Protective Headgear for Young Cyclists Bill

Commons Hansard
23 Apr 2004

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is the third time that my name has been drawn in the private Members' ballot since I was elected in 1987. I always put my name into the ballot and always secretly hope that I will not be successful. I know that for the next four, five or six months the Bill will certainly change priorities and dominate my working life. I will become what is known as a private Bill bore, which is not a member of the British Army. I will talk of nothing else and everyone else's eyes will glaze over. That has been my experience with two Bills. Although I have failed to get them on to the statute book, that does not seem to have been an obstacle in achieving their objectives.

My first Bill aimed to stop calves being exported from the United Kingdom to the cruel veal crates on the continent. Although the Bill failed, within six months BSE ensured that that cruel trade would stop. Fortunately, it has not restarted.

My second Bill was designed to take Railtrack out of the private sector. The Bill failed, of course, and I can remember the Government speaking against it at the time. However, within four months, they had put Railtrack into liquidation and Network Rail, a not-for-profit organisation, had been formed. Even if this Bill fails today, I am sure that, with my record, the law will be changed in the near future.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Government have already told him that they oppose the Bill and are intent on talking it out?

Mr. Martlew: I think that the hon. Gentleman must have defective hearing. I said, "If this Bill fails". I did not say that it would fail, and I am confident that enough of my hon. Friends are here to carry the day unless the Conservatives try some sharp practice.

When I came seventh in the ballot, I knew that I would be very popular, but I did not expect to be as popular as I was. Within an hour of the ballot, somebody knocked on my door with a Christmas hamper, saying, "If you do my Bill, I will give you the hamper." Unfortunately, I was not bribed that easily. I took a leisurely look at all the Bills. I returned to my constituency office and went through the piles of stuff that we had and I read a letter from the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust asking me whether I would take up its Bill. The letter was signed by the trust's chief executive, Angela Lee, OBE.

I was immediately interested in the Bill, because it reminded me of a serious road accident that I was involved in as a child; one could say that I had a flashback. When I was about five-years-old, I had an argument with a petrol tanker in which I came off second best. Obviously, I was not responsible as a child, and the accident was my fault. Although I do not remember the accident itself, I remember the separation from my parents and the months in hospital. I remember the loss of schooling and the embarrassing physical scars that I had at the time. Bald patches on the head and scars on the face were very embarrassing for a child. I thought that if I could help to alleviate such or worse cases for children, it would be a very good Bill. That was one of the main factors in my decision.

I then started to examine what the Government were doing. I came to the conclusion that they had a bit of a blind spot about protecting child cyclists. There is a lack of safety training, and I understand that a private company is launching an initiative today to attempt to replace the cycling proficiency test. I well remember my cycling proficiency test; it was the first examination I passed, and I did not pass too many after that.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries) (Lab): Surely not the only one.

Mr. Martlew: It may be a bit cruel, but it is not far from the truth.

I also realised that there is a lack of legislation on helmets. I thought, "This Government are supposed to be doing a great deal for children." We now have a Minister for Children, who apparently has no involvement in this Bill, and we are talking about having a commissioner for children, but I still think that the Government should do something on this matter.

The second thing that I noticed about the Bill is that it is simple, well defined, modest, targeted and effective. It would work, which is very important for a private Member's Bill. Thirdly, the Bill is easy for people outside the House to relate to, because the vast majority of them have cycled at one time or another. I am sure that most hon. Members will also have cycled at some stage, so they will understand the Bill's significance. That is why I decided to promote it.

I want to record my thanks to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who have supported my Bill. I have received letters of support from 200 Members.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Where are they?

Mr. Martlew: I suspect that 400 Members have gone to school today because it is national "back to school" day. Some Members pay more attention to their constituents than the right hon. Gentleman does, but that is a matter for him.

Mr. Forth: I tend to give priority, as a Member of Parliament, to the making of law, which is what I always thought we were supposed to be here for. If other Members choose to give priority to visiting schools when law is being made - or not, as the case may be - that is a matter for them. I was simply saying that it is all very well for Members to come here on a Friday and claim that 200 Members support their Bill, but I hope that we will see evidence of that when the House comes to vote.

