Why are the Government not taking the obvious steps? Is it because of the “war on the motorist” concern exemplified by the Communities and Local Government Secretary? That would not make sense, because drivers

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benefit when people cycle. That is why the president of the AA and so many other people have supported our recommendations.

Ian Austin: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr Huppert: I am running out of time, so I am afraid I will not.

Is it because of people trying to stir up conflict between cyclists and pedestrians? Again, surely not, because pedestrians benefit from provisions that help cyclists. That is why Living Streets, the pedestrians charity, has also supported our recommendations. The 20 mph zones, which have been supported by the Government, are beneficial for cyclists and for pedestrians. What is bad for pedestrians, and bad for cyclists, is poor road layouts and ill-though-through cheap solutions such as dual-use facilities which simply create conflict. Proper segregated facilities such as those we are implementing in Cambridge help pedestrians and cyclists.

So why is this planning missing out so much on funding? Let me be optimistic. The plan is a draft with the aim of securing views over the next four weeks. Perhaps the Minister has a rabbit up his sleeve so that when the plan comes out in its final state—this autumn, apparently, though it feels like we are in autumn already—it will have a proper funding commitment. Perhaps that is his plan. Or perhaps the Chancellor got so excited by the compelling case for cycling that he has hogged all the money so as to be able to announce it in the autumn statement. I certainly hope for that, and we have been trying to press him to do it. Otherwise, I cannot understand why the Government are not acting.

Let me give the Minister some other ideas, since the plan is a draft. Will he agree to adopt the “Making Space for Cycling” guide for developments and street renewals, which has detailed proposals on how to make those work? Will he look at ideas to expand the very successful Cycle to Work scheme to cover cycling to education so that students are able to get bikes through, for example, a VAT exemption? Will he look at approaches such as the New York trial system that we are now pioneering in Cambridgeshire, whereby people can very quickly try things on the ground to get them to work? Will he meet the members and officers of the all-party cycling group to go through the plan in detail so that we make sure that the draft is improved before it comes out?

This is the last opportunity for significant change before the general election. When we have next year’s annual debate—assuming that the Backbench Business Committee or a new House business committee is willing—it will be in a new Parliament, so what the parties commit to in the election will matter. My party, the Liberal Democrats, formally voted to adopt the “Get Britain Cycling” recommendations last year, and it is already written into our pre-manifesto. I am very pleased that that has happened. We have yet to see the same commitments from the other parties, despite the fact that there are people on both sides of the House who would like it to happen. I hope that all parties will write “Get Britain Cycling” into their manifesto commitments, because in that way we can be sure that whoever forms the next Government will continue and improve the efforts that have been made so far, implement the “Get Britain Cycling” recommendations, and make our streets better for people, whether they are cycling, walking, driving, or just living their lives.

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2.3 pm

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): As well as being active in the all-party group on cycling, I represent one of the boroughs with the best records on cycling in the country, with the highest percentage of people cycling to work of any London borough. A total of 14.6% of Hackney residents cycle to work, whereas the London average is 7%. The previous census showed that Hackney is the only place in the UK where more people commute by bike than by car, and 12.8% commute by car. The increase in cycling in Hackney over the years has been considerable. Between 1991 and 2001, cycling in Hackney grew by 70%, faster than anywhere else in the country—although it is probably fair to mention that we are working from a lower base than places such as Cambridge, Oxford or York.

Bob Stewart: The problem is that my constituency is quite a long way from London. Does the hon. Lady agree that it would be really good if people were encouraged to take their bicycles on the train, or if there were facilities on the train, even during the rush hour, so that they could do the combination of cycle-train-cycle-work, and the reverse?

Meg Hillier: I completely agree. I am tempted to go on a diversionary rant about how badly trains are designed for cyclists. One of the things that has burgeoned in Hackney is use of the Brompton bike. I am advertising a brand, but it is a very good brand. It is a British-made bike that has been one of the ways in which people get around the challenges of cycling. As I am now on this sideways rant, let me also say that there are the wrong types of limitations. I look to the Minister on this. Transport for London does good work on this and in other areas, but there are minimum limits on what it needs to do at stations. The same applies to National Rail. Stations do not meet the needs of cyclists who want to leave their bike at the station at either end. Trains and parking at stations are important issues, but if I talked about those it would divert me from my speech.

In 2001, the cycling rate in Hackney was much lower, with nearly 7% of working residents commuting by bike—not just cycling but commuting. The growth between 2001 and 2011 was incredible. One of the things we identified in the “Get Britain Cycling” report was the importance of political leadership in ensuring that cycling is promoted. I point both Front Benchers towards the example of Hackney. I pay tribute to our mayor, Jules Pipe, to the current cabinet member for this area, Councillor Feryal Demirci, and to her predecessor, Vincent Stops, who remains a champion of cycling. All the councillors in Hackney put bike first in their thinking. As the all-party group, we had an opportunity to cycle around Hackney with some of the council’s planning officers and Councillor Demirci to see for ourselves how they “think bike” at every stage. They do not just “think bike” but “think pedestrian” on things such as accessible streets. It is often little measures such as taking away the barriers at junctions and improving signposting on quieter side routes that have made a difference regarding the exponential growth in the number of people who cycle in Hackney.

Hackney also promotes free cycle training for adults and children, which, even with the tight financial situation, has made a difference. Let me speak up for middle-aged

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women everywhere who cycle slowly in their ordinary clothes—or, as I famously said in the summer, “pootle”. I certainly pootle. I should stress, given the Twitter-storm that ensued afterwards, that I am not speaking for every woman. I pootle slowly in my ordinary clothes. I am well aware that many women wish to go fast in Lycra, but that is not for me; I do not quite have the figure for it, for a start. A lot of cyclists do not want to go fast, hammering down the streets. Hackney works to try to signpost people down quiet side roads that suit them. That is very important, because aggressive cyclists can be as off-putting to people as bad traffic, noise and pollution.




I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) wanted to intervene, but he was simply praising the approach that Hackney has taken.

Cyclists in Hackney have always been a very active and vocal group. Hackney council has worked very closely with the Hackney cycling campaign, which has 1,000 members. We have the largest membership of a cycling campaign in any London borough. The borough has not rested there—it has looked at why people do not cycle. These are messages that we could be learning nationally. This does not all cost a great deal of money. People who do not cycle tend to be poor and living in places where they cannot store bikes, so the council has promoted storage, with a private company providing bike lockers on estates where former pram sheds have been removed.

As I said, training is free. There is buddying-up with a cyclist for those who want to go on a particular route. As a middle-aged woman who cycles slowly in my ordinary clothes, going out with a professional trainer and good regular cyclist has been revelatory. One has to do it only once to remember what to do and take the road more confidently. I cycled all my life until I moved back to London, and then felt a bit scared about it. When I got back in the saddle, that help made me feel confident. I urge the timid people out there to take up these opportunities.

Hackney has set a lead in doing this because of its political leadership, and the Minister has that opportunity, but the lead also needs to come from elsewhere. We have called for a cycling champion. We need somebody—a cycling tsar, or whatever we want to call them—who “talks bike” and gives a high profile to the issue so that Ministers in other Departments have to think about it too. It is not just a matter for the Department for Transport; it is also for the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health.

The leader of Ealing council—I am sure he will not mind my saying this—has spoken very passionately about how he had a health warning a few years ago. He needed to lose weight and had other health problems. He got on his bike, and that alone solved his health problems and made the difference. He is now passionate about making his London borough as good as Hackney, in time.

Planning has to be built in from day one. Whenever I speak about cycling, people often write to me to say, “It’s terrible that you’re not talking about segregation every step of the way.” Segregation certainly has an important part to play; as other Members have said, it would be very difficult to cycle along some roads without segregation. Realistically, however, it is not possible in a city such as London to have segregated cycle paths

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everywhere, all at once, overnight. We are not asking the Minister for that, because it is clear that he would rule it out on financial grounds alone. Hackney’s approach has been to find little ways that make a difference, such as placing a bollard here or there to make it easier for pedestrians, buggies and cyclists to get through. We have to look at this in the round.

I want to touch briefly on the Mayor of London’s transport policy, particularly the cycle super-highway along the very busy Whitechapel road neighbouring my constituency. One proposal is to carve through the pavement in order to narrow it to 2.5 metres, which is about the same size as an average side street, and require pedestrians to cross the cycle super-highway to get to the bus stop. That is bonkers. We have to make sure that, in the attempt to improve cycling, cyclists are not pitted against pedestrians.

I am ambivalent about the question of whether cycle super-highways are the answer. I think there is merit to them in some places, but one of the key things is how they will join up, which is a wider national issue. Good things could be happening in two separate boroughs, but if a bit in the middle does not work very well—there could be a dangerous gap or junction or a narrow busy road—that will put people off. We need political leadership from a champion in Whitehall who will bang heads together if there is such a problem. It does not have to involve money; a Minister could influence the situation by putting pressure on local government when it does not deliver.

Hackney has benefited from reducing and slowing traffic through measures such as humps, parking zones, improving junctions—which remains the biggest challenge in any city, particularly London—and, as I mentioned earlier, assigning quieter routes off main roads. In fact, it is possible to cycle around the backstreets of Hackney and rarely meet a moving car. That is what gives me the confidence to cycle slowly in my own little way.

Hackney’s approach has been incremental and consistent. That is what has really made the difference. It has not been a stop-start process. The census figures indicate that Hackney has been doing it solidly for the decade the mayor of Hackney has been leader. He has shown determination to put cyclists first.

I am using Hackney as a proxy for what could happen nationally. With the right attitude and by using the money that both local and central Government already provide for cycling, a lot can be done. The little more money that we would ultimately like to see—that is our aspiration—would speed things up and make sure that the gaps were filled. More can be achieved even without that money, but it is ultimately down to the Minister to make sure that that vision for cycling across the country is championed and that local government is pushed into making sure that it thinks bike every step of the way.

2.13 pm

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I wanted to speak in this debate not only because, as a member of the all-party group on cycling, I sat on the report panel, but because I am a cyclist myself.

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Cycling is booming in the Colne and Holme valleys and Lindley in my parliamentary constituency, not least because of the amazing spectacle that was the Tour de France in Yorkshire; it also went through Cambridge, of course. On a sunny Sunday in July, the world’s eyes were on Chris Froome and the peloton as they whizzed down into Huddersfield from Ainley Top and glided through the Holme valley before tackling the gruelling climb up Holme Moss. It was at the foot of that climb that my family watched the race outside my mum and dad’s house.

The tour legacy is clear to see. My local Kirklees council calculates that £10 has been generated in economic benefits for every £1 invested, but it is the cycling legacy I want to focus on. Holmfirth cycling club was set up shortly before the tour. It now has 259 members, a third of whom are women. It is the fastest growing club in the UK and it signed up more junior members than any other club during the Tour de France.

Bob Stewart: Such enthusiasm for cycling is also being generated by other sporting clubs. Beckenham rugby club now has the Beckenham rugby cyclists, which is brilliant. Let us keep encouraging that sort of thing.

Jason McCartney: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Cycling is a great way to see our beautiful countryside and to keep fit, so perhaps it provides a bit of alternative training for those rugby players.

Holmfirth cycling club offers weekly mountain bike rides and midweek rides, and once a month there is a long weekend ride. There are also training sessions for young riders and adult cyclo-cross training.

Streetbikes in Lockwood, led by the inspirational Gill Greaves, works with schools and community groups, teaching adults and children how to cycle. It also fixes unwanted bikes and donates them back into the community. Its projects are growing week on week. Some 50 people regularly turn up to “rock up and ride” events, and 80 people attended a mixed ability session last Thursday.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I appreciate what is happening inside and outside the hon. Gentleman’s constituency to encourage cycling. Are the clubs free or do they charge a levy?

