Water Quality: Sewage Discharge

– in the House of Commons at 12:38 pm on 25 April 2023.

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Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 12:49, 25 April 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
calls on the Government to set a target for the reduction of sewage discharges, to provide for financial penalties in relation to sewage discharges and breaches of monitoring requirements, and to carry out an impact assessment of sewage discharges;
and makes provision as set out in this Order:

(1) On Tuesday 2 May 2023:

(a) Standing Order No. 14(1) (which provides that government business shall have precedence at every sitting save as provided in that Order) shall not apply;

(b) any proceedings governed by this Order may be proceeded with until any hour, though opposed, and shall not be interrupted;

(c) the Speaker may not propose the question on the previous question, and may not put any question under Standing Order No. 36 (Closure of debate) or Standing Order No. 163 (Motion to sit in private);

(d) at 6.00pm, the Speaker shall interrupt any business prior to the business governed by this Order and call the Member for Oldham West and Royton or another Member on his behalf to move the motion that the Water Quality (Sewage Discharge) Bill be now read a second time as if it were an order of the House;

(e) in respect of that Bill, notices of Amendments, new clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.

(f) any proceedings interrupted or superseded by this Order may be resumed or (as the case may be) entered upon and proceeded with after the moment of interruption.

(2) The provisions of paragraphs (3) to (18) of this Order shall apply to and in connection with the proceedings on the Water Quality (Sewage Discharge) Bill in the present Session of Parliament.

Timetable for the Bill on Tuesday 2 May 2023

(3) (a) Proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be taken at the sitting on Tuesday 2 May 2023 in accordance with this Order.

(b) Proceedings on Second Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) at 8.00pm.

(c) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) at 10.00pm.

Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put on Tuesday 2 May 2023

(4) When the Bill has been read a second time: (a) it shall, notwithstanding Bills not subject to a programme order">Standing Order No. 63 (committal of Bills not subject to a programme order), stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put; (b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.

(5) (a) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee of the whole House, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.

(b) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.

(6) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (3), the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply—

(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;

(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;

(c) the Question on any amendment, new clause or new schedule selected by The Chairman or Speaker for separate decision;

(d) the Question on any amendment moved or motion made by a designated Member;

(e) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded; and shall not put any other Questions, other than the Question on any motion described in paragraph (15) of this Order.

(7) On a Motion made for a new clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

Consideration of Lords Amendments and Messages on a subsequent day

(8) If on any future sitting day any message on the Bill (other than a message that the House of Lords agrees with the Bill without amendment or agrees with any message from this House) is expected from the House of Lords, this House shall not adjourn until that message has been received and any proceedings under paragraph (9) have been concluded.

(9) On any day on which such a message is received, if a designated Member indicates to the Speaker an intention to proceed to consider that message—

(a) notwithstanding Standing Order No. 14(1) any Lords Amendments to the Bill or any further Message from the Lords on the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly;

(b) proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under subparagraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed;

(c) the Speaker may not propose the question on the previous question, and may not put any question under Standing Order No. 36 (Closure of debate) or Standing Order No. 163 (Motion to sit in private) in the course of those proceedings.

(10) Paragraphs (2) to (7) of Standing Order No. 83F (Programme Orders: conclusion of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments to a conclusion as if:

(a) any reference to a Minister of the Crown were a reference to a designated Member;

(b) after paragraph (4)(a) there is inserted—

“(aa) the question on any amendment or motion selected by the Speaker for separate decision;”.

(11) Paragraphs (2) to (5) of Standing Order No. 83G (Programme Orders: conclusion of proceedings on further messages from the Lords) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings on consideration of a Lords Message to a conclusion as if any reference to a Minister of the Crown were a reference to a designated Member.

Reasons Committee

(12) Paragraphs (2) to (6) of Standing Order No. 83H (Programme Orders: reasons committee) apply in relation to any committee to be appointed to draw up reasons after proceedings have been brought to a conclusion in accordance with this Order as if any reference to a Minister of the Crown were a reference to a designated Member.

(13) Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings on the Bill to which this Order applies.

(14) (a) No Motion shall be made, except by a designated Member, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken, to recommit the Bill or to vary or supplement the provisions of this Order.

(b) No notice shall be required of such a Motion.

(c) Such a Motion may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

(d) The Question on such a Motion shall be put forthwith; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (c) shall thereupon be resumed.

(e) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to proceedings on such a Motion.

(15) (a) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings on the Bill to which this Order applies except by a designated Member.

(b) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

(16) Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

(17) No private business may be considered at any sitting to which the provisions of this Order apply.

(18) (a) The start of any debate under Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) to be held on a day on which proceedings to which this Order applies are to take place shall be postponed until the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.

(b) Standing Order 15 In line 4 (1) (Exempted business) shall apply in respect of any such debate.

(19) In this Order, “a designated Member” means—

(a) the Member for Oldham West and Royton; and

(b) any other Member acting on behalf of the Member for Oldham West and Royton.

(20) This Order shall be a Standing Order of the House.

The motion would allow for parliamentary time on Tuesday 2 May to progress Labour’s Bill, the Water Quality (Sewage Discharge) Bill, which would finally see an end to the Tory sewage scandal. The reason we are here today is that the country we love, and the quality of life for millions of working people, is being treated with utter contempt: dumped on with raw human sewage; dumped on on an industrial scale; dumped on with at least 1.5 million sewage dumps last year alone; and dumped on for a total of 11 million running hours. That is a sewage dump every two and a half minutes. Just in the course of this debate, 70 sewage dumps will take place in the country, in the places where people have invested everything they have, where they have put down their roots and where they have invested the most precious of things—their families and shared futures. Those sewage dumps are going into the seas where people swim, the canals alongside which people take their dogs for a walk and the very beaches where our children build sandcastles.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I will make some progress and take some interventions later—[Interruption.] Hang on; your moment will come.

It goes to our leisure and beauty spots. Businesses rely on tourists coming with confidence.

It is clear that the Tories either do not know, or do not care about the human impact of the Tory sewage scandal. This affects every stretch of our coastline across the country, and it shows the contempt that the Tories have for our seaside towns, from Hartlepool to Hastings, from Bournemouth to Falmouth, from Camborne to Blackpool, and everywhere in between. Beyond the coast, our national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, which are home to our stunning lakes, and our rivers, the arteries of our nation, are being sullied by the Tory sewage scandal.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Thank you, Mr Speaker—we’ve 12 months yet. I will take interventions once I have made progress on this section. Hon. Members should not worry; their opportunity to defend the last 13 years in government will come—they should not worry too much about that.

At its heart, this speaks to whether families should have the right to live a decent and fulfilled life. People look to our seas, lakes and rivers for quality of life. They are the very places where people live, work and holiday together, and where families create memories, forge bonds and strengthen relationships by enjoying the beauty that our country has to offer. More than just the daily grind of work, it is about who we are and it is those moments together that make life worth living. But the truth is that the Tories are turning our green land into an open sewer.

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Conservative, Rochester and Strood

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I would like him to outline when he or the Labour party realised that sewage was being put into rivers and seas. When was the Labour party made aware of that originally?

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I welcome that intervention. I would also welcome an explanation to the hon. Lady’s constituents as to why there have been 200 sewage incidents in her own backyard. That is why her constituents send her here—to ensure that their interests are put right—[Interruption.] I will come on to Labour’s record, but I warn Government Members that it may not paint the last 13 years in a good light.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I will make some progress.

This is an environmental hazard, a health hazard and an economic hazard. The full scale of the billions of pounds that the Tory sewage scandal is costing our businesses and local economies is still not fully known. Why? Because the Government will not undertake an economic assessment of the impact of sewage dumping. What do they have to hide? [Interruption.] Members will like this bit—hang on. While the Secretary of State has been on taxpayer-funded jollies to Brazil, Canada, Egypt, France, Japan, Panama and the US, as shadow Environment Secretary, I have travelled to every corner of the country to hear first-hand about the impact of the Tory sewage scandal. While she has been in duty free, I have been here on duty—that’s the difference—[Interruption.] There’s more, hold on. You’re in for a bumpy ride. The next three hours will not be like first class, I can tell you that much.

I have met businesses that have been forced to pull down the shutters when sewage alerts drive people away from beaches. I have met people in Hastings who are suffering the effects of having contracted hepatitis and Weil’s disease just because they encountered sewage in the open waters. I have met community groups such as that self-organising, fundraising and monitoring the water quality in the River Kent. They are saying to the Government that enough is enough. I heard the same things in Oxford and when I met Surfers Against Sewage in Cornwall.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Member said that he came to visit Hastings and spoke to people—he never informed me of his visit to Hastings.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am very happy to look into that point. As a matter of course, we always ensure when visiting the constituents of Conservative MPs that as a matter of respect we inform the local MP. I would love nothing more than for a Conservative MP to attend those visits and explain their voting record to their constituents. I know that Helena Dollimore, the Labour and Co-operative candidate, was very much made aware, so I will follow that up and ensure, if it did happen, that it does not happen again.

Earlier this week, I met environmental groups from across the country to hear about the impact that the Tory sewage scandal is having on their communities. They stand proud of their communities, but they are equally angry, and they are right to be angry. Only this weekend, we celebrated St George’s Day and spoke about what makes England so special, and what makes it a green and pleasant land. For example, the brilliant Lake Windermere, England largest lake, formed 13,000 years ago from the melting ice, is a world heritage site and attracts 16 million visitors every year. What William Wordsworth once described as:

“A universe of Nature’s fairest forms” is now dying at the hands of this complicit Government. One member from the Save Windermere campaign told us that, due to the constant pollution, a whole five-mile stretch of the lake has been turned bright green because of excessive pollutants being dumped in it. Even the glorious Lake Windermere is not off bounds.

The fantastic coastline of Cornwall draws in millions of visitors and is a magnet for surfers—surfers who face the prospect of becoming ill simply by going out in the water. There are campaigners for the River Ilkley, in self-styled God’s own country, Yorkshire.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I will take an intervention shortly from the Opposition Benches.

Mr Speaker, do you know that raw human sewage is even being discharged moments away from these very Houses of Parliament? Members should think about that when they go to vote. There is no place exempt from the Tory sewage scandal—and what a metaphor for the last 13 years of a Tory Government.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Labour, Weaver Vale

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. My constituency is named after the River Weaver, which is at the heart of our community. We have the River Mersey as well. Some 19,000 hours’ worth of raw sewage has been discharged into those rivers. I thank the shadow Secretary of State for giving the whole House the opportunity to stand up for our local rivers, waterways and beaches. I encourage Members from across the House to join us in voting for the motion today.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That is exactly what this debate is about: MPs who care about the places they represent standing up for what is right, instead of making excuses for 13 failed years in government. That is exactly why Members are sent to this House, and others could take note.

What we have seen is that there is no respect for our country, there is no respect for our values, there is no respect for our history and there is no respect for our future. What is more, there is no respect for the working people who make this country what it is.

What was the Secretary of State’s response when this issue was first raised? First, she told Parliament that meeting water companies was not her priority, passing the buck to her junior Minister; then she broke the Government’s own legal deadline for publishing water quality targets; and then she announced, repeatedly, that she would kick the can down the road on cleaning up our waterways. Since then, we have had three panic-stricken announcements of the Secretary of State’s so-called plan, each one nothing new but a copy and paste of what went before. We know the Tories do not have a plan. At best, they have a recycled press release. That is the difference. I give way to the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

I do not think anyone would argue that we do not need to invest more in better water quality. More parts of the country need to see schemes such as the new water treatment works in Scarborough and the 4 million litre storm water tank, also in Scarborough. What we need to debate is timescale and affordability. Does the hon. Member think that it is slightly ironic that, when even the most modest prediction is that his proposals would put £1,000 on the average water bill, the second debate this afternoon is on the cost of living increases?

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Honestly, I am staggered. I say that with respect to the Chair of the EFRA Committee. Our figures are based on the Government’s figures, and I am happy to put them in the House of Commons Library. DEFRA’s own figures put a cost on Labour’s plan and, let me tell him, the lowest estimate is 10% of what has been taken out in dividends. Those are not our figures; they are the Government’s own figures. If the Environment Secretary has not read her own assessment of ending the Tory sewage scandal, it will be in the Library at the end of the debate; Members can read it for themselves. This is her day job, right? She is meant to understand the data her Department produces and form a plan behind that. I am sorry that my expectations were obviously too high. [Interruption.] Members will enjoy the next bit.

Let us not forget the Environment Secretary’s first spell in DEFRA. In her three years as water Minister, she slashed the Environment Agency’s enforcement budget. Its ability to tackle pollution at source was cut by a third, resources to hold water companies to account were snatched away and there was literally the opening of the floodgates that allowed sewage dumping to take place. What have been the consequences? There has been a doubling of sewage discharges: a total of 321 years’ worth of sewage dumping, all on her watch and straight to her door. She said that getting a grip of the sewage scandal was not a priority, but something for other people to sort out. What she really meant was that it was not politically advisable, because her own record spoke for itself. I have a simple question: how can she defend the interests of the country when so implicated in destroying it? The public are not stupid. They see this issue for exactly what it is: the Tory sewage scandal.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I have already given way once. Let me make some progress.

Last week, Labour published analysis of Environment Agency and Top of the Poops data which showed that in 2022, Tory Ministers—this is the Cabinet, the highest seat in government—allowed 7,500 days’ worth of raw human sewage to be dumped in their constituencies. The data showed that there is a sewage dump taking place every 22 minutes in their own backyard. That Tory Cabinet Ministers are willing to allow that to happen to their own constituents really speaks volumes. In Suffolk Coastal, a constituency that may be familiar to the Environment Secretary, there were 426 sewage dumps last year. In the Chancellor’s constituency, there were 242. In the Prime Minister’s Richmond, Yorks constituency—proof that this goes all the way to the top—there were 3,500 sewage dumps.

Photo of Cherilyn Mackrory Cherilyn Mackrory Conservative, Truro and Falmouth

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will he acknowledge that the only reason he is able to reel off those statistics is because the Conservative Government have ensured that we now have 91% monitoring, soon to be 100%, across the country? Will he also acknowledge that that has only happened under a Conservative Government and that the last Labour Government did absolutely nothing?

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am not one to offer advice to those on the Government Benches, but I will just say this to eager Back Benchers bobbing for their Whips: they might want to check their constituency’s data before getting up to defend the Government’s record. [Interruption.]

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The hon. Lady will know that her own constituency has had nearly 2,000 sewage dumps. If she wants to defend that record to her constituents, then so be it—fine. But if she does not want to remind her constituents, I can guarantee this: the Labour candidate will. That is what this debate is about and why Members are so exercised, let us be honest. Are Members exercised because our rivers, lakes and seas are being dumped on, or are they exercised because they have now realised that they might have to face the consequences of that dumping? That is what the excitement is about.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am going to make some progress.

The Government will blame everybody: the Victorians, devolved Administrations, home drainage, housebuilders, people flushing items down the loo. Now, it is true that this issue has to be faced on multiple fronts, but there is one common theme that has run throughout the Secretary of State’s period in office. What is it? They never take responsibility; it is always somebody else’s fault; it is never at the door of the Government. Let me be clear: the levers of power were always there to be pulled. The truth is that the Government did not even lift a finger to try and that is why we are in this situation today.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Independent, St Helens North

One hundred years ago in St Helens we had chemical factories, coalmines, glassworks and no environmental regulations, but with 835 sanctioned spills in 2022, pollution in our rivers and waterways is arguably worse now than it was then. Does my hon. Friend share the frustrations of the volunteers who look after the Sankey canal and valley, and engage in activities such as litter picks, that no matter how much rubbish they get from the towpath, there is 10 times more going into the canal itself?

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That is a really good point. Many people think that this must be an issue that affects our seas and our national parks, but it goes to every community. For those who live in an urban community, the stream or canal network near their home is being dumped on. For many communities that is all they have. That is their bridge to nature, and it is being treated with such disrespect by the Government in a way that cannot carry on.

I want to return to the issue of levers of power, because quite a lot of what I hear is that the scale of the challenge is overwhelming and that to face it is far too great a mountain to climb. Economic regulation of the water industry in both England and in Wales has always been controlled by the Tories here for the last 13 years, treating England and Wales as an open sewer. That lever could have been pulled to improve water performance, holding water companies to account and resourcing the work needed to combat sewage pollution in England. [Interruption.] I hear the Environment Secretary chuntering; hopefully, she will address that.

To be absolutely clear about where power sits in our democracy and where Government responsibility sits when it comes to water: first, economic regulation—the levers of power, the purse strings—are not devolved at all.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance. The shadow Secretary of State may have inadvertently misled the House. He said moments ago that water and environmental policy were reserved, but they are devolved. I suspect that he might be embarrassed that the Welsh Government have not acted—

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

He is seeking to obfuscate responsibility—

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, House of Commons Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Conference Committee, Chair, Speaker's Conference Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Client Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Client Board Committee

Order. I have told you before, Mr Cairns, that when I stand up, I expect you to sit down. When I start to speak, I do not expect you to carry on speaking. Mr Cairns, you have been pushing your luck for quite a few weeks, and I am serious. I hope that in future you will take notice, because we will make sure that you do. I do not want to get to that point, but you are pushing me towards it. I am not responsible for what the shadow Secretary of State says. He has heard your point—although it was not a point of order—and I will leave it to him.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am not sure whether Parliament can do some sort of induction for Conservative Members on how Parliament works and where power sits, but the House of Commons Library is very good at providing briefings for MPs. To be clear, the economic regulator Ofwat reports solely to the Environment Secretary for the UK. That is a matter of fact. It is not devolved; it is for the UK. The economic levers of power have allowed £72 billion of shareholder dividends to go out the door on one side, while England and Wales have been turned into an open sewer on the other. That goes right to the door of the Secretary of State.

