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Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): My hon. Friend is right that there must be some level of risk. Over the past 150 years, however, have we not legislated consistently in terms of harm avoidance, and in terms of prevention being better than cure? As for being arrested for allowing children on bikes, surely common sense would prevail, in the same way that parents are not arrested at present for doing various such things. It is unlikely in the extreme that that would change in this instance.
Mr. Lazarowicz: If it is unlikely in the extreme that this aspect of the law would be enforced, it is questionable whether there is much point in the law in the first place. If we do not think that the law should be put into effect, why put it on the statute book in the first place?
Mr. Martlew: My hon. Friend's argument is lost on me. When he was talking about play areas, he said that we do not take away the play equipment but make the play safer. My Bill will not take away the bicycle but make the riding of the bicycle safer.
I was merely suggesting that there were various ways of incurring various types of injury. We are not talking about protecting people against all injuries; we are trying to establish whether the benefits
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of the Bill are proportionate to the downside. That downsidethe health implications and the problem of obesitydistinguishes this from measures relating to the wearing of seat belts and motor cycle helmets.
Mr. Pike : It is true that playground equipment, at least in Burnley, is much safer than it was when I was seven or eight, during the war. Steps have been taken to make it safer, and most positive councils have changed the playground surface to minimise injuries if children fall from the equipment. We have not stood still in that respect, so why should we do so in this instance?
Mr. Lazarowicz: Of course I am pleased that playgrounds have been made safer. Indeed, I was involved in such measures when I was in another area of politics. The Bill, however, would not just encourage higher safety standards; it would ban certain activities if a helmet was not worn. The logical corollary would be requiring children to wear helmets in playgrounds, because they still fall off even safe playground equipment.
Mr. Leigh: I have led a busy life ski-ing, riding and engaging in a number of extreme sports. The only serious injury that I have incurred was sustained 18 months ago in a playground. I broke my leg badly in two places when I was walking down a ramp 2 ft high. It was a brand new playground featuring all the latest safety equipment described by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike). I was in hospital for four days.
Mr. Russell Brown: We cannot wrap children in cotton wool. Certain injuries are reparable. I remember seeing the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) after he sustained his injury having severe difficulty in moving around the Palace. Broken bones are one thing, but head injuries are another. Serious head injuries are not easily repaired and may be fatal. We want to lessen the impact that an accident may have on a child.
Mr. Lazarowicz: Of course, and I should make it clear that I wear a helmet when riding a bicycle and encourage my children to do the same. I do not suggest for a moment that helmets should not be worn. It is a question of the possible negative consequences of a ban.
I said that I began to change my mind when I realised that the Bill would prevent children from cycling in parks without wearing helmets. My constituents then started to express their views. Obviously, Members must take account of how widely and how strongly constituents express an opinion, and I was surprised by
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the number of lettersnot a vast number, but certainly a fair numberthat opposed the Bill, in reasonable and measured tones. Members are not always able to represent their constituents' views in votes, but it does no harm to try to represent their views in the Chamber if there is no powerful argument against them.
Mr. Martlew: I am surprised that my hon. Friend, an experienced Member of Parliament, believes that those who shout loudest normally constitute the majority. A poll of 900 people showed that 80 per cent. of the public favoured my Bill. Did my hon. Friend talk to staff in accident and emergency departments, for instance?
It is true that those who shout loudest do not necessarily constitute the majority, but it is also true that the majority do not always produce the best arguments. That poll was taken among the general population. I am not sure what the result would have been if cyclists and those whose children cycle had been polled, but such a poll might have been more helpful.
Shona McIsaac: My hon. Friend says that it might have been more instructive to ask for the views of cyclists, as opposed to umbrella organisations. I discussed the matter with Mike Davis, editor of BIKEmagic, who put a discussion thread on the website and on that of RoadCyclingUK. That suggested that opinion on the Bill was fairly evenly split, but the "antis" were keen to stress that they were not opposed to the wearing of helmets, but were concerned about the compulsion issue. My hon. Friend seems to be saying that cycle helmets should never be worn.
Mr. Lazarowicz: If my hon. Friend thinks that I am saying that, she cannot have heard what I said earlierthree times, I believe. I support the wearing of helmets, and wear a helmet myself. The issue is what the consequences of a ban might be for public health and obesity rates.
Undoubtedly, if the Bill is passed some lives will be savedalthough the number may be disputedand many more injuries will be prevented. In debates such as this, Members tend to say that any measure that saves a single life must be supported, no matter what. That is a natural response, and of course if a life can be saved with no negative consequences we should take action to save even that one life, but actions designed with the best of motivesto reduce the number of injuries and save livesoften have unintended results elsewhere. It has been suggested, for instance, that safety measures designed to prevent a few deaths on the railways discourage rail traffic and hence lead to more deaths on the roads. This is a complex area, and we should take account of the knock-on effects of the best-intended measures.
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That is particularly important in respect of this Bill, and it brings us to the crux of the argument. If it were just a question of lives being saved by the compulsory wearing of helmets, no matter how few, I would certainly strongly support such a measure, but what concerns me is the evidence that, if fewer children rode bicycles, it would increase obesity and have negative public health effects. That might not be a consequence of this measure but the evidence and other arguments strongly suggest that it could be.
I want to refer to some of the views that have been expressed, albeit not at too great length. The first powerful arguments are those advanced in the Transport Research Laboratory study. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle referred correctly to the conclusion of that extensive, excellent study which stated:
"There is now a considerable amount of scientific evidence that bicycle helmets have been found to be effective at reducing head, brain and upper facial injury in bicyclists."
That is a correct and important point to make. It is a powerful argument, it would appear, in favour of the compulsory wearing of helmets, as proposed in the Bill, but my hon. Friend did not go through the other points in the TRL report. I do not blame him for highlighting that point because it was relevant to his arguments, but the TRL identified four criteria against which any measures for compulsory helmet wearing legislation should be judged. The first is
"There must be a high level of scientific evidence that bicycle helmets are effective in reducing the rate of head injury to bicyclists."
"The benefits to society and others of mandatory bicycle helmets must be convincingly demonstrated, mandatory bicycle helmets cannot be justified simply to protect individual adult bicyclists."
"is less easy to demonstrate . . . bicycle helmet promotion and legislation needs to be seen as one part of a broader package of measures which enhances bicycling safety."
"There must be good evidence to suggest that compulsory helmet wearing would not make the public health benefits of increased levels of bicycling significantly harder to obtain."
"there is some evidence that legislation may have resulted in decreased levels of bicycling . . . but there are confounding factors and no clear long-term trends. Attention needs to be paid to enhancing the bicycling environment generally rather than concentrating solely on the individual approach of wearing helmets."
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