Mr. Martlew: There are two schools of thought about the right hon. Gentleman: one is that he is a great parliamentarian and the other is that he is a pain in the neck. I have never changed my opinion about him.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I remember Opposition Members protesting only a few weeks ago about the Genetically Modified Organisms Bill not proceeding simply because -

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. We have business before the House today, and it has nothing to do with the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth).

Mr. Martlew: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker; I was not sure what the right hon. Gentleman was talking about.

I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for their support. I am grateful also to many of my ministerial colleagues, including the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the Minister without Portfolio and the Secretary of State for Transport. I understand that the Prime Minister, too, supports my Bill. I also give special thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley) for the work that he has done in the Health Committee on this issue, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston) for the work that she has done on the Bill behind the scenes.

I give special thanks, too, to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), who will reply to the debate. He has been helpful and courteous throughout our discussions. In 1995, he successfully promoted a private Member's Bill, the Activity Centres (Young Persons' Safety) Bill. Its purpose, like that of my Bill, was to save children's lives.

I thank the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust, a small registered charity that ensures that child cycle safety is not forgotten, and its patron, the racing driver David Coulthard, who flew straight from the Malaysian grand prix to help me launch my Bill in the House of Commons. Its chief executive, Angela Lee, is the driving force behind the trust. She is a nursing sister at a Reading hospital whose experience of the consequences of child cycling accidents made her realise that something had to be done to change the law. She has worked tirelessly to build a broad coalition of support among parents, the medical and scientific community, the Government, civil servants and Members of Parliament. The cause for which she and the trust fight is very straightforward: to protect kids on their bikes by making them wear a helmet. It must be to the credit of the trust that the Bill is being debated today.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): Is there not a great deal more that can be done to protect children on bicycles, such as having more separated cycle routes, particularly for young people going to school, which we clearly want to encourage? We need to develop proper, safe routes and proper training in cycling proficiency, as my hon. Friend has already outlined. Should we not also be impressing more on motorists their responsibilities to respect the road space of cyclists? I speak as somebody who regularly cycles to and from the House of Commons. All those issues have to be tackled along with that of wearing helmets.

Mr. Martlew: I accept that totally. If my hon. Friend intends to speak later, perhaps she will tell us whether she wears a helmet.

Ms Munn: I do.

Mr. Martlew: I am pleased to hear that.

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) made a very good point about cycle lanes. Will my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) join me in condemning Conservative-controlled Barnet council, which has decided to start to remove cycle lanes to allow traffic to move more quickly, thus jeopardising the safety of children and others who use bicycles?

Mr. Martlew: I have no knowledge of that, but as the council is not Labour-controlled, I will condemn it.

I return to the serious point that I was making. The death of a child is a tragedy, but a death that could have been avoided is a scandal, and today we are working to prevent such deaths. I hope that Ministers will take note of the debate and support the Bill.

The Minister for Children, whom I have already mentioned, has published a Green Paper, "Every Child Matters", in which the Government identify a number of outcomes that are important to children, including being healthy, staying safe and getting the most out of life.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab): My hon. Friend speaks about avoiding children's deaths. Even if children who are involved in cycling accidents do not die, they can sustain serious head injuries that leave them with disabilities for the rest of their lives, and that, too, is a tragedy, so the Bill is also about preventing avoidable long-term damage to children.

Mr. Martlew: Yes, for every child who dies, about 10 are severely injured, and many of those suffer brain injuries.

Ian Stewart (Eccles) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept that when we reach adulthood we can have arguments and express different views about whether we should impose things on people for their own good, but safety is an educative process that is best started when children are young and impressionable, so that they accept good practice throughout the rest of their lives?

Mr. Martlew: We have a responsibility in that regard as parliamentarians, parents and citizens of the UK. Some people have accused me of introducing a Bill that expands the nanny state. I suspect that few of my colleagues had a nanny, but we know that the job of nannies is to look after children. Children reach an age at which they can decide things for themselves, and the Bill says that once they reach 16 they do not have to wear a helmet. I am not one of those who say that helmets should be compulsory for every cyclist. This is not the thin end of the wedge; it is what we should be doing for children.

Before I was so kindly interrupted, I was discussing the Green Paper. It is all very well issuing a Green Paper, but if the Government fail to support the Bill they will send the wrong signals. I argue that cycle helmets are crucial to ensuring healthy, safe and enjoyable lives for hundreds of thousands of young cyclists in this country.

