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Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): Hon. Members are listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman, whose comments we support. Given the role of district and borough councils and the highway authorities, which are often county councils, one of the best things would be to encourage those organisations to work out what would help their staff to travel to work by bicycle. They should make all their staff, not just the bicycling officers, sensitive to what could be done easily, fast and cheaply to encourage bicycle use. That would set an example that could be followed by other employers.

Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and I agree that the role of employers is critical. They spend large amounts of money subsidising company cars and other items which are not in their best interests and, in many cases, it would be much cheaper and better for them to encourage their employees to cycle to and from work where that is feasible.

We need a high-quality integrated network of cycle routes throughout the country. The Cyclists Touring Club has estimated that it would cost £130 million a year over 10 years to establish such a network. Compare that with the expenses incurred in my region, the eastern region, on motorway building. The estimated cost of projects and schemes in preparation for the widening of junctions 10 to 14 of the M1--as recorded in the Government's roads review, so the work may not go ahead--is £228.5 million. Compare that with the £130 million needed to develop a national cycle network.The M1 junctions 6 to 10 widening will cost £105.9 million,and the A14 improvement, £122.3 million. Those are some of the schemes in my region. The cause of the nation's health and the environment would be advanced if, in the Government's roads review, they tried to put that integrated high-quality cycle network in place throughout the country, rather than widening a few bits of motorway and adding sliproads here and there.

It is particularly important to focus on the issue of safety around schools--the reduction of car speed and protected access to the cycle route are crucial. Experience abroad shows that the more cycles are used, the less dangerous cycling is. Some of the fashionable newspapers are portraying cyclists and pedestrians as being in conflict. When such a conflict occurs, it is bad, but it is nothing like as bad as the conflict between the cyclist and the motorist, as a result of which the cyclist may end up dead or seriously injured. The way to deal with that is to ensure that cyclists are not forced to choose between dangerous roads and illegal pavements. There should be a proper cycle route.

Secondly, on storage and security, it is critical that when people cycle to work or school, they can leave their bike in safety and park it in a proper facility, and that there should be facilities for them to shower, change their clothes and store their cycling gear.

The intervention of the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) was extremely pertinent. Several employers are taking initiatives and working with

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Transport 2000--for example, the Royal Mail, Hewlett Packard, the Body Shop and a number of public sector bodies--to try to achieve the kind of co-operation to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I hope that as part of the integrated policy, the Government will approach employers and employers' organisations to encourage cycle use among employees, and that the Government, as a major employer, will do likewise.

In schools, cycle storage is not available now, as it used to be. Some heads actively discourage children from cycling to school. I was about to make a joke about the historic role of the bike shed in British education, but perhaps that would not be appropriate in a tidy debate such as this. Government support for schools to provide proper storage facilities for bikes is an important element which the sustainable roads for schools programme seeks to encourage.

Mr. Peter Bottomley: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the people who can influence others, such as teachers, school governors going to their meetings, and parents, started cycling instead of pointing the finger and telling other people to cycle while they themselves go around in their 1.5 tonne steel waistcoat with the radio blaring, it would be far more likely to help others to put that into practice? Could we start by encouraging Westminster city council, with or without the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to put an advance stop line for bicyclists at the bottom of Whitehall, and make a bicycle lane as well, and perhaps close the gates of the House of Commons car park for one day a year?

Mr. Clarke: I entirely agree. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the all-party group had a useful meeting yesterday with the councillors who chair the environment and transport committee of Westminster city council, and also with the people who run the royal parks. We spoke about the specific matters that the hon. Gentleman raised, and also about general issues. The councillors said that they were committed to providing proper bike parking around the Palace of Westminster for visitors. We are pursuing the matter with the Serjeant at Arms.

I take this opportunity to advertise the fact that 10 June next year will be National Bicycle Day--the Wednesday in the middle of National Bicycle Week. We will be organising a bicycle ride in which we hope that as many Members of Parliament as possible will do their bit to encourage people to cycle to work that day, as the hon. Gentleman suggested.

