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Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Chisholm: In a minute.

Such is the Government's commitment to the beef sector and such is our recognition of its importance to Scotland that the claims of the beef farmers are not being ignored, pending a review of whether they are justified. If any help is possible--I use the word "if" advisedly--it will have to take account of the tight expenditure provisions within which the Government as a whole have to operate. All the calls for European money ignore the fact that much of that will have to come out of general public expenditure.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Chisholm: I have only three minutes left, I so I shall take only one intervention, from the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning).

Mrs. Browning: Does the Minister recognise the difference between the situation facing beef farmers today and that of a year ago? The new situation has arisen because of high interest rates and the strength of the pound. On mixed farms, when beef was down, farmers could continue to survive through milk cheques and payments relating to other sectors, but now all sectors are down. That is why the current situation is such a crisis.

Mr. Chisholm: I accept that point. The Government are giving it further consideration, although some of the factors, such as high interest rates, have to do with the incipient inflation we inherited from the previous Government.

The hon. Members for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) and for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) referred to the deboning issue. I am well aware of the effect on the industry of the measures we had to take. Although the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee perceived the risk from that source to be extremely small, it was only prudent--given the policy of successive Governments of regarding public health as paramount--that we should take action to safeguard the consumer.

Time is running short, but I should like to refer briefly to the BSE inquiry referred to by the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will make an announcement about that soon. Time will not allow me to mention reform of the common agricultural policy, except to say that we are keen to achieve that, and CAP reform proposals set out in Agenda 2000 are an important step in the right direction.

As I have already said, rural policy reaches into almost every public policy. We have had an interesting and informed debate. The Government are committed to a living countryside and we are sure that the measures we are putting in place will ensure the maintenance of vibrant, productive local communities.

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10.59 am

Mr. Charles Clarke (Norwich, South): I welcome this debate, which is the first one on cycling for many years. It is particularly timely given the Kyoto conference on the environment and the Government's review of integrated transport policy. I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on that because they are following a course that will be extremely effective, and I want cycling to play its part in the debate.

I should declare an interest as chairman of the all-party cycling group, which has more than 40 members and is growing all the time. It hopes that the views expressed in the debate will be taken into account by the Government. I am sure that that will happen. I am particularly grateful to see that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, is present. He is well known throughout the House for his long-term commitment on this matter and for his campaigning to raise the status of cycling in various guises. I am sure that in the unfortunate circumstances of his party coming to power again, the battlefield means of transport would shift from the armoured personnel carrier to the bicycle.

The purpose of the debate is to stress the need for the Government to have a co-ordinated and coherent strategy to promote cycling in all areas. We believe that that strategy will reduce congestion, promote the Government's general environmental policies and promote public health. That is why we believe that cycling must be regarded as a vital part of the Government's overall transport policies.

I should emphasise that I speak not on behalf of the 1 million cyclists in Britain--although that figure is significant--but on behalf of many more people who would like to cycle if only they felt able to do so but are inhibited from doing so for a number of different reasons. The following figures sum up the current problem: 90 per cent. of children have bikes; 2 per cent. of them cycle to school; and 17 per cent. of cars travelling at 9 am every morning are taking children to and from school--an average journey of about 1.8 miles. The absence of cycling routes increases congestion, makes cycling more dangerous and makes the condition of our environment worse. We want to replace that vicious circle with a virtuous one.

Many people want to cycle, but fail to do so. A number of statistics support that claim. In 1975-76, 14 households in every 100 had a bike. Last year, 30 households in every 100 had a bike. That represents a dramatic increase in the number of bicycles in Britain--23 million bikes are kept by British households. In the past decade, however, bicycle usage has gone down by 20 per cent. at the same time as the ownership of bikes has doubled. That illustrates as well as any figure could the fact that many people want to cycle but are inhibited from doing so.

The pattern of cycling varies across the country. According to the 1991 census, 27 per cent. of people cycle in Cambridge; 18 per cent. in York; 15 per cent. in Gosport; 11 per cent. in Crewe; and 10 per cent. in Grimsby. I am delighted to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) is in his place because he has been a long-standing parliamentary advocate of cycling. In Norwich, the figure stands at 3 per cent., although we are trying to push it up. Those figures

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reveal the variety of bicycle use across the country, ranging as it does from the top level of 27 per cent. to 3 per cent. in cities such as Norwich. One must compare that with the 43 per cent. bicycle use recorded in Delft in Holland or Munster in Germany--what a dramatic difference.

As the Government's figures suggest, United Kingdom bicycle use is low when compared to that internationally. The figures show that 2 per cent. of journeys in the United Kingdom are made by bicycle, compared with 10 per cent. in Sweden; 11 per cent. in Germany; 15 per cent. in Switzerland--which is so flat, of course!--and 18 per cent. in Denmark. Those figures show that the number of people who cycle is not simply a matter of geographic convenience but depends on whether respective Governments have focused their policies on making such journeys work.

Consider what has happened in Munich, a great city which is not generally considered to be occupied by green cyclists, veggie eaters and all the rest of it. It has increased the number of bike journeys to work from 6 per cent. to 15 per cent. in the past three years by means of properly focused policies.

The scope for such an increase in bicycle use in Britain exists if local and national Government apply themselves to introducing policies to put cycling at the core of an integrated transport strategy. The Royal Automobile Club estimates that 8 per cent. of car journeys, one in 12, are of less than a mile. That is equivalent to a five-minute cycle ride--less if one is the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire. It also estimates that 25 per cent. of car journeys cover less than two miles, which is equivalent to a 10-minute cycle ride.

The desire to increase the use of bicycles also exists and has been admirably set out in the Government's discussion paper, "Developing an Integrated Transport Policy". Cycling is an option for the vast majority of people, including those under the age of 16 to whom many other forms of transport are not available. It is affordable and helps the poorest in our country. A journey by bicycle can be made door to door, a service which public transport, despite its advantages, often cannot offer. An increase in the number of journeys by bicycle would reduce congestion--one of the Government's principal goals--and cut CO 2 emissions in our atmosphere, so improving air quality and health.

What are the inhibitions on the use of the bicycle, given that so many people own a bike and yet fewer and fewer people are using them? There are three fundamental inhibitions that it is within the Government's power to address. The first and most obvious is the danger involved. For understandable reasons, many parents will not permit their children to cycle to school because of the risks involved. The second inhibition relates to the storage and security of a bike at the place of work or wherever the journey may end. The third inhibition relates to convenience and comfort.

We could attack the problems of danger if the Government committed themselves to creating an integrated high-quality network of cycle routes throughout our cities. The Sustrans initiative--I should declare an interest as one of its patrons--has been outstanding. It has made and will continue to make major improvements in

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the level of cycling, but its efforts are by no means enough. In every town and city we need an integrated transport route strategy to ensure that people can conveniently and safely cycle from home to school or to their place of work or wherever.

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