Parliamentary debate: Cross-party consensus among MPs present shows government the way forward

Westminster Hall debate builds on back of The Times' Cities Fit For Cycling campaign

by Simon_MacMichael   February 23, 2012  

Westminster Hall cycling debate

Yesterday’s parliamentary debate on cycling saw overwhelming cross-party support expressed by the Members of Parliament present for a range of measures aimed at improving the safety of cyclists on Britain’s roads. The backbench debate, described by several present as the best attended they had witnessed, builds on the Cities Fit For Cyclists campaign launched by The Times newspaper.

While it’s clearly too early to say assess what impact the debate will have on policy or whether the debate is, as some hope, a watershed moment in cycling in the UK, it has sent out a clear message to the government that there are steps that can be done to improve conditions for cyclists.

In all, 57 of the 76 MPs present, many wearing badges supporting the newspaper’s campaign, spoke at the debate, which had been tabled by Cambridge MP Dr Julian Huppert, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group. A recording of the debate can be watched here, while Hansard also has a full transcript.

To anyone whose experience of parliamentary proceedings is limited to coverage of Prime Minister’s Questions or debates on issues that divide MPs along party political lines, yesterday’s debate provided a refreshing show of unity, irrespective of allegiance. Gone were the jeers, the cat-calls, the adversarial points-scoring that seem to be the norm.

Indeed, in his closing comments, Dr Huppert hailed the cross-party consensus that had been a feature of the three and a half hour debate, with member after member rising to express their support for The Times’ campaign, as well as pointing out specific issues within their own constituencies that also had national relevance.

All too often, MPs also spoke of constituents who had been killed on the roads while riding their bikes, and of how the victims’ families had urged them to do something to improve conditions for cyclists.

Ian Austin, MP for Dudley North, like Dr Huppert co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG), described The Times as having "achieved a breakthrough" that people within cycling have been trying to make for years and showed that "this issue will not go away."

Mr Austin, who had outlined the lenient sentences and bans handed out to motorists found guilty of killing cyclists, citing cases including those of Eilidh Cairns and Rob Jeffries, added that by signing up to The Times' campaign and joining the APPCG, MPs could pay a fitting tribute to their memory, and that of other cyclists killed on Britain's roads.

He also called for 20mph to be made the default speed limit in residential areas and for local cycling commissioners to be put in place, two of the proposals outlined in the eight-point manifesto put forward by The Times, and that cycling, like swimming, should form part of the national curriculum in schools.

Among the MPs to speak was Oliver Colville, who represents Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, who by his own admission has not cycled for a number of years, but whose proposals included banning HGVs from city centres during rush hour.

A number of MPs including Nia Griffith from Llanelli pointed out that while The Times' campaign focuses on urban areas, the speed of drivers on rural roads also created danger for cyclists.

That point was also underlined by Dr Sarah Woollaston, MP for Totnes, who described how she had fallen in love with cycling on a tandem 30 years ago, and said that "the joy of cycling" should not be forgotten.

She also called for use of the word "accident" to be dropped when reporting or discussing road traffic incidents, highlighting the human intervention that all too often results in tragedy.

On Thursday, speaking on BBC London News, Danny Williams of the blog Cyclists In The City, had said that the question MPs needed to ask themselves ahead of this afternoon's debate was, “'can my child cycle to school?’ I’d argue that in the UK at the moment, they can’t."

Dr Woollaston admitted that she wouldn't, pointing out that schoolchildren in her constituency faced the daunting and dangerous prospect of being forced to ride along a busy road if they wished to cycle to school, due to delays in putting in place a much-needed bridge at Littlehempston that would complete a cycle route from Exeter to Paignton.

Alison Seabeck, MP for Plymouth Moor View, highlighted the dangers facing cyclists at junctions, describing herself as a "lapsed cyclist" and describing how she had been knocked off her bike by a motorist who drove off. She added that while The Times' campaign focused on cycle safety, ultimately it would enhance the joy of cycling as well as its associated health benefits.

There had been fears among some observers that the debate might descend into calls for helmets and high visibility clothing to be made compulsory and for the focus to switch to anti-social cycling, but on the whole that did not happen.