Mr. David Lock (Wyre Forest): Does my hon. Friend agree that the integrated transport strategy is crucial, and that more than one Department has a role to play? May I invite him to develop his argument on the role of employers and to reflect on the role of the planning authorities, which receive applications for new places of employment? Does not planning policy provide a great opportunity to require and encourage employers to make proper facilities available, so that they are built into every new place of work?

Mr. Clarke: I agree with my hon. Friend--and especially with his point that it is a matter not just for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, but for a wide range of Government

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Departments, including the Cabinet Office, which is at the centre of government as an employer. The national health service clearly has an interest in promoting health, and hospitals and health facilities are both a massive employer, and places where a massive number of people go. The Department for Education and Employment has a critical role to play in promoting safe cycling to school.

On planning, I agree that the goal should be to reduce out-of-city building, and to plan new developments--retail developments, hospitals, places of work or whatever--with the shortest possible lines of communication between the development and the people who are likely to go there. That in itself would encourage transport by bicycle.

Thirdly, with reference to comfort and convenience, I shall cite the results of a controlled exercise: a cyclist took 13 minutes to cover the 3.5 miles from Camden lock to St. Paul's cathedral. The same journey took 20 minutes by cab, 29 minutes by car, 32 minutes by tube and 40 minutes by bus. That is an interesting illustration of the fact that the bike can be convenient, effective and speedy. If we could simply solve the problems of danger and proper storage, people would choose to use the bike, because of the convenience.

That also involves a proper exchange between the bicycle and other forms of transport--the fashionable term is intermodal transport. The obvious example is the train, and the argument entails another virtuous circle--if proper bike parks are available around commuting stations, more people will cycle to the bike park, leave their bike securely and travel by train, rather than driving. That would increase business for the train company and benefit the environment.

I am pleased to say that Anglia Railways, which is the train operator between London and Norwich, has won several awards. The company is grateful to the Minister for Transport in London for presenting those awards at a ceremony at Liverpool Street station a few months ago. Anglia Railways removed travel restrictions on bicycles, reduced the bicycle fare from £3 to £1 and was awarded the first cycle mark by Sustrans at the presentation that I mentioned. The company has further plans to increase capacity for cycles by January next year.

Such initiatives are important. In the context of convenience and cost for cyclists, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) for her determined campaign for the granting of cycle allowances by the House and more generally. She is working extremely hard, with our full support.

I hope that I have made the case that the Government could make a big difference to cycle use in Britain by drawing up a coherent and co-ordinated strategy. That would improve the health of the nation and the environment, as other countries have shown. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is committed to that course, and I hope that she and her colleagues in the Department will listen to the contributions in the debate and reflect our concerns in the White Paper to be published at the beginning of next year.

11.19 am

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell): I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) on securing this debate this morning. It is important not least because the House rarely gets to

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debate this issue--I am not sure that there has been a debate specifically about cycling in this place before. Cycling is vital to the creation of an integrated transport strategy. We expect to hear news today from Kyoto about the outcome of the climate change conference. Sadly, it is likely that any proposals will be inadequate. Nevertheless, changing our transport system and encouraging people to use non-polluting forms of transport is crucial to securing reduced pollution levels and improving our climate.

"Get on yer bike" was a phrase somewhat abused by the previous Government, but it is an increasingly important option in the face of unsustainable growth in road traffic. Cycling is both healthy and non-polluting, and it can play an important part in developing an efficient, integrated transport system. That said, there would be little point in this place's pretending that, in the next 10 years, for example, the bicycle will overtake the car as the preferred form of transport for many types of journey. However, the car need not be people's first preference for every type of journey, as it is at present.

