Cycle safety takes centre stage in parliamentary debateShareThis
The campaign for better safety protection for cyclists and increased investment in cycling infrastructure of recent weeks rolled into parliament yesterday with a debate at Westminster Hall on issues surrounding cycling in the UK.
The parliamentary debate, which lasted three hours, saw 77 MPs attend the committee room at Westminster Hall which was also packed with stakeholders and other onlookers. Of the MPs, there were 33 Conservative, 29 Labour and 13 Lib Dem in attendance. Two government transport ministers, Norman Baker and Mike Penning, also attended the debate, with the former speaking on behalf of the government. 57 of the 77 MPs spoke or contributed at the debate.
All MPs who spoke yesterday, whether cyclists or not, were generally supportive of The Times’ recent Cycling fit for Cities campaign. The campaign triggered this parliamentary debate.
A mandate for action
Both Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat MP who proposed the debate, and his All -Parliamentary Cycling Group colleague Ian Austin MP made reference to The Times’ campaign achieving a breakthrough on the discussion of cycle safety in a very short time both publicly and politically.
Indeed Julian Huppert ended the proceedings at Westminster Hall by saying that the government had a “clear mandate” to act now and to act strongly on cycle safety.
Muted government response
Unfortunately, the response from government transport minister Norman Baker, who is a Liberal Democrat MP, was a little muted in terms of offering any hope for change in the short term at least.
Mr Baker was welcoming of The Times’ eight point manifesto to making cycling safer and detailed government action in each area but merely reconfirmed what the government was currently doing in these areas. On the question of investment into cycling infrastructure and cycle safety, he repeated that the government was funding cycling projects through the £540m Local Sustainable Transport Fund but was reluctant to commit to The Times’ suggestion that 2% of the Highway Agency’s budget should be ring-fenced for cycling projects specifically.
Mr Baker did offer one policy nugget during his speech. He stated that the government was examining changing the driving test so it included measures that would increase awareness of cyclists, plus some after-test training on the issue.
Mr Baker, who is a keen cyclist, spoke second to last at the debate and given the succession of MPs who had spoken positively on cycle safety before him he looked decidedly uneasy about having to tow the government line.
Labour pledges action
Labour’s transport spokesperson Maria Eagle MP took the opportunity in her speech to Westminster Hall to outline some policy commitments on cycling should Labour come to power at the next General Election. These pledges included a commitment that it would switch £100m of funding every year from the government’s total transport budget to fund separate cycle routes and infrastructure. She also stated that any future road and other major transport schemes should be subject to a Cycling Safety Assessment prior to approval.
Labour would also support traffic light phasing to give cyclists a head start, while in regard to HGVs and lorries, Labour wanted the coalition government to abandon plans to introduce longer lorries. On top of this, Labour wants the £23m income raised from the government’s HGV road charging scheme to go towards equipping lorries with safety equipment & awareness. She also announced that Labour will be holding a Cycle Strategy Summit which will be held on March 1st.
Ms Eagle said the progress for change was about political will as much as it was about money. Like many of the MPs speaking at the debate, she bemoaned the abolishing of Cycling England by the present coalition government, calling it “a mistake” when it had only a £60m budget and was doing good work.
MPs highlight rural cycle safety concerns
Many of the MPs who spoke at Westminster Hall highlighted that cycling safety was just not a problem for urban cities but was also a rural problem, while a number of MPs highlighted the derisory sentences handed out to motorists where a driver has been convicted for seriously injuring or killing a cyclist through their dangerous or careless driving.
Ian Austin MP, in his speech, referred to a number of examples of drivers who have either injured or killed cyclists and who have walked away with community service and other minimal forms of punishment. He wanted Mr Baker to talk to his colleagues at the Ministry of Justice to see if current laws could be updated to protect cyclists more.
Though the debate leaned heavily on the safety aspect of cycling, MPs who spoke were keen to stress that cycling was not an unsafe activity and that the message from this parliamentary debate should also be about the “joys of cycling”, the health/economic benefits of the activity and of course the sporting prowess of our cyclists.
CTC urges action
CTC, the national cyclists’ organisation, called on Transport Secretary Justine Greening MP to support for an action plan for ‘more and safer cycling’, following the “hugely positive” debate on cycling at Westminster Hall. The CTC has also echoed calls from MPs for the restoration of Cycling England in order to co-ordinate delivery of this plan.
CTC’s Campaigns & Policy Director Roger Geffen said: “The wider public benefits of cycling span so many different Government departments, but so too do the actions needed to maximise those benefits The departments responsible for health, planning, climate change, air quality and environment, traffic law and policing all have roles to play, with similar ‘joined-up action’ needed locally. We urge the Transport Secretary to grasp the opportunity right now to get Olympic Britain back into the saddle.”
Rome wasn’t built in a day and change towards more cycle friendly policies may be sometime in coming but the parliamentary debate was an important step forward for the discussion of cycle safety issues in this country.
What is important now that is that we cyclists continue to keep the pressure on our local MPs to back The Times’ campaign on cycle safety.
As Ian Austin MP said at the end of his speech: ”Whether you’re Sir Chris Hoy or Victoria Pendleton, a club cyclist or commuter, if you ride once a year on holiday or you’re a parent who wants their child to be able to cycle safely – email or write to your MP. Go to their surgeries, persuade them to back this campaign.”
You can view the whole three hour debate from Westminster Hall on Parliament TV’s website or read the full debate transcript here.
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