Ministers too fond of their limousines

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The Independent Online
Half a million civil servants have been told to let the train take the strain. But the message has not reached some parts of the Cabinet, parliamentary answers have revealed.

Despite the Government's announcement that Green Transport Co-ordinators are to encourage car-sharing and use of public transport by officials, some ministers have gone months without using a train on official business. Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary, confessed in an answer to Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, that he last used the train on 11 July to attend a half- day seminar on the Strategic Defence Review in Coventry.

Harriet Harman, Social Security Secretary, last took a train trip on 17 September, the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, on 10 November and the Culture Secretary Chris Smith on 30 November. Others have been more assiduous in using public transport. Jack Straw, Home Secretary, said he took the 07.45 from London Euston to Wolverhampton on 6 January. Donald Dewar, Scottish Secretary, and David Clark, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, both used a train this month.

John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister and in charge of environmental policy, took a train on 12 January though he often prefers to travel in his ministerial Jaguar. Tony Blair revealed he made eight train journeys since 1 May but "for reasons of practicality and security" it was not always possible.

Top marks went to the Health Secretary Frank Dobson and Welsh Secretary Ron Davies, who replied on 15 January that they used a train on official business that day. Peter Mandelson, Minister Without Portfolio, refused to say when he last went on business by train, although he did confirm he had not been anywhere by bus.

Mr Blair confirmed that all departments had been asked to draw up and implement "green transport plans" to minimise the environmental impact of their activities. "Ministers and civil servants will be expected to play their part to meet their objectives," he said in a written answer. The Guide to Green Transport Plans encourages officials and ministers to help by "reducing unnecessary travel and encouraging those who have to travel to do so in a way that minimises the environmental impact."

However, Mr Baker said some ministers seemed to have become addicted to their ministerial cars. "The Government that claims to be in favour of cutting greenhouse gas is happy to let ministers belch out carbon dioxide and noxious gases to their hearts' content."