I credit the Welsh Labour Government for their record of leading on nature and the environment. Like me, they say that whether in England or in Wales, every part of the land that we care about and love, where working people have a right to a decent life, should be kept in good check and with the respect that it deserves.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I will make some progress.

Conservative MPs should see this as a second chance, which everyone deserves. Let us take our mind back to the first chance, which was the passage of the Environment Act 2021, and an amendment that Labour backed that would have introduced a legal obligation to bring down sewage dumping progressively. It was blocked by Conservative MPs, who voted against it. It fell at the first test, but we believe in second chances. Today provides that second chance to right that wrong and to get behind Labour’s plan to clean up the Tory sewage scandal.

Let me come to Labour’s record, because the Conservatives would have us believe that the scale of dumping was inevitable, that there is nothing we can do about it, and that there is no alternative or somehow it has always been terrible. That is not what the evidence says. The last Labour Government had a proud record of delivering improvements in water quality. Shortly after the Labour party left office, the Environment Agency—in the Secretary of State’s own Department—reported that our rivers were cleaner than at any time since before the industrial revolution. In fact, in 2002, the then Environment Minister—the former Member for Oldham West and Royton, as it happens—celebrated how clean the water was when he took to it in Blackpool, with cameras looking on, to celebrate the proud moment that it met bathing water quality status. I would not think that the Environment Secretary would have the confidence to go swimming on the shores of Blackpool today, since over the past year there have been 22 incidents—62 hours—of raw human sewage being dumped in those waters, straight into the Irish sea.

We have shown that Labour will clean up the Tory sewage scandal—we have done it before, and we can do it again. In the absence of any leadership from the Government, Labour is stepping up. Today, there is finally something worth getting behind, after waiting 13 lost years—a whole generation of opportunity taken away.

Let me address cost. We are in the middle of a Tory cost of living crisis. Households are being hammered, and at every angle it seems that things are getting worse, not better. People see that when they go to the supermarket for their shop—again, a risible failing by the Secretary of State responsible for food, who does not think it is her job to have a roundtable with the food industry—and straight through to energy bills and mortgages. People are feeling the pinch. In their water bills, people are already paying for a service. Sewage treatment is itemised in every one of our bills but is not being delivered. Instead, the Tories are allowing water companies to cut corners and to dump sewage untreated.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Let me make this point, because it ties in with following the money and tracking back to the impact. The storm overflow data, which water companies themselves provide to the Government, tells us that not a single one of the dumping incidents from last year was a result of exceptional circumstances. They were not down to rainfall or storms—the water companies and the Government say so. It is about a lack of treatment and investment. [Interruption.] I hope that Paul Holmes can learn to be quiet without the attention. That is basic good sense.

We need to address the issue of who pays. We believe that the polluter should pay. At the same time, water companies have walked away with £72 billion in dividends, and water bosses have enjoyed payments and bonuses of millions of pounds, even after sewage dumping had been identified. The Bill is about fixing those loopholes that allow poor practice and corner cutting, to ensure that the Government and the water companies together are acting in the public interest. It is not right that working people are paying for the privilege of having raw human sewage dumped in their communities.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, as he has been persistent.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Conservative, Eastleigh

I note that the shadow Secretary of State’s paragraph on the Labour record was very short—perhaps because under the Labour Government 7% of sewage discharges were monitored, whereas now that is 91%, with an ambition of 100% through the legislation that the Secretary of State has laid out. Why can the shadow Secretary of State not stand at the Dispatch Box and welcome that, and accept that his party did nothing about this issue in its time in government?

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am not sure that was worth waiting for. The hon. Gentleman was so persistent that I thought a gem would come to advance the debate, but the House was left wanting, yet again. I am proud of Labour’s record. We went from industrial pollution affecting our rivers and canals to the cleanest water since before the industrial revolution. That progress and legacy should have been built on, but they have been trashed. We have gone backwards, not forwards.

We need to change the culture in water companies and demand change, by setting down legally binding targets and enforcing straightforward penalties for failure. The Bill protects bill payers in law—no ifs, not buts. The cost must and will be borne by water companies and their shareholders, protected in the Bill in black and white. That is the basis of our motion, and it is what Members on all sides of the House will vote for later—not a fabricated version of reality that does not hold up to the evidence; no more jam tomorrow, asking people to wait until 2050 at the earliest to see an end to the sewage scandal; in black and white, a plan finally to end the scandal.

Let me outline what the Bill does, before I close and allow other Members to speak. It will deliver mandatory monitoring on all sewage outlets and a standing charge on water companies that fail.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

One minute. That will mean that where a discharge station is not in place or is not working, the water companies will pay a standing charge, assuming that sewage is being discharged. Automatic fines for discharges will end the idea that people have to go through a costly and protracted investigation and prosecution to hold water companies to account. Water companies will pay on day one, the second that sewage is discharged. Legally binding targets will end the sewage discharge scandal by 2030. We will give power to the regulators and require them to properly enforce the rules. Critically, and in black and white, we will ensure that the plan is funded by eroding shareholders’ dividends, not putting further pressure on householders by adding to customers’ bills.

Let me be clear: any Tory abstentions or any votes against the motion or the current Bill are yet another green light to continue the Tory sewage scandal.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes

The hon. Gentleman has made the fatal error of thinking that we are supporting the water companies, when we are holding them to account. That is exactly why we have threatened them with unlimited fines; exactly why Ofwat has passed new rules to restrict dividend payments; and exactly why we now have the most stringent measures on water companies in Europe. What did the Labour party do, because it did not hold water companies to account?

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman is definitely currying favour with the Conservative Whips Office, and I give him credit for energetically reading out the Whips’ top lines—[Interruption.]

Sally-Ann Hart said earlier that her office was not informed about our visit to her constituency, when we met our fantastic candidate, Helena Dollimore. I have been handed a copy of an email that proves not only that her office was informed of the visit, but that that email was acknowledged by her office.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I will come straight to the point: had the Conservative Government, in their 13 years in office, treated this issue with the importance that is needed and dealt with the water companies—

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes

Will the hon. Gentleman answer my question now?

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman can answer this question for his constituents: over the last 13 years, why has an average of £1.8 billion every year been taken in shareholder dividends and not invested in water infrastructure? That is a record. [Interruption.] I do not care what the Whips Office has briefed; I care about the evidence. That is what every debate in the House should be based on. I respectfully ask him to go away and test the evidence, rather than reading the top line.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

A lot of Members have put in to speak in the debate and they have a right to be heard, so I will bring my remarks to a close.

This plan is the first step in Labour’s reform of the water industry and will work towards building a better Britain. After 13 years, the Tories have run out of road, run out of ideas and run out of time. Labour is ambitious for Britain and for working people. That starts with treating the country, working people and local businesses with the respect that they deserve.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 1:23, 25 April 2023

I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from

“an impact assessment of sewage discharges;” to the end of the Question.

The public are rightly disgusted by the excessive sewage discharges from storm overflows, and so am I, my colleagues on the Government Benches and hon. Members across the House. So are this Government. That is why we have taken more action than any other Government on the issue.

We created our storm overflow discharge plan, with an impact assessment showing that it will require the largest ever investment by the water industry, up to £56 billion. Last month we set out our new comprehensive, integrated plan for water. That will deliver a clean and plentiful supply of water for people, businesses and nature, building on the significant investments and progress already made in cleaning up our waters since 2010.

Nearly three in four beaches are rated excellent for bathing, which is up from just half in 2010, when Labour left power. We have taken on the micro and single-use plastics that are a plague for marine life; we are supporting the super-sewer in London, which is taking over 10 years to construct; and there is consistent action, right across the country, on cleaning up our waters. That is why we are seeing much-loved species, such as seahorses, otters and seals, returning to our rivers and seas.

By requiring water companies to start monitoring, we unveiled the scourge of sewage. It was a Conservative Minister, Richard Benyon, who ordered that. By the end of this year, not by 2030, all combined sewer overflows will have monitors. Informed by monitoring, we are now in the situation where the water companies are under active criminal and civil investigation by the Environment Agency and by Ofwat, which is the largest investigation ever. That is why I move the amendment in my name and that of the Prime Minister, because this Government have already taken action.

With regard to this motion, we already have a target for a reduction in sewage discharges, which we will put into law; we have already consulted to remove caps on financial penalties; and we have already undertaken an assessment of sewage discharges. However, unlike the Opposition, we have a credible, costed plan to stop the scourge of sewage.

Today we have already heard a barrage of blame and finger pointing, but we have not heard a credible, costed plan to tackle the issue. I am used to the personal attacks, the diatribes and the cheap shots, but I can tell hon. Members that Labour’s plan is not cheap. My parents lived in Frodsham for some time, so I am very conscious of the River Weaver, and I grew up in Liverpool, so I am very conscious of the River Mersey, which has got cleaner and cleaner over time thanks to ongoing continued investment.

Frankly, we should be having a grown-up debate about the issue. A lot of the plan set out by the shadow Secretary of State is pointless because it is already being done. We were talking about food, and I guess the hon. Gentleman has taken up growing magic mushrooms: the Opposition did not publish the data, they were not monitoring it, they kept people in the dark and they fed them BS for all the time they were in government.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

Is my right hon. Friend slightly surprised by the tone that has been struck by the Opposition? Does she agree that they need to show a bit more humility, because if they were serious about these proposals being their official party policy, would we not expect to see some evidence of that being implemented in a part of the country where they are in power—namely, Wales—where there are no targets and no credible plan for tackling the issue?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The shadow Secretary of State is ambitious to take my job in the future, but I am confident that the Conservatives will win the next election, partly because we are used to cleaning up this sort of rubbish when Labour leaves office.

I gently say to the shadow Secretary of State that Ofwat is a non-ministerial department and the Welsh Government provide a strategic policy statement to Ofwat for matters in Wales. It is a devolved matter. The hon. Gentleman is dragging the Welsh Government into the debate today, but he should be aware that in 2022 Wales had, on average, 38 spills per outflow, whereas in England it was down to 22 spills. Tackling the issue is not straightforward, but Wales is not doing well. I am not going to blame the Welsh Government out loud, but I am conscious that they would be better following us and having a credible, costed plan, instead of looking away from Westminster.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

The complacency that the Secretary of State is displaying is frankly shocking. Not one English river is classed as being in a healthy condition, none meet good chemical standards and few meet good ecological standards. The Conservatives have been in power for 13 years. That is a record of failure. In addition, dividends now average £1.6 billion a year, which is money going out of the system altogether. Why will she not accept that privatisation has been a complete failure, put water back into public hands and make sure the investment goes where it is needed?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Lady should be aware that during the last decade we put in place legislation that made it tougher to meet ecological status. That includes taking on the monitoring of certain chemicals, which is not done by the Welsh or Scottish Governments. That is why we will continue to work on this issue in a specific way. We are leaning into the issue.

I genuinely wish that Labour had started to sort out the issues when in office. I am not saying that the Labour Government did completely nothing, but they were certainly not clear with the public about what was going on. In 2010, we knew there was no money left after Labour’s damage to the public purse. Indeed, the former Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury was honest enough to tell us that in his own writing. What we did not know was quite how much mess was left behind for a Conservative Government to clean up yet again, which is what we set about doing.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

Does my right hon. Friend agree that since the privatisation that has just been criticised, investment has doubled to £160 billion?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. We are talking about sources of financing. Do Caroline Lucas and Opposition Members want to see fewer hospitals and schools being built, or less going towards all the other ways in which we are spending taxpayers’ money?

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

I listened to what Jim McMahon had to say, but under the last Labour Government the pumping of raw sewage into our waterways was unregulated, unmonitored and completely unrestricted. Since 2010, this Government have increased the monitoring of outflows, which will be at almost 100% next year. They have imposed £150 million in punitive fines on water companies. They have sponsored investment of more than £56 billion, over decades, into the water network. They are the first Government to tackle the issue for many decades. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Labour spokesman was talking poo?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I think that is a polite way of describing what we heard.

Sewage overflows are not new. They are the result of Victorian plumbing infrastructure combining waste water and surface water pipes, and they were designed to act as a safety valve so that the impact of heavy rainfall would not lead to sewage backing up into people’s homes. That was more than 100 years ago; since privatisation, we have seen much-needed investment into our leaking water network. More than 30% of pipes, if not close to 40%, have been replaced in that time.

It was in Labour’s time in government, back in 2003, that the EU took the Government to court in relation to sewage discharges from overflows. In 2009, it was a Labour Government who introduced operator self-monitoring, allowing water companies to mark their own homework. After the minimal progress under Labour, it was a Conservative Minister who recognised the problem and recognised that we needed an objective means of measuring discharges. That is why water companies were instructed in 2013 to monitor when and for how long their storm overflows operated. That data is published online; thanks to our Environment Act, it will now need to be provided in near-real time. As I have said, all storm overflows will be monitored by the end of this year.

It is the monitoring and opening up of information that has exposed the scale of the issue. It is why we have already had successful criminal prosecutions, it is why we have an unprecedented criminal investigation under way right now, and frankly it is why we are seeing a Labour party that is desperate to make up for its failures in office.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon

Would my right hon. Friend be kind enough to clarify to the House that in most cases, and certainly in my constituency, storm overflows are over 95% rainwater? Certainly, at no point is raw sewage being dumped on our beautiful beaches.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I agree. Facts are our friends in these matters, and it is important that we continue to ensure that our constituents are well informed.

I agree with the shadow Secretary of State that there is a massive difference between a press release and a plan. We have already set out our plans and are delivering them: the environmental improvement plan; our integrated plan for water, which is tackling all forms of water pollution from transport and metal mines to forever chemicals and farming; and our storm overflow reduction plan, which I am pleased to announce today that we are planning to enshrine further in law. Through the Environment Act 2021, we will legislate for a clear target on storm overflow reduction in line with our plan. That clear, credible and costed legally binding target will add to our transparent and determined approach to solving the issue, while being careful with consumer bills.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

The Secretary of State will know, having grown up in Liverpool, how beautiful the coastal constituency of Wirral West is. The Rivers Trust found that a sewer storm overflow in Caldy spilled 75 times in 2022, for a total of more than 1,700 hours, discharging directly into the Dee estuary. It is a very beautiful part of the world, where people go to enjoy the beach, let their children play, enjoy water sports and so forth. It is also very important environmentally—

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I share with the hon. Lady a love for that part of the north-west. I grew up there, and I used to cycle down to the River Mersey regularly on the Otterspool prom. I was not quite so much a visitor to the other side, apart from when I was visiting family elsewhere.

It is thanks to the openness of this Government in getting the monitoring done and publishing it that the scale of the scourge of sewage has been unveiled. The hon. Lady should welcome that. She should also welcome the active plans that we have been undertaking, with investment, so that even more action will be under way to reduce that sewage, if not eliminate it.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Conservative, Eastleigh

The constituency that I have the privilege of representing has the River Itchen and the River Hamble. Last week I met Southern Water, which now has an investment plan, purely because of the 91% of monitoring that this Government have put in place. Would that infrastructural investment have been able to go ahead if just 7% of our rivers were being monitored?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Quite clearly, the answer is no. There would not have been the scrutiny that there is today, nor would there have been the investigations that are already under way. The Hamble is a very precious sailing river that goes out into the Solent, so it is important that people can have confidence. That is why our plan has investment behind it so that we can continue to ensure that our waters are cleaner than ever before.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

No, I will try to make a bit of progress.

After the many press releases, it is good finally to see a little bit of detail about what the Labour party would do about sewage, but to some extent it is already being done. Frankly, today feels like another gimmick, if not a sham, from the Labour party.

I understand that the shadow Secretary of State’s Bill, which has been hastily prepared—I believe it was published last night—is pulling Wales into this. We have already somewhat covered that issue, but based on his logic, I am not surprised that he is embarrassed about the Welsh record. Of the longest sewage discharges in Britain in 2022, the top two were in Wales. Three of the top five constituencies for hours of sewage discharged were in Wales, according to Top of the Poops. In 2022, the average number of spills per outflow in England was 23; in Wales it was 38. As I say, I am not seeking to blame the Welsh Government, but—speaking candidly—facts are our friends. Instead of fudge and obfuscation, we will keep going with our credible plans, because we are determined to clean up our waters.

Photo of Simon Baynes Simon Baynes Conservative, Clwyd South

Does the Secretary of State agree with Law Wales, which states that

Senedd Cymru generally has legislative competence in relation to all aspects of water quality, water resources and water industry”?