Jason McCartney: Holmfirth cycling club is affiliated to British Cycling, so someone who joins British Cycling will be covered by all the insurances it provides. It is very good value—I think it costs about £20 for a year, which is not a huge amount for a whole year of cycling activities. Streetbikes is a local charity that refurbishes bikes donated by local companies and people and then gives them for free to people on low incomes in our community. It is a great scheme. At the Streetbikes cycling festival in August, 40 free recycled and refurbished bikes were given away and Streetbikes offered repairs and advice to riders.

There are 11 cycling organisations across Kirklees, including Streetbikes and other community groups. They offer various disciplines, such as BMX and mountain biking, track cycling, cyclo-cross, time trials and many more.

My part of the world is now looking forward to the Tour of Yorkshire on 1 to 3 May 2015. The routes will be announced in early 2015, but we hope they will grace my patch once again. The event is being organised by

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Welcome to Yorkshire and the Amaury Sport Organisation, the organisers of the Tour de France, and it will be backed by British Cycling. There will be three full stages over the three days, a women’s race and a mass participation event. That has inspired cyclists of all ages and abilities to get out on their bikes. The legacy continues. I congratulate Huddersfield New College student Gabz Cullaigh on being selected to represent GB in the junior road race squad at the recent world championships.

It is because of that enthusiasm for cycling that I back the recommendations of the “Get Britain Cycling” report and urge further action, not only by the Government, but by local councils and communities. On the specific recommendations, we need to redesign our roads and streets. Anyone who has, like me, tackled the chipping-laden road from Lockwood to Honley, where I live, will know of the urgent need for a proper cycle lane. I love cycling on the Meltham greenway, which is on a disused railway line, and we need more of such shared space. The needs of cyclists and pedestrians must be considered during planning applications.

Cycling needs to be safe; it can be dangerous and speed is often the culprit. We need to extend 20 mph speed limits in towns and villages, and consider limits on rural lanes. Good HGV cab design, giving drivers better sightlines, is an absolute must.

I have already mentioned Streetbikes. Let us give it funding for training and education at all primary and secondary schools in my area, and for other free training. Cycling is a healthy activity and it is good for our environment. Good progress is already being made. As of last autumn, 94% of primary schools and a fifth of secondary schools in Yorkshire had Bikeablity training sessions. Let us make more progress.

Gary Verity has become an inspirational figure in Yorkshire after his superb leadership in bidding for and running the successful Tour de France in Yorkshire. Let us have a national cycling champion and ask local councils to appoint a lead figure so that we know who to go to. They do not necessarily have to be a politician, but they should be someone who is responsible locally for all local cycling.

Let us spend at least £10 per head of the population on funding for cycling. On that note, I acknowledge that the Department for Transport has made significant investments in cycling, spending almost double the amount spent in the last five years of the previous Administration. Nearly all the projects being funded by the Department’s £600 million local sustainable transport fund now contain a cycling element. The Bikeability cycle training grant provides further funding of up to £40 per child training place, with training for a minimum of 600,000 children. I particularly welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement that funding will be extended into 2015-16. During the lifetime of this Parliament, £374 million of Government funds have already been committed directly towards cycling, but I want there to be more.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): My hon. Friend is talking about the Government’s investment in cycling. Does he agree that potholes are of great concern to cyclists? Although it is good that the Government have put a lot of funds into improving our roads, including £200 million in the last Budget, we always need more funding to reduce the number of potholes and make cycling safer?

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Jason McCartney: Yes. My hon. Friend makes a great point about potholes, which are the scourge of cyclists. One of the benefits of the Tour de France coming through my neck of the woods was the beautiful black tarmac carpet leading up into the hills. Constituents regularly asked me, “What is the exact route of the Tour de France, Mr McCartney?” and I just told them to follow the new tarmac. Filling in potholes is certainly important. My Kirklees council got more than £1.2 million from the local potholes fund, and I know how much that was appreciated.

Finally, on a very serious note, I want to end by passing on my best wishes to my constituent John Radford and his family. On 29 July last year, John, an extremely fit and active husband, father and grandfather, returned from taking part in a 1,400 km cycle event, but two days later he was hit by a car in New Mill and suffered severe head injuries, which left him in a coma. He has been discharged from Leeds general infirmary into a specialist neurological respite centre in York. He is now very severely disabled. John is confined to a wheelchair and totally dependent on others, and will remain so for the rest of his life. The family, whom I have got to know very well indeed, are now looking for a home with specialist nursing care for him. A court case is scheduled to begin at Leeds Crown court on Monday 20 October. In honour of John Radford, I say, “Let’s get Britain cycling.”

2.23 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I, too, was a member of the panel of the all-party group on cycling that drew up “Get Britain Cycling”. Like other members of the panel, I am delighted at how its recommendations have stimulated debate, thought and ideas throughout the country.

I should advise the House that I am also a member of the Lothian cycle campaign, Spokes, which has now been campaigning for cycling improvements throughout the Lothians for 37 years, which is one year longer than even the London Cycling Campaign. It is a very effective organisation.

That is a good starting point for my speech, because I remember about 30 years ago that Spokes made a modest suggestion to the City of Edinburgh council, not for a network of cycle lanes but for just a cycle lane. The reaction of the then Conservative leader of the council—we have not had many of them for 30 years—was to make the famous retort:

“Spokes can get lost and take its commie friends with it.”

As the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young) has pointed out, that kind of reaction was by no means unique to members of his party; it existed in my party as well.

It is a reflection of how things have changed, that—with the possible exception of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, whose remit does not run to Scotland—politicians of all colours are now vying to be cycling-friendly, which is good and reflects public pressure, concern and interest. That is also one reason why we have had real progress in many parts of the country.

In Edinburgh, for example, the council agreed in 2012 to allocate 5% of its transport budget to cycling and to increase that 1% year on year. In spite of tight budgetary

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restraints, the council has done that. In this financial year, it is now spending 7% of its transport budget on cycling, which is possibly the highest anywhere in the UK.

Despite the fact that there has been progress, everyone taking part in this debate knows that we have a long way to go throughout the UK to reach the levels of spending committed to cycling that we ought and need to have. In discussing the report, we have heard many concerns about the UK’s delivery plan announcing where the UK is going.

I am afraid that the situation in Scotland is not markedly different. Until recently, the Scottish Government had been reducing spending on cycling. A few years ago, the excellent Pedal on Parliament campaign was established, and thousands of people rallied outside the Scottish Parliament to demand a change of Government policy. It has had an effect in that, certainly for a couple of years, spending on cycling in Scotland, which had gone down, went up and it exceeded the UK level until this year. I understand from cycling organisations, however, that the current Scottish Government budget has reduced the level of spending on cycling. That illustrates how campaigns need to continue and persist if there is to be the kind of step change on cycling policy that we need.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): In support of the “Get Britain Cycling” campaign, does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need to ensure that there is somewhere useful for people to leave their cycles when they go on public transport or on shopping expeditions, and that we should encourage such infrastructure across our towns and cities?

Mark Lazarowicz: Absolutely. That brings me to my next point. The experience in Scotland and of the UK indicates how pressure for action needs to be continued at all levels of government. I want to highlight some specific areas where that should be done, and the first is indeed the need for joined-up policies in the field of transport.

One of my hon. Friends has already made the point about cycle-rail linkages. In Scotland, the new ScotRail franchise has been reallocated to the private sector by the Scottish Government, although some of us are not too keen about that. The winning franchisor is Abellio, a Dutch company, which has promised to bring to Scotland the type of rail-bike linkages that exist in the Netherlands. We will certainly hold it to account on that promise.

When the Department allocates the franchise for the east coast main line—again, some of us wish it was not going to be allocated to the private sector, but that is obviously the Government’s intention—will the Minister ensure that one of the criteria is to look very seriously at the degree to which the bike-rail interface is implemented by whichever operator is eventually chosen?

I am afraid that one specific place that is not a good example of a rail-bike interchange is Waverley station in Edinburgh, which is one of the country’s busiest stations. It is run by Network Rail which, for various reasons which may or may not be acceptable, has chosen to remove all vehicle access from the station. In so doing, it has removed access not just for motorised vehicles,

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but for bikes. People with bikes therefore have to fight their way along what is effectively a pedestrian ramp to get into the station. That is a classic example of how things are being done for cyclists on the trains going into the station and on the roads above the station, but, to put it mildly, there is not the kind of interface between cyclists and rail that there should be at that busy station. The Minister may be aware of that case. I certainly hope that he will look into it to try to resolve the difficulties that many people from my constituency and beyond have raised with me.

One way in which we can support cycling is to ensure that it is given an adequate place and its rightful place in the priorities for big capital spending. The national infrastructure plan, which was adopted in the last couple of years, contains major commitments to new road building. Except in the margins, there is no such commitment for cycling or pedestrians. That should be looked at. That plan presents an opportunity to give cycling the boost that it needs.

Zac Goldsmith: I agree with everything the hon. Gentleman has just said. However, does he not think that there is a slight risk in over-compartmentalising the funding? In all surveys of cyclists, there is an overwhelming consensus that the No. 1 priority is to deal with potholes and road surfaces to improve safety. However, that would never be regarded as cycling funding. Some 1,000 people responded to my most recent detailed survey on cycling and almost every one of them rated that as the No. 1 concern. Again, it would not form part of the local cycling budget per se, but it is very much in the interests of cycling that those more humdrum projects are done.

Mark Lazarowicz: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. All of us, as cyclists, know the experience of suddenly coming across a pothole, particularly one that we did not realise was there. However, I do not think that the two issues are separate. There must be road maintenance, but if there were major projects in the national infrastructure plan to bring forward cycling schemes at various places in the country that were—iconic is the wrong word—beacons, that would be a good way of spending the money. That idea also has the benefit that such projects could be brought forward much more quickly than new roads or road expansion, and could provide the infrastructure boost that is the whole point of the national infrastructure plan.

We have all heard how cycling is good for us as individuals, for public health, for the economy, for reducing carbon emissions, for tackling climate change and for the environment. For all those reasons, it is something that needs support. The support that it is given by government at all levels is improving, by and large, but much more needs to be done. I hope that this debate has underlined that need throughout the country.

2.31 pm

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): I congratulate the all-party parliamentary cycling group on securing this debate. However, given that it is an all-party group, I think that some Opposition Members have been rather churlish in not representing all the parties, but instead making a lot of party political points and having a go at the Minister when he has not even spoken. They could

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have resisted that urge and made this an all-party Back-Bench business debate in which everybody could speak and be positive about cycling.

As a non-cyclist, I have been contacted by a lot of local members of various cycling organisations and long-standing cyclists who want me to do something about the problem of cycling right up the A6. Families and elderly people cannot cycle on it because it is very dangerous. Even the keenest cyclists are nervous about going on that very busy main road. I contacted all of them to set up a meeting and we established a group to look at how we could get cyclists off the road. There is some off-road cycling in Derby along defunct train lines, but one has to drive to them. That is fine for leisure cycling, but not for commuting. It is also not good for families with young children who want to go out for an hour or so on a Saturday afternoon, because they have to get in a car to get there. It would be better if they could get on to a route near the A6 from their own homes. That route would go through the Derwent Valley Mills world heritage site, so it would bring in tourism as well.

The Derwent Valley cycleway group has been working for a year with Derbyshire county council and Derby city council to identify a route that could be realised. The route is almost in place. The landowners are mostly supportive. There is one who is not too keen because he is concerned about the livestock in his fields, but that can be overcome. The group is very passionate. It celebrated its first anniversary last week and we had a meeting to see where we had got to. I want to praise the amount of work that all its members have done voluntarily to help the local authorities come up with a scheme that can be funded.

Derby city council has £2 million to spend on cycle routes over the next five years, which is great. We only want it to fund a small portion of the route from the Silk Mill in Derby city, which comes from one of the earliest parts of the industrial revolution, up through Belper, with its Arkwright mills from the start of the industrial revolution. The route would go right up to Matlock and beyond. At the moment, I am concerned with my constituency, but it would carry on into the constituency of the Secretary of State for Transport.

