Waste and hot air as MPs fail green audit

Political Editor Marie Woolf reports on how Britain's leaders are harming the environment
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The Independent Online

MPs are renowned for emitting hot air in the Commons. But when it comes to conserving energy, their record is feeble. A green audit of the Palace of Westminster has found MPs' performance on recycling, waste disposal and cutting electricity use fails totally to live up to their rhetoric on the environment.

Lights are left blazing; computers and radiators remain on, and free underground parking and petrol subsidies encourage MPs to drive. Official figures show that the Houses of Parliament have failed to reduce carbon dioxide (CO 2) emissions and are producing 2,000 tons of waste a year.

Yesterday, MPs said the parliamentary authorities had missed an opportunity to turn the seat of democracy into a model green working environment. They accused the House of Commons of paying lip-service to combating climate change, while failing to set an example by reducing CO 2 emissions.

"The only green thing about Parliament is the mould growing on unfulfilled promises," said Alan Simpson, Labour MP for Nottingham South. "Nothing much seems to have been done to make Parliament greener - such as installing low-energy light bulbs."

Managed by Parliamentary Estates since 1997, electricity use has risen by 50 per cent because of the proliferation of computers and photocopiers.

Insulation in Parliament is so poor that photographs taken with a thermal imaging camera reveal huge amounts of heat seeping from the building - particularly from the House of Lords. And only 29 per cent of waste in the Commons is recycled. MPs have even complained that some of the paper deposited in Westminster recycling bins is never recycled at all.

Caroline Spelman, Tory MP for Meriden, said: "The cleaners just put all the rubbish, including the recycling, in one bag. Generally we consume far too much paper."

The Commons says it has spoken to cleaners about failing to separate waste for recycling and believes the issue is being addressed. Around 1,700 tons of rubbish were shipped from Westminster to incinerators in 2003-04. Mounds of uneaten food were also thrown away. Parliament is making its own contribution to carbon emissions: in addition to central heating, 200 plug-in heaters have been issued to MPs who have complained about the cold.

The extent of Parliament's environmentally unfriendly practices is highlighted in a report published tomorrow by Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat environment spokesman. The report criticises the authorities for making "inadequate efforts" to cut down the amount of waste, and for producing thousands of reports that are thrown away.

Stephen Tindale, executive director of Greenpeace, said: "MPs are fond of telling the rest of us how to behave but their own lifestyle in the Palace of Westminster is totally unsustainable. They could start by cutting waste in their workplace and then vote the right way to make sure the rest of society follows suit."

The Government has put energy efficiency at the centre of its strategy for tackling climate change, and has stressed the advantage of public transport. But ministers routinely drive between their offices - only metres away in Whitehall - to the House of Commons. MPs also have free parking.

In order to improve its green performance, Parliament has taken energy-saving measures seriously and has decided to introduce an official review this autumn. The Carbon Trust, which helps businesses to use energy more efficiently, will be advising Parliament.

Additional research by David Green


Caroline Spelman

Tory MP for Meriden. Cycles into Westminster each day on a rickety school bike. Fanatical about recycling and composting.

Elliot Morley

Environment minister. Practises what he preaches by driving an environmentally friendly Toyota Prius.

Norman Baker

Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes. Argues for green action. Walks or takes the bus in London. Vegetarian.


John Prescott

Deputy Prime Minister. "Two Jags" once drove a few yards on a windy day to preserve his wife's immaculately coiffed hair.

Kenneth Clarke

Tory leadership candidate. He may be a keen birdwatcher, but is also deputy chairman of British American Tobacco.

John Redwood

Tory MP for Wokingham. Said people "ignore the fact that the Earth has lived through hotter times".