Monday, May 03, 2004

House Points

The combined efforts of whatever Consignia calls itself these days and the Bank Holiday mean that I have not seen the latest Liberal Democrat News yet. But here is the new House Points. It can also be found here.

The parliamentary cycle

We need new legislation on cycling. Something that lays down stiff penalties for grown men who buy expensive bikes and funky Lycra gear, then ride on the pavement.

Unfortunately this is not what Eric Martlew put forward last Friday. Instead the MP for Carlisle gave us the Protective Headgear for Young Cyclists Bill. This would make it an offence to allow a child under 16 to ride a cycle without a helmet on the road or “in any park, garden or recreation ground to which the public have access without payment”.

You can imagine how well this plays on daytime television. “Well, Esther (sob), if it saves one child from injury I think it will be worth it.” “Wonderful, Eric. And in part two: ‘My grandmother stole my fiancé’.”

Martlew, certainly, was convinced of his own righteousness. Anyone who opposed him had base motives. “The Association of Cycle Traders seems more interested in selling bicycles than in the safety of children.” Yet the debate reinforced the impression that no one is sure how great the safety benefits of helmets are.

The bill foundered when Eric Forth moved that the House should sit in private. He lost by 25 votes to nil but proved there were fewer than 40 MPs present. So the Commons moved on to next business.

People who oppose Martlew point out that where helmets have been made compulsory fewer children cycle to school. This is an odd thing to be advocating when childhood obesity in this year’s hot political issue.

They are right, but Martlew’s bill goes deeper into contemporary neuroses than that. It reinforces the idea that the outside world is a dangerous place. Better to stay at home, to watch it on television. And if you have to go out, then wear protection.

It also reflects our lack of confidence in ourselves as adults. No doubt children who cycle on busy roads should wear helmets. Equally, it is hard to believe that a child riding a fairy cycle in the park needs to wear one.

Who is to make this judgement? You might say parents, but they could get it wrong or think differently from the majority. Better to leave it to the likes of Eric Martlew and pass a law.

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