Mr. Chope: The hon. Gentleman says, "If the Government support the Bill" but I thought he had already said that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Transport did so. Is he suggesting that his Government are speaking with forked tongue?

Mr. Martlew: I am a little disappointed. Originally, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who I know supports the Bill, was to be the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. It appears that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) is interested only in making political points, which I find upsetting.

The sad truth is that a disproportionate number of accidents involve child cyclists. Figures from the Transport Research Laboratory and the Department for Transport starkly reveal how vulnerable child cyclists are. The TRL points out that although children account for 6.6 per cent. of road cyclists, they account for 21 per cent. of cyclist deaths in a three-year period. Child cyclists are four times more likely than adult cyclists to die on the roads. Once a fortnight, a child dies in a cycling accident on the roads of this country. More than once a day, a child is seriously injured in such an accident and is likely to be disabled. I mentioned that hon. Members were likely to be visiting schools in their constituencies today. I am talking about the equivalent of wiping out a primary class and severely disabling a secondary school every year. I do not claim that cycle helmets will necessarily reduce the number of accidents, but I am absolutely convinced that they will reduce the severity of the injuries sustained.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Statistics can be interpreted in various ways, but any death or injury is a tragedy. How many of the deaths of the 28 child cyclists killed on our roads each year could be prevented by the wearing of a helmet?

Mr. Martlew: I was just coming to that. Many of the accidents involve serious head injuries, and scientific research performed both here and abroad has proved that cycle helmets protect the head and brain against the worst effects of injury. Dr. Andrew Curran, whom I met in the House of Commons at the launch of my Bill, is a consultant paediatric neurologist at Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool and has for three and a half years been involved in research into the effect of head injuries in children. He believes that the wearing of a cycle helmet reduces brain damage in children by 80 per cent. Perhaps the most comprehensive independent analysis of existing research is the Department for Transport-commissioned "Bicycle Helmets: A review of their effectiveness" published in November 2002. I recommend it as a very good read, although I am sure that all hon. Members read it before coming to this debate. I am grateful to the Department for its lead in marshalling and reviewing the evidence in this crucial area. The report states that

"there is now a considerable amount of scientific evidence that bicycle helmets have been found to be effective at reducing head, brain and upper facial injury in bicyclists. Such health gains are appropriate for all ages, though particularly for child populations."

The report states simply that cycle helmets save lives. Supporters of the Bill, which include a wide range of highly respected professional organisations, have clearly reached the same conclusion.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): There are some who would accuse my hon. Friend of extending the nanny state. Does he agree that the same arguments were used in the 1960s and '70s against the wearing of seat belts, and that the legislation passed in that respect has reduced the number of deaths and the personal tragedy experienced by families whose members would otherwise have died on the roads?

Mr. Martlew: My hon. Friend is perfectly right. We have always seen a knee-jerk reaction against such measures, whether on the wearing of seat belts or preventing drink-driving, but, after a while, such things become common sense and we wonder why we did not do them before.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): The answer to the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) is that requiring people to wear car seat belts has not stopped car use, whereas the Bill, if passed, would have a dramatic effect in terms of discouraging children from cycling. When helmet laws were introduced in Australia, the result was large decreases in the number of people cycling: child cycling fell by between 30 and 50 per cent.

Mr. Martlew: If the hon. Gentleman looks at the facts, and not at that pamphlet, he will find that cycling has since returned to its former levels. In addition, he will recall that I said that only 6.6 per cent. of cyclists in this country are children.

I have strong support from various organisations. I have here a letter from Sir Peter Morris, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, who writes:

"This seemed to me an entirely sensible public health measure and I am pleased to inform you that the . . . Royal College of Surgeons of England yesterday expressed full support for your Bill."

I also have support from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Faculty of Accident and Emergency Medicine, the Society of British Neurological Surgeons, the Faculty of General Dental Practitioners, the British Dental Association, the Institute of Road Safety Officers, the Child Brain Injury Trust, the brain injury organisation, Headway, the road safety organisation, Brake, this country's leading cycle retailer, Halfords, and, last but not least, and greatly welcome, the Royal College of Nursing, whose letter states:

"we strongly support the bill and our members have first hand experience of the tragic injuries and loss of young life which could have been prevented by wearing a cycle helmet. Whilst wishing to encourage people to cycle as much as possible we also want to ensure this is done safely".