Islington MP Julian Corbyn did highlight several times the issue of red light jumping cyclists – where he got the statistics from that the proportion doing so had fallen from one in two to one in four is unclear – but he was very much in the minority.

Speaking towards the end of proceedings, Labour’s Shadow Transport Minister Maria Eagle gave a speech that was one of the highlights of the debate. Lamenting the abolition of Cycling England, as several other speakers had done, she said that her party would commit £100 million a year to cycling if it came to power in the next election.

Speaking about the campaign launched by The Times, she said: “It has recognised that collisions involving cyclists are not simply accidents, but have a cause and therefore can be prevented. They are ultimately the consequence of our collective failure to do enough to make our cities fit for cyclists—the apt title of the campaign that The Times has launched as a result.”

Transport minister Norman Baker, whose responsibilities include cycling, outlined that cycling formed part of activities for which money has been set aside under the £560 million Local Sustainable Travel Fund, emphasising that 37 of the 38 tranche 1 projects approved had a cycling element, although it should be added that in some cases that is minimal.

He also responded on a point by point basis to the eight pillars of The Times’ manifesto for cycling, although his replies contained nothing new.

The point that cycling is, when all is said and done, a fun activity was underlined by Dr Huppert in his closing comments.

“This is an immediate issue, but we need to keep it going for the future,” he said. “It is not just about them and us: it is about making roads and cities that work for everyone.

“Safety is important. We should also remember all the great benefits of cycling: it is cheap, healthy, efficient, sustainable and fun. We must remember the sheer joy of cycling.

“Cycling must become a normal activity that people can engage in from eight to 80, and beyond both those ages,” he added.
“We can make a difference,” he concluded.

After the debate, Roger Geffen, Campaigns & Policy Director at national cyclists’ organisation CTC, said: “Following the hugely positive show of cross-party parliamentary support, the Government now has a clear mandate to get on with promoting ‘more as well as safer cycling’. It should seize the moment and draw up a co-ordinated action plan to create safe conditions for cycling, and to encourage more people to enjoy its benefits for our health, our quality of life and our wallets."

He continued: “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.”

Philip Darnton, former chairman of Cycling England and now executive director of the Bicycle Association, was among those observing the debate from the public gallery.

Afterwards, he told BikeBiz: "What a day! It was a tremendous turn out of MPs and not one voice raised against any aspects of cycling. It was a triumph of cross-party conversation about the future of cycling. What we need now is to turn this into something concrete and long-lasting.

"We need now a strategic approach to cycling, handled like road safety, which is cross-party, consistent and with continuity. Cycling needs a level of funding, for ever," he added.

14 user comments

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Lots of calls in the debate for bringing back Cycling England.

Cycling England cost peanuts and delivered the goods. It also gave a central point for all things Cycling, and helped join up different Govt depts. Transport, Education, Health etc.

Lets hope the strength of feeling and general levels of support are reflected in some Govt action.

President of the Bicycle Assoc of GB and Bike Hub committee member

Mark Bickerton
UK for Tern Bicycles, Biologic

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posted by Mark Bickerton [12 posts]
23rd February 2012 - 18:12

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I can't stress how much I agree with the above comment - as someone who was involved in the delivery of Bristol's Cycling City Project. David Cameron should feel pretty ashamed of himself for pledging his support to the Times campaign yesterday in PMQs when he presided over Cycling England's bonfire only a year ago. What we suffer with too frequently is a pretty disparate cycling 'lobby' pulling itself in different directions. We've got British Cycling pushing for sport and not a lot else, Sustrans calling for traffic free infrastructure and the CTC fitting somewhere in the middle. Cycling England somehow managed to bridge all three, and was the only quangos issued funding to spend just on cycling. Bring it back, and issue it with funds to ensure the momentum gained over the last 7 years isn't lost.

posted by jonusher [20 posts]
23rd February 2012 - 21:43

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It was a fascinating insight in to what goes on in Parliament, and I listened to almost all of it, agreeing with about 99% of what was said. As mentioned above, Cycling England really needs to be brought back. It's loss has been much lamented!

posted by Myriadgreen [94 posts]
24th February 2012 - 9:38

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I have just posted the following comment on the Bike Biz report of the debate. I hope Road cc readers may find it of interest as well:

"I would just like to comment that this debate was because of the Times Campaign, but the mechanism used to get the debate was the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group. The APPCG is run out of Lord (Tony) Berkeley's office.