As many people know, Derbyshire is a hugely hilly county. It is hard work cycling in Derbyshire, which is great for keen cyclists, but not for families who are trying to get their children cycling. The group has therefore looked at bringing the cycle path alongside the river all the way up, which would take it close to all the old mills that used water power during the industrial revolution.

The scheme is a very practical one. What is needed now is for the funding to come forward. I am therefore pleased that the report suggests funding of £10 per head. I am also pleased to note that the Government would like to get to that amount as soon as possible.

If we could get the cycle route going, it would contribute not only to people’s health, but to their education, because they would see a world heritage site. It is pretty impressive to see the enormous Arkwright mills in Belper and further north. It would make a big difference by educating young people in particular about where the industrial revolution started. Healthwise, the route would help many people to get the exercise that they do not normally get. I have even promised that I might take

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to a bicycle if we get the route going, because I might be able to go along that fairly flat route. Although I used to cycle a lot as a child, I have lost confidence and wobble all over the place, so I would not dare to cycle on a road.

Many groups in the area cycle for sport. They cycle quite long distances at speed. This would be a great route for them. They tend to go out early in the morning, whereas leisure cyclists tend to go out a bit later, so they should not clash unduly.

Businesses would welcome the route. This relates to the third recommendation of the report. Many people who live in Belper in my constituency work in Derby—quite a lot of people also work in Belper, and I would like there to be more employment in Belper—and they would like to cycle into Derby, but there is no safe route. It is important that we provide safe routes for people to cycle to work. Again, the people going to work, who will be professional, Lycra-type cyclists, are more likely to travel early in the morning and come back in the evening, whereas leisure cyclists, such as older people and families, would go at times when the route is less congested.

The report is very welcome. The fact that the Backbench Business Committee has granted this debate shows that everybody in the Chamber and the Government takes the issue seriously. I commend the report to the Minister, and ask for more off-road cycle routes that could be combined with routes for walkers and horses. We do not have enough bridlepaths in this country, and the two can go side by side—there is no reason for that to be dangerous as long as people are courteous and accept that there will be other users on the route. If we could have a multi-use cycle route, bridlepath and walking route, we would get far more people out and about, working hard to get fit, and we would introduce more tourism to the area. That would bring money to the area, which will always be welcome, and I would like more of that to be developed. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that, and perhaps come up with a strategy for how we in Derbyshire can progress that scheme—with funding at some point—so that we can have a better route for millions of people to come and enjoy our world heritage sites.

2.39 pm

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I begin with a tribute and a confession. The tribute is to the Minister. He has been exceptionally patient and lived up to every syllable of his surname in the way he has considered the problems that we in the New Forest have had recently with a particular aspect of cycling—namely the mass cycling events or sportives—and I wish to say a few words about that in my contribution to the debate. The confession is that the last time I cycled regularly was in Oxford in 1975. That was the year that I discovered the joys of motorised two-wheel transport and bought my first motor scooter, as it was then, powered at 50 cc. To this day, I am proud to say that I still use two wheels, but they are now powered by 750 cc, so I get all the exhilaration without having to invest the effort. My admiration, therefore, is unbounded for those who do invest effort in cycling. Not only is cycling part and parcel of an excellent life and health scheme, it is also part and parcel—indeed, it is integral—to the public profile of the New Forest.

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I do not know about you, Madam Deputy Speaker, but when I think of the lovely New Forest I immediately think of activities such as horse riding, walking, rambling, bird watching, camping and, yes, cycling. It is therefore sad that in recent months, a major problem has arisen in relation to cycling in the New Forest. It is not, however, an insoluble problem, and I hope that with Good-will—in both senses of the word—we will soon be able to solve it.

The problem is this. We have had mass cycling events in the New Forest for many years, and they caused no difficulties whatsoever when the numbers concerned were in the order of 500 or 600 participants—that is quite a lot when thinking about rural roads. We all know that specific laws and regulations deal with competitive cycling on the public highways, but the loophole arises in mass cycling events in the New Forest—or sportives as they are known—because people are competing not against each other but against themselves. They are seeking at all times to better the speed and time with which they complete quite lengthy cycle rides in the New Forest, and that brings obvious dangers and disadvantages to other road users and to the livestock of the New Forest. It may come as a surprise to hon. Members to know that in the New Forest, ponies, donkeys and cattle have the right of way on public roads, and motorists and cyclists do not. Therefore unless these major events are regulated—hopefully with a very light touch—there are obvious dangers of clashes, accidents and the generation of ill-feeling. It is about that generation of ill-feeling that I wish to inform the House.

In my hand I have the front page of the 23 August edition of the Lymington Times, and the main story is headlined, “Anti-cycling concern leads NPA”—New Forest national park authority—“to scrap Forest ‘Boris-bikes’”. A scheme would have brought docking stations for about 250 extra bikes into the New Forest, and funding was available with the blessing of the Government. However, such is the antipathy and poisoning of the well, caused by the clashes over those mass cycling events—some of which have had up to 3,000 participants and been spread over two days—that in the end the NPA decided not to take up the money for that purpose. It has had to come up with alternative cycling-related schemes that do not actually have the benefit of bringing more cyclists on to the road.

Ian Austin: Who else does the hon. Gentleman think should be prevented from coming to the New Forest: the people who want to walk around the New Forest or to run along its roads, or is it just cyclists that he thinks should be regulated off the roads of the New Forest?

Dr Lewis: I am very sorry that I have been making my message come across so obscurely. No one is talking about anyone being regulated off the roads. On the contrary, we want them to be regulated on the roads. That is precisely the demand the communities in the New Forest are making, because the New Forest is a living, working forest. It is not a theme park.

Ian Austin rose—

Dr Lewis: Let me answer the hon. Gentleman’s first intervention before I let him have a second.

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With good will and with co-operation and arrangements that relate to three things this problem could be solved. The sensible arrangements are: that the local authority should have the power to determine the frequency of these events; that it should have the right to limit the total numbers participating in the events; and that the participants should wear some form of identification, probably numbering, so that where there are mass events and incidents occur—let us be frank about this, sometimes incidents of an aggressive nature do occur—then there can be no question about misidentification.

Dr Huppert: I wonder if I can bring the hon. Gentleman back to the very exciting New Forest cycle hire scheme. As I understand it, more of the responses to the public consultation from people living within the forest were in favour of the scheme than against it. Does he agree that it is a rather perverse decision from the authority to listen to the public, hear that they support it and then decide that they cannot go ahead with it?

Dr Lewis: The hon. Gentleman illustrates the point I am making. I do not want to second-guess the decision of the national park authority for the simple reason that I did not involve myself in that debate and I only read about it afterwards. Frankly, I do not have enough information to make a judgment on whether I sympathise or not. However, what I certainly think—I hope he would agree—is that it is really unfortunate that the attitude towards cycling in general by the representatives of the national park and the community in the New Forest has been so damaged by this dispute over mass cycling events that cycling is getting a bad name.

To conclude, I simply say that we look to the Minister to try to have some reserve regulatory powers in place, hopefully seldom having to be relied upon, to ensure that where there is a danger of a clash—as has happened on one occasion, between the New Forest drift, when the ponies have to be moved across the forest, and a mass cycling event—and where there is a question mark over perhaps two major cycling events being scheduled for the same day, or where there is too much bunching of events one after another rather than being spread at reasonable intervals, just as there is light-touch regulation for racing events on the public highway, we believe there should be some powers in reserve so that cycling can regain its popular reputation. In this way, the New Forest and cycling will once again be bracketed together harmoniously, rather than as a source of dissonance and friction.

2.48 pm

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): It is a pleasure to respond to the debate, which is a credit to all the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken. No fewer than 11 Members have made speeches, more if one takes interventions into account. It is a credit in particular to the officers of the all-party group on cycling: my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), who introduced the debate, and the hon. Members for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and for Winchester (Steve Brine).

It is also right to mention the cycling and active travel organisations that support the all-party group. They have played a big role in making today’s debate happen. Between them they have a great deal of power, because

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we were told by Ministers more than a year ago—this has been mentioned already—that there would be a cycling delivery plan. More than a year ago, we were told the Government were working on that. We have been asking the Government for a year, “Where is it?” It has been a bit like waiting for Godot, but, amazingly, one Back-Bench debate and suddenly, hey presto, the delivery plan appears—or, as some have called it, the derisory plan.

As this debate has made clear, there are huge benefits to cycling. In particular, it improves people’s health—physical inactivity costs the NHS between £1 billion and £1.8 billion every year—and protects the environment by tackling air pollution and congestion in our towns and cities. As hon. Members have said, therefore, this affects all road users, whether motorists or lorry drivers, cyclists, bus passengers, pedestrians or motorcyclists, and many of us are all or some of those things at different times; we are all road users, and our roads must work for everyone. Getting Britain cycling is not simply a two-wheeled agenda. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) pointed out, the voice of the motorist, the AA, supports the report as well.

If I remember correctly, last year the Minister promised a walking and cycling plan to promote active travel as a whole, but as far as I can tell, we have here a delivery plan—if it is a delivery plan—for cycling only. Why is that?

As the report shows, just 2% of journeys are made by bike, while nearly two thirds are made by car, over half of them shorter than five miles. We lag behind other countries—Germany, Demark and Holland have all been mentioned—that have set impressive targets for cycling. For that reason, the “Get Britain Cycling” report was clear that we needed vision, ambition and strong political leadership, as my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) also pointed out. But what progress have we seen? The Government’s delivery plan today starts with a section entitled, “Vision, Leadership and Ambition”. Given that the Minister wants to show those things, I would like to ask him about how the plan measures up to that.

The plan puts much emphasis on new partnerships being created between the Government and local authorities to support cycling, and says that they want local authorities to register and expand cycling in their areas. However, unless I have missed something, the incentives on local authorities in the delivery plan are vague at best. What about those areas that do not sign up? Where is the national vision, leadership and ambition there? How will the Minister encourage areas to get onboard that are just starting to dip their toes in the water? How will he share best practice there? In that respect, the point made by the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) was very pertinent.

The Minister talks about the Department’s active travel consortium and an extended local sustainable transport fund knowledge-sharing network being responsible for sharing best practice, but how will that work? Has he learned from past mistakes, because the Government’s record on this is not good. Ministers scrapped Cycling England, which co-ordinated action on cycling, and the replacement cycling stakeholder forum and the so-called high-level cycling group have met just a few times in a year. What confidence can

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organisations involved in the active travel consortium have that they will have the clout and reach to promote active travel and ensure that better travel infrastructure for cycling is delivered?

I accept that the Minister is serious in his personal support for cycling, but where is the buy-in from other Departments, particularly from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who suggested that cycling was the preserve of the elite? He is not alone in that view. In my own town, Birmingham, a prominent Conservative councillor is on the record saying that cycling is discriminatory against women, particularly women from ethnic minorities. Fortunately, most people in Birmingham do not share that view.

It is good to see a review of how the planning system can support walking and cycling, but I understand that DCLG will imminently be publishing new guidance on transport planning. Will this be another silo, separate from the Minister’s, or will the two relate, and if so, how?

Mr Bradshaw: The lesson from when we were in government was that this only works when the Secretaries of State in every Department with an interest in the matter work together. This is a classic area of cross-departmental cost-benefit. At the moment, the problem is that everything is done in silos. Individual Departments are not putting their heads together to work out how much cycling benefits all of us, and that is why nothing is happening.

Richard Burden: My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Why does the Minister himself not take a look at best practice elsewhere? Why not learn some of the lessons that will be unfolding from the active travel legislation in Wales, which will require all corners of government to co-ordinate and get buy-in to promote active travel?

