Whenever an MP asks the same question to every single department you instantly wonder what they're up to. Are they just fishing for embarrassing statistics or is there a deeper policy reason for their enquiries. These are the two questions I find myself asking about Chris Huhne, the Lib Dems Environment spokesman.
Over the past few days he's been writing to every department asking them how much they've spent on mobile air-conditioning units in the last five years. As it happens, with the exception of the House of Commons Commission who seem to spend an approximate average of about £70,000 each year, most department appear to spend peanuts really. And by that I mean less than £10,000 with some years where nothing was spent.
My guess is that it's unlikely Chris Huhne was merely looking for over the top spending though. Interestingly, another Lib Dem MP, Norman Baker, asked the Government what assessment DEFRA had made on the environmental impact of the increase in air-conditioning units like those Huhne was asking about. The answer was basically that most air con units in the UK are grade B (where A is the best) in terms of their impact.
They're estimated to increase the carbon emissions in the UK by 9,900 tonnes a year, plus they have fluorinated refrigeration systems which help add other gases to the atmosphere which might/can/are not very friendly. So, are the question's by Huhne designed to show that whilst the Government acknowledges the impact of air con on the environmental it is not practising what it preaches and continues to use it?
Maybe I guess, but I also have a little nagging feeling that we may hear some policy statement on air-conditioning in the next few months. Wild speculation I know, but the Lib Dems are good at coming up with wacky stuff (like that proposal to ban people from winning goldfish at funfairs) and they've been squeezed on the environment by Labour and Tories in recent months. Increased VAT on residential air-conditioning perhaps? Or maybe calls for greater regulation to help phase out their usage? (see incandescent light bulbs for how that sort of thing works)
If it was just Chris Huhne asking questions I would just shrug it off, but as it's not, and Baker has asked one of those "what assessment has been given to the impact of" questions which usually means the questioner has already decided an impact exists anyway I find myself pondering upon a possible "Lib Dems to tax home air conditioning systems to tackle climate change" headline in the coming months.