Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Listowel: I have put my name to this amendment. I strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, has said. I underline the fact that there has been a revolution in the view of the British Medical Association since its 1999 report on cycle helmets. The summary of evidence in its November 2004 briefing on this subject states:

A concern in the past has been that children would be discouraged from taking healthy exercise by the introduction of obligatory helmets. That is an understandable concern when there is so much anxiety about obesity in children.

The BMA also finds:

It is late. I shall not tire your Lordships much further tonight. This is a very important measure in improving protection for children and in protecting families from the distress that such accidents cause children. I urge the Committee to support at least the principle of the amendment. I hope that the Minister will be able to say that the Government might consider returning with something along the lines of this amendment. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Baroness Hanham: May I intervene briefly on the amendment and ask the movers, because I have not had a chance to speak to my noble friend Lord Swinfen about it, who will be responsible? As far as I can see, under the clause there is a person responsible, but if you were to prosecute this, in law, as things stand at the moment, it is just somebody. It could be a parent; it might be a guardian. It does not say. It might be a
26 Oct 2005 : Column 1284
schoolteacher, but it does not say. What happens when the child goes out cycling on his own without his helmet on and falls off, which frequently happens? The amendment suggests that the provision relates to somebody, but it does not say who it is.

The Earl of Listowel: I note what the noble Baroness says. I am sure that the amendment is faulty in several ways, but I note that 20 states in the United States now have legislation along these lines and that there is legislation in Norway, Australia, New Zealand and several other countries. So, while I accept that the amendment itself may be faulty, I hope that she may feel able to support the principle in another better-phrased amendment brought forward on Report.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: I support in principle Amendment No. 160. It seems to me that the saving of one child from death or injury would prove the worth of the amendment.

Lord Berkeley: I have a few problems with this matter. Of course it is a good idea to wear crash helmets. I wear one when I am cycling. But making people do it, and with the problems already identified, I think that you must be a little careful. We must also look at the proposal in a proportionate way. Why do we not make all pedestrians wear helmets because they might be run over by a car? We have to stop somewhere. I am looking at the transport statistics. We are talking about 500 child pedal cyclists casualties in 2004 out of a total of 2,800 casualties, so it is not a huge number—although of course any casualty, as other noble Lords have said, is serious. How would we enforce it? Should we make this provision rather than say something to pedestrians about wearing helmets for protection? It they are going to drive one of these people movers, whatever we call them, around should they will have to wear a helmet with a yellow light on top? I am not sure how practical this is and really how much benefit it would bring compared with all the hassle.

The Earl of Listowel: I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, says. I recall what he said at Second Reading of his own experience of cycling in Oxford and having a high-speed vehicle—I think an ambulance—passing him. I cycled for seven years in central London on a daily basis. In the end I decided that it was unsafe and to stop cycling. It is far more dangerous to be on a bicycle, certainly in central London, than it is to be a pedestrian.

If you look at the evidence from the BMA—and I hope perhaps on Report we might have a doctor speaking—wearing a helmet makes a considerable difference in terms of the level of harm caused to the brain by such accidents.

10 pm

Lord Berkeley: I believe that wearing a helmet is right. I question whether the provision should be in primary legislation. I think that persuasion is the right
26 Oct 2005 : Column 1285
way. The Government are doing a great deal to help to persuade responsible parents. I worry about it being in primary legislation.

The Earl of Listowel: I know that it is late. However, there has been considerable progress in recent years in encouraging people to wear helmets. A particularly resistant group has been boys. A noble Lord was telling me earlier how difficult it is to persuade his son to wear a helmet. If it is obligatory by law, it will make it easier for parents to insist that their children wear the requisite headgear. As a young man, I remember seeing friends cycling without proper protection. I shall not tire the Committee further.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful for the chance to intrude on the conversation. I congratulate the noble Lords on conducting a mini debate which has helped to elucidate the issues. Perhaps I may say how much I respect the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in moving and speaking to the amendment. They are right to focus on accident rates for children. We are all concerned with any deaths but in particular to young people.

I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Berkeley for putting the issue into context. I wish to emphasise how well we are doing on cycling. Cycling deaths are quite a low proportion of total road accidents. We have seen deaths and serious injuries for child cyclists reduced by 47 per cent compared with our baseline which was the average of 1994–98.

Earl Attlee: Could that welcome reduction be because they are wearing crash helmets?

Lord Davies of Oldham: That is a factor but given his noble friends' due regard for research, they propose the amendment because they do not believe the wearing of cycling helmets meets the safety standards. The wearing of cycling helmets may be a factor. The amendment is before us because young children do not in large numbers wear helmets. Nevertheless, we have got cycling accident rates down. We would say that that is because we have concentrated a great deal of energy on the issues of improving child cyclists' safety. Our programme includes the education of children and their carers about the dangers implicit in cycling, publicity, better child cycle training and improved infrastructure. It also includes the promotion of helmets because we are concerned, as are noble Lords, to see the wearing of helmets increase.

Noble Lords will recognise that I have some difficulty in accepting the notion of the compulsory wearing of helmets. We are concerned to increase cycling. It is healthy for children. It is an excellent way of getting about. We want to encourage it. Increased exercise is a major part of our strategy to deal with child obesity. Cycling is an excellent form of exercise so we want children on their bikes.
26 Oct 2005 : Column 1286

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said that children are not put off by helmets. We are not convinced of that argument. We are fearful that if we indicate that you cannot get on your bike without a helmet the use of cycles will decrease and that will be our loss in so many ways. We are concerned about that factor. We are at one with the noble Lords who introduced the amendment in seeking to bring home to those who cycle the advantages of wearing helmets and we shall proceed to do that. We will also follow a whole range of strategies for increasing safer use of bikes by children.

We have a big programme on cycle safety rolling out in the coming year. We have common objectives in mind. The question is whether those objectives would be realised through making helmets compulsory. At present we are not convinced of that, but we are keeping a very open mind on it. We regard the issue of such salience and significance that we are looking at every strategy that can be deployed to reduce cycling deaths. So we have an open mind and we will carry out our research. But, for the moment, we are worried that the compulsory use of helmets might reduce cycling, which would be a loss to the nation.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page