Another message that has been impressed upon us today, time and again, is the need for a clear funding stream. Funding streams need to be predicable and continuous. Today’s delivery plan seems to contain a lot of the right words, but if we look a little more closely, it is not clear exactly what those commitments are. We have heard a lot of talk, including in the delivery plan, about aspirations and wider funding opportunities, but I am still not clear what those are. Forgive me, but I think we need rather more than that from a Government whose use of smoke and mirrors on this issue has been second to none.

This is a Government who claim to have doubled spending on cycling, but when we look closely, we see that they funded Bikeability by top-slicing £63 million from the local sustainable transport fund, which was itself meant in large part to promote cycling. Then the Government claimed they were increasing funding for cycling with the money they gained by scrapping Cycling England. The Government cannot have it both ways. The double counting has to end. All this comes at a time when Ministers have slashed local authority funding by a third and when our research has shown that half of councils have had to cut spending on walking and cycling since 2010.

How about a bit of a change of approach? Instead of centralising power and localising blame, why not do what we have suggested and devolve £30 billion of funding to strong, accountable combined local authorities

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to get such schemes going? If the Government have set out £28 billion for our roads until 2021, with funding certainty for road and rail, why not get a bit of certainty in funding for cycling? How about heeding what my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) set out in our recent party conference, when she called for action on education, engineering and enforcement?

On engineering, I hope that all references to cycle proofing in the Minister’s delivery plan will take on board Labour’s call for new cycle safety assessments, to ensure that all transport projects are assessed for their impact on vulnerable road users and active travel. However, the proof of that pudding will be in the eating. We need all engineers and planners to include cycling at the design stage, not as an afterthought.

What about enforcement? Nearly half of cyclists say that it is too dangerous to cycle on the roads safely at the moment—we all listened to what the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) said about the tragic case of John Radford. We have called for the restoration of national targets to cut road deaths and serious injuries. I want to know why Ministers continue to resist that. Why do they have to be the ones dragging their feet on HGV safety in the UK and the European Union, rather than taking on board our suggestion of an HGV cycle safety charter, with industry regulation to ensure that HGVs are fitted with minimum safety features to protect cyclists? How will hiking HGV speed limits on single carriageway roads—despite the Department’s own impact assessment saying it will increase deaths—contribute to what we are talking about today?

Dr Huppert: The shadow Minister is making some interesting points. He has heard a lot of calls from his Back Benchers to support the “Get Britain Cycling” recommendations and commit money. Will he say now that the Labour party will include “Get Britain Cycling” in its manifesto and will he commit to spending £10 a year per person in the next Parliament if the Labour party is in government?

Richard Burden: What I can say to the hon. Gentleman, if he was following my drift, is that we have been absolutely clear that in order for the objectives in the “Get Britain Cycling” report to be taken forward, money has to be available and it has to be predictable and continuous. He will also know that it will be for the shadow Chancellor, just as much as it is for the Chancellor, to commit precise amounts. However, what I can give the hon. Gentleman a commitment to is continuous and predictable funding—something that simply is not in the cycling delivery plan.

Mr Bradshaw: I may be being a bit dim, but although I completely accept that Chancellors and shadow Chancellors set overall budgets, surely as a ministerial team with a departmental budget—my criticism of the Government is that they have not done this—it is perfectly within the powers of my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend to earmark a small proportion of the Department’s budget to reach the target. He does not require the permission of our right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor.

Richard Burden: The issue of providing clear, predictable and continuous funding is exactly that; it is about providing funding through a funding stream for cycling.

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A number of prominent people within the cycling community have put it to me that the issue of predictability and clarity is more important than whether we are talking about £8, £9, £10, £11 or £12. That is the point, and it explains what we are going to bring forward.

Dr Huppert rose—

Richard Burden: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I want to make some progress, as there is a time limit.

The final thing we need to do is to ensure that the Government take the importance of education and promotion much more seriously—something that the report understands and emphasises in calling for a

“a dramatic increase in the number and diversity of people who cycle”.

For children, this means long-term support for bikeability. For women, who still make up only a quarter of Britain’s cyclists, cycle safety is a big concern. Cycling is also important for all of us who want to make our communities safer, greener and happier places in the future.

I hope that today’s delivery plan heralds a change of thinking by the Government, but I reckon we will need a lot more action to secure the kind of change we need. I suspect that it will take more than a delivery plan; it will take a change of Government.

3.1 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I thank the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for securing the debate and my hon. and special Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) for fundamentally undermining Labour’s pledges on spending. Given that the shadow Chancellor holds their purse strings, Labour Members are unable to make any commitments whatever on this matter.

I am pleased to see in the House such great enthusiasm for cycling, as I, too, am passionate about cycling. Indeed, I was a member of the all-party group until my promotion prevented me from continuing to be so. It was the first time I saw a Brompton bike being unfolded at an all-party group meeting that prompted me to buy one of those wonderful machines, which are made in the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) said he was preaching to the converted. I plead guilty; I am one of the converted and nobody needs to persuade me of the benefits of cycling both for individuals and for our country as a whole.

Today’s debate is timely. Just this morning, as promised by the Prime Minister in August last year, we published our draft 10-year strategy for cycling in England, entitled the cycling delivery plan. I point out that walking features in it, too, and that one of our targets relates to walking to school. The delivery plan reflects the views of a high-level stakeholder group on cycling, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their input.

The delivery plan is a 10-year one for England and deals with how central Government, local government, business, the third sector and the public can all work together to help grow cycling in different parts of England. I ask the hon. Member for Dudley North to read it because there is such a lot in it. His speech suggested

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that the glass was half empty, so let me tell him it is more than half full. I hope he will take heart from some of the important announcements and commitments we make.

I am pleased that we have moved on from the time when my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young) gave his speech on his rather revolutionary ideas. I am pleased that many of these ideas are not only mainstream, but in the plan.

We have already seen the start of a cycling revolution in London, and we want to replicate this trend elsewhere, so that the nation as a whole can reap the benefits of cycling. We all know that the benefits of cycling are many and wide reaching: it helps reduce congestion on our roads, as we have heard; it helps cut pollution in our environments; and it can help individuals to become fitter and healthier. Regular cycling can help lose weight, reduce stress and boost health. I can let the House into a little secret: when I entered the European Parliament, I quickly put on 2 stone and lost it only after I bought a new bicycle. I seem to be a testament to that particular health benefit.

Regular cycling is also good for the economy. Cycling supports businesses through producing more motivated and productive staff who miss fewer days due to sickness and absence. Increased cycling and walking will save the NHS billions in the cost of treating diabetes, heart disease and mental ill health, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge pointed out in his speech. Cycling in inner-city areas reduces congestion and often proves to be the quickest, most reliable way of travelling for short- to-medium distance trips. Indeed, that is how I travel here each day. Last but not least, increased cycling gives rise to a local, creative, innovative and sustainable industry consisting mostly of small and medium-sized enterprises.

In view of all those benefits, it is no wonder that the Government are serious about cycling, and that they have provided twice as much funding for it as the last Administration. Given that £374 million—or £622 million if we include match funding—is being committed between 2011 and 2015, investment in cycling is currently about £5 per person, up from the £2 at which it stood when we came to office.

Among the key recommendations in the APPG’s report “Get Britain Cycling” was a call for sustained investment to bring us into line with other European countries. It is clear that the Government are moving in the right direction. We recognise that we need to explore how local government can go further than that £5 per person, which is why our cycling delivery plan states:

“The Government’s aspiration is that—working with local government, and businesses, we can together explore how we can achieve a minimum funding packet equivalent to £10 per person each year by 2020-21—and sooner if possible.”

This is the first time that the Government have included that £10 figure in a document, and I have to say that, having let the genie out of the bottle, I intend to do nothing to try to put it back.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): I congratulate the Government on what they have done. However, in my constituency, I recently saw four cyclists travelling two abreast on a stretch of the highway that ran parallel to a dedicated cycle path. Does my hon. Friend think that when cyclists take such action without justification they should be deemed to be committing an offence?

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Mr Goodwill: I have seen that happen on the A64 in my own area. In many cases, it may be because the maintenance of the cycle path is not good. Indeed, in some places cyclists are encouraged to cross the main carriageway because there is a cycle path on only one side of it. I would, however, urge all road users to abide by the rules of the road, and to respect others who are using it. Speaking as one who is a motorist and has been a lorry driver, a cyclist, a horseless carriage driver, a steam engine driver—you name it, I have driven it—I think it important for us all to treat each other with respect on the road.

Bob Stewart: May I clarify one point? The Government intend to try to reach a spending level of £10 per person. Do they expect that to be done entirely at local level, or will they provide additional funds to help local authorities?

Mr Goodwill: While the Highways Agency network will be dealing with our commitment to cycle-proof new road schemes, local highway authorities, local councils, or the Mayor of London and some of the other mayors around the country deliver on other schemes. We have a good track record of giving money, whether through cycling ambition grants for our cities or through local sustainable transport schemes, nearly all of which include a cycling element. We have seen local authorities deliver that, which is great. Councillor Martyn Bolt in Kirklees, for instance, is a real champion of cycling. I think that every local authority needs a cycling champion to ensure that its priorities are the priorities of the cyclist.

Richard Burden: If we are fortunate enough to be elected in May, it will be important for us to be aware of the content of the existing budgets and spending commitments so that we can work out our own ideas. Do the Government consider the £10 target to be an aspiration or a commitment?

Mr Goodwill: The word that we use is “aspiration”, but our mention of the £10 figure has put it on record that the Government intend to work towards that aspiration. Many schemes, however—one example is the cycle to work scheme—depend on company subscriptions. We depend on local authorities’ making cycling a priority, and we are keen to ensure that such decisions are made locally. We also work with rail operating companies, which often make decisions on matters such as parking at stations. We feel that our target is genuinely achievable if we work with local government and other organisations, including businesses, and I am very proud that we have put that on record.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): I congratulate the Minister on the £10 aspiration, which I think is important. In Worcester, we see a great deal of investment in cycling and sustainable transport. We have a new bridge across the river, and a good riverside loop that can be used for cycling. The next stage, potentially, will be a high walk, which is being promoted by our university. It would raise the river crossing above the level that is affected by floods, for the benefit of both cyclists and disabled people. That could be a real breakthrough in terms of sustainable transport in Worcester. I do not ask the Minister to make any commitment immediately, but may I ask him to examine the proposal very carefully when it is submitted?

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Mr Goodwill: That is precisely the type of scheme we are seeing delivered up and down the country. Indeed, the money we are investing in our eight cycle cities and TfL funding in London is already in excess of the £10 per head as recommended in “Get Britain Cycling”. The investment in cycling will be even more long term and successful with the local government commitment to working with central Government and others to achieve this, and the infrastructure we build now will be there for generations to come. In many cases we are looking at a cumulative effect of investment. It is not money that is out of the door today and gone tomorrow; this money will be reaping benefits for many years to come.

But funding alone will not achieve the revolution in cycling the Prime Minister has in mind or the Deputy Prime Minister’s commitment to double the levels of cycling by 2020. Encouraging behaviour change is an important aspect of our plans. Cycling needs to become second nature, as it is for the people in the Netherlands, Denmark and elsewhere. A revolution in cycling can be achieved only if cycling is considered a natural choice for shorter journeys by all.

The delivery plan has been developed with just that in mind, and with the appreciation that a real step-change in cycling cannot be achieved overnight or with funding alone. The delivery plan is a road map for the future, setting out the direction of travel for the next 10 years. It is a clear commitment from Government leaders to do more for cyclists as well as pedestrians, and sets out clear ambitions for the next 10 years.

Our ambition is to work with local government and businesses to explore how we can achieve a minimum funding package equivalent to £10 per person each year by 2020-21, and sooner if possible, and that is a focus of our engagement on the delivery plan over the next four weeks. We want to see the number of journeys by bike double in 10 years, and we want to see a significant increase in the number of children walking or cycling to school. Our target is to reach 55% of five to 10-year-olds usually walking to school.

