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Murphy's chauffeur drives him into trouble; WESTMINSTER: Welsh Secretary is criticised - for failing to walk 120 yards.

Byline: NICK SPEED

AS POLITICAL journeys go, this was one of the shortest - but last night it appeared to have landed Paul Murphy in hot water.

The Welsh Secretary yesterday let his ministerial motor take the strain as he attended a specially-convened Cabinet meeting ahead of the spending review.

With Whitehall basking in blue skies on one of the sunniest days the capital has seen this summer, it was a perfect day for a stroll - even one that can be done in 60 seconds.

But the minister decided against walking the 120 yards from his department to Downing Street - and instead jumped in his chauffeur-driven Vauxhall Vectra.

If saving valuable time had been the intention, then the plan backfired. The traffic in the other direction was so heavy that Mr Murphy's car was left waiting to turn into Downing Street for two minutes longer than it spent progressing along the road.

And then a large group of schoolchildren stopping to get their souvenir snapshots of Number 10 plus security precautions led to further delays, prompting Mr Murphy to get out and walk the final 50 yards.

In the wake of the assassination attempt on France's President Jacques Chirac, a spokesman for the Wales Office last night cited safety concerns as one of the reasons for using the car.

``He does it in the interest of time and security - and he always walks back,'' said the spokesman.

Later it was made clear yesterday's return trip had even been extended - so that Mr Murphy could also visit the Treasury. But political opponents thought Mr Murphy's choice of transport was a faux pas to rank alongside the infamous and similarly short trip made by John and Pauline Prescott from their hotel to the venue for Labour's 2000 conference in Bournemouth.

``When you consider all the claims the Government makes about reducing pollution and improving the environment, I think it is appalling for a minister to be travelling such a short way by gas-guzzling limousine,'' said Plaid Cymru's Elfyn Llwyd.

On this one, though, Mr Murphy might seek safety in numbers.

His Cabinet colleague Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, had an even shorter journey to make for yesterday morning's meeting. But he too chose to do it by car.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 16, 2002
Words:375
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