Contrary to what the shadow Secretary of State said, this is the responsibility of the Welsh Government.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, as is the person he quoted. This is a matter that is dealt with by the Welsh Government, who issue the same strategic policy statement to Ofwat that my Department delivers. Indeed, a price review is under way right now.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

When my right hon. Friend introduced legislation, it was clearly aimed at England, but did she give the Welsh Government the option of extending those tighter restrictions to Wales to ensure a tighter and more uniform structure across both nations?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Understandably, the Environment Act principally addresses England. It is important that we respect devolution to the Welsh Government, who have it in their power to act and who do different things. I do not think they shy away from the fact that this is a difficult challenge. I commend them on the many beautiful beaches in Wales, which I have visited many times, including in my right hon. Friend’s constituency and in that of my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb. However, this is not straightforward and there is no overnight fix. Credible plans are needed, so this Government are right to be making progress.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Further to the intervention from my hon. Friend Simon Baynes, does the Secretary of State agree that Welsh Water is a not-for-profit organisation, so the shadow Secretary of State’s argument that dividends should be used to pay for improvements does not wash in Wales?

Photo of Simon Jupp Simon Jupp Conservative, East Devon

East Devon residents are rightly disgusted by sewage in our waters, and so am I; I am glad that the Secretary of State agrees. I live by the sea in Sidmouth, and I have repeatedly called on South West Water to clean up its act and our water. It has been fined millions thanks to this Government, and it should never reward failure for bonuses. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if it does not clean up its act, it must face the full force of the law, including unlimited penalties?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I absolutely agree. We exercised the necessary foresight in drawing up the legislation that became the Environment Act. We listened to the regulators, because we wanted to understand what was happening. Ofwat asked us to give it powers that would allow it to link dividend payments to performance, including environmental performance, and that is being done. We have completed the consultation, and we now need to review it, but we intend to ensure that the Environment Agency can impose unlimited penalties, which I think will be welcomed by my hon. Friend’s bill payers.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

I have been listening intently to what the Secretary of State has had to say, and I admire her confidence, but that confidence is not shared by my constituents and many other members of the public when it comes to the condition of our rivers. May I invite her to come to my constituency and look at the River Avon? Perhaps she will don a cozzie, do a Gummer, and get in the water and see just how terrible it is.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I think I will be in Stratford-on-Avon in a few weeks, and I may well be able to find time to visit the hon. Gentleman. I have a lot of rivers, and of course the sea, in my own constituency, Suffolk Coastal, which stretches from the River Orwell in the south to the Hundred river in the very north, with many rivers in between. I am very conscious of the importance of this issue to our constituents, and I am proud of the fact that beaches in Felixstowe have had excellent bathing water status pretty much since the qualification arose. I am also aware that the Denes beach in Southwold lost that status, which is why, as a local Member of Parliament, I intervened, along with Anglian Water, to clean up the treatment works in Southwold. I am delighted to say that the beach is now back to a three-star rating. There is a case for ensuring that we have targeted activity, but overall, what I expect as Secretary of State is to receive the plans for every storm overflow that I have requested from the water companies by June.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Conservative, South Ribble

My father is a civil and structural engineer and I have engaged with him regularly on the subject of sewage pollution, but I think that one of his more familial aphorisms is particularly important: “To fix a problem, you have to know about it.” Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fact that we now have the 90-odd per cent. knowledge of what is going on that allows us to prioritise plans is one of the Government’s key achievements?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend is wise in her years, and she is absolutely right. It is a case of trying to ensure that we have the necessary information. I repeat that the process of getting the information out there began a decade ago, and the Environment Act allows us to ensure that near-real-time information is available as well.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

I listened closely to the speech from the shadow Secretary of State, which I have to say was pretty poor—and given that I have listened to quite a few Labour speeches in my time, that takes some beating. Can the Secretary of State shed any light on why a Labour party that hates privatised utilities would allow the self-monitoring of water quality unless it was intended to hide a problem?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

What can I say? When Keir Starmer ran for the leadership of the Labour party, he suggested that there should be common ownership, which I would describe as nationalisation. We are seeing yet another flip-flop from the Labour party when its members realise that it is one thing to get into power and another thing actually being in it.

We need to continue with what we are trying to do to cut sewage discharges. We have heard about the target of 90% by 2030, and it is a headline-catching figure, but there has been no credible, costed plan in any previous media scrutiny or, indeed, today. That is why I suggest that the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton is detached from reality and trying to pull a fast one with the public.

Our storm overflows discharge reduction plan outlines the largest infrastructure programme in water company history, and will deliver the toughest ever crackdown on sewage spills, transforming our Victorian sewerage infrastructure. The plan sets targets that will be underpinned by legally binding changes to company permits, designed to front-load action in particularly important areas such as bathing waters. To ensure that these ambitious targets are realised, I have also asked the water industry to produce a detailed action plan for every single storm overflow in England by June.

A critical element in the development of these targets and our plan was an assessment of technical deliverability and cost, which is why the Government published a full impact assessment and an additional report on the costs of eliminating discharges from storm overflows. If the shadow Secretary of State wants to deliver a 90% reduction by 2030, it would have been helpful for him to inform the House how he plans to practically deliver £56 billion worth of capital projects in the next seven years, let alone separate enough combined pipes to go almost two and a half times around the earth in those seven years, or indeed build the equivalent of 40,000 Olympic-size swimming pools of additional storage capacity. What will the Labour party’s proposals really mean for customers’ bills? Even the hon. Gentleman is not naive enough to think that there is a magic money tree to pay for this.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes

The Secretary of State has just mentioned the important issue of water companies producing plans. Can she reassure me, and all the people of the south-west and south Devon in particular, that those plans will have to be enforced, and that we will be keeping a very close eye on their implementation?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I can indeed give my hon. Friend that assurance. We will continue to ensure that the licence fees and the costs of permits cover inspections, and we will consider further what additional funding changes might be needed for that purpose.

Perhaps Labour intended to introduce a sewage tax or something similar, as proposed by the Liberal Democrats, although it would take such a tax some 500 years to fund the level of investment required. That is, dare I say, another classic Liberal Democrat policy—all soundbite but detached from reality. Meanwhile, we have an ambitious, credible and realistic plan.

As for mandatory sewage outlet monitoring, the Government are already doing that; 91% is already in place, and the rest will be completed by the end of the year. The Environment Agency will also ensure that water companies carry out monitoring in line with their permit conditions. The monitoring requirements introduced by the Government have been instrumental in enabling the regulators to undertake the largest criminal and civil investigations of sewage discharges in water company history, covering more than 2,200 treatment works. Through powers in our landmark Environment Act, we are also making it a legal requirement for the near real time data on discharges to be available to the public, and the consultation on those regulations is live now. We are going even further by placing a duty directly on water companies to monitor the water quality impact upstream and downstream of all their assets—not just storm overflows but wastewater treatment works as well.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

This is not just the responsibility of the water companies, because it is not just water assets that discharge into our rivers. Within a short section of the River Tame in Greater Manchester there are three water assets, but there are also Johnson brook and Wilson brook. Johnson brook regularly discharges raw sewage into the Tame because of a misconnected sewer somewhere along the reaches of that brook, and Wilson brook regularly discharges chemicals into the Tame because of industrial processes. The Environment Agency’s actions are appalling. What more is the Secretary of State doing—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons)

Order. We cannot have these long interventions, because too many Members want to speak. It is simply not fair.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman has raised a very specific constituency matter. I am sure that if he were to write to me or to the Water Minister, my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow, we could follow it up.

I am conscious that a great many Members have applied to speak today, but I want to make a few more points clear. I have been advised by my officials that issuing automatic penalties could actually limit subsequent liability for more serious enforcement action and higher penalties when an investigation found that an incident was more severe than was initially thought. When a pollution incident occurs, the severity of the incident and the degree of culpability need to be properly investigated. It is through such proper investigation that the Environment Agency can determine the most appropriate response, including criminal prosecution for the most serious incidents.

I am sure that the policy is well intentioned, but it strongly risks making enforcement weaker and potentially letting the most serious polluters off the hook. Water companies must be liable for any illegal activity: polluters must pay. That is why, since 2015, the Environment Agency has carried out more than 50 prosecutions, securing court fines of over £140 million, including the record-breaking fine of £90 million handed to Southern Water. Again, we are going further to ensure that water companies face substantial penalties, which are easier to deploy than going through the courts. We are consulting on reforms to the civil penalties that the Environment Agency can issue to make the process quicker and easier. As I have said, the Government’s preferred option is to remove the cap on penalties entirely, which would pave the way for unlimited penalties for water companies that break the rules.

There is a great deal more that I could have said, but we listened to the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton for more than half an hour, and it is important for other Members to be able to contribute to the debate.

It is the role of Ofwat to scrutinise proposals from the water companies to make sure that customers get good value for money. We will try to carry out other activities such as trying to reduce the cost of these new projects overall, but I also want to flag up that we will continue to ensure that we deliver our integrated plan for water. It is a blueprint for a truly national effort to meet the stretching targets that we set through the Environment Act 2021, and it includes actions to tackle every source of pollution, including sewage discharge and pollution from agriculture, plastics, road run-off, chemicals and pesticides. The plan is underpinned by significant investment. Its scale and deliverability, plus the detail of it, mean that it will go further and faster than anything we have ever done before, and it is certainly going further and faster than most developed nations have ever gone before.

In summary: Labour wants monitoring; we have already delivered it. Labour wants fines; we have delivered record fines. Labour wants larger penalties; we are making them unlimited. Labour says that it wants stronger sanctions, but it would in effect weaken them. Labour wants a plan; we have already published one. Ours is fully costed and credible. Labour says that its plans will not impact household bills, but it cannot say how much they will cost. It was a Labour Government who were taken to court by the European Union for allowing the discharge of sewage, and 13 years later in Wales, where Labour is actually in government, they are discharging sewage almost twice as often as in England. That is not a plan; it is an uncosted political game and a recipe for tripling the average water bill. I encourage the House to support our amendment today, to stop the false attacks and to focus on delivering cleaner water. That is something that all our constituents want.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons)

It is obvious that an awful lot of people want to speak this afternoon, so we will start with a time limit of four minutes—I am sorry, not five minutes—which will quickly go down to three minutes, so I advise most people sitting in the Chamber to look at their notes and cut them in half.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would like to apologise to Jim McMahon. I understand he emailed my office on 7 September last year and received a response.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for setting the record straight with that point of order, and I see that the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton has acknowledged her apology.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Shadow Minister (Defence) 1:52, 25 April 2023

In September 2021, I stood in this place and called for an investigation into the activities of Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water. I asked for Ofwat and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to investigate its practices. I did this because it has responsibility for parts of the Wirral, Cheshire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. My request was based on an appalling record that has seen communities having their water cut off for days and their rivers being polluted with sewage. I am sad to report not only that these calls have been met with a deafening silence but that things have got worse. The Rivers Garw, Tawe, Teifi, Usk and Taff and even the River Wye are six of the most polluted rivers in UK. What they all have in common is that they are the responsibility of Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water. Last month, research found that raw sewage was discharged in Islwyn for more than 9,179 hours in 1,850 sewage dumping events. Natural Resources Wales has said that there will be no salmon in Welsh rivers within 20 years.

What is Dŵr Cymru’s response to this record of shame? It is to reward its chief executive, Peter Perry, with a bonus of £232,000, on top of his basic salary of £332,000. This is a company serving some of the most deprived and isolated communities in the country. When I wrote to him to query his pay, he was proud to tell me that he had worked his way up from being an apprentice. He said:

“My pay is not determined by me. It is not influenced by me.”

He went on to claim that he was pretty much the lowest paid of his peers in England and Wales. Try telling that to the customers who are struggling to pay the second highest bills in the country. Just over the border, Severn Trent Water has some of the lowest bills. The worst thing is that it is impossible to switch suppliers. Mr Perry is not an isolated case. In 2020-21, three executive directors were paid bonuses of £931,000. At the same time, raw sewage was dumped into Welsh rivers 100,000 times. It all adds up to the same thing: Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water is profiting from pollution.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Shadow Minister (Defence)

I think the hon. Gentleman will have to refer that question to the Welsh Government, but I thank him for that little bit of mischief and for the extra minute he has just given me.

It is my sincere hope that, if this motion passes, we will see the end of these unwarranted, unfair bonuses while imposing uncapped fines on the companies that are polluting our beautiful rivers. For me, this goes much deeper than simple profiteering. I grew up along the River Taff, and as I looked into the river, I would see the colours of the rainbow. To my young mind, it seemed that rainbows lived in the river. But they were not rainbows; they were the thick film of oil polluting our rivers. That was over 30 years ago. Since then, our Welsh valleys have become green and beautiful, with our newly emerging tourism industry. It is not uncommon to see people fishing, kayaking and wild swimming, but all those activities are at risk. It is amazing, when we have spent so long cleaning up our rivers, that all that work is being undone by the work of one company.

Although I have to hand it to Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water: it is good at crisis communications. According to the chief executive, in the past year the company has spent over £800,000 on advertising and public affairs. When I spoke out about this 18 months ago, the public affairs officer sent an email defending the company’s practices within minutes of me sitting down. It is certainly busy sending endless emails to politicians.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

I understand and share many of the concerns the hon. Gentleman has highlighted, but does he recognise that the legislative responsibility for restrictions in this area lies with the Welsh Government? Does he share my concern and disappointment that the restrictions in Wales are nowhere near as tight as those that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is proposing to introduce in England? Does he agree that we should introduce a common system adopting the high standards that she talked about?

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Shadow Minister (Defence)

The right hon. Gentleman is probably enjoying my speech because he thinks that this is the responsibility of the Welsh Government, but it goes much deeper than that. This pollution affects us all; it affects our children, it affects everybody. We have to find a way to work together on this. I am not going to stand back and allow Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water to carry on like this just because it hides behind the fact that it is a non-profit. Something needs to be done and it needs to be done now. That means working in partnership with this Government and the Welsh Government. I will support any measures to work together on this because it goes much deeper than what we are doing at the moment.

Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water likes to send out tweets highlighting schemes to save customers money. It also runs television adverts with helpful tips for saving money, under the banner “For Wales”, giving the impression that it is somehow linked to the Welsh Government. To top off my frustration with the company, I recently had a request from the polling company Ipsos MORI, as many of us do. The companies that fund the surveys remain anonymous, but it did not take much to deduce who it was when I was asked such questions as “How would you rate Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water’s performance?” and “Do you know about its plans to end pollution in Wales?” It did not take a genius to work out who had funded that survey. When I complained, I was told by the public affairs department, with an apology, that I should not have been contacted because of my views on the company. The money spent on this type of work would be better used to improve its service rather than its reputation.

As I have said, it is difficult to speak out on this matter but I genuinely believe that things need to be done now. Mr Perry told a Senedd Committee that sewage discharges

“are not where we want to be”.

People are paying an average of £499 a year for their bills and they desperately need a return on those bills. I hope that by supporting this motion today we can give them some sort of recompense for what they are going through.

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Chair, Environmental Audit Committee, Chair, Environmental Audit Committee 1:59, 25 April 2023

It is a pleasure to follow Chris Evans. I welcome what he said about trying to work cross-party to solve this problem. That is what I have been doing since this Parliament began. I do not want to dwell on the private Member’s Bill that I introduced over three years ago, but it is surprising that it has taken Jim McMahon three years to come up with his own private Member’s Bill. Having read it, it seems to me that he has not read the Environment Act 2021, introduced by this Government a year and a half ago. The Water Quality (Sewage Discharge) Bill is one of the weakest documents I have ever seen, and it was clearly concocted and manufactured purely for the purposes of this debate. As he said in his opening speech, the Bill was introduced to benefit Labour candidates in the next parliamentary election, whenever it comes, and in next month’s local elections. The political opportunism is shameful.

However, in the spirit of seeking to focus my remarks on something useful, I will dissect some of the specific errors in the Water Quality (Sewage Discharge) Bill. First, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, clause 1 talks about water quality monitoring requirements. Two years ago, the Environmental Audit Committee’s “Water quality in rivers” report specifically called for the improved monitoring of our waterways. We have heard that Lord Benyon, the Conservative rivers Minister at the time, introduced monitoring as a result, and we are nearly at 100%. We called for upstream and downstream monitoring of the impact of discharges into rivers, which is precisely what was included in the Environment Act. Clause 1 of the Bill seeks to accelerate the measure to bring it into effect from 1 October, which is completely unrealistic. We have not yet agreed the technical specifications to be able to test water for the four parameters, so there is no supply chain in place to do that. Hopeless.

Clause 2 of the Bill talks about adverse impacts and seeks to accelerate and define the progressive reduction of sewage discharges, which are also covered by the Environment Act, to try to prevent 90% of such discharges by 2030. The Secretary of State has said there is no clarity on how much that would cost, but we know that it could cost hundreds of billions of pounds, adding £1,000 to customers’ bills and diverting the entire construction industry to fix the problem. Over the next seven years, which hospitals and schools would not be built as a result of Labour’s proposal?

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes

My right hon. Friend is making an extraordinarily important point about finding a balance between attracting investment and ensuring that work is delivered to address the problem. Can we go further in encouraging water companies to keep that balance in order?

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Chair, Environmental Audit Committee, Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

I will come on to that in a moment, but my hon. Friend makes the valid point that there is not enough dividend income for the water companies to pay for the billions of pounds in the storm overflows discharge reduction plan, as the Labour party fancifully suggests. The companies cannot pass the whole bill on to customers, so they have to be able to go to the markets, which are actively looking to invest in green projects of this nature. The money is there, but it will only be delivered through the private sector.