Adam Coffman is the secretary of the group - Julian Huppert thanked him in his introduction. The Bike Hub Levy is used in part to pay for Adam's time on behalf of the bike trade and the industry.

Here we see a glowing example of how all the long term hard work of industry representatives attending the APPCG and lobbying parliamentarians is giving some payback.

I would like to congratulate the Times for being the catalyst that has at last given the cause of road using cyclists a huge impetus, but also thank Phillip Darnton and indeed Adam Coffman for their work behind the scenes.

Phillip in his capacity first as President of the Bicycle Association (a few years ago) and then Chair of the National Cycling Strategy Board, and then Chair of Cycling England, and now as Executive Director of Bicycle Assoc has been absolutely instrumental in the whole process of furthering the cause of cycling in Westminster.

It should not go unnoticed that the establishment of the Bike Hub Levy was key to the award of Govt funding for Cycling England. What I am saying is that the Times campaign and the parliamentary support are natural successors to all the hard work already done, and much of it on behalf of the bike trade and industry, paid for by the Bike Hub Levy…meaning the retailers and suppliers.

Also to compliment Julian Huppert and Ian Austin for steering the debate so professionally (goodness, they know their stuff); and to say that it is gratifying that there was such a fantastic turnout of MPs who not only ride bikes but care about cyclists.

Lastly to thank all the contributors (retailer and suppliers) to the Bike Hub Levy who may at times wonder why they are paying, but yesterday’s parliamentary debate is testament to their contributions."

Mark Bickerton
President – Bicycle Assoc of Great Britain

Mark Bickerton
UK for Tern Bicycles, Biologic

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posted by Mark Bickerton [12 posts]
24th February 2012 - 10:11

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I also listened to it all. It was hardly a debate, more a lengthy procession of self-congratulatory parliamentarians claiming to support the Times, and giving their more or less well-informed personal take on what should be done.

Then the man to whom the appeals were being made got up and stated he supported the Times campaign himself! If he'd followed this by agreeing to implement all the proposals, I suppose that would have made some sense, but of course...

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posted by nowasps [263 posts]
24th February 2012 - 10:14

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"several MPs have said that it is the best attended debate they have seen there"

"I listened to almost all of it, agreeing with about 99% of what was said."

Which is great. Though call me a cynic, but I bet my left conker that nothing of real note comes of it.

It's just too expensive to create an entirely separated cycle system from vehicular traffic, and nobody in power actually has the aforementioned conkers to change the law to put vulnerable road users first.

Cars are simply a God given right, and nothing can take that away (remember, DC says Britain is a Christian country folks, so it whatever he says must be a mandate from the big fella, hey).

posted by Matt_S [200 posts]
24th February 2012 - 10:55

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Nowasps: But Cycling is well and truely on the agenda.

That means that politicians are engaged. With engagement the cyclists' voice is heard.

Under the labour regime it lead to £160m of investment over 3 years through Cycling England.

Under the Con/Lib coalition there is some money (as Norman Baker said), but it is scattered all over the place and is miserly at £1.00 per head of population compared to Holland's £25 per head.

Just having that debate is a great advance for Cyclists....don't poo-poo it please.

We just need to use it as a kick-start for more compaigning to achieve more investment and attention to cycle usage, so we get the beneficial results that will follow.

Mark Bickerton
UK for Tern Bicycles, Biologic

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posted by Mark Bickerton [12 posts]
24th February 2012 - 11:14

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It's easy to be cynical, but rather than doing that let's focus on the fact that this is significant progress and continue to press our MPs to keep vulnerable road users on the agenda.

if we all sit around and say 'nothing will come of it' then nothing *will* come of it

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7498 posts]
24th February 2012 - 11:26

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Yesterday was a great step, but I struggle to see what next or any action other than crap rhetoric from Cameron abuot training and free high viz?

