Waterway Cleanliness

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at on 14 March 2024.

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Photo of Mick Whitley Mick Whitley Labour, Birkenhead

What recent assessment he has made of the cleanliness of England’s waterways.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

What recent assessment he has made of the cleanliness of England’s waterways.

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

What recent progress his Department has made on improving water quality.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We know how important clean water is to the public, and we share their concern and outrage about pollution in waterways. That is why we have increased monitoring of storm overflows in England from 7% under Labour in 2010 to 100% today, and we are now holding water companies to account on tackling pollution by quadrupling the number of checks, increasing unannounced inspections, giving Ofwat new powers to block bonuses, and taking action against water companies that do not link dividends to environmental performance.

Photo of Mick Whitley Mick Whitley Labour, Birkenhead

Households across the north-west could see their water bills rise by nearly 40% by 2030 as water companies look to consumers to meet the costs of much-need infrastructure upgrades. Do the Government agree that the cost of stemming the flow of sewage into our waterways should be met by the water companies and the shareholders who were received hundreds of millions of pounds in payouts last year, not by the hard- working British public?

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government are absolutely clear that no one should pay extra for water companies to clean up our rivers. We are pleased that water companies have promised a £96 billion investment over the next five years across England and Wales, and we will continue to hold polluters to account. Just this week, we announced a fast-track investment of £180 million over the next 12 months to prevent more than 800,000 sewage spills from polluting English waterways.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

We should not have an open sewer flowing through the city of York and, when it floods, flowing into businesses and people’s homes. While water company executives have pocketed £10 million in bonuses, my constituents have had to put up with 1,414 sewage releases. When will the Minister end this profiteering and invest in upgrading York’s sewerage infrastructure? How does he intend to do this?

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As I said, we have already seen water companies want to invest £96 billion over the next price review cycle. I recently visited York, and work is being undertaken by Yorkshire Water to address sewage pollution spills. Ofwat has already been given powers to take a much tougher approach to bosses’ bonuses, if their companies are deemed to have been polluting. This Government will continue to hold water companies to account.

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

I welcome the action that this Government are taking to improve water quality, but in Wales, which has some of the worst levels of sewage pollution, there are no legally binding targets for the water companies to reduce sewage or to upgrade their waste water treatment plants, and there is no overall reduction plan for sewage. There are not even any prosecutions, because the policy in Wales is not to prosecute these companies. Does the Minister know which party is running the Administration in Wales?

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I share my right hon. Friend’s concerns about Labour’s failure to tackle spills from storm overflows in Wales, where the average number of spills from storm overflows is two thirds higher than in England. I am not surprised by this, because we know that when Labour was last in government in 2010, only 7% of storm overflows were monitored, compared with 100% today. Ninety per cent of bathing waters are now classed as good or excellent, compared with just 76% under Labour in 2010.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Drinking water is treated with both ultraviolet light and chlorine before it goes into our taps, so it is perfectly safe. Water that goes through water treatment works is treated but not necessarily disinfected by the use of UV, unless it is heading towards a designated bathing water.

France is hosting the Olympics in Paris, and the Seine is being treated with performic acid. One place in this country, Southwold, is using performic acid right now, but scientists from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency have so far been reluctant to roll it out. If it is good enough for people to swim in the Seine during the Olympics, surely it is good enough to start using this treatment, which is cheaper and could be deployed across our country.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this important issue, and I reassure her that I am having conversations with officials not only in the Environment Agency but in DEFRA on this very issue. I am more than happy to meet her so she can share her knowledge from when she was Secretary of State.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Nature and Rural Affairs)

It is clear from what we have heard that the Minister is here to tell us how well the Government and the water companies are doing. Meanwhile, out there in the real world, the recent “State of Our Rivers” report exposed that not one English river is in a good overall condition. The capital’s water supplier is on the brink of collapse, and the only solution that the Government are even considering was stolen from the Labour party. Is it not the truth that what Britian’s rivers really cannot afford is five more years of this useless Government?

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

When the Leader of the Opposition says that he would want Wales to be his blueprint if Labour gets into power in England, I fear for this country. We have seen far worse water pollution under Welsh Labour, as has already been said. We will continue with our plan for water, which is about more investment, stronger regulation and much tougher enforcement against those who pollute.