Amendment 119

Part of Environment Bill - Committee (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 30th June 2021.

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Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat 6:00 pm, 30th June 2021

My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lord Bradshaw. We have a history of working together that goes back many years. I think the last time was to do with Railtrack, which is a million miles away from Amendment 120A, which I shall speak to today, concerning septic tanks and their management.

I have some experience of this, going back a while to when I was a much younger married man with a small family who had moved into a rather old but pleasant Edwardian house on the edge of the country. When there is a sewer in the main road outside, naturally one assumes that one’s house is connected to it, but I discovered one morning, when an unexpected hole appeared in the back lawn, that there was no mains drainage at all, but a septic tank. As I say, I was a young man with a family and not a lot of money, and I had to get a second mortgage in order to pay for the drainage works to connect up to the sewer in the road and explain to my friends and neighbours that it was I who had caused traffic lights to be put up to cope with the construction works.

That is not to say that I have a particular bias against septic tanks—an issue that we will return to later in the Bill—but this amendment is to do with something very similar to my noble friend Lord Bradshaw’s point, which is that caustic household cleansers, when used too liberally, or even at all, you might argue, to cope with the cleansing of waste into septic tanks in domestic homes, can cause damage. What can happen so easily is that chlorine-based or similar bleach-based domestic cleaners prevent the tanks from functioning at all, and the result can be that you end up with little better than open defecation. So the purpose of the amendment is to try to reduce, and in due course eliminate, the discharge of untreated or poorly treated sewage into our rivers, watercourses and aquifers.

This occurs mainly in rural communities that remain—as I found out to my cost—unconnected to mains sewers, and are reliant on septic tanks and cesspits. Those are often inefficient and poorly maintained. Not only can septic tanks poison our rivers, streams and other watercourses as a result, but in areas with chalk aquifers they can poison the groundwater as well, often causing irreversible long-term harm.

Elsewhere in our European continent, several countries have not only banned this form of drainage but replaced it with more sensible and rational mains drainage systems. I would like to think that we would be trying to catch up with them. I therefore support the amendment.