The car should be only one of many ways of getting from A to B--and it should certainly not be the mode of transport most encouraged by Government policy in terms of planning, the roads system and the tax system. In a properly integrated transport system, people should be able to use different travel combinations--car, public transport or bicycles--depending on what is most suited to their journey, and they should have the facilities that make their choice practical.

At present, the car is not only over-used but literally pushing everything else off the road. The Liberal Democrats have long argued that providing everyone with the means to reach work, shops and schools is possible sustainably only if different forms of transport do not conflict with each other and are brought together in an integrated transport strategy. We must ensure that the car does not overwhelm other more environmentally sound ways to travel. We must make travelling much more straightforward so that people do not always feel the need to turn to their cars.

For example, if a train passenger were able to leave his bike at a station in a secure place or take his bike on the train to use at his destination without excessive restrictions or penalty fares, the journey would be quicker and simpler than one that involved sitting in traffic or parking the car. However, in truth, the current rail system is more often a foe than a friend of cycling because it places many obstructions in the way of cyclists. The challenge is to create a system in which cycle routes link with public transport over longer distances so that green transport options are not only the most sustainable but the easiest route to follow. We need to integrate cycling literally into our transport system.

I am pleased that the Government have recognised the urgent need for a complete overhaul of our approach to transport in Britain with the publication of the integrated transport consultation paper. I look forward to the outcome of that process and I hope that cycling will play a full part in the document's conclusions. It is certainly a contrast to the ostrich approach that characterised much of the previous Government's transport policy. The Conservatives ignored the environmental and congestion problems and seemed to pull their heads out of the sand only to give the go-ahead to one road scheme

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or another. More often than not, such schemes did not relieve congestion but simply transferred it, thus exacerbating the problems that they were meant to solve.

To be fair, the previous Government eventually gave some recognition to the possible contribution that cycling could make to rationalising the transport system by introducing the national cycling strategy. That strategy, which has been adopted by this Government, seeks a fourfold increase in cycling by 2012. Given that cycling accounts for less than 2 per cent. of trips in this country--the hon. Gentleman referred to cycling levels in other countries, including 11 per cent. in Germany and 15 per cent. in Switzerland--an increase to 8 per cent. over the next 15 years is perhaps not such an ambitious target. In any case, the real issue is not the target but how Ministers intend to achieve it.

Today I shall briefly touch on some of the major schemes that have been developed to encourage cycling in Britain and how I believe that the Government could take them much further. The safe routes to school project, which has been referred to already, is funded basically by local authorities and Sustrans. It addresses one of the most pressing problems currently facing cycling in Britain: the problem of safety and, perhaps more accurately, of fear on the part of children who cycle and their parents. Nobody enjoys sitting in rush-hour traffic: it is both stressful and time-consuming. It is also often unnecessary. Much rush-hour traffic, especially in urban areas, is caused by people making short local journeys that could be made quickly and more safely in other ways.

The recent national travel survey found that, before 9 am during term time, about one in every five cars were taking children to school. On average, such trips are less than two miles long. If parents and pupils felt happy cycling or walking to school, there would be a great deal less traffic in the morning and thus less pollution and less danger. That would encourage more people to walk and cycle, thereby creating a virtuous cycle.

In contrast, a vicious circle exists at present. Increasing car use has made cycling and walking to school more dangerous, so more parents decide to use the car and school routes become even more dangerous. The safe routes to school initiative seeks to break that circle by taking people out of their cars and on to safe cycle routes that both parents and children can use without fear. That would get polluting traffic off the roads and help to reverse the declining level of fitness in Britain, thereby creating real long-term health benefits.

That is an excellent project, but it exists only because of funding from a charitable organisation and because some local authorities have managed to find the money. Limited funding means that the project is able to cover only a handful of areas. The Government must look closely at how they can expand their at present limited role and ensure that safe routes to school are available to all Britain's schoolchildren. That involves looking at planning guidance and reducing traffic speed around schools. For example, 20 mph limits around schools and active traffic-calming measures could be introduced. It means supporting schools in providing proper storage facilities for bikes and encouraging both parents and children to cycle. It also means providing local authority funding for that work--a point to which I shall return later.