Clause 3 of the Bill talks about financial penalties. Labour is calling for penalties for the use of storm overflows. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, this is a question of degree. We already have penalties, and it is the Conservatives who introduced the water restoration fund, on which we are currently consulting, so that the proceeds of any fines resulting from the 2,000 permit breaches that are currently being investigated by Ofwat and the Environment Agency, as a result of this Government’s direction, will make the polluter pay. That is happening. The Labour motion suggests that it could happen instantly, but that would put the entire water system in disarray. This is another completely unrealistic proposition.

The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton is calling on the Government to produce a discharge strategy, so he clearly has not read the storm overflows discharge reduction plan that the Government published a year ago. He also calls for a legal obligation to consult Welsh Ministers. Frankly, we have just heard about the appalling performance of Welsh Water under this Welsh Government. For further clarity, the 83,000 spills in Wales represent almost 22% of the total number of spillages across England and Wales. The last time I looked, Wales represented about 5% of the UK population, not 22%. That is a hopeless example, and the last thing we should do is take advice from the Welsh Government.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Labour, Barnsley Central 2:04, 25 April 2023

Parliament debated sewerage in the summer of 1858, during the great stink. In every respect, it beggars belief that, after 165 years of technological advancement and social progress, we are still debating sewage pollution in our waterways, but we are because something is going terribly wrong. The status quo is not working, and it is time to consign sewage pollution to history.

Water is not just another commodity. It is a vital public resource, and we should manage it for the public good. I accept that the task of reforming the water industry for the public good is huge, and we have to work together to get it right. Water is essential but, let us be honest, filth is found in nearly every UK waterway. In Barnsley, for example, Yorkshire Water pumped raw sewage into our rivers and streams for 13,228 hours in 2022, and that figure is almost certainly an underestimate because monitoring budgets have been cut. It has not helped that, due to ever tighter budgets, the Environment Agency’s role in monitoring and, where necessary, prosecuting illegal dumping in our waterways has been curbed. Since 2010, environmental protection funding has dropped by 80% and enforcement funding by 40%. Prosecutions fell from almost 800 in 2007-08 to just 17 in 2020-21.

Although England’s main water companies were cautioned or fined hundreds of times for sewage dumping between 2010 and 2021, the total fines amounted to just 0.7% of their profits. Water companies paid £57 billion in dividends between privatisation in 1991 and 2019. Combined with the servicing of debt, those shareholder payouts have added around £93 to average yearly bills. This is not some operational issue that can be solved by small tweaks to the failing system; it is a systemic problem that requires transformative action and an approach that sees water as a basic necessity rather than as a commodity.

The current arrangements for regulating the water industry mean that the regulator is simply not equipped to tackle the challenges we face. We need a reformed regulator that is focused on protecting the environment and the public. It should have a social and environmental mission, and a responsibility for helping to push through a co-ordinated plan to address climate change, pollution and infrastructure upgrades. Crucially, a reformed regulator should bring together stakeholders, including local and regional government, community groups, businesses and experts. Campaigners should also be included, not least Feargal Sharkey, who has worked tirelessly to clean up our waterways.

Regulating water for the public good means safe, sewage-free waterways and affordable bills that provide value for money to consumers. Cleaning up our water has always been a political choice, and it is in the Government’s gift if they think it is time for fundamental change. I hope they do, but I strongly support Labour’s motion because it is past time that we stopped managing our public resources for private profit. Instead, we should support them for the public good.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire 2:08, 25 April 2023

This is an important issue, and I agree with Dan Jarvis that all parties in this place should work to improve what is a very difficult situation for our constituents and the country.

My constituency has eight chalk streams, and I have been campaigning for many years to improve their quality, often with support from Labour Members such as Martin Salter—he is a keen angler—and cross-party members of the all-party parliamentary group on chalk streams, which I helped to set up.

I was shocked when two of my substantial chalk streams, the Beane and the Mimram, ran dry in 2007. I took the Labour Minister to see them, and he was shocked by their condition. The World Wide Fund for Nature joined me and others in starting a campaign, “Rivers on the Edge”, to reduce the huge amount of water being abstracted from these streams. We were successful in that campaign, although by then the Government had changed. It then became clear that not only were these poor streams being abstracted, but they faced pollution, problems with agricultural practice next to them, with nitrates going into them, and all sorts of other problems, including sewage overflow.

I pay tribute to Charles Rangeley-Wilson, who has been involved in all the campaigns, including those against pollution and soil erosion, and to my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne, whose Bill I supported; we both rebelled slightly against the Government on one occasion over that issue. Charles chaired Catchment Based Approach in producing a restoration strategy for chalk streams, which is a good document that the Government support. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow came to its launch by the River Mimram in my constituency, and it sets out a national chalk streams strategy. Although many of its recommendations are not about the problem of sewage overflows, it does cover that.

The Government have taken powers in the Environment Act 2021 and the Agriculture Act 2020 that would enable a catchment-based approach to tackling the range of issues involved in river quality. The water plan, which has been released recently, shows where the investment would be, with fines imposed and money reinvested in improving water quality. One of the main recommendations was to have some sort of protection and priority status for chalk streams. I know that the Secretary of State is concentrating on water generally, but Lord Trenchard has tabled an amendment to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill and I wonder whether she would be prepared to consider it.

We know that the state of our rivers and streams is not what it should be, but between 2000 and 2010 we really did not know that, because the monitoring did not take place. It came as a shock that our rivers were in the state they were in. I welcome the fact that the Government are now being transparent, are committing to targets and are really taking this on.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Transport) 2:12, 25 April 2023

Pope Francis said in 2015 in his encyclical, “Laudato si”:

“The earth, our home, is beginning to look…like an immense pile of filth.”

He was not wrong when it comes to the rivers in the UK. I thank my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for coming, along with my hon. Friends the Members for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western) and for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), to a meeting at Jackson’s Boat, on the trans-Pennine trail, on the River Mersey in my constituency. We met Jamie Woodward, the physical geography professor from Manchester University who is doing so much work for us on the Mersey in our local area.

When we met, we were so pleased to see how well the Mersey was being used by cyclists, walkers and kayakers. However, according to the Environment Agency data, in my constituency United Utilities is the worst offender for dumping sewage into our local rivers and coastal waters. It pains me to say that, because I generally have a great relationship with United Utilities—it helps with my cost of living events all the time—but it had almost 70,000 discharges into our regional waterways. The smoking gun or incontrovertible proof is the loo roll, sanitary ware and baby wipes that bedeck tree roots, branches and plants along the course of the river. I cycle along it from my constituency to Stockport, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Navendu Mishra, every week and see this with my own eyes.

I may have misheard the Secretary of State, but I cannot go along with her idea that the River Mersey is getting cleaner. Greenpeace recently said that it is more polluted than the great Pacific garbage patch, as a result of a recent scientific investigation that it carried out. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rebecca Pow, who is sitting next to the Secretary of State, has done great work on floodplains and flood alleviation, so I am not just making a party political point.

The River Mersey rises in Stockport and heads through the north-west to Liverpool bay. In 2022, it was 70 miles of pollution, with raw sewage being pumped into the water 1,187 times, with the pumping of untreated human faeces and urine happening for 3,346 hours. This issue is too important for us all. There are existential consequences for our environment, for our public health and for businesses that rely on the beauty and nature to attract business and investment. These waters are the same ones that the children of United Utilities staff and its shareholders wade through. It is unconscionable that it continues these practices in full knowledge of that. I urge it and its pension funds, Lazard Asset Management, BlackRock and the Vanguard Group, not to sanction this any longer. I urge them to do the right thing today.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley 2:15, 25 April 2023

I am pleased to be here again with an opportunity to discuss this important issue. Improving water quality, be it of our river systems or coastal environments, is incredibly important and all of us in this House care deeply about it. That is why I was pleased to vote for the Environment Act, which put in place key mechanisms, one of which obliges all water companies to monitor water quality and publish real-time data on storm overflows. We are nearly at a position where we will have 100% data collection.

The second mechanism is investment, with a requirement on all water companies to deliver up to £56 billion of capital investment over the next 25 years in improving our water quality. Thirdly, the Secretary of State can issue a direction on water companies to ensure that they enact their ability to clean up our rivers. The fourth mechanism is immediate investment, with direct investment of up to £7 billion in the next 25 years.

All those are great measures, but it is has to be noted that the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens actively voted against them. They voted against direct investment of £56 billion to clean up our rivers. All of us should not forget that during this debate. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have also brought out the plan for water, with a requirement actively to reinvest all fines on water companies into schemes to improve our environment. I am pleased that the Conservatives have brought that forward.

Ilkley has the River Wharfe, the first river to be awarded bathing water status in the UK. That application was generated by the Ilkley Clean River Group, which worked incredibly hard to get it over the line. I had many a conversation with the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow and the Secretary of State on that. What does it deliver? More involvement in active monitoring and Yorkshire Water is investing up to £13 million in infrastructure work in Ilkley. All those mechanisms will help to improve the River Wharfe in my constituency.

So I am pleased about the Environment Act and the measures we have brought forward, but I am incredibly disappointed that the Labour party is using this opportunity to proactively do something that all Conservative Members are doing already: we are bringing forward positive measures that are going to help clean up our river systems. It is disappointing that once again the Opposition are choosing to play party politics with something that is much more important to our constituents: cleaning up our river systems.

Photo of Samantha Dixon Samantha Dixon Labour, City of Chester 2:18, 25 April 2023

We all dream of crystal-clear rivers winding their way through the beautiful British countryside, into our towns and cities, and out into a clean and glistening sea. Sadly, that is not the image that constituents up and down the country are familiar with. Instead, they are faced with the reality of endless hours of raw sewage being dumped into our rivers.

The Government have been weak on water companies and soft on sewage. As a result, our rivers and seas are plagued by sewage, agricultural run-off and diffuse pollution. Shockingly, analysis shows that sewage dumping is taking place every two and a half minutes. We all know that the environmental consequences are catastrophic, but it is not just the environment and the wildlife that are affected. The Tory sewage scandal has serious consequences for public health and for businesses that rely on the beauty and nature of Britain to attract visitors and thrive.

That is certainly the case in my constituency. The River Dee, which flows through it, is one of Chester’s greatest assets, playing a vital part in our history and day-to-day life. The Groves, on the riverbank, is home to numerous businesses, which rely on the beauty and of course the cleanliness of the river. It is a popular destination for Cestrians and visitors alike to enjoy leisure activities. That is why, when I was elected at the end of last year, one of my first acts was to bring together Welsh Water, local river groups, businesses and residents for a summit on the Dee to set out a vision for a clean river, free from the frequent sewage discharges that we see today.

Businesses and sports clubs that rely on the river have told me of the serious consequences that they are facing: people are less keen to take part in river-based activities, and customers are even turned away from hospitality businesses on days when the smell is too bad. Chester businesses are losing trade as a direct result of the Government’s sewage scandal. Indeed, on previous occasions, the world-famous Chester regatta—the oldest regatta in the world, which is celebrating its 290th anniversary this year—has had to be abandoned because of sewage discharges. I sincerely hope that, by the time of its 300th anniversary, sewage discharges will be a thing of the past.

According to data published by the Rivers Trust, a total of 919 hours’ worth of untreated sewage and storm water was discharged into the river in 2020. Despite nearly half a billion pounds being cut from the budget by central Government in the past 13 years, innovative projects such as Cheshire West and Chester Council’s new 1 km rainwater drainage tunnel are helping to alleviate the pressure on our sewage system and reduce the amount of foul waste that ends up in the Dee. Only half the funding towards the drain costs was provided by Government. That is just a drop in the ocean—or rather a drop in Dee—of what is actually needed to tackle the scale of the problem. The scale of change needed to eradicate—

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 2:21, 25 April 2023

We all care about this issue. I am a Cornish MP and know more than anyone how difficult the issue is for constituents who really care not just about the quality of the water in which they swim, but about marine life and the importance of our rivers for supporting really good ecological systems. We often refer in this place to the responsibilities of the water companies, but we do not talk about the fact that what must go into the system has to come out somewhere. When we ask children in primary school, they understand that, if we were to switch off storm overflows tomorrow, the sewage and all the waste would come up in their homes. The idea that we should switch those off today and appease all our voters is ludicrous, because they will soon be arguing and chasing us down the street because of what we have done to their homes.

Let me give an example. In Cornwall, in order to reduce storm overflows, septic tanks could not be emptied last year. That meant care homes, private homes and businesses could not clean out their septic tanks. It was havoc. It was driven by the need to clean up what we put on our land, which I support, and by the need to reduce storm overflows, which I also support, but it was done in a way that did not understand what the immediate implications would be. It was a massive problem. Following a lot of pressure from MPs, the Environment Agency adjusted the advice to allow us to get round that. As a result, South West Water is building in massive capacity—treatment plants to store this stuff in times of high waterfall. We need to be careful that what we ask for does not create alternative consequences that we would not want in our own homes and the homes of our constituents.

However, this is not about Government doing nothing. I have had conversations with the Minister about this going back many years. Today, because of her actions and the actions of others, £50 million is being spent on the Isles of Scilly alone to clean up the water that people drink and how the sewage is treated and then put into the sea. That money is being spent because the Government forced that to happen and ensured that it happened. I have had money spent in St Ives, Carbis Bay and St Erth—a massive amount of money has been spent in St Erth where the treatment plant is—Mousehole, Newland and Porthleven. My experience as an MP is that, when we engage constructively with Ministers and the water companies, we can get these things done and done quickly—or at least more quickly than was happening previously.

I find this whole debate infuriating because it fails to take broader responsibility on the question of how we communicate with our constituents about their water use, how we make sure that councils reduce the run-off into combined sewage systems, and how we work with farmers to understand how we can plough differently to stop water pouring into the water systems. This is not just about beating up water companies, on which the Government introduced regulation to correct the problem as soon as we can.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Scotland) 2:24, 25 April 2023

Having discarded my carefully crafted speech, I will make just a few key points.

I think the Secretary of State fails to understand just how strongly our constituents feel about the issue of pollution in our waterways. It is one of the key issues that my constituents talk to me about and not just now—they have been doing so for a while. In April 2021, I had a Westminster Hall debate on this very issue as a result of that pressure from constituents, so this has been a consistent theme. That was followed by the many debates we had during the progress of the Environment Bill on the extent of action that should be taken on the issue, and we know how much public interest there was on the issue.

As co-chair of the all-party water group, I have the chance to speak regularly to water companies—not just my own—and to the regulators to find out what is happening, so I know about the changes that are being proposed. And that is as far as it goes. This morning, we had a presentation from David Black, the chief executive of Ofwat, explaining the current framework. But the fact is that the regulators—both the financial regulators of water, Ofwat, and the environmental regulators—are guided by Government action and Government decisions. Frankly, I do not believe we are going far enough or fast enough in resolving the issue of combined sewer overflows. How can it be right that there are another 27 years to go before we actually reach a stage where we have resolved the problem? Therefore, I think the Government plans are lacking ambition and should go further.

In the end, it is the Government who set the parameters of regulation and the fact is, as I have said, that they lack ambition. Our constituents want to see improvement much earlier than is being proposed. They want to be able to bathe in rivers and seas without fearing that they will be contaminated by sewage overflow and effluent. That is why I support Labour’s plan to act much more swiftly and to end this scandal of sewage discharges into rivers and seas. I hope the Government will step up their action to make sure that the scandal ends.

Photo of Duncan Baker Duncan Baker Conservative, North Norfolk 2:27, 25 April 2023

We are here today thanks to the work of the Environmental Audit Committee—work that was largely led by my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne, who is not in his place at the moment, and who is far too modest to take a lot of the plaudits for why we are here now.

Constituents talk to me about sewage dumping in the sea. Nine out of 10 times I am challenged, they have not been given the proper information, I am sad to say. What has been pumped out to them is largely disingenuous and a mischaracterisation of what is a deeply serious issue. After the recent weeks of gutter politics from the Opposition, it seems that they have not changed their spots today. In many cases, it is dangerous for MPs to have some of these accusations levelled at them. What we should be doing today is being responsible and showing what the Government really have done.

I say as a member of the EAC that it was our work that brought to the Government’s attention the appalling conduct of the water companies and the lackadaisical behaviour of the Environment Agency. Our work largely led to the strengthening of the Environment Act and what we have today—all courtesy of the water quality in rivers inquiry inspired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow.

Of course CSOs must be phased out, but we simply cannot do that overnight, not unless we want to see rainwater and sewage mixed together coming up through our Victorian network into our homes and streets. However, the fact is that we did not know what was happening with any great visibility until the EAC shone a light on it. Our job in this House is to be responsible legislators. We cannot vote for unworkable pieces of law, and the Duke of Wellington amendment that led to this whole debate was unworkable. We cannot turn off CSOs after heavy rainfall tomorrow—that is not feasible—but what is feasible is the plan of action we have now.

In my constituency, we have been responsible. Anglian Water is investing £30 million in infrastructure to improve sites across my region, including dealing with sewage outflows. The responsible actions of this Government put us well ahead of many countries across the world, including, in Europe, France and Germany.