The delivery plan includes specific actions to achieve these aims. It includes plans for infrastructure development and tackling safety and perceptions of safety—the latter being the biggest barrier preventing people from taking to their bikes—and, most importantly, the delivery plan calls on local government to step up to the plate and to build on our successes achieved so far.

We are aware that in parts of the world that have achieved step-changes in cycling levels a common theme is often very strong leadership at the local level. That is why central to our plans is our call on local authorities, who are responsible for implementing local transport schemes and public health, to put an increased emphasis on cycling and walking.

Specifically, the delivery plan includes a call for expressions of interest from local authorities interested in forming a partnership with Government to increase walking and cycling. In return, the Government commit to targeted support for local authorities, with incentives including priority access to funding, access to support tools and sector expertise.

It is through these partnership efforts that we hope to achieve a doubling in levels of cycling across England and help local government achieve the £10 per person aspiration in more places. Government have paved the

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way and are halfway there already, and it is now down to local government to make that further shift to help double cycling levels 10 years from now.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) talked about champions for cycling. Those champions should be in our local councils and our officers in local councils who can deliver those types of schemes and attract funding such as the cycling ambition grant funding, which was £94 million.

Of course, investment and local and national leadership commitment is key, but it is not enough to persuade people to get on their bikes. Tackling safety and perceptions of safety is key, because we know that there is a misconception that cycling is unsafe, particularly among those who do not cycle. While 67% of non-cyclists say it is too dangerous for them to cycle on the road, the proportion drops to less than half for those who do cycle. Cycling is not unsafe and fatalities are very rare. In fact earlier this year it was reported that the number of deaths at the seaside due to drowning or accidents was much higher, at 167, than the 109 deaths in cycling accidents on Britain’s roads in 2013. No one suggests it is too dangerous to go to the coast for the day.

Tackling safety for cyclists and potential cyclists is a must, and we want to persuade people to make use of the infrastructure we are building. This is why, through the delivery plan, we have developed a programme of work to address cycle safety issues with a view both to reducing the rate of those killed or seriously injured on the roads and to publicly addressing the perception that cycling is not safe. We have already allocated £35 million to deliver safer junctions. For instance, outside London the funding has enabled improvements in 80 locations and the delivery plan builds on that. It includes specific actions on safety and perceptions of safety. It sets out our cycle safety policy, including on heavy goods vehicle safety, driver and cyclist training and tackling perceptions on safety through cycle training and awareness campaigns. That includes supporting Bikeability, increasing awareness of cycle training for children and adults and utilising local road design to establish safe routes to and around schools.

We are also doing a tremendous amount of work on cycling infrastructure to make people feel safer on their bikes. We need good infrastructure and planning to get the levels of cycling we have committed to, and the plan includes work to address that. It includes plans on cycle- proofing and pedestrian-proofing policy. Indeed, cycle-proofing was a key part of the Prime Minister’s announcement last August, and the document details progress on this policy area. That includes work to improve training for highways professionals; sharing best practice and information about design of cycle-proofed streets and roads; and, in the long term, commitments towards further reviews of standards and guidance, including a six-month review on how the planning system supports cycling and walking provision.

Our plans build on the work we have done on cycle rail parking. Another major contributory factor for reaching our target of doubling cycling is our £30 million funding for cycle facilities at railway stations. I recently was in Woking to look at a new cycle parking facility there, which was already full, despite having been opened for only a matter of days. We have provided 13,500 spaces at stations and we need to do more, as the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) said. In addition, we are also making progress with new,

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innovative measures for cyclists at junctions. We are working with highway authorities to trial low-level mini-signals for cyclists, to give more targeted information to cyclists and the possibility of a head start; filter signals for cyclists as an alternative way of providing a head start at traffic lights, and different roundabout designs to reduce the speed of vehicles and provide a safer route for cyclists.

Mark Lazarowicz: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Goodwill: By all means.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. May I help both parties for a moment? We are well behind time and a lot of people are also interested in bees. I know that it is important to get to the end of this, Minister, but I do want to come to a conclusion.

Mark Lazarowicz: On railway stations, will the Minister examine the question I raised about Edinburgh Waverley and perhaps come back to me on it later? I know it relates to Scotland but there is wider interest in it. It is an important point affecting passengers throughout the UK.

Mr Goodwill: I noted the points the hon. Gentleman made about Edinburgh Waverley and the fact that vehicles, including cycles, have been removed.

In conclusion, I hope I have demonstrated today that cycling policy has been a real focus for this Government. Our efforts have clearly paved the way, but it is now down to our partners in local government, supported by central Government, to deliver the cycling revolution the country wants. The delivery plan brings together everything that central and local government, and delivery partners, are doing and need to do to increase cycling. It addresses many of the recommendations in “Get Britain Cycling”. It affirms the national leadership commitment in central Government and calls on local government leadership to take things to new heights.

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Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Very briefly, Ian Austin.

3.17 pm

Ian Austin: I will be brief, Mr Deputy Speaker. I just want to thank the Backbench Business Committee for letting us have this debate. I thank all the Members who took part. I believe that more than 25 Members have either spoken or made contributions to it.

I want to be fair to the Minister. I have never questioned his personal commitment to cycling. He is a long-standing member of our group, and I know that he is deeply committed to improving cycling in Britain and works hard for that. However, I do not think his views are shared by all of his colleagues. I am sorry if the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller) thought that I was churlish, but my criticisms of the document published today are pretty mild in comparison with what cycling organisations and people who take an interest in cycling outside this House have had to say about it. What this debate and the response to that document show is the huge amount of work that everybody who is committed to cycling in Britain has to do over the next six months so that we can get both the major parties committed to real improvements in cycling at the next election. That would mean that that whoever is in government next year could make a real contribution to getting people cycling.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House supports the recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s report ‘Get Britain Cycling’; endorses the target of 10 per cent of all journeys being by bike by 2025, and 25 per cent by 2050; and calls on the Government to show strong political leadership, including an annual Cycling Action Plan, sustained funding for cycling and progress towards meeting the report’s recommendations.

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National Pollinator Strategy

[Relevant Documents: Seventh Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2012-13, Pollinators and Pesticides, HC 668, and the Government response, HC 631, the Second Report fromthe Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2014-15, National Pollinator Strategy, HC 213, and the Government response, HC 698]

3.19 pm

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the National Pollinator Strategy.

It is a great honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to speak in the presence of the Government Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), who is a beekeeper. He did so much work in the previous Parliament to represent not only his constituents but the nation’s honey bees. I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for selecting this topic for today’s debate and to my colleagues for joining me here this afternoon.

This debate provides a timely opportunity to recognise the Government’s commitment to protecting and improving the well-being of our pollinators and to debate the draft national pollinator strategy, as there has been such a positive engagement from people right across the UK. I am talking about people who care passionately about nature and our vital farming and food industries. It is also a good opportunity to debate the inquiry undertaken by the Environmental Audit Committee on the draft strategy and the Government’s response, which was published today.

There is absolutely no doubt of the need for a national pollinator strategy. Pollination services carried out by approximately 1,500 insect species are critical for both eco-system function and crop production, because they facilitate biodiversity. The insects include bumble bees, honey bees, solitary bees, hoverflies, wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies and wasps, and the services they provide are estimated to be worth between £430 million and £603 million a year to UK agriculture.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for bringing this matter to the House. This year, the climate has been good and the bee population, which is important, has risen. What we need to focus on is having bee-friendly crops not only around fields but along the railway lines and elsewhere. We must take a proactive role in growing more crops, so that there is more food for bees, which will allow their colonies to grow. The climate has been good this year, but we cannot guarantee that every year.

Sarah Newton: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Without the services of these pollinators, who depend on the sorts of measures my hon. Friend has mentioned, we would see a decline in the variety and availability of nutritious food in the UK, or we would have to introduce expensive mechanical or hand-pollination methods, which would drive up food prices in our country.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): The hon. Lady makes the important point about the role of pollinators in agriculture, and yet we have some difficulty

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in getting a figure on that. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says in an article that it is worth between £186 million and £567 million, and yet a few inches down the page it says that the services are potentially worth only £500 million.

Sarah Newton: The hon. Gentleman raises a good point about the evidence base, and that is a key part of the draft national pollinator strategy. I will come on to the importance of ensuring that we are very much an evidence-based policy-making body.

There is a mounting evidence base to show that a huge range of threats is leading to overall declines in the number of pollinators, but with no single factor accounting for those losses. There are numerous factors involved, with habitat loss and intensification of land use probably at the top of the list. Pests, disease, the use of agri-chemicals, invasive species and changes to the weather are all factors as well. Those factors affect different species, wild and managed, to different degrees and in different ways. According to the excellent Library briefing prepared for this debate, there is evidence that the losses in wild pollinator and wild insect-pollinated plant diversity might be slowing. But the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology has produced a useful note that provides more detail for Members and for members of the public who are following this debate.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and for bringing this debate to the Floor of the House. Does she agree that bees and our other pollinators are an absolutely essential prerequisite for biodiversity and our eco-system? They are important in many and varied ways, especially with regard to food prices. If we have problems with our pollinators for whatever reason—there are myriad different reasons—it will eventually affect food prices.

Sarah Newton: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point because a great many of our crops rely on pollination. In some countries, especially America, where pollinators have been wiped out from whole sectors of agriculture, more expensive hand pollination is being introduced. Only last week I saw that UK universities are undertaking research to invent mechanical replicas of bees. Such is the threat to bees, which are the most effective of our pollinators, that we are having to invest in finding ways of replacing them. Although I welcome such research and innovation, it is far more important that we do everything we can to protect and enhance the wonderful natural resource that we have in our pollinators.

There is clearly a groundswell of concern from a wide range of people and organisations throughout the UK, including beekeepers, scientists, the women’s institute and Friends of the Earth, as well as children and families, thanks to Disney’s “Bee Movie”, and the work of the broadcasters Bill Turnbull and Martha Kearney. That culminated in a bee summit organised by Friends of the Earth in June 2013.

Last year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published its report “Bees and other pollinators: their value and health in England” in which it outlined its plans for an urgent review of policy and evidence to inform the development of a national pollinator

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strategy. To inform the strategy’s development, DEFRA’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Ian Boyd, established the independent pollinators expert advisory group, chaired by Professor Charles Godfray, to review published evidence on the status of pollinators and pollination services, to identify gaps in research and to give advice on the development and design of experiments at the landscape scale. The group’s work was published in March, along with the draft national pollinator strategy.

What I like about the draft national pollinator strategy is that it is just that—an ambitious and joined-up strategy. It recognises that the challenge we face requires not only Government action, but action from everyone. Following widespread stakeholder involvement, it takes a comprehensive approach to providing a national framework for local action by all people and organisations that can make a positive difference, from people at home to planners and land managers.

I welcome the three focused areas of the strategy, the first of which is evidence gathering on pollinator status and the impacts of environmental pressures. In national biology week, it is good that Parliament is putting science at the heart of the development of an important national strategy. The strategy also proposes “12 evidence actions” to provide a sound base for future policies to support pollinators, including by developing a sustainable monitoring programme for pollinators. DEFRA has already commissioned a two-year research project to develop and test a programme to monitor pollinators.

Secondly, the strategy proposes “18 priority actions” for the Government and others to implement from 2014, which reflect current evidence and in some cases build on and expand existing initiatives to refocus on the essential needs of pollinators. Those actions cover the management of farmland, towns, cities and public land, pest and disease risks, engaging the public, sharing knowledge, and improving the understanding of the status of pollinators and the services that they provide.

The strategy’s third aspect is a commitment to its review in 2019. It is proposed that as additional evidence becomes available the strategy should be reviewed and updated. From 2016, there will be new evidence from the monitoring programme and other evidence projects, as well as experience from implementing the strategy itself.