One person who has first-hand experience of such tragic injuries is Mr. Alistair Fraser-Moodie, a consultant in accident and emergency medicine at Derbyshire royal infirmary for the past 26 years. He writes:

"It is quite obvious to me as a practising clinician seeing patients come through the front door of our hospital that once you are on a pedal cycle the chances of survival in a crash are far greater if you wear a helmet. These poor pedal cycle casualties only realise this when the shock has died down and some well-meaning ambulance man gives them their cycle helmet back again. Instead of suffering a fractured skull or worse they have a bruised skull, a bit of concussion and a smashed up helmet. So the helmets have taken the strain.

It is about time that we start looking after the children in our country. Many use their pedal cycles to get to school. Others use their pedal cycles for paper rounds or pleasure alone. It is about time we protected these children by introducing the compulsory wearing of cycle helmets. Failure to do this will inevitably result in carnage."

For me, Mr. Fraser-Moodie captures eloquently people's sense of anger and bemusement when, in the face of overwhelming evidence, no action is taken to protect children.

Mr. Chope: The hon. Gentleman cites many common-sense propositions, and I certainly advise my children to wear bicycle helmets, but why does he believe that the voluntary route has failed and is failing? Why does he not think that more should be invested in education about the propositions that he articulates?

Mr. Martlew: My understanding is that, overall, 25 per cent. of cyclists wear helmets, but in the most vulnerable group - teenage boys - that figure is only 12 per cent., because wearing a helmet is considered "not cool". Peer pressure is such that they will not wear them, and those are the people who are most vulnerable. There are people -

Mr. Chope rose -

Mr. Martlew: I assume that the hon. Gentleman has prepared a speech.

Mr. Chope: The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that cyclists in the 12 to 16 age group would think it cool to obey the law.

Mr. Martlew: I am not suggesting that at all. I was talking to my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, who told me in the Lobby that the Bill was excellent. As a mother, instead of telling her teenage children that they should wear a helmet, she will be able to say, "It's the law and you must wear a helmet." That is the advantage.

I said earlier that the Bill's aims are relatively modest, but that does not mean that it will not be effective. I said that the Bill was straightforward, but that does not mean that it oversimplifies the problem. While preparing it, I have been conscious of the need to frame legislation that will be practical and proportionate. The Bill makes it an offence to cause or permit a child under the age of 16 to ride a cycle on the road or in a public park or recreation ground unless the child is wearing protective headgear.

Ms Munn : Can my hon. Friend explain his thinking about including off-road cycling? Although I do indeed wear a helmet while cycling to and from the House of Commons, I might take a different view depending where else, off-road, I was cycling. I would take a view of the risks involved in that. Clearly, the impact of a road traffic accident is likely to be much more serious than the effect of falling off a bike in a park. If my hon. Friend could tell us his thinking about that and about including off-road cycling in the Bill, I should be grateful.

Mr. Martlew: Two thirds of accidents where children end up in hospital take place off the road. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) will speak later about the son of a constituent of his who died recently not on the road, but riding his bicycle in a skateboard park.

Mr. Lazarowicz: The all-embracing nature of the Bill concerns me and has led me from an initial position of general support to a much greater scepticism. Will my hon. Friend comment on the following circumstance? A couple of weeks ago I went with my five-year-old daughter to a neighbouring park. She met one of her friends, who lent her her bicycle to ride around the park. Am I right in believing that I would be committing a criminal offence by allowing her to do that? Is that not taking matters a little too far?

Mr. Martlew: I know that my hon. Friend is a sensible person, and I believe that common sense will prevail. If, for example, one let a three-year-old ride a tricycle along the pavement, one would be committing an offence because that would be against the law. In reality, however, no action would be taken, because common sense would come into it. I can give two further examples of laws that are sometimes not enforced. We see few prosecutions of adults or children for riding bicycles on the pavement. Some of my constituents say there are not enough prosecutions for that. As another example, my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) told me that he was in Whitehall last night and watched the number of cyclists go by without lights on their bikes. Apparently, they were wearing helmets, but they had no lights on their bikes. If my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) takes the measure to the extreme, yes, he would be prosecuted, but in reality common sense will prevail.