If there is one statistic I could leave the Labour party with, it would be that it is a Conservative Government who have increased the percentage of bathing waters classified as good or excellent from 76% in 2010 to 93% in 2022. That is a record of serious improvement and the new plan for water that we have set out is a serious step forward in tackling this problem.

Photo of Rosie Duffield Rosie Duffield Labour, Canterbury 2:30, 25 April 2023

To be frank, for the past three or four years, my team and I have had to discuss excrement on an almost daily basis. It is the stuff ruining the lives of my constituents in Whitstable.

In a coastal town such as ours, so much revolves around the sea: our sailing clubs, seafood and hospitality businesses, and our reputation as a top British tourist destination. Whitstable is always thriving, busy with dog walkers, boats coming and going and visitors enjoying a pint at the Neptune or a tub of locally caught whelks with their chips, but there are days when regular swimmers and sailors cannot enjoy our waters at all, something we see far too often.

So-called rare storm events are not that at all. We have not had any storms, yet Southern Water has again been releasing sewage water into the sea for 24 hours straight this weekend—why? Whitstable is still a great place to visit, but while these incidents keep happening, there is a real danger to UK tourism, which has already suffered a great hit to visitor numbers since Brexit. French schoolchildren, who did not previously require a passport, are no longer flocking to Canterbury’s market stalls or studying at our language schools. We simply cannot afford the added damage that the headlines about sewage are doing to our economy.

However, it seems that not everyone is suffering. Those at the top of the water companies can probably afford to holiday elsewhere, while my constituents, whose incomes have taken a considerable hit, are expected to pay their water bills in full. It is little wonder that many are really angry about this. SOS Whitstable is a campaign group that was formed following a public meeting I held in the summer of 2021 so that residents could directly confront the bosses of Southern Water. It is a group of very driven and knowledgeable campaigners who give their time for free, holding the water company to account and refusing to let it get away with dumping sewage on our beaches.

SOS Whitstable recently appeared in Paul Whitehouse’s excellent, must-watch BBC documentary “Our Troubled Rivers”. I urge anyone who wants to understand more about this situation to watch it on catch-up. SOS also started a petition, recently handed in to No. 10, calling on the Government to reconsider renationalising the water industry.

I have asked three Secretaries of State to visit our town and hear from residents about exactly how they are affected. I say to the current Secretary of State, “Please come and take me up on that offer and listen to our sailors, our swimmers and our tourist businesses.”

Photo of Cherilyn Mackrory Cherilyn Mackrory Conservative, Truro and Falmouth 2:32, 25 April 2023

Most colleagues on the Government Benches, myself included, have had a fair bit of what I like to call online sewage since the landmark Environment Act 2021 was passed, not least since the Duke of Wellington’s amendment was discussed in this House. I must say that Opposition parties like to talk the talk, but they are not walking the walk, as this Government are doing.

I served on the Bill Committee for the 2021 Act, and I was proud to do so, because it was a landmark piece of legislation and the first time any Government were tackling the problem. The Opposition Members on that Bill Committee did not say anything like the things they like to say in the Chamber. They were constructive and we all came together as a good Bill Committee should to try to make the best possible piece of legislation, which we did.

Speaking as someone who likes to swim in the sea and has done so since I was a kid, I know that anyone else who grew up near the sea will remember—if they are truthful—that they will have swum past, I am sorry to say, tampons, sanitary towels and actual faeces in the water. It was not just in Cornwall; I grew up in the north-east, off Scarborough, and it was happening there as well.

Some of the surfers in Cornwall joke that in the 1970s they would go to the toilet at the top of their village and watch it come out through the sewerage when they got down to the bottom—and that is not a lie; it actually happened. To say that this is a Tory sewage crisis is absolutely ridiculous. This is a Tory sewage solution. We are finally grasping this problem and getting to the nub of it.

Last October in St Agnes, there was a big run-off that was videoed and made national headlines. It looked awful. We learned that it was run-off; we have to believe that, because that is what South West Water and the Environment Agency say, but my constituents are convinced it was more than that, because of the smell that they smelled. I ask the Secretary of State: can we have better and faster testing for those overflows when we are not sure what is happening? If we knew what was in the water, we could have a more positive campaign by local authorities and water companies to say, “This water is now safe to swim in and you will not get ill from it.” I hope the work we are doing now will lead to that.

South West Water is doing a lot of work around the Fal, including at the Falmouth sewage treatment works, Old Hill, 24 North Parade and Prince of Wales Pier. Some £13.2 million will be spent by 2025 and £40 million by 2030. South West Water is a one-star company that needs to get back to being a four-star company; it is starting to do the work, but there is much more to do. If I may make one final plea to the Secretary of State, when the consultation has finished, can we ensure that the fines imposed on water companies go back into fixing these problems? That will help us along the way.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Labour, Lancaster and Fleetwood 2:35, 25 April 2023

Last year in my constituency there were 685 sewage spills, the total duration of which came to more than 2,000 hours. Needless to say, my constituents have noticed them.

I was recently contacted by 85 year 5 pupils from Moorside Primary School in Lancaster who are particularly concerned about pollution in Lake Windermere and the impact it is having on wildlife and the environment. I want to give a voice to those young constituents of mine today. One pupil, Karina, says that it feels as if

“the lake is no longer a tranquil body of water it is just a mass of raw grotesque sewage”.

They inform me that the Ambleside treatment works is built for 5,000 people, even though millions visit the area every single year. They worry that the situation is getting worse and highlight the fact that in 2016 there were around 100,000 hours of spills by water companies in England, but by 2021 that had increased to 2.5 million.

My constituents are troubled by the impact on local wildlife, especially the number of dead fish that have been seen in the area and the knock-on impact that will have on birds such as kingfishers. My young constituents are angry about the £600 million in profits made by United Utilities, which they feel should be spent on addressing sewage spills in Lake Windermere. They accept that United Utilities is investing £40 million in trying to address some of the problems, but, as James from year 5 perceptively highlights,

“intelligent people know that they could be investing a lot more”,

especially given their profits, and Anya says it is “too little too late”.

The pupils highlight that the spills do not only affect animals; while they are worried for their pets, especially the dogs who wade in Lake Windermere, they are also worried about the impact on people. As Freya highlights,

“innocent little children who go paddling in the sewage filled lake could end up becoming sick and have diarrhoea and end up going to hospital”.

Evie asks:

“Is it acceptable to put raw sewage into our lakes…or should the government put a stop it to it?”

My view is that the Government should put a stop to it, and I would be grateful if the Minister answered Evie’s question in her response.

No one should have to worry about whether they can enjoy areas of outstanding natural beauty or whether they will encounter raw sewage by taking a dip in our waters. No business should have to worry about Tory-sanctioned sewage dumping impacting their trade. If Tory MPs fail to support today’s motion, they will be voting again to continue dumping sewage, and it is clear from the letters I have received from more 80 children in my constituency that they can see that that would stink.

Photo of Tom Randall Tom Randall Conservative, Gedling 2:38, 25 April 2023

Gedling’s southern border is the River Trent between Colwick and Burton Joyce. It is popular with boaters, walkers and fishermen and is probably one of the prettiest parts of my constituency. With other parts such as Gedling village, which has the Ouse Dyke running through it, it makes Gedling a great place to live. There is a legitimate public concern about the quality of the water in those places, a concern that I share.

Listening to some of the debate, one might think that no sewage was ever dumped in a river before 2010, which, of course, is not the case. The problems that we are dealing with are a legacy of a combined Victorian sewer system that carries both waste and surface run-off. Indeed, while researching a completely unrelated subject recently, I came across an article in The Times from 20 April 1923. It contains a Ministry of Agriculture circular about pollution that says:

“In this country, except in special localities, the most usual kind of pollution is sewage in bulk so great that it de-oxygenates the water and so suffocates the fish.”

Fortunately, our river quality has moved on quite a way since then. Certainly, in Colwick—just a couple of hundred yards beyond the boundary of my constituency—they are building a new salmon fish pass because of the increased number of salmon in the River Trent, which is a good sign. However, I acknowledge that there is a serious problem to solve, so I welcome the storm overflows discharge reduction plan and the plan for water, which will deliver £56 billion-worth of investment to reduce storm overflows, prosecute polluting water companies, and introduce unlimited fines and increased and better monitoring.

I understand that there will be concern about whether that change is happening fast enough—many will feel that it is not—but government is about making difficult choices. We could stop storm overflows tomorrow by stopping surface run-off, but I understand that doing so would make 140,000 homes in the Severn Trent Water region liable to flooding, which would be unacceptable. We have also heard about introducing uncosted measures. Those could triple the cost of a water bill, which, given the cost of living issues that we face at the moment, would be equally unacceptable.

I am not prepared to back motions that would increase water bills at this difficult time or cause such unconscionable consequences. We have a detailed and costed plan that will make a difference to the quality of our water, and we should stick with it.

Photo of Navendu Mishra Navendu Mishra Opposition Whip (Commons) 2:41, 25 April 2023

The shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Jim McMahon, and my hon. Friend Mike Kane —my Greater Manchester neighbours—made powerful contributions highlighting the important issues that we face in Greater Manchester.

According to Environment Agency data from last year, United Utilities—the water company that covers the north-west of England—was the most polluting water company of them all. Despite that, the outgoing chief executive made £1.4 million from the sale of shares in the business. That goes to the heart of the problem: if the Government do not hold private water companies to account with existing legislation and by creating new mechanisms to do so, they are rewarding catastrophic environmental damage. How is it that since privatisation, water bills have risen by 40% while £72 billion has gone to private water company shareholders?

Indeed, much-needed investment in infrastructure has fallen by 15%. According to the Financial Times, English water companies leak about 20% of water supply, compared with just 5% in Germany. United Utilities and Yorkshire Water alone were responsible for 124,000 of the sewage spills by water companies in England last year, accounting for 40% of the total number recorded. In reality, private water companies are simply allowed to get away with it because of a combination of a lack of ambition and the deliberate defunding of the Environment Agency, as the Conservatives have done with other public bodies.

In August last year, the Government published their storm overflows discharge reduction plan, which requires water companies to reduce discharges into designated bathing water and high-priority nature sites. Yet there is one glaring omission. Where is the plan to eliminate sewage dumping into our natural environment, and why should our constituents have to reach further into their pockets to cover rising bills when the rule-breaking bosses should pay the price?

Last year, the River Mersey, which runs through my constituency, had waste dumped in it almost 1,000 times, triggering an inquiry from Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council. It was reported only last week that plans to plant a new woodland in Stockport borough were cancelled after it was discovered that a field was so saturated with sewage that the soil could be too toxic for the trees. In March, the Industry and Regulatory Committee’s report on the water industry found that

“Ofwat and the Environment Agency must go further to hold water companies to account for pollution.”

It further stated that the Government must ensure that “adequate funding” is available. But that, again, is part of the problem. According to analysis by the Prospect trade union, the Government’s grant for environmental protection is currently 56% lower in real terms than in 2009-10.

Without enforcement, water companies are allowed to self-report breaches of permits that allow them to release raw sewage in exceptional circumstances via storm overflows, but evidence suggests that water firms are responsible for 10 times more sewage-dumping than they disclose. We have seen consistent rule-breaking, increased risk to public health, our leisure sites polluted and the undermining of Ofwat and the Environment Agency. The Labour party has a plan to tackle that head-on—why do the Government not have a plan?

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 2:44, 25 April 2023

I support ambitious targets for reducing sewage discharges; I support stronger regulation of the water companies; I support stricter enforcement and penalties for water companies found guilty of discharging sewage into our waterways. That is why I support the Government’s very clear and practical plan, which sets us on a course to achieve all those aims.

This issue matters to me and to my constituents in coastal Pembrokeshire. During the course of 2021, my constituency had 79,000 hours of sewage discharged. That is completely unacceptable, and local people in Pembrokeshire feel angry about it. Who is responsible for water policy in Wales and for reducing sewage discharge through legislation and regulation? As we have heard, it is the Welsh Government, through Natural Resources Wales.

It is dismaying that this important issue, which should be tackled on a pragmatic cross-party basis, has been reduced again to a political football. We know that it is a political football because Labour has been briefing the media. I read in the newspaper this morning that it is part of a plan for Labour’s local election strategy. It has nothing to do with tackling the environmental problems in our constituencies; it is a clever wheeze—or, at least, Labour thinks it is clever—to get a few more votes at the local elections.

That does a huge disservice to the campaigners in our constituencies who have taken the time to write and talk to us about these issues over recent years—and not just in recent years. Surfers Against Sewage has had a presence in my constituency for 30 years and has been talking about this for decades. It is a healthy thing that this matter is now right at the top of the political agenda. It is thanks to the hard work of a lot of grassroots campaigners that we have got to this point.

I will not go into too much more detail about the situation in Wales, but suffice it to say that when we had a debate about this matter last year, the Welsh Government—who are normally very keen for everyone to be aware of the issues and policy areas that they are responsible for—kept their heads way down. They did not want people in Wales to know that they have legislative responsibility for water policy in Wales.

I wrote to the Minister to ask the Welsh Government what the plan is. We know what the UK Government’s plan is for England, but where is the plan for Wales? I got a letter back saying that:

“Replacing all the existing CSOs would be a long-term multi billion pound project, be very carbon intensive and take many years. Instead, the Welsh Government is looking at nature solutions.”

It also said that they do not feel it necessary to

“replicate the approach being taken in England.”

Yet the motion before us suggests that that is Labour policy. It should not be. We need a better approach.

Photo of Claudia Webbe Claudia Webbe Independent, Leicester East 2:47, 25 April 2023

The water industry is a classic illustration of the harms of privatisation and the contradiction of a Government who claim that privatisation is more efficient while giving companies free rein to profit by damaging the environment.

In 2021, Severn Trent Water—the water company in my constituency—was fined £1 million for a 2018 raw sewage discharge that lasted for hours, and £500,000 for a separate incident. In the previous year, the firm had been fined £800,000 for similar issues. By 2020 and 2021, Severn Trent Water had discharged untreated sewage into our waterways and seas 60,000 times, with an average duration of almost 10 hours per incident. Despite that, the company boasted that it had received the Government’s highest four-star rating. Incredibly, Severn Trent’s chief executive is now advising the Government on water, waste discharges and biodiversity.

At the same time as it pollutes, Severn Trent is paying out huge dividends to shareholders, including a recent payout of 43p per share on more than 254 million shares—more than £109 million to wealthy investors. It pays out dividends twice a year. Severn Trent Water was only the third worst offender in England among water companies. According to the most recent DEFRA data, there were more than 370,000 sewage discharges a year, but fines are rarely imposed. The foxes are running the chicken coop. The Government described Severn Trent’s actions as “completely unacceptable”, but they reward it for its recklessness.

It is evident from those figures that the privatisation of the UK’s water supply is a disaster for our people, who pay a heavy price financially and in quality of life, and for nature and our environment. It is a disaster for everyone, in fact, apart from the water companies and their investors, who make millions while they pollute. It is clear that the only real solution to this situation is full renationalisation so that those who are running services are accountable and any surpluses can drive reinvestment and lower bills, instead of fattening corporate profits and offshore bank accounts.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes 2:50, 25 April 2023

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. The Opposition have attempted to pretend that the Government do not care about sewage, or about water companies being held to account, and yet in every instance, in every debate, and with every measure that we have introduced, we have shown that we care about the quality of water in our rivers and on our coastline, that we care about bathing-water status and, above all, that we care about holding water companies to account. This is not a moment to say, “Job done. Well done. Move on to the next issue.” It is a continuing, rolling issue that we have to address to provide reassurance to constituents and ensure that they have a reassured view of water companies.

All the measures that we have introduced to date have put in place exactly what the Opposition propose in the Bill they want to introduce. They talk about dividend payments—those are already restricted by Ofwat’s new measures. They talk about a new regulator—a costly thing to try to change—yet we have given Ofwat the teeth to take action against water companies that fail to deliver. We have implemented the ability to impose criminal fines and to put directors and CEOs in jail if they do not deliver. We have also offered the opportunity to impose unlimited fines on water companies under the “polluter pays” principle. The Opposition say that we take no action, yet we have proven legislative delivery that is already having an impact and being implemented across our constituencies. The £56 billion investment that we have asked for requires the water companies to take action, rather than putting the costs on our constituents at a difficult time. That is a balanced approach that will enable us to deliver and clean up our waterways, ensuring better biodiversity and even more areas with bathing-water status.

It is extremely easy for the Opposition to pat themselves on the back about 2009 and 2010, when there were limited monitoring systems across the United Kingdom. Now there is 90% monitoring—set to be 100% by the end of the year—and we can point to the problem and to the solutions, and show that we are delivering them. That is exactly what the Government are doing. My hon. Friend Cherilyn Mackrory said that this is a Tory solution to the sewage problem, and we should be proud of that.

I have taken South West Water to task, and I will continue to do so. It has a lot more to do to regain the confidence of the British public, especially in the south-west. I have taken its officials to do town halls in Brixham. This Thursday, I will take them to Totnes—I will let the House know how I get on—to talk about what is being done in the local area, to try to rebuild confidence, to show that work has been done. I have to say, however, that when we politicise this issue we do so to our detriment, because there is a proud record to show.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Shadow Minister (Defence) 2:53, 25 April 2023

We have the shameful situation where not one English river is classed as being in a healthy condition, none of them meets good chemical standards, and few meet good ecological standards. Many colleagues represent constituencies that have been impacted more seriously by the mismanagement of our waterways, but still, in Luton South, there were 12 spills totalling nine hours last year.