I support the emphasis on promoting local joined-up working. Last week, I chaired the first Cornwall bee summit, sponsored and enabled by Tregothnan, which has a deep commitment to honey bees and their health. The summit was a great opportunity for people who are already making such a positive difference to share their experience and identify what more needs to be done in Cornwall: from members of the WI to parish councillors; from landowners and the National Farmers Union to beekeepers at Tregothnan and throughout Cornwall; and from leading academic Juliet Osborne, who is from Exeter university and based in my constituency, Richard Soffe of Duchy college and Cornwall council’s ecologist, Natasha Collings, to representatives of organisations that work day and night to help our pollinators, including the Gaia Trust and the B4 project, and larger groups such as Friends of the Earth and Buglife. If people are interested, they can watch a summary of the bee summit online.

Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the work of conservation volunteer groups, which do so much to nurture flower

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meadows in a way that is so important for the bee and insect population? In particular, I would like to pay tribute to the Old Down and Beggarwood wildlife group in my constituency.

Sarah Newton: My right hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to volunteers the length and breadth of our country who are doing so much to protect and enhance natural habitats, for pollinators and for a wide variety of species.

I would like to share with colleagues some of the feedback from the bee summit and ask the Minister to consider incorporating the following points into the final strategy. I am very appreciative of the fact that DEFRA’s bee policy lead, Richard Watkins, came to the bee summit—he is also here today—and I pay tribute to the work he has done. He will be able to give the Minister a full briefing on the summit.

I urge the Minister to put at the top of his to-do list the need to integrate pest and pollinator management on farms and to ensure that there is support to enable farmers to do that in the forthcoming changes to CAP payments. Once he has tackled that, there is an urgent need to ensure that all farmers and land managers have access to education about the pollinator strategy and new ways of managing pest control and their crops.

When we consider research on the management of honey bees, there needs to be a clear understanding that the needs of native honey bees will be different from those of their imported cousins, because many of our commercial beekeepers rely on imported bees. However, the native honey bees are very much part of the solution, particularly when looking at how to tackle well-known diseases that pose a threat to our managed bee colonies, such as the varroa mite. I point the Minister to the excellent work of Rodger Dewhurst of the Cornwall Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Group to encourage the breeding and use of the native Cornish black bees.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): May I ask my hon. Friend, who knows lots more about this than I do, whether there is a risk that the imported bees will attack and kill off our native bees, just as the grey squirrels have done to our red squirrels? Have we got a real problem from abroad?

Sarah Newton: My hon. Friend, perhaps without realising it, has hit on an important point, and one that was discussed at length at the bee summit. Importing bees may well have health implications for our native species. One of the things that I will ask the Minister to consider today is conducting research into the relationship between imported farm bees and wild pollinators. It is a serious matter. There are also food security issues, because sadly we have seen some new problems arising in continental Europe, such as a new disease that is being introduced to hives by a type of beetle. Although DEFRA has that under control and we do not believe that it poses a huge threat to our bee hives at the moment, the introduction of disease is always a threat when importing bees. That was one of the findings of our summit, and it is on the list of things I will ask the Minister to consider. Also on that list is the need to ensure that we focus not only on honey bees, vital though they are, but on pollinators that are more difficult to monitor, such as bumble bees, which play an important part in pollination.

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Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Is not it worth reinforcing the point that people who are concerned about this do not have to wait for some grand Government plan but can play a part themselves by planting pollen-rich flowers in their gardens?

Sarah Newton: My right hon. Friend makes a good point. People need some guidance, because different types of bees need different types of plants in the garden and at different times of the year. One of the roles that DEFRA will have to play in implementing the strategy is to give clear advice on the sorts of flowers and plants that gardeners all over the country could plant to help their native pollinators.

As in so many policy areas, it is very important that good guidance is put in place for local authorities so that local solutions can be found, especially in the planning process so that planners can build in good habitats for pollinator well-being. Environmental impact statements are required for other species, so why not pollinators too?

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on her speech and on securing this debate. Does she agree that there is also a strong role to be played by local authorities in committing themselves to not mowing council-owned land before August and encouraging flower banks? Likewise, the Ministry of Defence owns vast amounts of land across the country that is very poorly managed in relation to biodiversity. An enormous amount could be done right now—not, perhaps, in understanding the collapse of these colonies and the decline of pollinators, but in helping existing pollinators to flourish.

Sarah Newton: I completely agree. Again, DEFRA guidance could really help councils and landowners, right now, to manage their grassland, in particular, but also to plan their planting, recognising that different native bees need different foraging areas and different plants around the country. At a time when many local councils are looking to make cost savings, reducing the amount of money they spend on grass-cutting and leaving some land available to go wild for foragers would not only save the taxpayer money but save a vital habitat for our pollinators.

Raising public awareness of the bee is very important. I thank people such as Jacqueline Davey of the International Bee Research Association, who goes into Cornish schools raising awareness of the importance of our pollinators. The National Federation of Women’s Institutes and Friends of the Earth have shown through their campaigns how much support there is for honey bees and pollinators, and we need to harness that energy and support.

I recognise that the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry delayed the publication of the national pollinator strategy. I urge the Government to reflect on the points raised in this debate and the contributions made by people all around the UK on the draft strategy, and to publish the final strategy so that we can all join together and make a determined effort to protect and enhance the well-being of our national treasure, the pollinator.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I suggest that Members speak for about eight minutes in order to get everybody in.

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3.37 pm

Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) on obtaining this debate. It comes at a very important point, following the conclusion of the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiries on neonicotinoids and pesticides and on the draft pollinator strategy, and action that might be forthcoming as a result of that and of the two-year EU moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids that has got under way. I, too, urge a rapid passage towards a final national pollinator strategy, which is urgently required. I want to reflect on one or two things that ought to be rather more emphasised in that strategy, particularly those that arise from the work that the EAC has done on the matter.

I join the hon. Lady in emphasising that we are talking about pollinators, not just about domestic bees, or even wild bees, although it has been important that a lot of the campaigning on these matters has related to Members and other people in public positions standing next to people dressed in large bee outfits.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): As somebody who has done the bee photograph twice, I know exactly what the hon. Gentleman means. Does he agree that the essence of our Environmental Audit Committee report is that there is a strong case for protecting bees and that our work should inform a proper national plan?

Dr Whitehead: Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman has anticipated what I was going to say. I hope he was not one of the people wearing a bee outfit who stood next to me; I think he probably stood next to somebody else in a bee outfit.

The “Bee Cause” campaign and various others have done well to concentrate on the threats that pollinators face, but we should reflect not just on bees, both domestic and wild, but on pollinators across the board. As the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth has said, they are, collectively, such an important element in the national health of our crops and fruits, and they interact with the natural environment in a whole range of other ways. We do not understand wild pollinators to the extent that we should; indeed, our EAC inquiry found that the general research is very ragged. We need to obtain a deeper understanding, particularly of pollinators in the wild. I hope the Department will take cognisance of that.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the relationship between the evidence produced by those who manufacture insecticides and those who commission it from a more green point of view is one of considerable mistrust? Would it not be a good thing if they could get together and agree on the outcome of their research? Perhaps then we could make more progress.

Dr Whitehead: I agree that the research commissioned by companies that have an interest in the outcome, particularly in field trials, can cause considerable mistrust. The research does not need to be done entirely independently, but the process does need to be clear and transparent. The companies should put their hands on the table and follow standards and protocols that can be supervised by external bodies. There is also a question

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mark in my mind as to whether the Department itself is awaiting a perfect piece of research, as it were, to inform its future findings. The Committee has concluded that there is no such thing as a perfect piece of research in “natural conditions,” because they have already been compromised. We should apply a probability principle to work that has already been done and then add properly peer-reviewed and supervised additional research to it. That might be much better than adopting the tentative but alarming position—which I think still pervades this debate—of simply considering how the research might inform us for the future.

Zac Goldsmith: On the point about over-reliance on industry data, which we might call contaminated data, a piece was recently written in The Times by Lord Ridley. He claimed that the neonicotinoid ban means that 50% of oil seed rape crops have been devastated, because they have not been protected. However, figures released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs only a few days ago show that the loss of yield is about 1.35%, which is well within the bounds of ordinary seasonal and annual fluctuations. That very clearly illustrates the danger of relying too much on industry data. Lord Ridley takes the industry or big business line on almost every issue, but I think we should be very cautious about attaching too much importance—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I think the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) has got the message.

Dr Whitehead: The hon. Gentleman makes a strong point about the extent to which we need a better overview of the policy implications of the various elements in the research. I want to concentrate briefly on that point.

I remain concerned about not just the Environmental Audit Committee’s original inquiry and the Government response to it, but the latest Government response, which was published just two or three days ago, to the Committee’s second inquiry. The response is apparently very tentative about how far the Department is bound by the two-year moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids, and about whether the Department will consider simply reintroducing the use of neonicotinoids at the end of the moratorium.

Is the Department prepared at the very least to make time available for researchers to come up with much more definitive conclusions before it lifts the moratorium? I would prefer—there are caveats on the research, but it seems to me that overwhelming evidence for this is already available—for the Department, rather than considering what to do about neonicotinoids at the end of the moratorium, to go further than that and say, “That is it, as far as neonicotinoids are concerned. What we need to do for the substantial element of the national pollinator strategy is to get much clearer and better definitions of integrated pest management.”

In such a way, we could move from neonicotinoids to other forms of pest management that are more appropriate for the overall health of our pollinator population in the longer term. I must say that I am disappointed that the Government response lacks a definition of an integrated pest management scheme. For the final strategy, I urge the Minister to look again at a much better, more

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understandable and clearer definition of how integrated pest management might continue following the moratorium, so that we can move to a much more organic, less pesticide-intensive and certainly more modern ways of ensuring that our pollinators are protected as far as possible.

3.49 pm

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I am delighted that the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) secured this debate, to which I am a co-signatory. This is an opportune moment to talk again about the national pollinator strategy and what we do in this country about pollinators, and to pick up on the issues that are still to be resolved in the development of the strategy.

I make no secret of the fact that I have been interested in this subject for a long time. I asked questions in the House eight or nine years ago about what the then Government proposed to do about bee health. They did nothing for some time, but then they did do something. I give them credit for putting money into research towards the end of their period in office.

This country can be very proud of the National Bee Unit and the work that it does. I am delighted by its work, because it underpins some of our efforts. Having said that, although I was not the Minister responsible for bee health when I was in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—that responsibility was held by my noble Friend Lord de Mauley—I looked closely at the information that was presented and was conscious of the huge gaps in our research base on this subject. That is the case not just in relation to the domestic honey bee, as it were, on which we at least have a large body of observation data from beekeepers, who know what their charges are doing, but particularly in relation to wild bees, such as the bumblebee or Bombus species, and other wild pollinators. We do not know how they integrate with the environment, what contribution they make or the state of their population health. Unless we have base figures, we have no understanding of what is happening.

What we do know is that the health of pollinators and the strength of the population are affected by a large number of factors. I suspect that climate is the biggest factor, but it is certainly not the only one. I suspect that weather played a big part in the recovery of some bee populations this year. Simply by observation, I have noticed that the bumblebee population in my garden has been substantially better this year than in previous years. There are also various diseases and infestations. The varroa mite is still a significant problem and there are many other conditions of which we need to be aware.

A major factor is whether there are sufficient suitable habitats for pollinators. That is not helped by intensive agriculture. The more effective crop management we have, the more we need other land to be available for pollinators. We must provide that balance. I am not against good crop yields—they are essential if we are to feed ourselves—but if they are to be sustainable, we need other elements to be in place. That might mean sacrificing land to provide pollinator habitats. Another factor, which the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) spoke about, is the effect of various pesticides and other dressings on crops. I will return to that in a moment.

