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I am pleased that my hon. Friend has given way; he has been very patient with me. My notes are upstairs, but the first quote that he used goes on to say that bicycle helmets are effective for everyone, but especially for children. He did not quote that bit. This measure will apply only to children. I considered whether it should apply across the board. I decided,
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because of the points that he has made, not to go ahead, but I think that the case for protecting children is overwhelming.
"Focusing on cycle helmets as the answer to reducing cycle accidents could detract resources from other more effective means of accident prevention. The promotion of cycle helmet wearing"
"should, therefore, form only one part of a broader strategy to promote cycling as a healthy, physically active, mode of transport. It should be accompanied by other measures for reducing the number and severity of cycle accidents, such as reducing vehicle speeds and traffic volume in urban areas, and the provision of a safer environment for all cyclists, including riders of tandems and tricycles."
It seems that efforts could be more usefully focused on that than on measures that could have effects, it is strongly suggested, on public health in terms of encouraging obesity, particularly among the young generation of today, who, if they do not cycle as children, are less likely to cycle in later life.
David Cairns: I apologise to my hon. Friend for missing the preamble to his speech. Much as I am enjoying hearing him reading out the House of Commons Library brief on the debate, the thrust of his argument appears to be that the Bill would lead to a substantial reduction in the number of people who are bicycling. In that case, why does he think that the Bill is supported by Halfords, the largest retailer of bicycles? It cannot just be because it also sells helmets. Helmets are far cheaper than bicycles. Surely, it will have made a business case. If it thought that the Bill would lead to an enormous tailing off in the number of people buying bikes, it would not support the Bill.
Mr. Lazarowicz: I think that we heard earlier that there are those within the industry who are against the Bill. There is a range of views on the matter. I am sure that Halfords has considered the matter carefully in reaching its opinion on the Bill.
As my hon. Friend rightly indicated, the question has to be seen in its overall context. I am extremely sceptical about the Bill. I have indicated that I could still be persuaded, certainly as far as cycling on the road is concerned, but the proposals on cycling off the road go much too far. What concerns me are the possible public health consequences.
The issue that must influence our final decision is the balance between the lives to be saved as a result of the Bill, and its downside in terms of public health. I do not
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want to repeat statistics that, I accept, could be met with other statistics, but it is the case that we have an increasing obesity epidemic in this country. Obesity is becoming more of a serious problem among children in particular. When not just the more opinionated organisations within the cycling lobby but a wide range of reputable organisationsthose that are somewhat removed from the high emotions on the subjectexpress severe concerns about the public health consequences of the Bill, that should make us think before going ahead with it in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle suggested.
Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that common sense has its place, too? As I was cycling in this morning, I was navigating a busy junction near Brixton and I cycled past someone who had a helmet onfull marks for thatbut who was also using a mobile phone. Does my hon. Friend think that common sense and education have their place in reducing injuries among cyclists on the roads?
Mr. Lazarowicz: I am not entirely certain what my hon. Friend's point is in relation to my argument, but I am certainly to happy to agree with him. As I was cycling to the House of Commons yesterday and while stationary at a red traffic light, I was almost knocked off my bike by another cyclist who went past me at high speed and through the red light. Such behaviour by cyclists is as reprehensible as any breaking of the rules of the highway by other users of public highways.
Mr. Dismore: Perhaps my hon. Friend could tell us whether the cyclist who sped past him and through the red light was wearing a helmet. One of the important arguments is that helmets can sometimes provide a false sense of security.
Mr. Lazarowicz: Although I was stationary, I was wearing a helmet, but the cyclist who went past me at high speed was not. I am afraid that is a point against my hon. Friend's argument. Because of the speed at which the other cyclist was travelling, I was not able to see whether it was my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce) who went past me at high speed.
Mr. Russell Brown: My hon. Friend suggested that he could be won over and said that he saw some sense in a Bill to deal with cycling on the public roads. However, I remind him that the research paper from the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust showed that 90 per cent. of injuries to child cyclists occur off-road.
As I have indicated, I want to weigh all sides of the argument. If that research is accurate, it may well persuade me not to support the Bill at all. If the issue is off-road cycling, we must ask ourselves whether we should put into effect a measure that would make it illegal for parents to allow young children to cycle around their local public park. That is what the Bill would do. If that it is what we are really proposing, we may be approaching the issue in the wrong way. Perhaps it should be a question of encouraging the wearing of bicycle helmets rather than legislating if legislation has such effects.
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Ms Munn: I agree with much of what my hon. Friend has said. Is it not sensible that, in off-road conditions, parents or carers should decide whether the circumstances merit the wearing of helmets? In the case that he described involving his five-year-old daughter, wearing a helmet was probably not necessary.
Mr. Lazarowicz: Indeed. The problem is that I do not see how to include in legislation an option for parents to decide whether the wearing of a helmet is appropriate. It would be impossible to draft a Bill that would cover such eventualities.
It had not been my intention to speak at such length. I have never been in favour of talking out measures by making lengthy speeches, but I do not think that I can be criticised for that on this occasion, because my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle spoke for an hour and took many interventions. However, if we are trying to reduce injuries not just to child cyclists but to all cyclists, our emphasis should be on considering the whole range of conditions on the road. Although they do not make cycling dangerous, they make it more dangerous than it ought to be. They certainly give the impression to many non-cyclists that it is more dangerous than it actually is. Many measures could be brought into effect widely throughout the country to encourage safety for all road users, but particularly for cyclists. The Government have done a lot of good work, with all-party support in some cases, to promote road safety. The overall promotion of road safety is the most pressing need if we are to reduce injuries and deaths among all road users, and particularly childrenwhether they are cyclists, pedestrians or passengers in motor vehicles.
Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 163 (motion to sit in private):
The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 25.
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