In Luton, we are particularly proud to have the River Lea, a chalk stream which rises in the neighbouring constituency of Luton North and flows all the way through Luton South, ultimately to the River Thames. Chalk streams provide pure, clear, constant water from underground chalk aquifers and springs. Eighty-five per cent. of the world’s chalk streams are in England, and they are one of the planet’s rarest habitats. They are vulnerable to drought, as we heard, as illustrated by the 2019 drought, which dried out 67% of chalk streams in the Chilterns. We therefore need the Government to commit to protecting the future of chalk streams.

Sadly, the Conservatives’ record on water quality more widely is one of polluted waters and open spaces. Since 2016, 1,276 years’-worth of raw sewage has been dumped in British waters. In 2022 alone, there were 824 sewage dumps a day across the country. Despite representing a landlocked constituency many miles from the sea, I know how important our coast is to many in our Luton community. Not everyone has the means to holiday abroad, and for many families a trip to the seaside is the highlight of their summer. Every child deserves to be able to enjoy playing on the beach, paddling in the sea, safe from harm, so the Government cannot shirk responsibility for this failure.

During the passage of the Environment Act 2021, Conservative MPs had the opportunity to support a Labour-backed amendment that would have brought an end to sewage dumping. However, instead of putting the country and our communities first, Conservative MPs walked through the Lobby to block those changes and voted to continue the Tory sewage scandal. That is despite the consequences for our environment, for public health and for businesses that rely on the beauty and nature of Britain to attract visitors and thrive.

Not only have the Conservatives given the green light to water companies to dump sewage and neglect our vital water infrastructure, but they have rewarded them for it. Shareholders are walking away with billions in dividends, with bumper bonuses for negligent water bosses. Thirteen years of Tory Government have taken our country backwards, allowing it to be treated like an open sewer. I urge all Members to support Labour’s water quality Bill, particularly those who say that it is already happening. They should back the Bill, as we need four extra reduction measures, with no extra burden on household bills, but I fear that yet again we will see Tory Members walk through the Lobby to block these changes and continue the Tory sewage scandal.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye 2:56, 25 April 2023

I stand with the people of beautiful Hastings and Rye, who are all quite rightly angry about the extent of water companies’ excessive use of overflows. Only the Conservatives have come up with a proper, fully costed plan, and I am proud of and support the work that the Government are doing to deal with this issue, as well as the work that I do engaging with Southern Water and my constituents, to improve water quality and resources locally and to reduce sewage flooding.

I am somewhat bemused that the Opposition have tabled the motion for debate. They are far behind the narrative in trying to secure targets for sewage discharges and protect water quality. I want to express my deep disappointment in Labour and its leadership. I thought the days of Momentum and its dirty, dangerous and polarising politics had disappeared with the election of a leader who, from the outset, seemed to be someone with a plan, with integrity. However, recent weeks in particular have shown that Corbynism and Momentum politics have not disappeared. We have seen personal, misinformed attacks on the Prime Minister. We have seen personal, misinformed attacks on many Conservative MPs about sewage discharges, to the extent that many colleagues live in fear for themselves and their families. I thought that we were all trying to work together to bring the political debate back to more polite, constructive and sensible discourse, to help to reduce the horrendous abuse with which many MPs struggle on a daily basis. I was wrong.

Only this morning, I read an article in The Guardian that began:

“Labour to use tactic that finished off Truss to force Tories into sewage vote”.

That message was spread on social media by Opposition supporters, including a former popstar who has new-found fame attacking Conservative MPs about a subject they all seem to know little about.

This is all about politicking for Labour. Its tactics smack of desperation. It does not care about sewage issues, because if it did, Wales under the Labour-controlled Senedd would have a world-class water and sewerage system. It does not. Labour has been responsible in Wales for 23 years, and Wales has almost twice the amount of sewage discharges that England does.

This Conservative Government are the first UK Government to instruct water companies to prioritise the environment, both by imposing new legal duties on water companies under our landmark Environment Act 2021, and by giving new powers to Ofwat. This is the Government who will sort out water companies, and I stand by the measures that they take.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Defence) 2:59, 25 April 2023

Raw sewage is the perfect metaphor for 13 years of Tory Britain. It is hard to find an NHS dentist or get a GP appointment, and it is hard to get a passport or find a lettuce or a tomato in a supermarket, but we can go for a swim among human waste, faeces, nappies and used condoms in our lakes, rivers and seas. Britain deserves so much better than this.

There were more than 37,000 sewage spills in the south-west last year. In Plymouth alone, there were more than 2,000, an average of five spills every single day—that means that it is only 1,220 sewage spills until Christmas for us Janners—so why has South West Water been let off the hook? It is failing as a company to close down the raw sewage outlets that we need it to close in order to have a protected and safe region. In Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, there have been 8,750 hours of dumping from 1,574 spills. In Plymouth, Moor View, there have been 4,000 hours from 540 spills, with more in South West Devon and in Torridge and West Devon, whose rivers flow past Plymouth. It is not good enough.

Clean water matters to me—it mattered to me when I spoke from the Front Bench, and it matters to me when I speak now. In 2017, I proposed that Plymouth sound be designated as the UK’s first ever national marine park. In 2019, we achieved that status, and thanks to £10 million of heritage lottery money, we are improving access to the water, celebrating Plymouth’s maritime history and cleaning up our waters. For the past year, I have been campaigning for Devil’s Point and Firestone bay to be designated as an official bathing water, with regular water testing so that people like me who swim in that part of Plymouth sound can see what we are swimming in. I am grateful to Ministers for agreeing to the campaign; that status starts in only a few weeks’ time.

The truth is that ending the sewage scandal is in the Government’s hands. They can mandate investment in closing raw sewage outlets in water company business plans. They can introduce automatic fines for sewage dumping. They can introduce mandatory monitoring for all sewage outlets and make sure each one of those monitors is working. They can introduce legally binding targets to end 90% of raw sewage discharges by 2030, and they can prioritise rivers and sewage in the next set of business plans. But they could do more: they could introduce more stormwater retention tanks, automatic fines and real-time data so that we can see what is happening, and they could close the gap between a spill and a fine that currently takes many years to deliver. I would also like to see more of the money from fines go to improve our environment. Higher-level fines nearly all go to the Treasury: we need more going to our environment to improve it along the way.

Photo of Ben Spencer Ben Spencer Conservative, Runnymede and Weybridge 3:02, 25 April 2023

I think we can all agree that sewage flooding is revolting. Few people know this better than my constituents in Thorpe, who have already experienced it twice this year in their gardens and homes, yet what Labour and the Lib Dems fail to mention is that if we were to simply click our fingers and ban sewage overflows into rivers, the result would be many more households experiencing sewage flooding as it backed up into their homes at times of flooding or heavy rainfall.

No one wants sewage overflowing into our rivers, either, and it is clear that there has been a lack of investment in sewage infrastructure over decades, which has led to this situation. However, rather than knee-jerk reactions and uncosted plans aimed at political campaigning and PR, we believe in working towards long-term solutions to protect our rivers. That is why we passed the Environment Act 2021, which introduced new targets and measures to require water companies to take action. It is why we are legislating to enshrine those targets in law, ensuring that they are deliverable and cost-effective for bill payers.

That belief is why I work closely with Thames Water and the Environment Agency to address flooding and water quality issues in Runnymede and Weybridge. It is why I press for infrastructure investment to prioritise high-use areas such as mine, so that we can deliver improvements for the maximum number of people as soon as possible. It is why I visited local sewage treatment works and pressed for modernisation that would reduce local sewage overflows, and it is why I support the £500 million—of which £250 million is coming from the Government and £250 million is coming from Surrey County Council—going towards the River Thames scheme, which will protect thousands of homes and businesses locally from flooding. It is why I will continue to campaign for practical, affordable solutions based on the needs and experiences of residents in Runnymede and Weybridge.

Opposition proposals during the passage of the Environment Act would have cost between £150 billion and £600 billion, and even then, achieving the improvements that were being promised might have proven impossible. Do Opposition Members really believe that headlines today are worth thousands of pounds in household bills each year? Do they really want to stop overflows and instead flood people’s homes, or will they finally put sound financial planning, sustainability and affordability above spin, and support our plans to improve water quality without the awful consequences for residents that their plans would cause?

Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Labour, Salford and Eccles 3:05, 25 April 2023

According to the Rivers Trust, in Salford alone, our waterways have been littered with thousands of hours-worth of sewage discharges in 2022, and it will take more than the Government’s fluffy and toothless targets to fix the problem. The water industry has been regulated ever since it was privatised in 1989, and fining many water companies millions of pounds has demonstrably not affected their behaviour. Certain water companies have actually tried to claim in court that they are not public authorities and should not have to publish data on sewage, and years of chronic underfunding of the Environment Agency and inaction by the regulator, Ofwat, have meant that there has been an inability to enforce even the minimal regulation that is available to us in this country.

It is left to individuals and organisations to try to enforce those regulations, but even when they do, they are met with hurdles. Indeed, United Utilities sought a declaration that would effectively bar people from bringing private claims against water companies that dump sewage into rivers and seas, and it won its case in the Court of Appeal most recently. That has meant that any water company can effectively dump sewage into waterways in England and Wales without fear of being sued in the civil courts by landowners, angling clubs, swimming clubs, wildlife groups, residents, or any other group with an interest in the land. As such, action is needed, and the plan described by my hon. Friend Jim McMahon is sensible and effective. I hope the whole House will support his motion today.

Beyond that, I urge all colleagues to examine the bigger picture as to why we are in the situation we are in today, and how we can ensure long-term sustainability of the water sector. Privatisation has meant that water bills have increased by 40% in real terms. We have seen £72 billion paid out in dividends to shareholders since privatisation, almost half as much as the money the sector has spent on upgrading and maintaining water and sewerage systems. The galling fact is that the private sector paid very little for the companies when it took them on in 1989, and the truth is that privatisation of our water industry was wrong—it has been a complete failure for the British public. If we are serious about tackling this ecological disaster, we need to support the Opposition’s motion today, but ultimately, we need to have a serious discussion about bringing our water industry into public ownership for the public good.

Photo of Gagan Mohindra Gagan Mohindra Conservative, South West Hertfordshire 3:07, 25 April 2023

I have previously spoken in this House about my beautiful constituency of South West Hertfordshire. We have the River Chess, the Aquadrome and the Grand Union canal, and we are very fortunate to have those beautiful waterways in our constituency.

Many constituents have contacted me about this particular issue. Politics being politics, the Opposition have used it as a bit of a political football: Members on the Government Benches will remember the Duke of Wellington’s amendment, and how we were pilloried for doing what we thought was best by not agreeing to bankrupt water companies up and down the country, but instead supporting a viable plan. It is incumbent on all of us in this place to make sure that any laws we create are enforceable and implementable. More locally in South West Hertfordshire, I have held regular meetings with Thames Water, which the Government have fined extensively for its discharge of sewage—over £35 million between 2010 and 2023. I continue to make visits to both Maple Lodge sewage treatment works and the one in Aylesbury, which feeds into my constituency.

My residents are rightly angry: they look at this issue and the headlines at a glance, and it is easy to understand why. The Victorian drainage system, as many colleagues have mentioned, is one of the key issues that we need to sort out, but as my hon. Friend Dr Spencer said earlier, the reason we allow discharge in the first place is to prevent discharge from coming up through people’s toilets and into their homes, because that is even worse, unfortunately, than the damage caused by discharge into our rivers. We need to upgrade the waterways, and we will do so. We have a viable water plan put forward by this Government, which I continue to fully support, because the alternative proposed by Labour at the time was a £21,000 bill per household.

The second debate today will be on the cost of living. When the Secretary of State was in her place, she referred to the hypocrisy—or the irony—of the fact that on the one hand we are talking about increasing household bills and then later today we will be discussing how to support our local residents. We must continue to be honest with our constituents. Unfortunately, we sometimes need to be bearers of bad news, but we also have to be transparent. In my eyes, we should be saying, “These are the things that realistically we can implement.” The water plan put forward by the Government is very much that. The Opposition have spoken about increasing numbers of sewage releases, but a lot of that is down to increased and better recording. We should not shy away from the fact that we have better data.

I will finish there, because I am conscious of time. Thank you for allowing me to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will continue to support my residents on this important issue.

Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:11, 25 April 2023

The River Mersey in the great north-west of England meanders through the heart of the region and connects the great cities of Manchester and Liverpool. For centuries, it was the boundary between the historic counties of Lancashire and Cheshire. I pay tribute to the likes of the Mersey Rivers Trust, which has done so much for so long in the fight to clean up the Mersey. In our part of the world, we take our obligations to look after the Mersey extremely seriously. Recently, our Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram announced plans to make the river sewage-free by 2030. Those plans were backed by Lord Heseltine, who helped first establish the Mersey basin campaign partnership nearly 40 years ago. They both recognised that when it comes to the Mersey, there is no room for complacency.

Growing up in Liverpool, my generation and the one before it saw the toll taken on the river and its estuary, yet the bold action set out by our Metro Mayor risks being undermined by those on the Government Benches if they do not urgently get a grip of the issue of sewage being dumped time and time again into our waterways. The excellent reporting by Danny Rigg at the Liverpool Echo has stated the scale of the problem. Sewage flowed into Merseyside rivers for more than 17,000 hours from 10 wastewater treatment sites in 2020, and raw sewage flowed into the river for 11,000 hours from just five Wirral locations upstream of New Brighton in 2021. It was remarked on by the reporter that that was more than the number of hours in the entire year.

This modern Conservative party might not value our natural habitats, our precious waterways and our coastal communities, but the British people do. After all, it was this Conservative party that went out of its way to block Labour amendments to the Environment Act 2021 that would have bought an end to this practice. Rather than stand by communities, the Conservatives stood idly by, letting shareholders walk away with billions in dividends and allowing bumper bonuses for water bosses. Those on the Government Benches were belligerent in striking down the Opposition amendments, yet here we are. The Secretary of State is late to the party, no doubt after her inbox and those of other Government Members filled up with emails from angry constituents wondering why they have consistently refused to stand up for them. It is too little, too late. I am proud that cleaning up our waterways, our rivers and our seas, taking on the water companies for their negligence and supporting our people are priorities for this Opposition. We will take action on these things in government.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon 3:13, 25 April 2023

I am perplexed as to why we need another Bill on this topic, particularly when it is uncosted and would result in a threefold increase in water bills and when we already have the epic Environment Act 2021. What we really need to do is implement what is in that Act. While I fully accept that far more needs to be done, particularly on what is running into our rivers, we also need to acknowledge where progress has been made, especially when our vital tourism economy is so reliant on the quality of our water.

South West Water is responsible for 34% of all our bathing waters and for 10 million visitors to that region. We have 100% of those bathing waters now at bathing water quality, up from 90% in 2010. In my beautiful North Devon constituency, I have nine designated bathing waters, all of which are good or excellent. We have already seen a 50% reduction in bathing season storm overflows and a 75% reduction in the duration of spills. The investment by South West Water in the fantastic surf beach of Croyde has now seen its bathing quality rise from good to excellent. Anyone familiar with North Devon’s beautiful beaches knows how much better water quality is compared with 20 to 30 years ago.

Only 1% of the water pollution we are dealing with is sewage. More than 95% of our storm overflow discharge is rainwater. Anyone watching South West Water’s new WaterFit Live app will note that the overflows run after extensive rain, which is completely different from raw sewage being dumped on the beaches, particularly when the alternative is that it gets washed up into people’s front rooms. It is only because we are now monitoring the situation that we know what is going on.

The crystal clear waters of North Devon are beckoning. We have the first cold-water surf reserve in the world and the first UNESCO biosphere reserve. We pride ourselves on our waters. Indeed, people should come wild swimming in my patch. They will see dolphins playing, and they might see mermaid purses on the beach. The sharks do go past—it is pretty wild out there. We have jellyfish, including ones the size of dustbin lids. With the changing climate, we occasionally get ones that sting these days. We have seals that like to play with the gig rowers. Because of the oars flapping in the water, they jump up to see people. It was a bit hairier than my normal surf companion when I caught one out on the beach.

I will be back in my waters this weekend, and I will be proud to be so. I hope that if people have not yet booked their summer holiday, they will consider coming to Croyde. On Friday, the Opposition spoke about the need to ensure that people can access our beaches. I was proud to be at the opening of the country’s first adaptive surf centre, and now everyone can access that beach, with its excellent water company.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions) 3:16, 25 April 2023

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. Before I start, I thank the Angling Trust, Surfers Against Sewage—I pay tribute to its work in coastal areas and inland—and many other groups that campaign on this important issue. I take this opportunity to talk about an unpleasant incident that happened in my constituency and neighbouring parts of Berkshire, which unfortunately illustrates the scale of the problem, the nature of what we are dealing with and, indeed, the need for urgent action—far more than has so far been committed to by the Government.

