Norris forgoes the No 12 and takes his car

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The Independent Online
Ministerial red boxes were yesterday blamed by Stephen Norris, the Minister for Transport in London, for his failure to practise what he preached by leaving his car at home.

Mr Norris - who once pointed out that some people would not use public transport because it meant "dreadful human beings sitting alongside you" - was utterly unabashed about his use of the official car, in spite of ministerial exhortations to use public transport in the hot weather to cut down pollution.

The minister said he did not catch the number 12 bus which passes close to his door because he needed his car to ferry his red boxes to his office a couple of miles away at the Ministry of Transport.

The security demands of transporting the red boxes, which ministers use to carry their official papers, did sometimes make the use of an official car necessary, he said. His "red box" excuse was also used by other ministers, including Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for National Heritage.

However, the ministers may need a better excuse to convince the sceptical public. Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, has ordered his private office to cut his night-time reading to one box only, which could neatly fit in the pannier of a ministerial bike.

Sir George Young, Mr Norris's boss, as Secretary of State for Transport, is a keen city cyclist. Dame Angela Rumbold, a former education minister, frequently used the London Underground because it was quicker, although her red boxes were taken in her official car, which would defeat the object of the anti-pollution measures. Alistair Burt, the social security minister, is a keep-fit fanatic and has been known to jog home through east London . . . with his official car carrying his clothes and red boxes.

However, Mr Norris issued a public warning that he had taken up cycling, which could lead to a campaign to get him back in his car. He also claimed to be a regular user of public transport. "And I expect I will do on many more days than most people who are listening," he said on BBC Radio 4 yesterday.

More action on curbing pollution was called by Alex Carlile, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on health, who said government figures showed that the cost of treating asthma had soared. He said the cost of National Health Service prescriptions for asthma in England had risen by 20 per cent in two years.

t A group of radical environmental campaigners plan to blockade a major arterial road into central London today to protest against the rising level of pollution in major cities. The group, Reclaim the Streets, says the blockade is to enforce the advice give to motorists by the Government.