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We have a lot to celebrate. I am pleased to have pushed hard for a national pollinator strategy, because it is so important. I congratulate my colleagues in the Department for pushing it forward and look forward to the day when it is finally in place. There are a number of factors that I would like the Minister to consider.

The first factor is research. We need to commission research in the right places. We must carry out research in combination with those overseas who are looking at the same issue, although perhaps in slightly different habitats, in order to understand what is going on. The key is to have a base figure for populations from which we can extrapolate future population health. We need to consider issues that relate to specific species. We need a strong scientific base in order to do that. The Department must therefore have the ability to commission research or to ensure that others do so. It might be done at the European level or elsewhere, but let us make sure that it happens.

The second factor is the recruitment of the army of citizen scientists into the process. We saw how effective that was when dealing with ash dieback last year, and how useful it was to have people who would go out and look at what was happening. It is interesting that ash dieback has now been carried by the wind to north-west England, yet not a single newspaper or parliamentarian has a word to say about that, although it was the biggest crisis ever only a year ago. However, that information helped us to provide the best response we could, even if it was incomplete—again because of the lack of knowledge —so we must use that.

The third area—this is probably the biggest point I want to leave with the Minister—is that the Government’s one major lever to improve the health of our pollinator population is to use pillar two of the common agricultural policy in an effective way to give positive encouragement to land that ought to be available for pollinators, and to the sort of growth on land that would encourage them. I have still not seen the final outcome, but when I was Agriculture Minister I pressed hard for the key element of pillar two in the future to be direct support for pollinators and to ensure that good behaviour is rewarded. We need to see headlands and land that is not available for main crops being used effectively, and the so-called ecological focus areas should provide a useful addition to the ecology of an area, rather than being rather arbitrary and token.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): At the moment, taking advice on which 5% of land should be an ecological focus area is voluntary. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there should be slightly firmer guidance about which areas could be used as ecological focus areas, so that we get the best from them?

Mr Heath: I am genuinely in two minds about that. I agree that the advice must be there, and that farm and wildlife advisory groups are probably the best apparatus for doing that, along with Natural England and other agencies. However, when I was a Minister, I visited Dartmoor—not a million miles from the hon. Lady’s constituency—and spoke to farmers there. They took a different view on how they used what were then the high-level stewardship schemes, and had a less prescriptive approach. They spoke more about outcomes and what

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they were trying to achieve, and they let farmers use their own land skills to achieve those outcomes. That was successful, and made me think that perhaps we are sometimes too prescriptive, rather than under-prescriptive, in what we do. Yes, we need advice, but I think we sometimes underestimate the ability and willingness of good farmers to do the right thing for their local environment. They would like to do that if they are given the encouragement and scope, so let us see what we can do in terms of design.

Mention was made earlier—I think it was the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith)—of the importance of other Departments playing their part. DEFRA cannot do this on its own, and I would like local authorities to be much more attuned to what they can do to encourage pollinators, even if that is only ensuring that the local park contains pollinator-friendly plants, as that would make a difference.

I will conclude with perhaps the most contentious issue: pesticides. Pesticides are a hazard to insects—that is obvious; they would not be pesticides if they were not. The difficult question that the Government, chemical companies and agriculturalists have to answer all the time is whether that hazard, along with the level of exposure, is a real risk to the pollinator population. That was the difficulty we had with neonicotinoids: there was no evidence to suggest that the hazard that undoubtedly existed and could be demonstrated in sub-lethal quantities in a test tube or laboratory, represented a risk in field conditions, because no work had been done on that. I hope that work has now been done to substantiate that properly one way or another, because such a lacuna in information is unsupportable when it comes to making a competent and coherent decision. The other risk is that banning neonicotinoids encourages the use of pyrethroids and organophosphates, which we certainly do not want to promote, as they are significantly worse options not just for pollinators but for every other living creature in the vicinity.

Before I sit down I will just mention one point. Hon. Members may not know that next year we have the Milan Expo. The UK’s contribution will be based on the life of the honey bee. I am very proud that our Government and our country recognise the importance of the honey bee, so much so that that is our window to the world.

4 pm

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): I was going to make a long speech, but in view of the time left and all that has been said, I will condense the important points that arise—as the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), whom I congratulate on securing the debate, said—from the work done by the Environmental Audit Committee, not just in one report, which is authoritative, but in the follow-up report on the national pollinator strategy.

Many members of the Committee are in the Chamber this afternoon—I apologise to the Minister for the fact that, for personal reasons, I will not be here for the wind-up speeches—and we want him to take into account, before the Government finalise the national strategy, the authoritative work we have done, the evidence we have received and the detailed hearings we have had. We owe that to the many organisations and people who have engaged skilfully and diplomatically with the Government, from Friends of the Earth, to the National

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Federation of Women’s Institutes, to Buglife, to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, to get this national pollinator strategy. It would be unfortunate in the extreme if the detailed work, good will and campaigning that has been done all around the country to get the strategy fit for purpose was not taken into account as the Government prepare to finalise it and make it operational.

Neil Carmichael: I endorse what the hon. Lady is saying. The report is very thorough. It has a huge amount of evidence from a wide range of experts and was properly considered by all members of the Select Committee. It is, if I may say so, as I am a member of the Committee, an example of excellent work by a Select Committee. I hope that the Minister takes heed of what he has heard not once but twice or even thrice.

Joan Walley: I would say this, wouldn’t I, but the work record of the worker bees on the Environmental Audit Committee is second to none. It is worthy, perhaps, of a detailed meeting with the Minister before he finalises and signs off the national pollinator strategy.

We still have concerns, some of which I think are echoed by the organisations that contributed. We welcome the work that has been done so far by the Government. The fact that we have further reservations, conditions and asks does not mean that we do not welcome what has been done, but there are various areas where further work is needed.

We do not want to see the European Commission’s neonicotinoid ban undermined. We are aware that an application came through in the past 12 months that was withdrawn before the Government finally considered it, but it is important that the ban stays. That prompts the question: what happens at the point when the ban is reviewed? What will happen next? As the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) rightly set out, the important issue is the research that will be done and the research that is set out in the draft strategy. We have major concerns relating to transparency and the independence of those doing the research. When my hon. Friends and I met in Brussels, we were surprised to hear from the Commission that some of this important research was being financed not with European money, which we felt would have given it a semblance of independence, but by the agrochemical companies. For that reason, safeguards have to be put in place.

I hope the Minister will address the point about independence, if not now, then later, as it was not thoroughly addressed in the response to our report, which we have tagged to, and made available for, this debate. We need continual scrutiny of how close DEFRA is to the companies carrying out the research. It is one thing to have funding; it is another to contribute to the design. We need a referee—some kind of overall body—to ensure that the research is not designed only by those with vested interests.

Dr Wollaston: I am grateful to the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee for making an excellent speech. Are she and the Minister aware of the work of the AllTrials campaign by Sense about Science? In medical research, for example, one serious issue is around publication bias and whether we actually get to see all the research, not just that which gives favourable results.

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Joan Walley: The Chair of the Health Select Committee makes a valid point. It is about all aspects of research, as well as peer review; and it is about commercial confidentiality, which business says prevents much of what we want to see in the public domain from being examined so that it can shape and inform our work. The scrutiny and funding of research, now and over the coming years, must be properly addressed in the final version of the national pollinator strategy.

On the precautionary principle, the Government are using poetic licence in their interpretation of the UN’s Rio declaration and the work arising from it. As has been said, where there is not final scientific evidence, we should use the precautionary principle. This should not be trumped by economic issues; if protection is needed for habitats that cannot be protected any other way, there are times when we should follow the precautionary principle.

Bee decline is not just about neonicotinoids; as everyone else has pointed out, including the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), whom I congratulate on the local initiative she has taken, this is about understanding how the work is done and how we can integrate the CAP work with the integrated pest management work. Friends of the Earth thinks that we could be much more ambitious and innovative in our farming methods and improving people’s understanding of how food is produced, if we could be less dependent on pesticides. That has to be worked at in the strategy.

The strategy needs also to set out the importance of public engagement. It is precisely because there has been so much public engagement that the strategy is now almost complete, and we owe it to everyone who has campaigned in their own communities to ensure that they are not alone in taking voluntary action. Where regulation, oversight and commitment are needed, it is important that the Government show that leadership. We concluded that we were strong on the voluntary side, but weaker on where the Government could be more forceful. That needs to be taken into account before the strategy is finally signed off, because the public engagement measures will break down if the feeling is that it is not backed up by Government.

There are other issues, which we did not mention in our report, that have been mentioned in this debate, including the role of the Department for Communities and Local Government. This is not just about farmland; it is about urban areas, green spaces, roadside verges, riverside areas and so on. It is about how we can encourage the habitat that will be needed to provide protection for the bees.

I am conscious of time, so I simply say to the Minister that, as much as this debate is about technical issues, of which we need forensic scrutiny and proper oversight, the fact that we are talking about bees and pollinators shows that it is about something much deeper: something that connects us all to wildlife and nature. We think of all the poets and the literature—I think of W. B. Yeats’ “bee-loud glade” in “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, and so on. That whole aspect of nature connects us to our landscape. We need an understanding here in Parliament of all that is important, so I simply ask the Minister to ensure that the national strategy is much more fit for purpose and capable of being extended as time goes on and that we gain more from research. If that is the case, the work our Committee has done will have achieved some success.

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4.11 pm

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I, too, pay tribute to the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) for securing this important debate. I know that many Members of Parliament have an interest in it, and I also congratulate the Select Committees involved on the work they have done.

Next Wednesday, 22 October, hon. Members are all welcome to come to Brecon and Radnorshire day, and I hope Peter Guthrie will be bringing along some of his honey for us to taste. We live in an area of rather less intensive farming than some of the more arable areas, so I do not think there will be any pollution from insecticides. Please do come along.

When the consultation on the strategy was launched, it itemised five fairly simple ideas, which I still think are very strong as far as pollinators are concerned. The first was to grow more nectar and pollen-rich flowers—we have heard all about that—whether on field boundaries or by local authorities. The second was to let patches of land grow wild. As we travel around Britain, we see lots of land that could be left uncultivated and do a good job for biodiversity. The third idea was to cut grass less frequently and perhaps not so early. That is another message for local authorities. Then there was not disturbing insect nests or hibernating insects and thinking carefully about whether to use a pesticide. I am sure that the strategy will go into more details, but those ideas sit at the foundation of our approach to this problem.

Much has been made of the contribution that pollinators make to agriculture, yet it has been difficult to get a figure or set of figures that anybody can agree upon. I am of the opinion that maintaining biodiversity and maintaining pollinators is a good thing in itself. My fear is that some figures might come forward showing that pollination does not play such a big part in agriculture, which might undermine our argument. In fact, I received a very good briefing from Friends of the Earth, which contained one sentence that I was very taken with:

“A scientific review of pollination services in 41 countries across Europe found that the UK only has a quarter of the honey bees it needs for pollination”.

That struck me as an extraordinarily disturbing figure, so I e-mailed Friends of the Earth last night. They came back with an answer that said, “Well, we don’t know how close we are to the tipping point,” but surely if we have only a quarter of the bees anyway—I am not quite sure about the other pollinators—that puts us in a very precarious position.

That compares with reports in yesterday’s papers that we have had the biggest bumper crop of apples that we have ever had. One thing for certain is that the apple crop needs pollination by insects.

It is difficult to correlate all these issues, which is why I support everyone who has said that we need a well co-ordinated approach to research. People in the agri-chemical industry must work openly and transparently along with others who are commissioning research.

Neil Carmichael: Does my hon. Friend agree when I say—or at least assert—that if we get a proper plan that works for bees and is seen to be working for bees in this country, other countries will take it on as a code of good practice? That would be extraordinarily good for them as it would be for us.

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Roger Williams: I entirely agree. Co-ordination is needed not just within this country, but in other countries, to ensure that the research is productive and can be applied to encourage more pollinators.