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The National Cycle Network will provide another welcome boost to the campaign to improve safety for cyclists through the creation of 2,500 miles of traffic-free and traffic-calmed paths by 2000. I congratulate Sustrans on securing more than £40 million from the Millennium Commission to fund that innovative scheme, which involves planning cycle tracks along disused railways and towpaths and creating routes not only for work or school but for tourism. It will bring money into, and traffic away from, many of this country's most beautiful areas.

The National Cycle Network will bring the health and environmental benefits of cycling to many areas. However, many of its plans are running into difficulty or face substantial delay. Although it is a millennium project, very little of it will be completed by the millennium. Cash-strapped local authorities are finding it hard, if not impossible, to provide their portion of the funding for their sections of the cycle network. Many local authorities are experiencing difficulties in that area, and the case of Derbyshire was raised with me. The network route between Derby and Burton-on-Trent and between Derby and Nottingham has been postponed.

My home country of Cornwall has difficulty not only with its sections of the cycle network but with its own ambitious cycle path proposal, the Cornish way. The latter project has been on hold for more than a year since the Millennium Commission turned down an application for funding. The project aims to provide a network of eight routes throughout the county not only for cyclists but for walkers and the mobility-impaired. Given the Cornish economy's reliance on tourism, the delay is economically costly. Although the county council is providing all the funding that it can, the Cornish way scheme must now look to Sustrans for assistance. However, Sustrans has little to offer in the way of financial support. Meanwhile, the recently announced local government settlement has cut the county's highways budget even further in cash terms, which guarantees that even fewer discretionary projects will get off the ground.

All local authority cycleway spending has been under pressure since the previous Government's local transport settlement, which was announced last December and which cut the total money available for minor works and safety schemes from £177 million to £139 million. As that budget is the only source of funding for cycle measures, many local authorities, not just Cornwall, have had to suspend cycle schemes in this financial year. Safe routes for schoolchildren have had to be postponed, for example, in Cambridgeshire and in Hertfordshire, as have railway partnership schemes to improve facilities at stations for cyclists in Hampshire. That makes nonsense of the supposed national cycling strategy. We are falling further and further behind in pursuing the initiatives that we want.

At present, funding for cycling is simply not adequate. Research by Transport 2000 shows that just 2 per cent. of local authority transport capital spending goes to cyclists. By contrast, the German environment department recommends that its regional governments spend £20 per head on cycling, 100 times that spent in the United Kingdom, where local authorities are able to spare only 20p per head to turn motorists into cyclists. However much it may be argued that local authorities can transfer things, with that gap, we need to consider the overall funding system. A lot of funding could be found from

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the tax incentives and other incentives that are given to motorists to drive. That is a good source for the Government to consider.

Cycling can save money. Recent evidence shows that congestion on roads costs the nation £15 billion annually in terms of national health service, health and environment costs and the congestion's effect on the atmosphere overall. We will deal with that only by creating a genuinely integrated transport system, such as cycleways connecting people with school, work or other forms of transport. Funding must reflect the importance of such a system.

The Government have announced further cuts in local government standard spending assessments for transport in 1998-99. I urge the Minister to fight the corner for improved funding for those schemes to ensure that we have not only an integrated transport strategy but, as it were, an integrated budget strategy for the environment and transport.

I hope that Members of Parliament will win the battle to have cycling allowances alongside the generous incentives that we have for motoring. Perhaps at the same time the Minister could deal with the fact that, if members of the public who do not normally have access to this place cycle here, they are not allowed to park their bicycle, but are turned away. As cyclists are banned from locking up their bikes in the streets around Westminster, that seems an extraordinary system. I understand the security issues, but I hope that that rule will be changed.

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