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Mr. Drew: I am not sure that I entirely understand. Is this an insurance issue?

Charlotte Atkins: I am talking about whether it is advisable to accept new clause 13, which would require people to have reflective clothing to wear if they leave an illegally parked vehicle. Following an accident or breakdown, those leaving the vehicle would have to be visible to all concerned. In the highway code, we advise people on motorways—which is where they are probably most at risk following an accident, or when they have had to stop their cars for some other reason—to leave the site of the vehicle, because it will not be the safest of places. If they have reflective clothing, they should wear it when they leave, but we are not currently in a position to suggest that everyone should be required to have such clothing in their cars and to use it in such circumstances.

Mr. John MacDougall (Central Fife) (Lab): Many people who travel to Europe discover that there is a different system there, and find that inconvenient. How compatible can we make our regulations with a general move towards deregulation? Everyone would benefit from consistency.

Charlotte Atkins: We are working hard to secure consistency across Europe, as I shall demonstrate when I deal with the issue of bull bars. Everyone who goes to
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Europe knows what the rules are. I believe that the red triangle was a requirement in Europe before it was a requirement in the United Kingdom. Most people who take their cars abroad should and probably do consult the regulations to ensure that they are obeying them, but we are working on a range of directives with our European neighbours, and trying to ensure that we level up rather than down when it comes to safety requirements.

New clause 15 would make it compulsory for children under 16 to wear cycle helmets. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) explained his new clause very persuasively. I am familiar with his arguments because he presented them equally persuasively during the Second Reading debate on a private Member's Bill that he tabled, for which I was present. Members in all parts of the House supported him then, but there were some who disagreed with him.

This is a passionate issue. Everyone has to be passionate about child safety. Many parents will require their children to wear helmets when they go out on cycles on the road but do not wear helmets themselves, which seems a little odd. Most parents who are being responsible recognise that children are more vulnerable on bicycles than adults and therefore require them to wear helmets. I am certainly one of those parents. I ensure that my daughter has a helmet and wears it. Clearly, the safety of our children on the roads is a very high priority.

We are trying to increase cycling, whether it be off road or on. Sustrans has done a lot of good work in promoting and building the national cycle network. By 2003, deaths and serious injuries for child cyclists were down by 47 per cent. compared to the mid-1990s, which was our baseline, but we are in no way complacent. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle pointed out that Halfords has now changed its mind about the legislation. That demonstrates that it is taking the issue of cycle safety much more seriously. I hope that that means that it will promote cycle helmets much more rigorously, although I am sure that it does promote them.

We have ensured that we look closely at the education of children and their carers, put in place better child cycle training and improve the infrastructure. We have also improved the promotion of helmets. I will give some examples of what we have done. The highway code includes a section for drivers on using extra care when driving near cyclists. The practical driving test has been lengthened to ensure that the issue of vulnerable road users is addressed. The theory test question bank includes questions on vulnerable road users and hazard perception testing.

Probably one of the most important things that we have done is to introduce a new national standard for child cyclist training. Many people remember the old proficiency test. I in my ignorance a few years ago thought that it still existed. Nowadays, most cycling training is done by local authorities and it is patchy. We have brought back the national standard for child cyclist training. We have published "Arrive Alive", a highway code for young road users, which includes a section on cycling. We have worked with Disney on the cycle smart campaign to promote safer cycling among children.
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We know, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle, that helmet wearing among boys is far too low. Against the generally rising trend, the wearing rate for boys has gone down from 16 per cent. in 1994 to 12 per cent. in 2002. Inevitably, a large proportion of those not wearing helmets are young adolescent boys and they have accidents. It is a real problem that they do not consider the cycle helmet to be cool.

I am not able today to accept my hon. Friend's new clause but I give him a commitment, as the Minister who deals with cycling, to continue to look closely at the issue and to ensure that we do our utmost to promote helmets.

Mr. Martlew: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the time that she has given to the matter and to the thought that she has given to her reply. Unfortunately, not everyone has a mother like my hon. Friend. As she has said, usage among the most vulnerable groups is decreasing, despite the fact that we are spending a lot of money on it. Surely, sooner or later, we will have to say that the policy is not working and we will have to legislate. Other parts of the world have done so and the results are encouraging. The Government have to stop being too timid on the matter. I do not think that it will lose or win us votes at the election. We have to say that this is an issue, this is how we deal with it and this is how we save lives.

Charlotte Atkins: I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. The issue is not just about having a law, but about ensuring that we can enforce it. Our position on compulsion is to review the matter and I promise my hon. Friend that I shall take the matter seriously. We must ensure that provisions are workable and that there is no problem with enforcement.

4.45 pm

Mr. Martlew: I received a letter from the previous Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), who said that it would not be a problem for the police to enforce such a provision. Surely it is a matter for the Home Office and not the Department for Transport.

Charlotte Atkins: There is still a problem. If a youngster borrowed a bike and rode it on the road without wearing a helmet, who would be responsible? Would it be the parents of the child who lent the bike? Would schools and teachers be responsible for enforcing the provision, and if they did not, would they be responsible if someone rode a bike on the road without wearing a helmet?

We are trying to promote cycling to school along cycle routes and along roads, but we want to ensure that people cycle safely. I appreciate the point about helmets. We promote the use of helmets and I am surprised that, given their excellent new design—to my eyes, they look extremely attractive—young adolescents do not think that they are cool. The idea that someone having their head smashed open is cool is ridiculous.
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I cannot accept the new clause. I know that that will disappoint the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, although he will not be surprised. However, I promise to continue to consider the matter and to work with the cycling organisations. We have set up a new cycling body, which will consider a range of initiatives and I hope that it will also consider this matter.

On new clause 18, I share the concern of the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) about retro-reflective tape. The power to regulate the use of that material by statutory instrument is already available under section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, so the amendment is unnecessary. The Department has commissioned a review of the benefits and costs of mandating the use of that material and the right hon. Gentleman referred to that research. He said that it should have been available in February 2005, and he will be delighted to know that it is about to be published—by the end of March. I will place copies of the report in the Library when it is available.

The review has updated our understanding of the matter and suggested a more favourable cost benefit ratio than the previous research. The Department will now consider how best to take the matter forward. We are making progress. It makes sense to make large vehicles more conspicuous because that increases safety for people who are driving behind or coming alongside such vehicles.

On new clause 21, the Government take the safety of pedestrians seriously and support a new European directive requiring car fronts to be more pedestrian friendly. It will take effect later this year. We debated earlier whether the new clause would affect snow ploughs. I understand that it would apply only to cars below 2.5 tonnes. Normally, snow plough attachments would be attached to 4x4s, and most of those are above 2.5 tonnes. Therefore, such attachments would not be affected. However, we do not believe that new clause 21 is necessary. Although we do not want to see the unnecessary fitting of aggressive, chrome-plated bull bars to vehicles, and we support action to control such devices, we believe that the vehicle market and, to a large extent, the component market is international—as the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire pointed out—and therefore action to control them is best achieved at European level. Car manufacturers selling into Europe have already agreed that from 2002 onward aggressive bull bars will not be fitted to new vehicles. The European Commission has proposed a new directive, which contains strict standards for the design of such devices, both for new vehicles and as separate components. We believe that the directive will effectively ban metal bull bars while permitting devices that are safe, such as the rubber ones that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, which are even safer than the base vehicle itself.

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