I have a letter from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who says he has no objections to the Bill. In my discussions with him, he said that he thought that it was the law already. He understood the situation and he thought a long lead-in time might be needed to build up the rate of compliance before the Bill is introduced. There is no objection from the police.

Mr. Michael Foster (Worcester) (Lab): I take my children to Worcester Woods country park for rides on cycles. That is off-road, and one is not likely to come into contact with four-wheel-drive vehicles, but there are trees, branches and twigs that can easily get stuck in the spokes of a wheel and send the cyclist over the handlebars. That is why I insist that my three children wear helmets when they come on a cycle ride with me in Worcester Woods country park.

Mr. Martlew: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for helping me out. He clears up the point that was made. I shall press on, as I do not want to be accused of talking out my own Bill.

The parent, guardian or employer of a child will be held responsible, as will the owner of a cycle if the owner is over the age of 15, or any person other than the cycle's owner who has custody or possession of the cycle immediately before the child rides it, if that person is over 15. The offence is liable to a level 1 fine, currently a maximum of £200. There is scope in the Bill to allow the Secretary of State to exempt certain groups and to prescribe the protective headgear that should be worn. The provisions of the Bill would cover all of the United Kingdom. For the purpose of the Bill, a cycle will mean a bicycle, tricycle or cycle with four or more wheels.

Hon. Members may think the Bill breaks new ground, but that is not the case. Those who were in the House before 1990 may remember the ten-minute Bill introduced by the then. Member for Ealing, North, Harry Greenway, and we know how difficult it is to get such a Bill on to the statute book. That Bill did almost exactly the same as my Bill would do, but for children riding horses. It is illegal for a child to ride a horse on a road unless the child is wearing a riding hat. That went through the House on a ten-minute Bill, so it must have been unopposed.

What my Bill will not do, as some of its more excitable opponents claim, is make every child cyclist and every parent of a child cyclist a potential criminal. The provision is an important mechanism to counteract persistent flouting of the law. I envisage that a friendly word of caution or a verbal instruction to provide a helmet for a child will suffice to make people comply with the legislation. The very fact that legislation is in place will encourage most people to ensure that children obey the law. It is one thing to tell teenagers they should wear a helmet, and another to be able to say, "You must wear a helmet because that is the law."

I know that the Minister is deeply concerned about compliance rates. His Department is increasingly active in targeting young people with the message that safe cycling makes sense. Last year the Department devoted £137,000 to an advertising campaign showing the importance of wearing a helmet. I welcome the efforts of the Department, but the fact that I have introduced the Bill indicates that I do not believe it is doing enough. The Minister wants wearing rates to reach a critical mass before he contemplates making that compulsory. I understand his motivation but ask him to consider whether that goal will ever be reached. Surely matters should be the other way around. Rather than waiting for wearing practices to change, the Government should introduce enforcement. The Minister should act now to put enforcement measures in place to ensure that wearing practices change.

If the Government do not, they will continue to fall into the trap of the opponents of helmets, such as the Cyclists Touring Club, which not only does everything possible to stop helmet wearing becoming mandatory, but campaigns against the Government advocating the wearing of helmets. That is one reason for concern that the Government will never achieve their compliance rates.

Helmet wearing rates in the population as a whole have increased from 16 per cent. in 1994 to 25 per cent. in 2002, but the trend among teenage boys has been reversed and is down to 12 per cent. It is all right for hon. Members to talk about freedom, but they know that the children are at risk, and I hope that they will take note of that.

Teenage boys are the most vulnerable group and it is not good enough to shake one's head and shrug one's shoulders and say that boys will be boys or that kids will be kids. It is precisely because children are children, who take risks on their bike, who make errors of judgement, who do not have experience, and who have to use their bikes for practical journeys, that action needs to be taken to protect them.

The Minister's policy of persuasion is well intended, but it will never deliver the results that all hon. Members must surely want - a safer cycling environment for all young people. His efforts must be backed by enforcement measures, which will be acceptable to the vast majority of the population once the issue is decided. Otherwise, we will continue in a curious policy vacuum in which the Government fully accept the case for cycle helmets and argue that children are vulnerable without them, but do precious little to rectify that situation. The Government's March 2000 road strategy said that the wearing rate of helmets for the population as a whole was about 18 per cent. It went on to say:

"At this level, making helmets compulsory would cause enforcement difficulties and without greater public acceptance could have an effect on the levels of cycling. We will monitor wearing rates and review the option of compulsory wearing from time to time."