Also, appart from lobbying councillors/MPs and Assembley members, how else to get involved. Perhaps guerilla tactics like the mexico city bike lane?

posted by georgee [139 posts]
24th February 2012 - 11:41

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dave_atkinson wrote:
It's easy to be cynical, but rather than doing that let's focus on the fact that this is significant progress and continue to press our MPs to keep vulnerable road users on the agenda.

if we all sit around and say 'nothing will come of it' then nothing *will* come of it

Exactly Dave. I meet with my MP next week to discuss extending the double yellows on two road junctions on the way to the three local primary schools. My MP is right behind the '20 is Plenty' campaign. Where we live is perfect for 20mph as it has no through roads at all. All the speeders are either residents or delivery vans.

I mentioned the meeting to a dad in the bike ship today and he chuckled in that way smug way that they do. "You'll never get kids cycling to school.."

Not right now we won't but once we've got the speed limit down to 20mph and key junctions marked up then drivers could soon be face to face with their own kids on the roads - rather than 'the enemy'.

As a child of the 1970's I remember a time when you could cycle residential roads and drivers knew it was right to look out for you. I will do anything I can to see that courtesy back again for our kids.

Silly me. You're probably right....

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posted by MercuryOne [1093 posts]
24th February 2012 - 16:40

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Personally i view Yesterday as a disgraceful display by the members of the House !

With over 600 MPs sitting in the house and claiming expenses for representing their Constituents , that only 77 bothered to show up and carry on in a self aggrandising manner , says that Cycling has a long way to go before the motorist stops treating " US " as " roadkill" !

Many MPs said a lot about Cycling before the debate , great sound bites , but did they turn up ? 77 are listed as attending and they called a halt at 58 contributions , because they had other " MORE IMPORTANT matters " elsewhere !

Naming and shaming those who failed to appear may not be the answer , since they may have legitimate excuse for non attendance !

Each time i try to add Comment to " The Times " , as you will see from my blogs , i find myself in a revolving series of articles , and all too often i find a box appearing requesting £2 monthly and also have seen that you have to be registered user of the Times to access the various sites ! Could it be that Cycling is being used to boost The Times revenues ?

The Times needs to make access to the stories easier and without charge so as to encourage greater awareness of what their contributors have experienced !

Today cycling in Austria , i rounded a corner on to a stretch of road which was in the shade and the bike slipped from under me , causing me to hit the road at the hip and helmet ! Had the speed limit not been 25mph i doubt that i would have got up ! Experienced as i am , i need to remind all that even Brad McGee in the TDF on a dry straight road and Leontin Van Moorsell on a dry straight road passing the finish line of the Athens Olympic Road Race BOTH discovered the benefit of the helmet !

Sadly yesterday the " Motoring Lobby " won , hands down ! The pathetic turnup from MPs demonstrated that there will be little change to the existing " Motorist is Supreme " attitude !

Skippy(advocate for "Disabled / Para Sport")@skippydetour. blogging as skippi-cyclist.blogspot & Parrabuddy.blogspot currently on the road with ProTour Grand Tour Events .

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posted by skippy [392 posts]
24th February 2012 - 21:02

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@skippy: Yeah, but this was "backbench business", a side-meeting, not a session of the House of Commons. While the cycling debate had 70+ MPs, the main chamber generally had only about 10.

The government said nothing new. I wouldn't expect it to, not in a backbench meeting. But I kinda hoped they would.

posted by snibgo [5 posts]
25th February 2012 - 2:05

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Forgive me if I am staring straight at it, but does anyone know where there is a full list of attendees and the constituencies they represent?

posted by farrell [1579 posts]
25th February 2012 - 15:56

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I saw this in Carlton Reids article on BikeBiz, ( http://www.bikebiz.com/news/read/70-mps-discuss-bike-safety-and-the-joy-... )which he says is courtecy of the Times:

The 77 MPs who attended are listed here, thanks to The Times:

