Water Companies: Water Pollution and Overflows

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at on 19 October 2023.

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Photo of Tom Randall Tom Randall Conservative, Gedling

What steps her Department is taking to require water companies to help reduce water pollution and unsatisfactory overflows.

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

I am pleased that my hon. Friend has asked that question, because no Government in history have taken a more comprehensive approach to tackling water pollution. This Conservative Government are delivering more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement to tackle every source of water pollution. Under our storm overflows discharge reduction plan, £60 billion is targeted at cleaning up storm sewage overflows. Thanks to our monitoring, we know what is happening and we are able to take action. Let me remind Members that there was virtually no monitoring under the Labour Government. This Government are setting the record straight.

Photo of Tom Randall Tom Randall Conservative, Gedling

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. The Liberal Democrats pretend that we can fix storm overflows in 48 hours and Labour has an undeliverable sewage plan, so it is unsurprising that sewage is discharged more often in socialist-run Wales. Can my hon. Friend confirm that it is only the Conservatives’ plan for water that is credible, costed and comprehensive?

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

As ever, my hon. Friend is right on the button. We are the only party with a costed, credible plan to tackle this issue, and we uncovered it. If Labour had a plan, it would be using it in Wales. We have just heard how serious the illegal sewage discharges are in Wales. We have discovered that not only has Natural Resources Wales not carried out any enforcement, but it has not issued any fines at all on this subject—nothing. And the Liberals do not have any plans.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Science, Research and Innovation)

Like many of my constituents, over the summer I took advantage of the relatively warm temperatures in the North sea to enjoy swimming off our coast. Should my constituents and I worry about the quality of the water due to the practices of water companies? Is it not time for Labour’s plan for automatic fines for discharges?

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

Ninety three per cent of bathing water around our coast is good or excellent. It is a tremendous record.

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

Scarborough’s South bay is included in the 7% of bathing water without a blue flag. North Yorkshire Council recently convened a taskforce of local politicians, the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Water and others, including academics from Durham University, to look at the problem. It became clear that it is not as simple as many people think. Discharges come from further north around the bay, and pathogens were picked up not only from human effluent but from sea birds, dogs and ruminants. Will the Minister take a personal interest in that work, because lessons learned in Scarborough may well apply around the country?

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

My right hon. Friend highlights that the issue is not as simple as people think. That is why our plan for water takes a holistic approach to tackling all sources of water pollution. It is also why we launched our £34 million slurry fund to help farmers reduce the pollution that they may inadvertently put into watercourses.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

I have never heard such codswallop in all my time in the House. I was born by the Thames and I love the rivers, and I have to say to the Minister that I have seen no Government in history who have put more sewage into our streams, rivers and oceans than hers since the privatisation of water.

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

I had a meeting about the Thames tideway tunnel yesterday. That amazing project has already increased wildlife so extraordinarily at the end by the Lee tunnel that there are kingfishers, otters and all kinds of other creatures there. When the tunnel is finished, it will be the biggest single means of cleaning up the Thames that has ever been put in place. It is this Government, through a special tool of private-public funding, who are enabling that.

Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Last year, this Government oversaw record levels of illegal sewage discharges into our rivers and waterways after they cut enforcement, and then they let the water bosses reward themselves for that failure with nearly £10 million in bonuses while hiking bills for consumers. Labour believes that the polluter, and not the consumer, should pay. Will the Government adopt Labour’s plan and give the regulator the power it needs to block water bosses’ bonuses if they keep illegally pumping toxic filth into our rivers?

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

I have already said that Labour has not costed its plan, which has no credibility whatsoever. We have already changed regulation and the tools that Ofwat and the EA can use. No dividends or bonuses can be paid out at all if there is any environmental damage, and there are more fines than ever before. There were no fines under the Labour Government; indeed, they were taken to court by the European Commission for polluting water, and they did nothing about it. This Government introduced the monitoring, and that is why we know what is happening and why we have the biggest criminal investigation in the history of water under way.