Three and a half years later, in an answer to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), who I understand supports my Bill, the Minister updated the wearing rates to 25 per cent. but his words sounded eerily familiar. He said:

"At these levels making helmets compulsory would cause enforcement difficulties and without greater public acceptance could have an effect on levels of cycling . . . We will continue to monitor wearing rates . . . and review the option of compulsory wearing from time to time." - [Official Report, 5 November 2003; Vol. 412, c. 639W.]

The time is now. To be frank, that does not inspire a great deal of confidence that the area of policy has been reviewed at all. In fact, it suggests to me that unthinkingly, and with a little complacency, the Government are doing their best to brush the matter under the carpet.

The issue will not go away, in part because helmet wearing is not increasing quickly enough, in part because young children continue to die or sustain serious injuries while cycling, and in part because people, including many hon. Members, are genuinely mystified by the Government's lack of activity in an area which, on the surface, they say is so important. We agree how effective helmets are, we agree on the vulnerability of child cyclists, and we agree on the importance of delivering a safer cycling environment. As the Prime Minister said to me on 3l March during Prime Minister's questions:

"The issue that my hon. Friend raises is a high priority for hon. Members and the Government." - [Official Report, 31 March 2004; Vol. 419, c. 1594.]

Is it not a pity that we cannot yet agree on an effective method for delivering the outcome? I hope that the issue can be explored in more detail today and during later stages of the Bill.

I want to deal briefly with some of the opponents of the Bill. I do not include those hon. Members in the Chamber. I have been a Member of the House for quite a long time now and I have been involved in various campaigns, one of which was on the Hunting Bill with my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). After a while one acquires a grudging respect for one's opponents, despite disagreeing with them, but I cannot say that with regard to this Bill.

The Association of Cycle Traders seems more interested in selling bicycles than in the safety of children. It argues that helmets will have only a small benefit for cycle safety, which is nonsense. Then we have the National Cycling Strategy. I was ignorant of that quango before I took up the Bill, but I was rather alarmed to see that it had written to hon. Members, although it did not write to me, and its address is the Department for Transport, Marsham street. Moreover, it gave a distorted version of my Bill, so I hope that the Minister will investigate that.

I received a letter signed by the vice-chairman, which made me wonder who the chairman of the strategy was. I did a bit of digging and discovered that the chairman at the time the letter went out was none other than Mr. Steven Norris, a former Member of the House and the Conservative candidate for the Mayor of London. I wondered why he did not sign the letter opposing my Bill. This Bill is popular; it has 80 per cent. support in the country. Perhaps it was because he did not want to put his name to the letter because he thought that it would affect his vote. He is a clever man and he may also have thought that a letter from him to Labour Members of Parliament would have been counter-productive, and it probably would have been. Then I did some more digging and the vice-chairman is a chap called -

Mr. Dismore: Perhaps another reason for Mr. Norris not signing the letter is that he is rather too busy with his part-time job with Jarvis, where he spends two days a week for an enormous sum of money engaging in matters of greater concern to Londoners.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Perhaps we can return to subject under discussion.

Mr. Martlew: I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, but I am not sure that that is the truth. To give credit where credit is due, I had a frank and full telephone conversation with Mr. Norris, so he obviously had time to phone me back.

To return to the point, it was the vice-chairman of the National Cycling Strategy who wrote to hon. Members. He is a senior executive of Raleigh Industries Ltd., and one of the arguments that he put forward against my Bill was that it would reduce cycling, and therefore, I suspect, the number of cycles, so perhaps the vice-chairman should have mentioned his other role in that letter. If hon. Members had written such a letter they would have had to declare some sort of interest.

Finally, I come to the Cyclists Touring Club. I am sure that most members of the CTC are normal, well-adjusted souls, but -

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): As a former member of that organisation, I wish to reassure my hon. Friend that I am a normal, well-adjusted soul, and I support the wearing of cycling helmets.

Mr. Martlew: My hon. Friend is as well adjusted as the rest of us, I will give her that.

I am sure that the CTC has well-adjusted members, but it seems to attract its fair share of lunatics in lycra. The organisation campaigns actively to stop the Government promoting the benefits of helmet wearing. All those hon. Members who have received a leaflet from that organisation must realise that not only is it against compulsory wearing of helmets for children or anyone else, but it campaigns actively against the Government saying that wearing helmets is a good idea.