Let me say a few words about the systemic neonicotinoids that have been banned in this country and across the EU for two years. I am not sure what figures are most accurate on the reduction in yield, but I do know that the flea beetle is a persistent offender, which can be detrimental to young crops, particularly to oilseed rape and other brassicas. It has been reported that farmers, rather than have just one application of this systemic neonicotinoid, are in fact spraying three or four times in order to safeguard the establishment of their crop. We believe that some of these sprays, such as the synthetic pyrethroids and the organo-phosphates, can be as damaging to pollinators as the neonicotinoids.

These issues are very complicated, so putting into practice any effective pollinator strategy is going to take money—and most of it is going to come out of the common agricultural policy—so that we encourage farmers to do such things as allowing field margins to remain uncultivated. Even more important is active management of those field margins to ensure that flowers and plants can be used by pollinators, but again that is going to cost quite a bit of money.

Let me raise with the Minister an issue I have raised a number of times before—the measly allocation of pillar two money for the United Kingdom. Normally, in most European countries, the ratio of pillar one money, which is the direct payments, to pillar two is 3:1; in Britain, it is 10:1. Our allocation of pillar two money for the next financial horizon is going to be only about £2.2 billion, which has to be spread between conservation and improving competition and marketing in the farming community and rural areas.

Bob Stewart: Is that pillar two money decided in Brussels? Do we have any influence on it? Can we do anything about it, or do we just have to sit and wait for a decision from Brussels?

Roger Williams: It is decided in Brussels, but the real problem is that it is decided on a historical basis. We have had low allocations of pillar two money for many years. It is believed that if the allocation were made on an objective basis, such as according to the amount of agricultural land, the number of people involved in agriculture or the number of forests, we would have at least 100% more pillar two money. It is tied up with complex issues such as our rebate and the Fontainebleau agreement. When the CAP was renegotiated, I thought that all these figures would be based on objective factors rather than historical factors. However, we have ended up with a £2.2 billion allocation, while France has £8.8 billion and Germany £7.8 billion. It is no wonder that the farming unions are trying to resist modulation and the green non-governmental organisations are going for higher modulation. If the farming unions had co-operated with the green NGOs and gone for a bigger allocation of pillar two money, we should not have had all that argument.

I am not sure whether anything can be done—it seems that the figures have been agreed to—but I think that that was a real disaster, and one of the programmes that could suffer as a result of it is the pollinator strategy, which

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desperately needs money. I understand that the new environmental land management scheme that DEFRA is introducing can be used for such purposes, and I hope the Minister will ensure that it is.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Three more Members wish to speak. I must tell them that I intend the Front-Bench speeches to begin at 4.40 pm.

4.20 pm

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Let me add my voice to those of the Members who have already welcomed the introduction of a national pollinator strategy—although with a degree of impatience, given that we do not yet have the final version.

I had intended to focus for a while on pesticides and, in particular, on my concerns about lobbying by chemical companies and whether the Government accept the scientific risk assessments, but I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) has more than done justice to that issue, and several other Members have mentioned it as well. In the limited time available, therefore, I shall concentrate on urban pollination, a subject that I do not think has been raised today.

Needless to say, Bristol is at the forefront of some of the work that is currently being done. Professor Jane Memmott of the university of Bristol has drawn attention to the “huge diversity of sites” that cities contain not just gardens, but meadows, nature reserves and parks. They may, in fact, offer a greater diversity and abundance of flowers that can be found in the countryside. Modern farming practices that promote crop monocultures often leave little room for wild flowers.

The “urban pollinators” project, led by Dr Katherine Baldock and Professor Jane Memmott at the university of Bristol in collaboration with three other UK universities, has been doing a great deal of research on just how important urban environments are. Let me quote a few statistics. Apparently, 50% of Germany’s entire bee fauna have been found in Berlin, 35% of British hoverfly species were sampled in a single Leicester garden, and honey bees produce more honey in urban Birmingham than in the surrounding countryside. The project is mapping and comparing pollinator habitats in cities, farms and nature reserves throughout the country. In Bristol, it has been working in partnership with the city council's “meadow Bristol” project to plant nectar and pollen-rich flower meadows in our public parks, school playing fields and road verges, turning them into a haven for pollinating insects among the bricks and concrete.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): Let me first say how sorry I am to have missed the opening speeches, and not to have been able to make a speech myself. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene, because I can now make a point that I should have liked to make earlier. I think that golf courses throughout Britain, in both urban and rural areas, have a massive potential to deliver the results that the hon. Lady wants. Some are already starting to do so, but we need to ensure that that goes much further.

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Kerry McCarthy: I do not play golf, but I have seen reports suggesting that it is the least environmentally beneficial sport because of its huge water footprint. If it can make some redress for that by planting plenty of wild flowers, it will at least be doing its bit.

Next year Bristol will be the European green capital, and in preparation for that we are doing some exciting work under the banner “Get Bristol Buzzing”. We have a “bee summit” coming up, which some Members might like to attend. The action group is leading a greater Bristol pollinator strategy, and we are examining ways of implementing it at local level. I pay particular tribute to the St George in Bloom group. A constituent of mine, Grenville Johnson, is a really inspiring man who has done a huge amount of work for the group, and it has just been announced that it is the winner of the Royal Horticultural Society’s South West in Bloom award 2014.

In my constituency, as in many other constituencies, this is the age of car ownership and many incredibly busy people are paving over their front gardens to give them parking spaces and going for the low maintenance option of decking-in their back gardens, as opposed to having grass and flowerbeds. Grenville is trying to reverse this trend a bit by encouraging people at least to have hanging baskets or window boxes. His street is an amazing display of bright colours hanging from the lampposts and on the grass verges. His group has been working with the residents association to create a community garden in an area of unadopted land. It has planted a wild flower meadow in St George park, and it is teaching local people basic things about gardening and how to pot plants. He has now applied for green capital funds to implement the local pollinator strategy. There are also initiatives such as providing free seeds and plants to anyone who enters the St George in Bloom competition and that will also help to attract pollinating insects.

Bristol zoo gardens is also doing very good work, and there are projects such as Incredible Edible Bristol. In some of Bristol’s public spaces, the flowerbeds do contain flowers, but things like cabbages and kale instead. Apparently we are allowed to help ourselves to them, but I have never dared do so just in case I have got that wrong.

I want to put three points to the Minister. I know he has limited time to reply, but I hope he will try to address them. It will obviously be extremely challenging for local authorities, non-governmental organisations and others to take the national pollinator strategy on and implement it given their work loads and financial constraints, so will he say a little about how he can ensure the visions and aims of the strategy can be achieved and maintained in the long term? The role of the planning authorities was briefly mentioned. It is important that planners and developers consider the needs of pollinators. Thirdly, does DEFRA plan to have a long-term monitoring scheme so we can judge how pollinators respond to the changes introduced under this strategy and so we can see what does and does not work, and perhaps regularly review it so that we do the things that do work?

4.26 pm

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): I am very pleased to have a chance to contribute to this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and

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Falmouth (Sarah Newton) on securing it. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley). As Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, of which I am a member, she has been a pivotal figure on the issue of pollinators and pesticides and a driving force in enabling the Committee to consider these matters.

I welcome the national pollinator strategy, and I am very pleased that the Government have set forward their vision and ambition, but they need to take some of their existing measures further.

The strategy is important for several reasons. It is a tacit acknowledgement that over 20 species of bee have died in the past 100 years or so, and since 1985 the number of honey bees in this country has declined by almost half. When my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) was the Minister, I asked about the cost of replacing bees with hand pollination. I was grateful that the Government came back with an answer: the university of Reading undertook some research and concluded it would be £1.8 billion—a cost that would fall on consumers.

In addition, the Government have acknowledged that 84% of plant reproduction and 76% of food crop production in Europe depends on pollination by bees. It is clearly, therefore, a very important issue for this country.

I am pleased the Government are concerned about the bee decline. Bees are not only important for food production; they are also important for biodiversity and for their intrinsic value to many of our constituents. A point was made about Friends of the Earth and people having their picture taken next to a bee, and many people in my constituency—in a suburban seat in London—have e-mailed me to tell me how concerned they are about the decline in the bee population.

The NPS also acknowledges that this is not just about bees but about all pollinators—hoverflies, butterflies, moths, beetles—and carrion and flesh flies, which play an important role on many of our country roads in respect of animals that are knocked down. Even mammals such as bats, which are specialised pollinators in their own right, play a role.

The Government also acknowledge that many of us have a role to play. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) mentioned local authorities. When I was a cabinet member in and deputy leader of Barnet council, I introduced the policy of bringing the countryside into the city. There were parts of Sunny Hill park that I told contractors not to cut. We took that approach for the simple reason that it would attract hoverflies, butterflies and all the other pollinators that would encourage pollination within Hendon and other parts of my constituency.

The NPS also acknowledges the role of research and review, and commits to more studies to understand the economic and social value of pollinators. I am keen for the Government to continue to do that work. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) mentioned the review of the NPS in 2019, but I wish to draw the House’s attention to the 2013 decision to ban neonicotinoids in Europe. The Government were not keen on that at the time. They said that they would

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continue to interpret that principle on the basis of both economic and environmental considerations. I hope that they do that and do not override some decisions on the basis of a reliance on commercial rather than scientific research. I do not want the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to abrogate its capacity to deliver on its environmental protection obligations, so I hope that that part of the strategy will continue to be followed.

I wish to mention four areas I would like the Government and the Minister to consider. As has been said, various changes have led to a reduction in pollinators, including the presence of invasive species, climate change, and biodiversity and habitat loss. We can, however, have an immediate effect in one area—planning. I would like the Department for Communities and Local Government to put greater emphasis on taking pollinators into account in its planning guidance. One of the main causes of the decline in pollinators relates to their ability to find food and shelter. There is a lot of poorly planned development in different parts of the country by local authorities and developers that causes further decline, and I want the situation turned around. I am aware that the plan includes some measures to deliver a step change in land management, but I want the Government to give us further clarity on that to illustrate how planning and development can affect habitats that pollinators need and how the current system can better plan for them.

I would also like the Government to consider agriculture itself. I would like to see them assisting farmers to cultivate pollinators. More than 70% of the land in this country is devoted to farming, and what happens on farm land is pivotal to whether bees and pollinators survive and revive. Farmers do what they can—I acknowledge that they do great things to provide pollinators—but I would like to hear what the Government intend to do to provide assistance. The draft NPS is too reliant on voluntary farming measures. Given the historically low take-up of these voluntary measures and low level of adoption of pollinator-specific actions in agri-environment schemes, the Government could go a lot further. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) mentioned making CAP reform work for nature, and it would also lay the foundation for the pest management regime.

The Environmental Audit Committee highlighted the integrated pest management scheme. The draft NPS does include measures to promote the pest management scheme to reduce the risks to bees of pesticide use, but it needs to be clearer about what is additional to the existing action and how that will be targeted to help bees. The definition of the IPM in the draft NPS does not refer to reducing pesticide use, yet the EU rules require that priority is to be given to non-chemical methods of pest control. We need a clear ambition to minimise over-dependence on pesticides. If we do not undertake that, the conditions for pollinators are unlikely to change. The IPM can help the UK to move to pesticides being used less, in a smarter, more targeted way, and as a last resort and not as a matter of course. So, again, farmers need more assistance in their approaches to pesticides, particularly in respect of crop pest resistance to insecticides and the NPS overall.

I wish to finish by discussing community partnerships. We all know that many groups and civil organisations are keen to work with the NPS, but I do not want the

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Government to rely too heavily on voluntary initiatives or outside bodies that have limited accountability lines and then not be able to put across their vision and deliver the aspirational intentions of the NPS. I believe that we can protect our bees and we have an opportunity to do so, but we need to do it in a way that transforms how our communities respond and react to their local environments.