House of Commons Commission (Annual Report)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:39 pm on 3rd November 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:39 pm, 3rd November 2005

I prefer the personal touch with the Table Office. I am happy to discuss my carbon footprint with the hon. Gentleman at a later date.

I thank the Library staff, who do a fantastic job. I suggest that, if any Department of the House is understaffed, it is the House of Commons Library. I am grateful for its help, and for the good work done by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

I welcome the exhibition on the gunpowder plot. It is of particular importance to my constituency of Lewes, which celebrates bonfire night in style. I am happy to say that one member of the bonfire society from Lewes has visited the exhibition and sang bonfire prayers in Westminster Hall—with the consent of the Serjeant-at-Arms, I might add.

I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend Andrew Stunell on the need for Braithwaite II, and what he said about the House sometimes being run in a less than efficient manner. I shall not repeat those comments, but they are entirely valid and I endorse them without reservation.

Mark Lazarowicz suggested that I might give my hon. Friend Nick Harvey an easy time because he is not a Minister and is a member of my party. I shall be doing no such thing: I shall be pursuing these matters with vigour. I welcome my hon. Friend's comments on my environment report, and I intend to hold him to them. Before turning to the environment report, I want to make an observation about the money that is sometimes spent on the House of Commons and the parliamentary estate in general.

We do not always get good value for money from the work that is done here, irrespective of whether it is needed. For example, the covered walkway being constructed next to the Post Office turntable—several poles are now coming out from the walls—is to cost £422,000. If the figure is true, it is astonishing. It has not been rebutted by the House authorities, so I assume that it is right. If so, it is about £400,000 in excess of what it should cost. I recommend that the House authorities buy something from B & Q for about £2,000 and upgrade it slightly. It would probably perform the necessary function, if it needs to be performed—although why we need a covered walkway at that location is beyond me. There is an alternative route if Members are frightened of getting wet. I sometimes think that we are looking for excuses to spend money; it is disgraceful.

I refer my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon to an answer given in the previous Parliament about the cost of refurbishing the lifts in Norman Shaw North, which I use to go to my office—not the cost of maintaining them to ensure that they work, which is perfectly fair, but of the oak panelling inside them. An extraordinary amount of money is spent in a way that would not be spent if it were our own money or if we were personally accountable for it. Nor would the public spend money on such things. We have to be careful that we do not regard spending as having a blank cheque. More needs to be done about that.

I want to spend the rest of my contribution to the debate on the environmental performance of the House of Commons. I would have preferred to have focused on the performance of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, but each House is still dealt with separately. Although some progress has been made to bring matters concerning the two Houses together, it has not happened in respect of environmental matters. It would be nice—if perhaps revolutionary—if we could ask a parliamentary question about the environmental impact of both Houses and for it to be answered in the House of Commons. That might be one step too far for some people, but it would be useful. It seems absurd that we at this end have to ask about waste collection in the Commons and they at the other end have to ask about waste collection in the Lords. However, that is how things are at present. There is a need for more co-ordination with the House of Lords.

I hope that environmental performance will be of interest to hon. Members who are present. In fact, three hon. Members here have an extremely good track record on the environment: two of the Labour Members present and my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove. I hope that the House of Commons Commission will take the issue seriously. Its report runs to 88 pages and has but half a page on the environment, at page 59. Even that half a page exudes complacency about the House's performance. For a start, it refers only to two issues: energy and waste. They are important and I shall return to them, but they are by no means the only issues that are linked to the environmental performance of the House.

Even the paragraphs on the environment are misleading in their complacency. For example, under the heading "Waste recycling", paragraph 234 states:

"In 2004/05 the proportion of waste recycled increased by two per cent to 29 per cent,"— an admirable increase, we might think. However, if we examine the figures on page 74, we see that in the year previous to that the figure was 39 per cent. Therefore, a fair way to describe what has happened is to say that the amount of recycled waste has decreased by 10 per cent. over the past two years. A spin has been put on the figure to suggest that things are improving when, by and large, they are not.

If we are to make progress, we must recognise first that there is a problem and not be in denial about such matters. We have a significant carbon footprint in the House. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon said, given the number of people who work here, we are equivalent to a small town. We must send out a message to the public that we are taking the environment seriously; that we are putting our own house—this House and our own house—in order and showing how others can respond similarly. The general public take it ill when they hear us in the House telling them that they should save energy, save water and use sustainable transport, if we do not seem to be doing so ourselves. We have an important example to set to others, and we are not setting it at present.

It was absolutely fair of my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon to say that I should be considering energy use per square metre. It is also fair to say that my report, of which he now has a copy, states that only in the last year has energy consumption per square metre declined below the 1997 level. Until 2004, it was well above that level and there has been a fall-back this year, which I very much welcome. However, no real progress has been made over the period. I am afraid to say that examples of energy waste abound, so rather than the Commission saying complacently, "We have a decrease this year, so let us settle for that", it should be considering what it should be doing to save energy elsewhere.

The number of rooms, toilets, kitchens and corridors in which lights are left on all day and night is enormous. If hon. Members do not believe me, I suggest that they take a photograph of Portcullis House at two o'clock in the morning. I have not done so, but I have taken a photograph at 11 o'clock at night and the place is lit up like Crystal Palace. Televisions on stand-by amount to significant carbon usage. Televisions are on all over the place even when the House is not sitting. They switch on automatically in the morning, whether or not someone is in the office, and they stay on after people have left the offices.