Ms Munn: Does my hon. Friend accept that some people are in favour of cycle helmet wearing, such as my constituent Simon Geller who is active in the local Pedals organisation and is a stalwart of cycling in Sheffield - but he is nevertheless very concerned about the Bill's enforceability? While he wears a helmet and encourages his children to do so as well, he is concerned that this measure would be difficult to enforce and that more needs to be done in terms of persuading people to wear helmets.

Mr. Martlew: My hon. Friend could reassure her constituent by telling him that the Home Secretary sees no problem with enforcement. If the Home Secretary is happy with that, perhaps it will satisfy her constituent.

The CTC is anti-helmet to an extreme extent. I mentioned the £137,000 that the Government spent last year on advertisements in magazines. It is a pity that we did not spend more and put some of the advertisements on television, but the campaign was good. What did the CTC do? It took the Government to the Advertising Standards Authority to complain about the advertisement. That is the sort of people who have been sending leaflets. I accept that the vast majority of members are fine, and I know that a lot of them join because they get cheap insurance, but I suggest to the CTC that if it wants to be taken seriously, it should change its policies and also its leadership.

Before introducing the Bill, I thought that it was obvious that encouraging children to cycle should go hand in hand with measures to create a safe cycling environment.

Mr. Dismore: I get the impression that my hon. Friend is coming to his conclusion. I have received a lot of representations from a plethora of cycling organisations that are opposed to his proposals, or at best lukewarm or neutral about them. Which cycling organisations, representing the people whom the Bill would affect, have come out in favour of it?

Mr. Martlew: I think that the vast majority of cycling organisations are against the Bill, but I remind my hon. Friend that professional cyclists have to wear helmets by compulsion in this country. They accept that, and they are working with a major company - I think that it is a pharmaceutical company - to improve cycle training for children. It will be compulsory for the children to wear helmets during that training.

I had hoped to finish my speech by now, but I have been generous with interventions. As I said, I thought it obvious that encouraging children to cycle should go hand in hand with measures to create a safe cycling environment. Last June, the Minister said in a press release:

"by making cycling safer, more people will take to their bikes".

I am sure that he still holds that view. I thought that it was common sense to say that cycling is a healthy and beneficial activity, but that it should be conducted in a sensible manner. That was before I encountered some of the Bill's opponents, who seem to find a dangerous and alarming contradiction between the promotion of cycling and the introduction of basic provisions to improve the safety of child cyclists. I do not believe that such a contradiction exists, which is why I am promoting the Bill, and I do not believe that anything in the provisions will discourage children from cycling, as some opponents claim.

Furthermore, I do not believe, as some of the Bill's opponents do, that helmets increase the risk of accidents. I prefer to accept the overwhelming evidence provided by scientific research around the world. Neither do I believe, as some of the Bill's opponents do, that the mandatory wearing of cycle helmets will lead to such a downturn in cycling that we will breed a new generation of obese Britons. If that is the best argument that opponents can come up with, I feel rather sorry for them.

None the less, however exaggerated and alarmist such claims may be, I accept that there are concerns. That is why, after today's debate, we should take the Bill Upstairs and scrutinise it. The Minister can table amendments and any hon. Member who wishes come to the Committee may do so and make their points. As has been pointed out, what we are witnessing now is the same knee-jerk, unthinking reaction that we saw when we introduced similar measures relating to cars. It was said that measures on drink-driving would never work, and the same was said about wearing seat belts.

Ultimately, the argument that the provisions will never work, that nobody will agree with them and that there is no way to enforce them is not only defeatist, but plainly wrong. If the Minister needs to be convinced of the measure's popularity, he should study the results of an independent survey carried out by MyVoice, a polling organisation, in April this year. More than 9,000 people were polled, and 80 per cent. of them wanted helmets to be made mandatory for children. Indeed, almost 70 per cent. of the children themselves wanted helmets to be made mandatory.

Experience in other countries has demonstrated the effectiveness of cycle helmets. The Government accept the effectiveness of helmets, but will do nothing about the issue. Accidents and injuries have declined dramatically in each of the countries where mandatory helmet wearing has been introduced, including Australia, New Zealand, Spain, the Czech Republic, parts of the United States and Canada. Of course, some of those laws have been in place for a long time. If they had been found to be wrong, I am sure that they would have been repealed by now.