Earlier this month, there was a spill that lasted for 17 hours into a local brook called Foundry brook, sometimes known as Foudry brook, which feeds into the River Kennet, one of the main tributaries of the Thames. Ultimately, this sewage spill would have fed into the Thames at Reading and then gone onward to London. The spill happened in a beautiful rural setting of rolling countryside just outside Reading. It then passed the western edge of the town, went past the nature reserve, went through areas where people live nearby, with the backs of their gardens going down to the river, and went next to workplaces and right next to Green Park, which is a major science park in our area with thousands of employees who like to walk past the waterways. The spill carried on into the Kennet, went past County lock and into Reading town centre, through the area of the Oracle shopping centre and on past more terraced housing and more flats to Kennetmouth, where the Kennet joins the Thames. Ultimately, this dreadful slick would have continued through the rest of the Thames valley and into the sea. That is an appalling abuse that residents and people working nearby should not have to put up with. It is simply not acceptable that this type of pollution takes places in the 21st century.

I was near to Foundry brook a few weeks ago—it may have been at the time of the incident or slightly before—when I was getting ready to run the Reading half marathon. I could see and smell the water, and it really was unpleasant—that is the polite way to put it. It was deeply unpleasant. There was an awful smell and a strange tinge to the water. It did not look natural or right, despite the setting with beautiful willow trees, pollarded like something out of “The Wind in the Willows”, next to the waterway. We are talking about disgusting pollution, and there should be urgent action to tackle it. That is just one example in one community.

I thought Selaine Saxby spoke beautifully about her coastal community. Inland, we also have wonderful and beautiful waterways that are full of wildlife, with large birds such as swans, smaller ones such as ducks, large fish such as pike, and a range of other fish and animals. All of this is being affected, as is people’s enjoyment, by these terrible sewage incidents. They simply should not be happening. This is happening around the country—a range of constituencies have been referenced to this afternoon—and it simply should not be continuing. I do think there is a need for urgent action now. There needs to be a proper plan, with automatic fines.

Photo of Simon Baynes Simon Baynes Conservative, Clwyd South 3:20, 25 April 2023

I serve on the Welsh Affairs Committee, and we have had two evidence sessions discussing the situation with water companies in Wales. I have therefore spent a great deal of time recently hearing about what is going on in Wales and, frankly, this afternoon there seems to be virtually no recognition from the Opposition that the Labour party has a big problem to answer for in Wales when it comes to water quality. We have established during this debate that the Welsh Government have legislative competence for all aspects of water quality, water resources and the water industry, so it is very much the Labour party’s responsibility in Wales.

I thought the speech by Chris Evans was powerful, and it held to account the problems with Dŵr Cymru or Welsh Water. Opposition Members have continually made the point about nationalisation—it goes down slightly different lines depending on whether they are Momentum or mainstream Labour Members. In effect, Dŵr Cymru is a not-for-profit organisation, so it is not putting money into the hands of shareholders, yet as the hon. Member said, it is a very poor performer. I think that is something the Opposition need to consider.

During the Welsh Affairs Committee review of the water industry in Wales, we were very concerned by the evidence we heard about the condition of Welsh rivers and coastal waters. I make no apology for highlighting Labour’s appalling performance in Wales on the water industry, and I will give one or two statistics in the time available. There were 83,000 spills in Wales in 2022. In England, there were 23 spills per overflow on average that year, whereas in Wales there were 38 spills per overflow on average, so the performance in Wales is distinctly poorer. The number of sewage spills in Wales accounted for 21% of all discharges across Wales and England, and the top two longest sewage discharges last year were in Wales—in Bridgend, which is the responsibility of Dŵr Cymru or Welsh Water. As we have heard, of the top five constituencies across the UK for hours of sewage discharge, three are in Wales: Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Dwyfor Meirionnydd, and Preseli Pembrokeshire.

These are damning statistics, and the point I make to the Opposition is that they should be honest enough to recognise that there is a major problem in the way that Labour runs the water industry in Wales.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 3:23, 25 April 2023

It will come as no surprise to Members in the Chamber that I rise to support the Labour Front-Bench motion, because I support the Bill tabled by the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Jim McMahon.

The River Tame, which runs through my constituency, has the unfortunate honour of being one of the most polluted waterways in the UK. In detailed, peer-reviewed research, Professor Jamie Woodward and his team from the University of Manchester found that the Tame, which is one of two tributaries forming the River Mersey at Stockport, is heavily contaminated with microplastics, because untreated waste water and sewage are routinely discharged into the river when it is at low flow. Professor Woodward found concentrations of 130,000 microplastic particles per sediment on the riverbed around Denton. This is one of the few accessible green spaces in my constituency, and it is absolutely disgraceful.

In 2022, there were 11,000 hours of sewage discharge into the River Tame and the local environment by United Utilities. That pollution, and also the pollution from industrial processes along the river, is having a disastrous impact on the local environment. In a recent interview with Paul Whitehouse on the BBC, Chris Clarke, an angler who works closely with the Friends of the Tame Valley, told of his devastation as he watched raw sewage—not from a UU plant, but from a misconnection into Johnson brook—being pumped into the waterway on the same day that the Environment Agency was replenishing fish stocks.

Local people across my constituency are doing their very best to solve this problem. Groups such as the Friends of the Tame Valley, which I am incredibly proud to be a part of, often organise community riverbank cleans, but all too often it feels as though they are fighting an uphill battle. There has also been the formation of the River Tame working group. Spearheaded by the Mersey Rivers Trust, this brings together various community and corporate stakeholders, including United Utilities, to resolve the local operational issues and to help shape local catchment actions plans. In the interest of balance, I should say that UU is investing £100 million to immediately commence a further programme of works to reduce spill frequency at eight prioritised storm overflows, there are four river rangers and we are training a generation of river guardians.

In closing, in 2010 the Tory Prime Minister said that we are “all in it together”. I am sure he did not think that, 13 years later, that would mean the sewage in our rivers.

Photo of James Wild James Wild Conservative, North West Norfolk 3:26, 25 April 2023

I am pleased to speak in this debate to make it clear again that the use of storm overflows is unacceptable and needs to end. That is why I supported the Environment Act and new powers to require water companies to tackle this issue and for Ofwat to act, including where water companies seek to pay dividends when their environmental performance is not good enough.

North West Norfolk is home to many precious chalk streams, and one of my first visits as an MP was to walk the River Nar in Castle Acre with the Norfolk Rivers Trust, when we looked at work to restore part of the river to get it back to the natural widths, depths and gradients. As a member of the all-party parliamentary group on chalk streams, I have consistently highlighted the unacceptable use of storm overflows and the need to protect these rivers.

However, let us be candid about what ending the use of overflows, as some pretend is possible, would mean. It would mean sewage backing up into people’s homes. Why do Labour and the Liberal Democrats not put that on their leaflets? Why are they not open with the public about the disgusting consequences of the proposals they have put forward? Rather than misleading claims, I am interested in practical action to make a difference, and that starts with overflows.

Looking at the motion, I wonder where Labour has been. We will have 100% of overflows monitored by the end of this year, and real-time data is coming. When Labour was last in government, the figure was 7%. Then there are fines and prosecutions. Having looked at this area as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I want to see the Environment Agency take far more robust action. All major water companies are under investigation for illegal sewage discharges, and regulators must use higher fines to focus the minds of chief executives and boards, which is why I support unlimited fines.

The third element is investment. There is no cheap way to fix a Victorian system combining rainwater and wastewater. In my constituency, residents suffered sewage coming up through manhole covers and into their homes when there was severe flooding. By challenging Anglian Water, I got it to reline some of the sewer network because there was groundwater infiltration, rather than just inundation of rainwater. As a result, we will see improvements and hopefully we will not see a repetition. But we need major investment, which is why the £56 billion is going to be required.

The motion calls for an impact assessment. That has been done as required by the Environment Act 2021 and the results are not good for either party. Liberal Democrats pretend that they can solve this problem overnight, but that is just wholly impractical, and the Labour plan appears to involve spending £600 billion in seven years. As my constituents would say, “What a load of squit”. Instead, the Conservative party has a plan for 100% more monitoring, requiring record investment and using penalties to tackle this problem. Now water companies and regulators must be held to account to deliver real improvements for our constituents.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education) 3:29, 25 April 2023

It is a pleasure to follow James Wild. Let me start with some facts. In 2021, we saw a 67% increase in sewage discharges in my constituency across the River Leam and the River Avon. Of course these are discharges that are sanctioned by this Government. We have heard that there are now discharges every two and a half minutes. Let us also remember that the Conservative Government voted against the Duke of Wellington’s amendment 45 to the Environment Bill, which would have put a new duty on sewerage undertakers to improve the sewerage systems and to demonstrate progressive reductions in the harm caused by discharges of untreated sewage.

A year on, nothing has changed. The public are extremely disgusted by what they see and hear. In 2022, we had 824 sewage dumps a day across the country. Meanwhile, billions are being paid out in dividends, as we have heard, and the Severn Trent Water CEO’s pay is increasing by 25% to 27% locally. Not enough is being invested in the network, in sustainable drainage systems, or in greywater storage. One of the great hits to the situation was the change in the legislation on new builds and new housing—we have problems with rainwater runoff and the storage on those new developments has not been improved.

I am seeing and hearing real concerns from the community. I have had 52 letters from the public just in recent months. Concerns have been expressed by leisure users such as Warwick Sea Scouts, the Royal Leamington Spa Canoe Club and Warwick Boat Club, which has rowing teams using the lengths of the rivers. I have also heard from businesses, such as Warwick Boats and Leam Boat Centre, which I contacted and which told me they are really concerned about damage to the river’s ecosystem and about public health. Of course, this has an impact on those businesses.

Let us not forget that this also impacts on wildlife. There is a desperate need to take remedial action and focus on river ecologies to protect and preserve plant and animal life. That is why Labour’s plan would impose automatic fines, set legal requirements for monitoring stations throughout our rivers and set legally binding targets. After 13 years, it is clear that the Government have failed our rivers, our canals and our beaches. The Government are out of touch with public opinion. That is why the motion is important and why I will be voting for it.

Photo of Lee Anderson Lee Anderson Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 3:32, 25 April 2023

Another pointless debate from a pointless Opposition—that’s what I am thinking today. The last time they did this, obviously, they were telling people that we were voting to dump sewage into our waterways. That was absolute nonsense. As a result of that, we had malicious communications and threats. We had some real nastiness. The party of “kinder, gentler politics” should take note, but it won’t. But listen—why would anybody vote to dump sewage in waterways? It is absolute nonsense. No one has ever done that. My friends, my family—we all use our waterways. We use our seas, beaches and rivers. It is just not true. It is a complete lie and Opposition Members should hang their heads in shame.

It is important that we put the facts out, rather than score cheap political points. I am not into this divisive dog-whistle politics. It is absolute nonsense—[Laughter.] Even they are laughing. What are storm overflows? They are a relief valve, so that when we have a heavy downpour of rain, sewage does not back up and go on to the streets or back into people’s houses—[Interruption.] Labour Members keep saying “13 years”, but the Labour party was in power for 13 years. They keep talking about the levers they are going to pull—they did absolutely nothing for 13 years. They should be ashamed—a bunch of hypocrites, the lot of them.

Water companies sometimes have to use those overflows. It is not ideal and not always acceptable. The Environment Act, which we introduced, changes that and we are acting on it. We are doing more than the Labour party ever did in its 13 years. Like all its silly ideas, the Labour party no real plan. It is just dog-whistle politics, as I said before.

In this great city, the Thames tideway tunnel is currently under construction. [Interruption.] I came to my senses. Somebody is chuntering from a sedentary position to say that I was once a member of the Labour party. I was, but I woke up, my senses came back and then I was elected as a Conservative MP and that shut up the lot of them. The Thames tideway tunnel will cost £5 billion and take 10 years to complete, but if that lot had their way, we would have seen sewage backing into streets and people’s houses for 10 years. The great British public are not stupid. They get it. Just like our ageing Victorian sewers, that lot are full of it.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence) 3:35, 25 April 2023

I would like to tell a tale of two announcements. We are used to reannouncements, where the Government use much fanfare to introduce funding that, it later emerges, they have announced before. But I want to describe something that is new to me: an announcement with two faces.

On 7 April, the Sidmouth Herald quoted a Government press release:

“This week, the water Minister”— the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rebecca Pow

“confirmed £70 million of cash will be used to improve sewage systems in Sidmouth, Tipton St John and Axminster, as well as Falmouth in Cornwall. East Devon’s share of the cash...will help prevent sewage overflows in Sidmouth and Tipton St John, as well as water pollution in Axminster.”

On the surface, that is welcome: £70 million to improve sewage systems in east Devon. Those reading that in the paper in Devon are led to believe that that relates to our area, and might miss the passing reference to a distant town in Cornwall, but readers in my part of Devon are discerning and they notice a mention of Cornwall in a story that is supposed to be about Devon.

To get a full picture of what is going on here, one needs to travel 125 miles south-east of Axminster and read the same announcement in Falmouth’s local newspaper, The Packet. What does the Conservative Government’s announcement claim in Falmouth?

South West Water’s total investment for the Falmouth area includes...a total of £40 million.”

By reading about the same announcement in the neighbouring county, we find that most of the £70 million funding is not for east Devon at all.

I, for one, will never defer to the interests of polluting water firms or simply parrot the lines they suggest we MPs might like to use. Instead, I will always stand up for my constituents, who are seeing their bills rise and profits leaking out in bonuses, all while sewage poisons our rivers and beaches.

Photo of Angela Richardson Angela Richardson Conservative, Guildford 3:37, 25 April 2023

Across the country, our beaches and rivers, including the River Wey Navigation, are vital for the health and wellbeing of our communities. Like my constituents, I know how important it is to make sure our natural assets are preserved, not least because every summer I swim in our waters.

It was this Conservative Government who introduced new duties on water companies to monitor water quality upstream and downstream of storm overflows and sewage disposal works. It is this Government who are working towards increasing monitoring to 100% of storm overflows by the end of this year. It was under this Government last year that fines reached a record level, where breaches were found.

The Government alone, however, cannot fix each and every leak, and each and every unfortunate discharge event. That is why I welcome the Government incentivising water companies to invest more than £7 billion by 2025 on environmental improvements while protecting people’s water bills, and I welcome the millions of pounds being invested by Thames Water in my constituency.

This is a very complex issue that needs the keen attention of a Government who look out for our waterways and beaches, and our constituents, unlike Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have put forward ridiculous plans that would cost up to £593 billion, or £21,000 per household. When it comes to sorting this messy situation out, it is this Conservative Government who are taking action. It is the Labour party that allowed people to pay more while the sewage flowed freely into our waterways and the water companies went unchecked.

I gently say to the Opposition that this politically motivated, politically timed debate on a highly emotive subject is not a neutral act. It overflows beyond this Chamber. I, and other Conservative colleagues, have had to have police come to our homes and offices to make sure we are safe as the result of misinformation on sewage. It has impacted our families and our staff. It is important that my Guildford constituents have the facts, not fearmongering.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight 3:40, 25 April 2023

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.] Has Peter Kyle finished? Is he done? Does he want to intervene? In spite of the relentless nastiness from the nasty party on the Opposition Benches, we found out some interesting facts today. Perhaps the Opposition can explain some of them in the wind-up.

There was literally no water monitoring under Labour. Why? There must have been mass dumping, but we do not know about it. Why? Because they hid the problem by not monitoring. What gets me most of all is that the utility firms that those class warriors profess to hate had a sweetheart deal with them to allow them to self-monitor. What a corrupting relationship between new Labour and the big utility firms. Why were they allowed to self-monitor? [Interruption.] Grinning at me inanely does not answer the question. They were actually taken to court by their lovely buddies in the European Union. I could not make it up. I thank the Secretary of State for her calm and measured sentiments—I am trying to be measured but I am probably not doing a good job, I must admit—as opposed to the nonsense that we have heard from the Opposition.

Thanks to this Government, on the Isle of Wight, Southern Water is investing tens of millions. I persuaded Southern Water to make the Isle of Wight an example of best practice, through Sandown water works, £2.5 million for Knighton, £5 million for Carisbrooke and £7 million for works in Newport, Cowes and Brading. The full list is extensive. I encourage all Islanders who get the offer of a free water butt from Southern Water to take up that option. As well as improving the pumping stations and replumbing parts of the drainage system, we are providing slow-release water butts and redesigning road surfaces. The improvements that we are making as a pilot scheme and an example of best practice today on the Island will be rolled out everywhere else as part of the integrated water plan, the integrated sewage plan and all the good things that are happening under the Environment Act.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye

My hon. Friend raises the work that Southern Water is doing on the Isle of Wight. We have a Fairlight Pathfinder project on my patch, which will be rolling out smart water butts that slow down surface water run-off. I am looking forward to seeing how that works.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

Community schemes are a small part of this. People write to me and ask, what can a community scheme do? Hon. Members are right that major investment has to happen, but the first pilot scheme in Britain took place in a beautiful little village called Havenstreet in my patch. On average, Havenstreet pumping station spills 30 times a year—sewage or storm discharge goes into the river 30 times a year. After two thirds of eligible residents took up Southern Water’s offer of a free water butt and free installation—no money is exchanged, and Southern Water will never ask for money—the result has been a 70% reduction in water spills. I am putting out letters to every community that can get those butts from Southern Water. I have written to almost all the relevant residents in Gurnard. Letters will go out to Fishbourne and Wootton next, then Freshwater. I encourage them, because the more people who take up the offer of a free water butt, the more successful the scheme.

