Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Part of Environment Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 9th November 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 4:15 pm, 9th November 2021

My Lords, my coughing is not Covid, in case anybody is concerned.

I am so sad and disappointed that we have got to this place: we are under pressure, because of the primacy of the other place, to pass a Bill that is not as good as the one we amended. It seems that the Government do not understand what they have done in stripping out some of the safeguards we have put in. This will come to haunt MPs, because people will not forget the campaign to stop the sewage discharges into our rivers. Some people were also concerned about the office for environmental protection. This will not be forgotten.

I know the Minister said that this was not true, but I would argue that the Government have legitimised the sewage discharges that will be happening from now on. There is no timetable and there are no targets. Quite honestly, it seems that the Government do not understand the pressure that is coming from the grass roots—from dog walkers, fishing enthusiasts, Surfers Against Sewage and wild swimmers, who have seen this and really care about it. We have returned to the 1970s version of ourselves as the “dirty man of Europe”.

I hope that the Government will now admit the deliberate confusion that they created about the cost of stopping any further discharges. The figure—was it £60 billion or £600 billion?—that they put forward was absolutely outrageous; of course, they quickly withdrew it when people started to check. The Government could loan the money to the water companies to put in the infrastructure that we need to prevent discharges in a relatively short space of time. However, that would mean, of course, that those water companies could not pay dividends to investors, senior people and shareholders until the debt was paid off. If we had a tough regulatory system, the scandal would never have been able to escalate in the way that it has. It has been a failure of the Government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency and, unfortunately, the Environment Bill does nothing to deal with our relatively toothless system of enforcement.

I had hoped that we would be able to pressure the Government even more. Quite honestly, if any votes are put this afternoon—I cannot give up—I will vote for them, because the Government have still not achieved what we hoped would be achieved and what the general public want us to achieve: a cleaner Britain. I am hoping that the Government will at some point come forward with more safeguards, but at the moment I am not holding my breath and, as I said, I will vote for any amendments that are pressed.