Ofwat: Strategic Priorities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:42 pm on 9th June 2022.

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Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Chair, Environmental Audit Committee, Chair, Environmental Audit Committee 2:42 pm, 9th June 2022

My right hon. Friend tempts me to rewrite my speech from scratch. First, I thank him for his comments about our report, which was a significant body of work and the first such report of consequence for a number of years. The Government response to our 55 recommendations was one of the most positive responses to any of the reports that our Committee has prepared in the time I have served on it. We made 55 recommendations and I believe only five were rejected by the Government; the others were either accepted in whole or in part. So I think the Government have moved quite a long way in addressing these concerns, but my right hon. Friend will recognise that solving this problem is going to take decades, not days. I know that the Minister will address that in her remarks.

I was just going to thank my colleagues on the EAC for embracing and sharing my passion for the issue of improving water quality as we conducted our inquiry. We published the report in January and it made specific recommendations for the strategic policy statement on Ofwat, which provides the context for today’s debate. I will discuss that shortly.

Having been tempted by my right hon. Friend to praise the Government, or potentially not to do so, I would like to take this moment, while I am in a generous mood, to thank the Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow. I am pleased to see her in her place, responding to this debate, and I thank her for her personal commitment to this vital issue of improving water quality over the past two years. In particular, I thank her for driving her officials to work with me to amend the Environment Act 2021 and put into law many of the core elements of my private Member’s Bill, which the pandemic prevented from being debated. I am very grateful to her and I would like the House to be aware, from me, that she has moved the Government a very considerable distance on this issue.

There is no doubt that over the past two years there has been a massive awakening of public interest in the state of our rivers. The introduction under this and the previous Conservative Government of event duration monitors at water treatment plants and storm overflows and the annual publication of their findings since March 2020, has brought to public attention the appalling degree of sewage routinely spilled into our waterways by all water companies involved in the treatment side of the business.