In conclusion - I had not intended to speak for an hour - I hope that the Bill will receive the scrutiny and consideration that it deserves. If it does not become law, that will not be the end of the line. It is my intention to set up with others an all-party group to build up strong support, with the assistance of hon. Members from across the House. This matter is not going to go away. I remind the House of what I said in opening my remarks: my two previous private Members' Bills failed, but they became law soon afterwards. I do not think that we can keep on going forward knowing that we are sacrificing 28 children a year and knowing that some of them could be saved. As I said earlier, the loss of a child's life is a tragedy, but if we can do something to avoid it, such a loss is a scandal.


Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con):...We know, however, that the use of cycle helmets by children is very small, perhaps between 6 and 15 per cent. If any hon. Member wants to intervene and tell me that the figure is actually much higher, I will certainly give way, but I think that those figures are generally accepted.

Mr. Martlew: I would agree with the hon. Gentleman's figures. If the figure were 70 or 80 per cent., I would probably not be introducing this Bill. It is because the figure is so low that I am introducing it.

Mr. Leigh: That is a very honest intervention, and the hon. Gentleman has used it to make his point.


Mr. Leigh: Of course I am not against wearing cycle helmets. Those of us who oppose the Bill must accept the argument that someone who wears one is probably less likely to sustain an injury than someone who does not. It would be absurd to say that wearing one made people more liable to injury. The problem with cycle helmets is that most of the 20 kids who die each year die from serious multiple injuries. They do not die from falling from their bicycle on to a hard, flat surface. In a moment, I shall adduce a learned opinion, which argues that, because of the standards applied to helmets, most of them will prevent injury only if the wearer falls from their bike on to a hard surface. They will not save someone who is hit by a car or who suffers multiple injuries.

Mr. Martlew: The figure is actually 28 children a year, based on the last three years. Obviously, that is too many. On the hon. Gentleman's point about injuries, a high percentage of those youngsters die from head injuries. It is obvious that other parts of the body are less vulnerable than the brain. Also, the Bill prescribes what kind of helmet will have to be used, so the Government will be able to ensure that people wear very good ones.


Mr. Martlew: Earlier, the hon. Gentleman [Mr Leigh] warned us about statistics, but he has gone on to quote them several times, although he has not mentioned British Columbia in Canada. May I point it out to him that cycle use in this country is dropping like a stone anyhow? We do not have that particular policy, but there has been a 30 per cent. drop in 20 years. That is set out in the document, "Bicycle Helmets: review of effectiveness", which I am sure the Minister is aware of. The number of people using bicycles is declining. I believe that parents would be happier if they felt that their children would be safer.

Mr. Leigh: That is a fair point. Obviously, we each have our opinion. The hon. Gentleman is right: since 1991 in Great Britain, the fall in cycle use has been almost twice the increase in helmet use, so that fall has been dramatic without a dramatic increase in helmet use. I doubt whether the Bill would discourage that fall in cycle use.


Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): ...No one suggests that pedestrians should have to wear helmets when they cross the road, but pedestrians are much more likely to suffer head injury than cyclists.

Mr. Martlew: Is my hon. Friend really saying that, in percentage terms, children are more likely to suffer injury as pedestrians than the 6 per cent. of children who cycle? I do not accept that.


Mr. Martlew: I am surprised that my hon. Friend, an experienced Member of Parliament, believes that those who shout loudest normally constitute the majority. A poll of 900 people showed that 80 per cent. of the public favoured my Bill. Did my hon. Friend talk to staff in accident and emergency departments, for instance?

Mr. Lazarowicz: I shall come to the views of the medical profession shortly.


Mr. Martlew: I am pleased that my hon. Friend has given way; he has been very patient with me. My notes are upstairs, but the first quote that he used goes on to say that bicycle helmets are effective for everyone, but especially for children. He did not quote that bit. This measure will apply only to children. I considered whether it should apply across the board. I decided, because of the points that he has made, not to go ahead, but I think that the case for protecting children is overwhelming.

Mr. Lazarowicz: My hon. Friend is correct. I did not set out the quote in full simply because I accepted his point on that criterion and did not want to delay the House unduly.

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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB