make the push? Will it be his Department or London boroughs? Who will decide how to set initiatives in motion? We do not want initiatives always to follow new road schemes, because the prime need may be in areas where no road improvements are intended.

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In other parts of the country, exceptions are much more evident than the rule. There is an exceptional situation in Wadebridge in my constituency, which is fortunate enough to be halfway along the Camel Trail between Bodmin and Padstow--an old railway line used to run right through Wadebridge.

As a result of a bypass and an enhancement scheme, Wadebridge has incorporated facilities for cyclists, but no other town in Cornwall or Devon has anything like that provision--as you, Madam Deputy Speaker, are well aware. That is true of most counties in England, Scotland and Wales. In those circumstances, we must find new mechanisms, and they must get financial backing. We are grateful for the work of the cyclists public affairs group and its identification of the need to incorporate public passenger transport provision for cyclists, which is of critical importance.

In the current year, only £6 million is being used specifically to promote cycling and cyclists' activities, which is a tiny percentage of the total transport budget. For the reasons that hon. Members in all parts of the Chamber have advanced this morning, it is extremely important to address the problem. Before the right formula and the right amount of money are found, a change of attitude must be achieved. We must not send out a signal that the Government and Parliament are only paying lip service to the need for increased resources, priority and attention. We should be determined to achieve a real change of gear.

11.3 am

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams): One understands why the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) spoke with such feeling. His party identifies with cyclists squashed between the public sector that is the Labour party and the private sector that is the Conservative party.

Every speech in the House must have a preface in which one declares one's interests. I declare first an interest in cycling and that I am vice- president of the Cyclists Touring Club--and receive a 10 per cent. discount on bed and breakfast as a result. I also have a British-built bicycle. I used to have one that was made in eastern Europe, but the pedals fell off and the brakes did not work in wet weather. I was a founder member of the House of Commons all-party cycling club in the mid-70s, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) on his skill in securing this debate.

I am a cycling addict. For 12 years, I was a 10-mile-a-day man--cycling to and from the House until it became too dangerous. Cycling in London has become dangerous. The road is like a battlefield, with every inch contested. The cyclist feels under ever-increasing pressure to be seen off the road. Constant attacks by lorries, buses and cars to see cyclists away has resulted in the new breed of the cyclist terrorist, who thinks that he owns the road. Such cyclists gesticulate, shout and kick one's car, believing that they have priority. The new cyclist terrorist believes that he has the moral high ground. In many ways, he is right.

While a free-for-all on the roads is the easiest option for public authorities, it is short-sighted and leads nowhere. If a cyclist can reach a city--and that is difficult enough by train because so few services now carry bicycles, such is

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British Rails's hostility--the policy in cities should be public transport, pedestrians and cycling. There should be priorities, but there is none, which is why cyclists are on the rampage.

They used to be the most courteous and considerate road users and the least dangerous--one rarely hears of pedestrians being killed by cyclists. However, cyclists in cities are under such pressure that they cycle on pavements and through parks, and their terrorism is displayed by hostility to authority--cycling without lights at night and with no audible means of announcing their presence.

There is a huge criminal underworld in cycle theft. I had three bikes stolen near the Palace of Westminster in the past 10 years--cut from their chains. I am told that one of the most lucrative forms of theft requires only a van and a pair of cutters. One can earn £1,000 a morning cramming bicycles at £100 a piece into the back of a van. Main roads should be cleared of parked cars. Every morning, too many cars flashing hazard lights obstruct bus, taxi and cycle lanes. I want to know what my hon. Friend the Minister will personally do about that. It is no use saying that it is enough to paint lines indicating red routes. The army of traffic wardens should concentrate on the main arterial routes in and out of London in the morning. Although I would not impose a compulsory cycling proficiency test--more rules and regulations, which I am dead against--if cyclists are to be given more road space, they must be better behaved and more responsible. Paul Newman's book "Defensible Space" explains that human beings need so much space, and the problem on the roads today is that people have less and less space.

The cycling epidemic, and the mobility of the population, have led to environmental erosion on Dartmoor, and perhaps on Bodmin moor as well. More and more mountain bike riders are using the innermost parts of Dartmoor's wilderness. That national park authority is facing a serious problem between balancing the need to offer the park for leisure pursuits and preventing the irretrievable scarring of the landscape. My hon. Friend the Minister should consider that aspect. As to dumping, Britain builds the best bicycles in the world, yet, with many other countries, it is giving vast sums of money through the World bank to the Chinese to build bicycles in the most modern factories at a knockdown price because of the subsidies that China enjoys, and its low labour costs. Those bicycles are then imported in bits, which means that there is no problem with tax or limit on the volume. They are subsequently assembled in this country and sold at one tenth the price of a British-built bike. We must be crazy. What other nation would fund a third world nation to undercut and reduce the profitability of its own industry?

I said that I would make a short speech, and it is rare for me to do that. I promised to complete my speech in seven minutes, and I have now been speaking for six. I have one more minute. I shall use part of that time to talk about the millenium-led bid by SUSTRANS--in other words, sustainable transport. I am told that I should declare an interest because I am the vice-president of that charity. It is an imaginative and enterprising vision. A bid for £37 million has been made to the Millenium Fund to set up a cycle network from Plymouth to Inverness, to be

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completed by the year 2005 if the project is given the go-ahead. It would be possible to cycle from the west country to London. It is a good idea. West country Members could all cycle to this place. It would be possible to cycle from London to Dover, Holyhead, Glasgow or Aberdeen. We would be pedalling for the millenium. What a magnificent vision. I hope that the Government will back the idea.

Finally, we should have bells back on bicycles. This place knows about bells. Once we hear a bell, we start running. People should have bells on bicycles. There should be an audible warning when a cyclist is coming up behind someone. I hope that the Minister will respond to some of the points that I have made at such lightning speed.

11.11 am

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): I join those who have congratulated the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) on obtaining the debate. I only wish that it were longer, because there is more to say. Would-be contributors to the debate may be able to make their speeches on another occasion.

I think that the Government are helping cyclists. An old friend of mine, Walter Reuther, went to the Nissan factory in Japan in 1960. He saw cars being made, but he saw also that the parking lot was full of bicycles. He said to his hosts, "You will never build an auto-economy on bicycle wages." Thanks to current Government policy, we are moving to bicycle wages in the United Kingdom. As a result, more and more people are moving to the bike.

I agree that it is important to get bikes off mountains and away from natural wildernesses, and on to our streets. I am an urban cyclist. I tuck my trousers into my socks. I do not wear one of those silly gas masks. However, cycling through the slow-motion gas chamber that is Tory London is an extremely worrying health prospect. It is extremely dangerous. I was knocked off my bike soon after becoming a Member. I was knocked down by a car opposite the St. Stephen's entrance. The driver did not stop. I understand that that is now the official practice of Conservative Members in SW postal districts. Various policies have been advanced by hon. Members on both sides of the House. We await the Minister's reply with interest.

Mr. Steen: Then give him a chance.

Mr. MacShane: I shall give him a chance. I promise the House that I shall make the shortest speech in this debate.

In addition to the various policies that have been advanced, we need more symbolic acts that would not necessarily cost a great deal of money. First, we need to increase parking places for bicycles in London generally and here in this place. In Palace Yard, there are only six places for Members' bicycles. That provision is deplorably insufficient.

We need to instruct those engaged in all new road-building projects to incorporate either bicycle lanes or the dedicated tracks to which the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) referred. When we visit other European countries, we see evidence that these schemes are workable if the orders are given.

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It would be of great symbolic importance to the nation if Ministers were to decide that there could be a car-free day. "On your bike," said Lord Tebbit to the unemployed of the nation several years ago. I suggest that we should say, "On your bike," to Ministers, thereby encouraging them to set a good example.

I was impressed by those who talked about the problem of their children going to school on bikes. Living in Pimlico, I would not dare allow my girls to go to their school on their bikes. A car-free 20 minutes at about 9 am or 3.30 pm would be a symbolic gesture that would show our commitment to reducing pollution, reducing the number of cars on the roads--I accept that cars are important--and encouraging the use of bikes.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) about importing bikes from China. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that bicycles are quite expensive. They seem to have many gears and to incorporate much technology. It is difficult to buy a simple, boring, old- fashioned bike with only one gear and with no high technology. To equip a large family with bikes is a major cost. There are lessons to be learned from Europe and symbolic acts that Ministers could undertake. There is much improvement that we can offer from this place. The message should be: citizens of Britain and the world unite, you have nothing to gain but your bicycle chains. 11.14 am

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): The success of the debate is plain for everyone to see. I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) on ensuring that it took place. Our Wednesday morning sittings are currently up for review; they may not continue in their present form. Many Members have been squeezed out of this debate because of lack of time. They wanted to contribute to it. Let us ensure that these morning debates continue. I am sorry that so little time is left when so many Members want to speak. We have the opportunity now to draw attention to the Hovis National Bike Week, which will start next week. Let us highlight that and ensure through this debate that everyone throughout the country is involved in the debate about cycling, not necessarily by talking about cycling but by doing something about it. Perhaps we can set an example here and ensure that it is taken up throughout the country. In that way, we would make some real progress. By adopting that approach, we could ensure that the perseverance of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and other hon. Members on both sides of the House, who cycle frequently, achieves results. I put on record our thanks to the cyclists' public affairs group, the Cyclists Touring Club, the cycling campaign network and the London cycling campaign. I have not forgotten SUSTRANS, of course. I hope that all the organisations which are now lobbying us will continue to do so after the debate, which will help us to ensure that cycling is examined closely.

We have heard much this morning about how we can promote cycling. It is not that easy. We must make cycling safer, which means turning our attention to enforcement. I am concerned that traffic regulation work is no longer the priority that it once was to our police

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force. The Department of Transport must work closely with the Home Office to ensure that action is taken to make cycling safer in London and throughout the country.

We have heard a great deal about the health advantages that come from cycling, and they are indeed tremendous. By encouraging cycling, we could reduce the risk of asthma. We could deal with urban congestion by a better promotion of cycling. We must work closely with the Department of Health.

Children should be encouraged to start as they mean to go on, through the provision of safer cycle routes to school. As I have said, we must reduce urban congestion.

I should declare an interest, because I have a bike. I tend to use it only for excursions on cycle routes. I want to feel safe about cycling, and I want all the children in my constituency similarly to feel safe. I hope that the Minister will tell us how he proposes to work alongside his colleagues at the Department of Education. Money must be made available for pilot projects to introduce safe cycle routes to school. The guidance issued by the Department of Transport must take account of transport policy programme submissions. Local authorities should not regard cycling and provision for it as appendages to traffic proposals. Cycling must be integrated within those proposals.

I want Minister to say how he proposes to do that. As I have stressed, there must be safe cycling routes to school. Local authorities should work in conjunction with education departments throughout the country. There must be a switch to cycling. That will lead to a lessening of congestion in inner urban areas. Public transport is not the only answer. In addition, we must promote cycling and walking.

I would like to mention briefly the work of SUSTRANS. Reference has already been made to this wonderful visionary project: a national cycle network that will go the length and breadth of the country. I do not want it to go just up the east coast. I want it to go up the west coast as well. I want it to go through the various constituencies near the one that I represent. I want it to go from the west side to the east side, and that must be reflected in the bids that are made by local authorities.

We must have an undertaking from the Minister that, rather than the balance towards the roads programme, to which his Department has given money, he will be prepared to fund, with the SUSTRANS proposals, the cycling proposals that could give us a national network, which would then offer wonderful opportunities for tourism as well. Reference has been made to the railways. In the short time that the Minister has to reply, we really must hear how much further his Department is prepared to take forward the whole issue about bikes and trains.

We are already looking at the investment that is needed in the railways. The Labour party is absolutely opposed to the privatisation of the railways, but the Minister must tell us how far the Department of Transport will go to see what can be done to get the new train operating units prepared to introduce facilities for cyclists. Is it the case that the regulator, John Swift, will be prepared to go further on this issue? If we cannot get bicycles carried on trains, if we cannot get a truly integrated transport system, people will continue to be cyclists--like myself--who just go out on special excursions and do not make the journeys in inner- city areas and rural communities that we want to see.

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My message is that we must all go out and do what we can to ensure that we have a truly integrated transport system, and that cycling takes its place in that.

11.21 am

The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris): I agree with the hon. Member for (Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) about one thing: it is a great shame that these debates are not longer. It is one of the best that I have listened to in many years.

There is often a temptation for people who gather for a debate like this to translate the particular esoteric subject under discussion into the most important item on the national agenda, and it is perfectly natural that they should. I think that this is an occasion on which a group of hon. Members have recognised that this subject is treated as a poor cousin, and that it simply ought not to be. That was a theme that ran through all of the speeches today.

For me, it has been a very enjoyable debate in the sense that I believe that there has been agreement--on both sides of the House, with remarkably little exception--about what the agenda should be, about the challenges, about the dangers and the hazards, and about how we get there.

I start, as others have done, by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). I wonder whether I am the only Member of the House who has drawn, with some amusement and no little affection, a contrast between the present hon. Member for Blaby and his predecessor, Lord Lawson, of whom Commissioner Kinnock once said, "Lawson and energy-- now there's a contradiction in terms." How much our former right hon. Friend would have enjoyed this debate, I cannot for a moment imagine.

Then I come, of course, to the figure of my good self, probably the most unlikely convert to cycling that the House can contemplate, a man who has been--somewhat, erroneously, I may say--identified as an advocate of a car economy. It has indeed fed the Norris children for a few years, but I have no more interest in that than in any other part of the extraordinarily interesting portfolio that transport is. I say to the House, in all seriousness, that, as I have looked at the problem of how one deals with urban congestion in a modern city centre, over the past three years, with huge interest and enthusiasm, I have become convinced that this country has hugely undervalued cycling.

Let me put the figures into context. It came to me, as often happens, after one had spent a long time debating how we could get the best out of public transport. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who spoke from the Liberal Benches, was quite right when he said that all our great energy went into improving public transport, and rightly so; that is where the mega money gets spent. No doubt that will continue in many ways to be the case.

We have all been overlooking something that is staring us in the face. It came to me, I may say, in a statistical table that SUSTRANS itself deployed: in this country, about 2.5 per cent. of journeys are made by cycle, that the European average is 15 per cent., and in other cases it is higher.

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Earlier, from a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who I know enjoyed the earlier part of the debate, when cycling in this country was discussed and after somebody had mentioned Holland, said, "It's flatter." He is right, of course; it is indeed flatter. But the great mistake that we have made in this country is to say, "Of course they cycle in Holland, because it's flat."

The hon. Gentleman should have been with me in Birmingham, at the SUSTRANS conference, where we had an extremely interesting exposition from a Swiss delegate. Whatever one likes to say about Switzerland, it is not flat. The reality is that Switzerland has a cycle strategy, and there is a huge difference between the proportion of cycle journeys made there and in this country.

I believe that the crucial link has been mentioned already. If one really wants to know the difference between this country and others, it is the fact that, in Denmark, one is 10 times saferas a cyclist. That is why the Danes make 10 times more journeys by cycle than we do in this country. I do not think that it has anything to do with the weather or the terrain. After all, the terrain in this country differs hugely from town to town. Yet we see massive variations in cycling as a proportion of the total number of trips, depending on the community we are in.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) rose --

Mr. Norris: I did say to the hon. Gentleman that I would let him intervene, and as he is about as likely a cyclist as I am, I shall let him in.

Mr. Graham: I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. As he quite rightly points out, Scotland is very hilly. A week on Saturday, I am launching a Bobath cycle race for nearly 2,000 people in Scotland. For the Minister's interest, I have given up smoking. In the past 12 weeks, I have not had a smoke. I am hoping to go a least a couple of hundred yards, and perhaps the following year to do a hundred miles. I invite everyone in the House to come along and take part in that cycle race, which is a good healthy pursuit, an environmental pursuit, and at the end of the day is for a good cause.

Mr. Norris: The hon. Gentleman makes a shameless advertisement, which I applaud him for. I am delighted to say that I thought that he was looking rather well. I am glad that he has given up the evil weed. All I will say to him is, for goodness' sake, do not wear lycra. I can see him doing more damage to the lycra industry in one fell swoop than a mountain of urban terrorists have done in 10 years.

My dubious contribution to the Hovis National Bike Week--now there is a shameless advertisement on national television--will be to join a gentleman who I believe is called "Mr. Motivator". I had assumed that that referred to Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, but I am told that this gentleman is a televisual performer. He and I, and a number of hon. Members from both sides of the House, will be cycling to the Palace during this week.

Let me get down, if I may, in the last couple of minutes to some serious points that we must put on the record. It is about safety. It is about separating cyclists from other road users. It is therefore about priority. It is about pedestrians, cyclists, public transport, the private car and

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