Julian Huppert, Lib Dem, Cambridge, Co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group;
Mike Penning, C, Hemel Hempstead, Minister for Road Safety;
Norman Baker, Lib Dem, Lewes, Transport Minister with responsibility for cycling;
Maria Eagle, Lab, Garston & Halewood, Shadow Transport Minister;
Jim Fitzpatrick, Lab, Poplar & Limehouse, Shadow Transport Minister;
Ian Austin, Lab, Dudley North, Co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group;
Steve Brine, C, Winchester, Vice-Chairman of All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group;
Tom Brake, Lib Dem, Carshalton & Wallington, Vice-Chair of All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group;
Dr Sarah Wollaston, Conservative, Totnes, Treasurer of All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group;
Ben Bradshaw, Labour, Exeter, Patron of All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group;
Sir George Young, C, North West Hampshire, Leader of the House of Commons;
Simon Wright, Lib Dem, Norwich South;
Robert Buckland, C, South Swindon;
Stephen Pound, Lab, Ealing North;
Sheila Gilmore, Lab, Edinburgh East;
Robin Walker, C, Worcester;
Sir Bob Russell, Lib Dem, Colchester;
Diane Abbott, Lab, Hackney North & Stoke Newington;
Jo Swinson, Lib Dem, East Dumbartonshire;
Seema Malhotra, Lab, Feltham & Heston;
Rushanara Ali, Lab, Bethnal Green & Bow;
Stephen Lloyd, Lib Dem, Eastbourne;
Oliver Colvile, C, Plymouth, Sutton & Devonport;
Shailesh Vara, C, North West Cambridgeshire;
Richard Graham, C, Gloucester;
Andrew Jones, C, Harrogate & Knaresborough;
Graham Evans, C, Weaver Vale;
Paul Maynard, C, Blackpool North & Cleveleys;
Nigel Mills, C, Amber Valley;
Fiona Bruce, C, Congleton;
Angie Bray, C, Ealing Central & Acton;
Tessa Munt, Lib Dem, Wells;
Jonathan Lord, C, Woking;
Bob Stewart, C, Beckenham;
Neil Carmichael, C, Stroud;
Andrew Selous, C, South West Bedfordshire;
Sir Alan Beith, Lib Dem, Berwick-upon-Tweed;
Simon Kirby, C, Brighton, Kemptown;
Andrew Bingham, C, High Peak;
Michael Ellis, C, Northampton North;
Mike Weatherley, C, Hove;
Jane Ellison, C, Battersea;
Gavin Barwell, C, Croydon Central;
Mark Menzies, C, Fylde;
Fabian Hamilton, Lab, Leeds North East;
Guy Opperman, C, Hexham;
Julian Sturdy, C, York Outer;
Rehman Chishti, C, Gillingham & Rainham;
John Howell, C, Henley;
Richard Harrington, C, Watford;
Rob Wilson, C, Reading East;
Jack Lopresti, C, Filton & Bradley Stoke;
Mark Hunter, Lib Dem, Cheadle;
Tony Cunningham, Lab, Workington;
Jim Cunningham, Lab, Coventry South;
Karen Buck, Lab, Westminster North;
Martin Horwood, Lib Dem, Cheltenham;
Andy Slaughter, Lab, Hammersmith;
Meg Hillier, Lab, Hackney South & Shoreditch;
Jason McCartney, C, Colne Valley;
Andrew George, Lib Dem, St Ives;
Mark Lazarowicz, Lab, Edinburgh North & Leith;
Zac Goldsmith, C, Richmond Park;
Sir Gerald Kaufman, Lab, Manchester, Gorton;
Nia Griffith, Lab, Llanelli;
Sadiq Khan, Lab, Tooting;
Jeremy Corbyn, Lab, Islington North;
Heidi Alexander, Lab, Lewisham East;
Stella Creasy, Lab, Walthamstow;
Tessa Jowell, Lab, Dulwich & West Norwood;
Kerry McCarthy, Lab, Bristol East;
Andrew Smith, Lab, Oxford East;
Lilian Greenwood, Lab, Nottingham South;
Susan Elan Jones, Lab, Clwyd South;
Kate Hoey, Lab, Vauxhall;
Alison Seabeck, Lab, Plymouth, Moor View;
John Leech, Lib Dem, Manchester, Withington.

Mark Bickerton
UK for Tern Bicycles, Biologic

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posted by Mark Bickerton [12 posts]
27th February 2012 - 9:18

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