HL Deb 07 December 1998 vol 595 cc712-3

2.45 p.m.

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether any planned reductions in the Ministry of Defence's use of rail freight would be in accordance with the Government's model environmental policy statement, launched in January 1998.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert)

My Lords, following a review of our operational rail freight movement requirements in the light of the Strategic Defence Review, the Ministry of Defence has no current plans to reduce the present level of the use of rail for the movement of its freight.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. I thank the Minister for that positive statement. He will, of course, be aware that the MoD is one of the departments taking part in the Government's green initiative. May I ask him, therefore, whether he has any plans as to how the MoD might play the greatest part in that initiative? Will the MoD investigate a means of increasing the proportion of freight carried by rail in the future?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, on the green initiative, my noble friend is quite right; the Ministry of Defence has plans in that direction. I am glad to say that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has been very understanding of some of our temporary difficulties, in so far as we do not know precisely how many buildings we will be retaining in, for example, central Europe, as a result of property disposals consequent upon the defence review.

As regards increasing our shipments by rail, my noble friend will no doubt take pleasure from the fact that in 1998 alone we opened a new railhead at East Dereham in Norfolk and revived four existing railheads. We are expecting to reduce the number of depots. We are undertaking studies to ensure that any future depots are linked with the rail network.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, the Ministry of Defence is clearly committed to a number of green policies in respect of the environment. Several involve added costs to achieve high standards. Will the Minister concede that, in respect of carriage of freight by transhipment between rail and road, added costs should likewise be acceptable?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right that there are additional costs from time to time when carrying goods by rail. That is not always the case but, as with all our other procurement decisions, we strive to give the taxpayer value for money.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Wensleydale Railway Association. I hope that the Minister is aware that the Ministry of Defence railhead into Wensleydale is crucial to the reopening of that railway line. I trust that the MoD will take such local considerations into account in its current discussions.

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I have no difficulty in giving the noble Lord the assurance that he seeks.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the concern of citizens throughout London about the transport of nuclear waste by rail through heavily populated areas, particularly Camden, Stratford, Cricklewood and Kilburn, and about the fact that such trains are "parked", apparently unguarded, over weekends and for longer periods? Can the Minister do something to offer some consolation to residents of those areas, who are extremely worried?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I discussed that precise question this morning in the MoD. I can tell my noble friend that one of the reasons we ensure that the transfer of nuclear warheads between points in this country is conducted by road is precisely to attend to the matters that he has raised. We make sure that those loads do not go through built-up areas. However, where we are talking about nuclear waste, I can tell the House that the risk to the public is very much diminished. As I am sure my noble friend is aware, the amount for which the MoD is responsible is a very small proportion of the nuclear waste transported generally within this country.

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