James Heappey: When it comes to energy efficiency, parliament should lead by example

Posted On: 
15th May 2019

Where there are opportunities to be more energy efficient, like the restoration of the Palace of Westminster, parliament should get its own House in order and lead by example, says James Heappey

Elizabeth Tower undergoing restoration work
Credit: 
PA Images

It really is time to clean up politics. I won’t be the only Member of Parliament that has to drive tens of thousands of miles a year to perform my duties. Nor will I be the only MP who chose the cheapest possible constituency office, even if it’s spectacularly inefficient in its energy usage.

Many of my colleagues have to fly all the time with select committees, to attend international parliamentary assemblies, for research and fact finding, or simply to reach Westminster from far flung corners of the UK. And we all work in London in an old building that spews heat out through its ancient roofs, windows and crumbling walls.

The restoration and renewal project must clearly be the centrepiece of this effort. In restoring the Palace of Westminster and the office estate that surrounds it, we have the opportunity to employ world-leading clean tech to make sure we optimise our energy usage and slash our carbon emissions to zero.

We should go further and convert some of parliament’s hidden flat roofs and courtyards into green spaces so that we can push for negative emissions and ensure we genuinely can legislate from the moral high ground.

I’ve also backed the Divest Parliament campaign. As we encourage green finance schemes in our policymaking, we must ensure that our own pension scheme is practising what we’re preaching. I hope other colleagues will back the Divest Parliament initiative and that those who control our pension scheme will respond accordingly.

There is also the opportunity for us to specify that travel booked through the House of Commons always prefers the most sustainable method of transport and that any carbon produced as a consequence of travel on House business is offset. This brings extra cost for journeys and an additional administrative burden for the House authorities but, again, it is highly likely that we’ll be encouraging the rest of the country to take these sort of measures so we must lead by example first.

However, so much of our work happens away from Westminster and so there is a limit on what the House of Commons itself can do. Our expenses scheme must therefore be adjusted to ensure that we can use our business and travel allowances to make sure we can achieve net-zero emissions away from Westminster too. An obvious starting point is that carbon offsetting should become a part of the expenses scheme.

Moreover, we currently receive an amount per mile that reflects petrol costs plus the cost of running a car. Running an electric vehicle is significantly cheaper and so IPSA should look at whether it could partner with a vehicle leasing company to allow MPs to lease EVs and use the gap between the actual operating cost and claimed mileage to offset some (or all) of the cost.

Finally, IPSA should create a one-off fund to allow MPs to install energy efficiency measures in their constituency offices. There will be an issue over the fact that almost all of these offices are rented and therefore as tenants we will be limited in what we can do but, nonetheless, where there are opportunities to be more energy efficient, to reduce our operating costs and to lead by example by decarbonising our workplace, we should be allowed to do so.

'Calling an emergency is the easy bit'

There will be many more things that we can and should do as parliament leads our national response to the climate emergency. We’ll have to answer questions in the media to justify the additional cost, but that’s important if we’re going to make businesses and private citizens also accept those costs through the laws we make.

Calling an emergency is the easy bit; acting on that emergency is much harder. Parliament has a responsibility to lead in thought and also by action on this crucial national project to arrest climate change.

James Heappey is Conservative MP for Wells and chair of the Renewable and Sustainable Energy APPG