Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Part of Environment Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 9th November 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative 4:30 pm, 9th November 2021

My Lords, on Motion C, I too congratulate my noble friend the Duke of Wellington on all his amendments throughout the passage of the Bill to which I have added my name. It has been a pleasure to work co-operatively across the House, including with the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, and the noble Lord, Lord Oates.

Indeed, noble Lords’ scrutiny has achieved many important improvements. I therefore thank our excellent Ministers—my honourable friend Rebecca Pow in the other place and my noble friend the Minister—my noble friend Lady Bloomfield, and the entire Bill team for their engagement, hard work and willingness to be persuaded to finally accept the need to place duties on the water companies. I also commend the work of my honourable friend Philip Dunne in the other place, who did so much to move this forward.

At last, the Bill places a direct legal duty on the water companies. The government amendment seems to me to produce what we and my noble friend the Duke of Wellington were aiming to achieve with the most recent amendment. There is considerable public concern that the Environment Agency is not using its existing powers, has relied too much on self-reporting and has consistently tolerated repeated illegal discharges which damage our waterways and public health. I am grateful to the Government that they have now specified both the environmental and human health aspects.

It will also, as other noble Lords have said, be important to monitor and oversee sewage discharges far more rigorously and to track and reduce such unacceptable discharges so that companies do not rely on not being caught as the most cost-effective way to proceed. I have sympathy with the frustrations of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, but I believe that, although in an ideal world we would not want to start from here, we are not dealing with the situation that we would all wish to see. After years of neglect and companies having behaved so egregiously, I do not believe that this can be addressed instantly. Therefore, it will take time to undo the neglect. I believe that the Government must and will take the necessary actions, but of course we will see over time.

Currently, we have two excellent Ministers who are committed to the aims of the Bill, for which I am most grateful. I also briefly congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Anderson, on the pressure they have put on to improve the independence of the OEP. Overall, I believe that this House has achieved a significant amount. We have pushed the Government as far as we possibly can, and I hope that we will now accept the government Motions and be rightly proud of this landmark Bill.