House of Commons Commission (Annual Report)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:00 pm on 3rd November 2005.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:00 pm, 3rd November 2005

Exactly. Energy efficiency works in reverse in the House: the policy appears to be to waste it rather than save it. For example, the lifts in Norman Shaw insist on returning to the ground, irrespective of whether anyone is in them. Why it is thought to be useful for them to move when nobody is in them is somewhat beyond me. When I queried it with the Serjeant at Arms, I was told that they had to return to the ground for fire reasons. I am not sure that I understand that; other lifts in the Palace do not return to the ground, so I am not clear why those in Norman Shaw should have special treatment. It seems sometimes that reasons are brought forth to push away an inquiry rather than address it properly.

Returning to the point about energy per sq m, the figure was 328 kilowatts per sq m in 1997–98 and by 2003–04 it had gone up to 357, an increase of about 10 per cent. It is true that last year it dropped to just below 328, but that means that there have been no energy efficient savings of any sort over the entire time I have been in Parliament. That is pretty indefensible.

It is also the case that the energy saving budget, according to figures from the House of Commons Commission, has been cut by 40 per cent. since 1997 from £50,000 in 1997–98 to £30,000 in 2004–05. What possible explanation or justification can there be for spending £422,000 on a walkway that nobody wants, and spending less than in 1997—only £30,000—on the energy saving budget? Furthermore, that budget has to compete with other measures such as water conservation, so it is not even entirely an energy saving budget.

There is clear evidence of waste all around. Another example are motion-sensitive escalators. When they were introduced, I said, "Hooray!" for the one in Portcullis House, which was motion-sensitive, so did not run when nobody was using it. I thought that that was an innovation that we could bring in elsewhere. What happened? The motion sensitivity has been turned off so that the escalator runs all the time, whether or not someone is on it. When I asked why, I was told that a Member or a member of staff had caught her high heel in it and it was thought unsafe, and hon. Members could not cope with the idea of a motion-activated escalator. We can do better than that. An escalator should not be running when it is not required if there is a facility to allow it not to.

On water, the figure is the same. I appreciate that there has been an increase in the number of people in the House—that is a relevant factor—but the amount of water used on the parliamentary estate has increased by more than 50 per cent. since 1997. There is no separate budget for water conservation measures, which compete with energy saving investments for the annual conservation budget. As far as I can tell, there is no real commitment to do anything about that in future. I hope that that will change as a consequence of this debate and other representations from other hon. Members.

There is also the question of waste generation and disposal. We have at last, unlike when I started in this place, two bins in our offices—both the same colour, incidentally, just to make things complicated. One has a label saying "For recycling", and one does not. Many of us naively thought that that meant material put into the bin marked "Recycling" was actually recycled. However, evidence that I have accrued and which has not been denied—I brought it to the attention of the predecessor of my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon, who accepted that it was happening—is that, in a curious arrangement, the office waste is separated and, at least some of the time, the cleaners take it outside and put it all in the same bag, in which it is taken for incineration. That might make us feel better, but it does not help recycling.