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House of Lords

Wednesday, 24th March 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

The Earl of Jersey--Sat first in Parliament after the death of his grandfather.

Cyclists: Observance of Traffic Lights

Lord Brougham and Vaux: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Geddes, and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether there are any circumstances in which the law permits cyclists to ignore red traffic lights.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, no.

Lord Brougham and Vaux: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that clear response. Could not the police take more vigorous steps to support the law and prosecute more cyclists who jump traffic lights and maim and injure people, as happened to my noble friend Lord Clark? How many cyclists--if any--have been prosecuted for jumping traffic lights and maiming and injuring people?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, such statistics are kept by the police authority area and I am therefore unable to give a national figure. As the noble Lord implies, the figure is relatively small. Cyclists are subject to exactly the same restrictions as vehicular traffic, but police enforcement is more difficult. However, it is also true that in terms of accident statistics the number of people injured is extremely small compared with the number of those injured by motor traffic.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have been a cyclist for many years--and, of course, I have never been through a red light? Does my noble friend agree that when traffic junctions are made cyclist-friendly by providing cycle lanes and signals, cycling becomes safer and more attractive and the behaviour of motor car drivers is modified?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am well aware of my noble friend's interest and recreation as a cyclist, and even more so of his law-abiding nature. He is correct in saying that where road space allows it is better to provide dedicated cycle routes. Some local authorities may have decided at some junctions that it is better to allow cyclists to move closer to the lights. However, that does not imply that they have any greater freedom

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to ignore the light signals. Those road markings and dedicated routes are a major contribution towards road safety and encouragement of cycling.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, I am sorry to see that the noble Lord has a bad arm. I hope that he has not fallen off his bike. Does a cyclist dismounting and walking from one pavement to another constitute a bicycle crossing the red light or a pedestrian with a cycle crossing a red light?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his solicitude. My injury is nothing to do with cycling either as a victim or as a cyclist. The question he raises probably requires a written reply. I understand that if one is pushing one's bike in most circumstances one is regarded as a pedestrian. However, I shall clarify that in writing.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, as regards the Minister's initial Answer, would a police constable on a push bike going across a red light be breaking the law whereas his colleague doing so in a panda car would not?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. I understand--again the answer is subject to clarification--that no vehicle is allowed to cross traffic lights. There are, however, mitigating circumstances in relation to police in pursuit. I believe that that is the answer.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of the tantalising problems with which he is being asked to deal could be resolved if we had something like the law of Switzerland where pedestrians are not allowed to ignore the red light?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the laws in this country regarding pedestrians are not as tight as those in Switzerland and the observance of signals is not as effective. However, the reality is that enforcement problems and police priorities would prohibit too much attention to creating new offences for pedestrians in this country and would not constitute a great deal to road safety.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: My Lords, perhaps I may assist the Minister. A cyclist wheeling his cycle remains a vehicle and does not become a pedestrian unless he carries it above his head. Perhaps I may further assist my noble friend. The only way to deal with cyclists is to follow the practice in China where all cyclists have index numbers and can therefore be traced.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's clarification from her vast experience of these matters. Even in her experience, I am not sure how many cyclists she has seen carrying cycles over their heads.

Registration would be an enormous administrative effort for few results. Given that a large proportion of the 20 million cyclists are children, there would be

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difficulty in identification and it would not contribute substantially to road safety. In the days when the cycle was the primary means of transport in China, things may have been different. In this country, registration would be a diversion of administrative and police resources.

Lord Annan: My Lords, is the Minister surprised at the number of Questions asked in the House over the past few months concerning cyclists? Hardly ever is a Starred Question asked about motorists' behaviour. I refer to road rage and the fact that a motorist may mow down and kill a child and then be fined £200 for careless driving. There are other offences concerned with parking which always seem to arouse great fervour and irritation on behalf of the motorist. Does the noble Lord think that that is an indication of the class war?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not sure I can make that analysis. However, in response to the first point, I initially found the strength of feeling in this House for and against cyclists somewhat odd. The prime road safety problem in this country relates to driver behaviour and driver error. We are looking at road safety strategy in my department. We hope to draw up a comprehensive road strategy before the end of this year. The main attention will be on motorists and those who are affected by motorists although we shall not ignore the situation of motor cyclists and pedal cyclists. However, the balance in this House has on occasion seemed to me to be inappropriate.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, is there any law which permits bicyclists to ride on pavements?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, no. In general, bicyclists should not be on the pavements. However, there are some pavements which have been designated dual purpose by local authorities.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, does the Minister agree that spending 20 minutes outside your Lordships' House is quite instructive, especially of an evening? One sees cyclists not only going through red lights but also not having lights on their bicycles. However, one sees police vigilance where bus lane discipline is concerned. Are not these matters getting slightly out of proportion?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I believe that the vast majority of cyclists, even in our city at going home-time, are law abiding and observe the law in relation to lights and traffic lights. Of course, a significant number do not, but they create a substantially smaller problem than motorists who fail to observe the law. Those motorists create their own road safety problems and, indeed, contribute substantially to the number of injuries in this country whereas, by and large, with a few unfortunate exceptions, cyclists do not.

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2.41 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What evidence they have for their statement that Liberia has been supporting the rebels in Sierra Leone with military supplies.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, we have no doubt that Liberia had been supporting the rebels in Sierra Leone with military supplies. The intelligence we have is clear and specific, but I know the House will understand that I cannot go into detail. Perhaps I may add that we are not alone in that view. Our view on the matter is shared widely across the international community.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the Minister consider it contrary to natural justice to make serious accusations against the head of a friendly state without producing one shred of evidence to support them? Does she agree that when the Foreign Minister of Liberia went to see the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, recently, he asked him what the evidence was? He also asked the State Department when he went there and it would not even disclose it to him in private.

Is the Minister aware that when he made inquiries of friends in the United States they told him that the State Department purported to have photographs showing lorries carrying weapons crossing the international frontier between Sierra Leone and Liberia, but that there is only one crossing place along the whole of that 250-mile border, along which runs the Mano river; that is, at a bridge manned by the ECOMOG forces? Therefore, how can the Minister say that such weapons and troops are transported across the international frontier?

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