By improving pumping stations, replumbing parts of the drainage system, providing slow-release butts and redesigning surfaces to make them more porous, we are changing the system for the better. Overall, thanks to the Secretary of State, the Environment Act the sewage plans and the national water plan, we have a positive plan for Britain. Labour is playing catch-up; it offers nothing but second-rate, class-war rhetoric and the politics of abuse and hate. I strongly support the Government’s amendment.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Conservative, Southend West 3:44, 25 April 2023

Good water quality is something that everyone in Southend West takes extremely seriously. Our 1,000-year-old cockle industry and our sea-front businesses, including Sealife Adventure, Adventure Island and Rossi’s ice cream parlour, which attract 6 million tourists to our beaches, depend on the quality of our coastal waters. That is why it is so important that we are honest and truthful about the progress that this Conservative Government have made in improving our water quality over the past decade. Frankly, the fearmongering and electioneering we have seen from the Opposition today is shameful.

These are the facts: successive Conservative Governments have increased the percentage of bathing waters classified as good or excellent from 76% in 2010 to 93% now, which is an increase of over 20%. That figure includes every single bathing water in my beautiful constituency and is significantly higher than the European average, which is only 88%.

There is now 80% less phosphorus and 85% less ammonia in our waters than in 1990, when the water companies were privatised. That is why we have an explosion of seals, porpoises and octopuses, and why wrasse is now found off Southend when once it was a rarity. Only two weeks ago, I joined the Environment Agency, Southend Against Sewage and the famous Bluetits Chill Swimmers to test the quality of the water at Chalkwell beach and, once again, found it to be excellent. Hon. Members are welcome to visit at any time.

However, I am not suggesting that we do not have a problem or that any dumping of sewage into our waterways should be condoned; of course it should not. That is why I am proud we have a Government—the first Government—who have brought in a storm overflows sewage reduction plan and will oversee an investment of £56 billion in modernisation. That is absolutely huge, and more than the entire annual budget of the Scottish Government.

That is also why I am bearing down on my water company all the time. I held a water summit in my patch and brought all the stakeholders together in order to ensure that the chief executive is well aware of the obligations placed on him by the Secretary of State of this Conservative Government. By 30 June, which is in only 10 weeks’ time, all of my constituents will know the action plan for each of the storm overflows in my constituency, the number and duration of spills, and, most critically, when improvements will be delivered and when there will outcomes from the interventions. Those are the actions my constituents want to see happening and they are the actions of a responsible, serious Government.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 3:47, 25 April 2023

In Cumbria, it is our privilege to be the stewards not only of the fells and the dales, but of our lakes, rivers and coastal waterways. That is why we are angry about the fact that six out of 10 of the longest spills of sewage in this country in 2022 happened in our county of Cumbria. Sewage was pumped into the River Kent at Staveley for 169 days, into the River Eden at Kirkby Stephen for 101 days and into the River Eea at Cark for 252 days. At Windermere, the centre of the Lake district’s tourism and economy, and the largest lake in England, sewage was pumped into the lake or its tributaries for 5,000 hours.

Sewage is discharged not only in Cumbria. As I speak, sewage is being discharged into the River Mole at Esher, which happened 220 times last year. There were 280 spills in Winchester, 750 spills in Lewes, and 2,200 spills in the borough of Stockport. All of these were legal. United Utilities in the north-west is the worst offender because it is situated in the wettest part of England, and therefore storms happen and overflows are permitted more often.

Let us also look at the situation with regard to bathing water, which we have heard many people talk about today, and the way it ensures higher water quality. We bid for bathing water status for Coniston Water and the River Kent, but we were turned down, despite those being more popular bathing sites than many places where that status was granted. I have heard what Government Members have said about monitoring, but in 2021 12% of the monitoring stations were faulty and 16% were faulty last year, so what we know is probably an underestimate of the state of the problem.

We have talked about legal dumping of sewage, but what about illegal dumping? In 2021 and 2022, there were 827 offences and illegal dumps of sewage. How many of those 827 were prosecuted? Just 16, which means that this Government have effectively decriminalised the dumping of sewage in our rivers, lakes and coastal waterways. Water companies know that that will happen and factor in the fines, because it is cheaper to pay them than to invest in the infrastructure. Since privatisation, £65.9 billion has been paid out in water company dividends. There was a 20% increase in executive pay last year. We hear the Government saying that the polluter should pay. Yes, the polluters pay: they pay themselves massive bonuses.

In Cumbria and across the country, we are outraged. It is not just about the threat to the biodiversity of our lakes and rivers, to our fish stocks, to those who swim, to our pets using our waterways and to the tourism economy that underpins the Lake district. It is also about the deep injustice that large corporations are raking in enormous profits, while this Government are doing nothing to stop them pumping sewage into the waterways that we value so dearly in Cumbria and elsewhere.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:50, 25 April 2023

I will start on a positive note by thanking those who have actively engaged in this public health, environmental and economic issue, which has been an absolute catastrophe for our country. I thank my friend Feargal Sharkey, the singer turned formidable environmental campaigner, for his tireless work in bringing to life the impact that sewage dumping is having on every part of our country. It is also important to recognise the work of the campaign group Top of the Poops, alongside Surfers Against Sewage, in collating constituency data to allow the public to see the extent of the Tory sewage scandal in the areas where they live, work and holiday.

Opposition Members have made some extremely powerful speeches illustrating the impact of the sewage scandal in their constituencies. My hon. Friend Chris Evans made a good point about excessive corporate pay. My hon. Friend Cat Smith spoke about the effect on the biodiversity of our birds and fish. My hon. Friend Navendu Mishra pointed out that bills have gone up by 40%.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Unfortunately we have limited time, so I will make some progress.

My hon. Friend Rachel Hopkins rightly highlighted the importance of the unique habitats that chalk streams provide. My hon. Friend Dan Jarvis pointed out that we need increased regulation that is good for people. My hon. Friend Mike Kane and other north-west Members rightly pointed out that United Utilities has the highest number of discharges. My hon. Friend Samantha Dixon pointed out that constituents have suffered heavily because of overflows in her constituency.

My hon. Friend Luke Pollard, who is a keen wild swimmer, has been an excellent campaigner for Plymouth sound to get clean bathing water status. I hope his campaign comes to fruition. My hon. Friend Liz Twist pointed out that the Government have a 27-year plan. Who can wait that long for our rivers to be clean? My hon. Friend Rosie Duffield represents Whitstable beach, where I have swum. She pointed out that swimmers can no longer use it because of the sewage.

My hon. Friend Rebecca Long Bailey pointed out that United Utilities uses the courts to protect itself from private prosecution, which is exactly why our Bill is needed. My hon. Friend Paula Barker pointed out the danger that sewage poses to the ambitious plans of our metro Mayors. My hon. Friend Matt Rodda told the House about the horrendous 17-hour spill just outside Reading. Our Bill would end such incidents. My hon. Friend Matt Western rightly mentioned sustainable drainage systems and grey-water storage as part of the solution. There have been so many excellent speeches today.

We have to ask ourselves some questions. Is the water industry operating in the public interest? No. Is it right for the Tories to allow water companies to dump raw sewage into our waters? No. Is it time for change? Yes. Of course, we cannot and will not just let water companies off the hook. We should not allow them to wash their hands of the issue and walk off the pitch with £72 billion in dividends, leaving behind a broken system.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I give way to the hon. Gentleman, with whom I co-chair the all-party parliamentary group on Ukraine.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

Earlier today, Jim McMahon made a truly dire attempt at public speaking in which he avoided most of the questions put to him. One of the critical questions was why the last Labour Government allowed the utility firms to self-monitor. Does that not exemplify an uncomfortable, corrupting relationship between the last Labour Government and the public utilities?

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

When Labour left office in 2010, the Environment Agency said that our rivers were the cleanest at any time since before the industrial revolution. That is Labour’s record.

It should not be left to us or to the public to clean up the mess and pay the price of Tory failure, but we will have to do it. Conservative Members have made the argument that that will involve households picking up the tab. It will not. Our plan, unlike the Government’s, does not require increasing taxpayers’ bills.

As was pointed out by my hon. Friend Jim McMahon, in the absence of a credible plan, Labour has done the Secretary of State’s job for her in presenting its own oven-ready plan: to deliver the mandatory monitoring of all sewage outlets and a standing-charge penalty for all water companies that do not have properly functioning monitors in place; to deliver automatic fines on polluters, which is not happening under this Government; to give regulators the necessary power and require them to enforce the rules properly; to set legally binding sewage-dumping reduction targets that will end the Tory sewage scandal by 2030 and not 2050; and crucially, to ensure that any failure to improve is paid for by water companies, which will not be able to pass the charge on to customers’ bills or slash investment.

What we have set out in my hon. Friend’s Bill is just the first phase of Labour’s plan to clear up the mess, but we are under no illusions: the system is fundamentally broken. That is why we need a phase 2 plan—which we will set out in due course—to reform the sector, placing delivery for the public good at the heart of the water industry. There needs to be a greater degree of public oversight in the running of the water industry to protect the public interest, because under the Tories, households are paying the price of a failing water industry, through first having to pay for sewage treatment in their water bills while the Tories allow corner-cutting and the dumping of raw sewage in our waters rather than its being treated properly. I recently discovered that only 37% of our sewage treatment plants even have storage tanks, while the others discharge straight into the local rivers, and even the simplest precautions are not being taken in the majority of our sewage plants—

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I think that time is against us—yes, you are indicating that it is, Madam Deputy Speaker—so unfortunately I cannot take any more interventions.

Secondly, households are paying the price of the impact that this is having on the NHS, the economy and the environment. I am disappointed but not surprised at the conduct of Tory Members who, once again, stood up one after the other and merely read out the cobbled-together lines of the panicked Government Whips—[Interruption.] That is not true! I wrote this speech myself, thank you very much. The Government Whips are struggling to find any serious reasons for blocking Labour’s common-sense approach. Being forced to resort to that is a symptom of a Tory Government who have run out of road and of ideas.

It is unfortunate, and slightly embarrassing for them, that the Government Whips have misunderstood Labour’s plan, fed Tory Members inaccurate numbers and got their maths wrong, which is no surprise given the state of our economy. The Minister may wish to correct the record on their behalf, because if they had read the Bill they would have seen that there are safeguards that prevent anyone from gaming the system. In any case, the Government’s own economic regulator, Ofwat, already has the power to protect customers’ bills.

The Secretary of State’s own Department has undertaken a cost-benefit analysis of Labour’s plan, which shows that cleaning up this mess would cost water companies a fraction of the £72 billion that they have taken out in dividends. There is no reason for inaction—and how much is that inaction costing the NHS, and businesses that are forced to pull down the shutters because of sewage dumping? But with the Tories, there is always a reason not to act in the public interest, and nothing is ever their fault. Bluster, blame game and blocking measures to clean up their mass sewage dumping mess—you name it, they have blamed it, as I have heard throughout the afternoon, whether it is people who use their toilets, the Welsh Government or home drainage systems. The Secretary of State even blamed the Victorians for causing this mess, more than 100 years ago. In case they have forgotten, let me point out that it is the Tories in Westminster who are responsible for economic regulation of the water industry in England and Wales, with the levers of power that are key to improving industry performance and holding water companies to account.

Tory Members now have a second chance to do the right thing, having previously voted to continue sewage dumping. If they vote with Labour today, we can end the sewage scandal once and for all. Their alternative is simply to follow the lead by continuing to vote for sewage dumping for no good reason. If they do refuse to back our plan, it will be either because they have not bothered to read the Bill and are blindly following the direction of the Secretary of State, or because they do not understand the Bill and, as their contributions today suggest, are inadvertently misleading the House about the reasons for continuing to vote for sewage dumping.

Let me be clear: the public are watching and listening. The choice this evening is simple. Members can either vote for our plan to end the Tory sewage scandal by 2030, with water companies finally being made to do the job that households are already paying them to do, or they can, for a second time, vote to allow the dumping of raw sewage in the constituencies that we all represent.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:58, 25 April 2023

The debate provides a welcome and much-needed opportunity to set the record straight on sewage and what the Government are doing. Not only are we taking this issue extremely seriously, but we are and have been acting. We have a realistic, costed plan to clean up our network of rivers and coasts, and it is already in operation—and what a tide of positivity we have heard from the Conservative Benches today.

There is general consensus among all our colleagues that this Government have a pragmatic, practical, costed, reliable and comprehensive plan. Those words have been used by all colleagues, and we are all pulling together to understand this issue. Those colleagues included my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald, my hon. Friends the Members for Keighley (Robbie Moore), for St Ives (Derek Thomas), for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), for Gedling (Tom Randall), for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart), for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) and for Ashfield (Lee Anderson)—plain speaking, as ever—as well as my hon. Friend Mr Mohindra, my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby with her wonderful adaptive surfing centre, my hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes) and for North West Norfolk (James Wild) and my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne, who systematically unpicked the Labour party’s plan by himself.

Following today’s debate, I cannot help but feel that for the Opposition this is nothing but a political game to fire up those outside this place with a view to making some sort of gain. Labour’s plan is completely superfluous. Where have Labour Members been? We are doing all these things they are asking for, and more. It was this Government who uncovered the scandal of storm sewage overflows being used far too frequently, because it was this party that increased the monitoring of storm sewage overflows. We have ramped it up from a paltry 7% under Labour to 91% now, and it will be 100% by the end of the year. It was also the Labour Government who were taken to court for pollution, so where the idea of all those clean rivers comes from, I do not know.

What did we discover from all our monitoring? We discovered that water companies were indeed using storm sewage overflows far too frequently, and that is completely unacceptable. So what did we do? We acted. We brought in the Environment Act 2021 to require a new storm overflow discharge reduction plan, fully costed and with a clear impact assessment, delivering up to £56 billion of capital investment to revolutionise our Victorian infrastructure. We are consulting on lifting the cap on fines entirely so that the Environment Agency can issue potentially unlimited penalties on water companies, in addition to Ofwat’s existing powers to fine companies up to 10% of annual turnover.

Ofwat has strengthened its powers on executive pay awards so that if water companies want to pay bonuses even if environmental performance is found wanting, their shareholders must pay for that, not their customers. Through the new water restoration fund, money collected through fines will be spent on improving water quality. Luke Pollard needs to get with the programme: we have already done what he asked. Our Treasury friends who sit here agreed to it. We are also bringing in new monitoring requirements under the Environment Act for near real-time reporting on storm overflows. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth asked if we could do more. Yes; we are going to increase water quality monitoring upstream and downstream.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am not going to give way, because there simply is not time.

I note that Jim McMahon likes our monitoring ideas in the Environment Act so much that he has put our monitoring framework from the Act into clause 1 of his Bill. Marvellous! We also recently published our integrated plan for water. This includes an announcement that we are accelerating £1.6 billion of investment in reducing storm overflow discharges, upgrading wastewater treatment works and bringing in measures to improve drought resilience. The whole issue is extremely complicated, and that is why I made this a priority when I came into the Department. Our plan for water sets out how we will deliver the improvements we need across all matters connected to water, including all forms of pollution.

I ask people to remember that no Conservative Member has ever voted to allow raw sewage into our rivers. We voted for measures to clean up our rivers, and the Opposition voted against them. We have produced much cleaner water since Victorian times. We have almost the highest-quality drinking water in the world, and 93% of our bathing waters are excellent.

How could we take Labour’s suggestions on sewage seriously? Labour’s plans would potentially require enough pipes to be dug up from our roads to go around the globe two and a half times. Can anyone imagine the disruption that would cause, not to mention that it is totally impractical? We have heard no clear indication of how Labour’s plan would be paid for. Would it be added to customers’ bills? The shadow Minister could not answer that question on Sky this morning, and I did not hear the answer this afternoon. As for the Lib Dems, it is really not worth commenting on what they say.

The scale of this Government’s ambition cannot be highlighted enough, and I urge all colleagues to support the Government’s amendment.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

We will vote first on the Government’s amendment, because the amendment simply deletes wording. Should the amendment be made, I anticipate that there will be a second vote on the main Question. That is unlike the second debate today, for which the amendment also adds substance and therefore the Question on the Opposition wording will be put first. Did you all get that? Turn your papers over and begin.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 217 Water Quality: Sewage Discharge

Aye: 289 MPs

No: 189 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 290, Noes 188.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put.

Division number 218 Water Quality: Sewage Discharge

Aye: 283 MPs

No: 0 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 286, Noes 0.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House calls on the Government to set a target for the reduction of sewage discharges, to provide for financial penalties in relation to sewage discharges and breaches of monitoring requirements, and to carry out an impact assessment of sewage discharges.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. A little while ago, when Peter Tatchell came to visit me, he had a badge confiscated from him—a campaigning badge against homophobia. I subsequently received a letter of apology from the Serjeant at Arms saying that he would look at that practice. Yesterday, some other people came to visit me. They had a series of leaflets about the Chinese Government’s treatment of Jimmy Lai, and those were confiscated too. There may well be a well-intentioned purpose behind this, but will the House authorities look at the operation of these rules, because it seems very odd that it is illegal to bring political material into the House of Commons.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

I thank the right hon. Member for his point of order. I will raise this issue with the Serjeant at Arms tomorrow, and I will get back in touch with him.