Skip to main content

House of Commons Commission

Volume 461: debated on Monday 4 June 2007

The hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Energy Efficiency

The parliamentary estate has an energy and waste saving policy which is due for review later this year and can take on board any comments that the hon. Lady and anybody else might wish to make. The current energy efficiency target is to make a 15 per cent. reduction in energy consumption per square metre of building floor area by 2010-11, relative to the base year 1999-2000.

Would the Commission consider the use of wind, solar and water power as ways to source its energy needs through microgeneration, on the basis that the House should lead by example in the fight against climate change?

I can assure the hon. Lady that the Commission is well seized of the need for the House to lead by example, and I can further assure her that some of those options are being explored even at this moment. We have had meetings with representatives of the microgeneration industries and we are exploring the practicalities of pursuing any of those options.

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) has raised this issue. The waste of energy in this building is appalling. Anybody who has walked its corridors at night knows that it is like the Mary Celeste—all the lights on and nobody here. In May, when it was hot, the heating was on. Can the hon. Gentleman please assure us that there will be a proper investigation of the matter, and that we will develop modern techniques of switching off lights when there is nobody in the building? They operate on infra-red, I understand, and I think we could do it pretty easily for not very much money.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that such devices have existed in parts of the estate, notably in Portcullis House, where there were many complaints from hon. Members working late in the evening that they were plunged into darkness sitting at their desks because they had not moved sufficiently to trigger the infra-red light sensors. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a good point. There is a significant problem of energy waste. A variety of high-tech methods of dealing with that have been explored and, where appropriate, they will be fitted, but as I have said on previous occasions, nothing beats the responsibility of hon. Members and other users of the estate for turning off lights when they leave the room.

Although I appreciate the points that the hon. Gentleman has made, does he agree that it is ridiculous that the annunciator screens are left on when the House is not sitting? Not just overnight during a parliamentary Session but during the long summer recess of 10 weeks, one can come into the Palace and see all along the corridors screens saying, “House adjourned”.

I am happy to investigate the hon. Lady’s point. However, as I have said, the annunciator service into Members’ offices can be turned off by individual Members, and indeed should be.

Visitor Facilities

The Commission has taken a close interest in facilities for those visiting the House. Recent improvements include the employment of visitor assistants, and we look forward to the eventual opening of the visitor reception building. The Commission will consider the latest recommendations from the Administration Committee shortly.

Although I welcome the new facilities and the new building, have we not for a long time missed a trick in terms of getting more school parties to visit the House of Commons? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that as two thirds of those visiting the education unit come from London and the south-east, we might well think of providing support for travel for schools from other regions of the UK to get a more equitable distribution of visits so that our children can be more involved in the political process in the Palace of Westminster?

I have every sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says. I will not compare constituency distances, but obviously those coming from Wirral, like those coming from North Devon, are confronted with the problem to which he alludes. Hon. Members have made requests to the Administration Committee for some sort of public subsidy to be offered to help school parties from further distances to come here, and a proposal will come forward later this year which the Commission will then consider.

Pursuant to the question by the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Ben Chapman), one way to improve visitor facilities at the House would be to give young people the chance not merely to observe but to participate in our proceedings. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with that proposition and, if so, does he accept that there is a powerful case for acting to ensure that organised school parties can have, at periodic intervals during recesses, staged debates on the Floor of the House to enhance their interest in this House and to prepare them for their future contributions? [Interruption.] The fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) disagrees gives me great hope for the future.

That is not an idea that the Commission has had put before it, and we have not had the chance to consider it. I can see that there would be opposition from certain quarters to such a thing, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to advance such a proposal, I am sure that it will be considered with proper reverence.

Is it correct that the new entrance for visitors, which is nearly completed and appears to start just outside St. Stephen’s entrance, is going to guide them down and round the building in order to come back on themselves to begin the Line of Route? Is that not a masterpiece of planning, and could we not congratulate those who are responsible?

I believe that what the hon. Lady says is basically true. People will be guided in and then brought through the north entrance, which will be both the way in and the way out for visitors, enabling them to have a good look at Westminster Hall in the process.

Emerging Democracies

23. How much money and staff time were spent by the House on developing the capacity of Parliaments in emerging democracies in 2006-07. (140286)

There are many ways in which Members and their staff contribute to developing the capacity of Parliaments in emerging democracies, but they are not funded from within a single budget. For example, during 2006-07 the Overseas Office dealt with 95 visits from 66 countries and ran eight professional development programmes for parliamentary staff from 16 mostly Commonwealth countries. Three staff are engaged directly on this work, with a total identifiable cost of about £200,000, of which about one tenth was spent on visits to other countries.

It is good to hear that the staff of this place do so much to help parliamentarians from other countries to learn from our centuries of experience. However, does the hon. Gentleman think that it would be wise if we established a dedicated unit within Parliament to provide such support and advice to other Parliaments in emerging democracies? Canada has had such a unit for decades; should we not examine the feasibility of setting one up ourselves?

It is entirely open to the hon. Gentleman to make such a proposal. He wears a variety of hats that would put him in a good position to do so. It is important to realise that what I described represents only part of what the UK is doing and that other schemes—of which he is well aware—funded by the Treasury and the Foreign Office support such work in many other ways. The House’s actions in that regard should not therefore be taken to represent the total of what the UK is doing.

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is aware—I believe that he is—of the wonderful work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which is very much part of this place, and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s UK branch. They do a huge amount to help developing and emerging democracies with good governance and other matters that relate to democratic representation and democratic Parliaments. Could we not utilise the good offices of the IPU and the CPA a little more and thus answer the question that the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) asked?

I entirely agree that the IPU and the CPA do a great deal of such work—indeed, I was referring to that when I said that other programmes were funded by the Treasury. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which the Foreign Office funds, also undertakes such work.