Economic Growth (Regulatory Functions) (Amendment) Order 2024 - Motion to Approve (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 15 April 2024.

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Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 7:30, 15 April 2024

I thank the Minister for his response and all noble Lords for their contributions, especially the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, who has long been a champion of dealing with sewage overflow discharges and getting the water companies into a decent state. The economic growth of water companies will be achieved only when they invest in improving sewage overflows, ensuring developers separate surface water from foul wastewater, and when Ofwat is empowered to take stringent action against polluting water companies.

As I said earlier, my main purpose was to press for this order to be withdrawn—that was not successful—and then for the accompanying draft guidance to be significantly amended, especially as the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, has indicated. Growth in the water industry has a place, but regulators, especially Ofwat, must be able to take action against those water companies.

The Minister has mentioned the millions that have been returned to water customers as a result of fines, but this is paltry in comparison to the billions that have been paid to directors and shareholders of water companies, with no account taken of the sewage discharges into our waterways, instead of investing in improvements in infrastructure.

I and my colleagues on these Benches are naturally disappointed that the Minister is unable to agree to our reasonable request, and I feel certain that the public and others will be similarly disappointed. This is a matter about which I feel extremely strongly—so strongly that were it not for the fact that this is the first day back after the Recess, and that there are important votes tomorrow, I would have wished to divide the Chamber. However, I feel certain that we will be return to this issue before too long, perhaps when the White Paper is published. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my regret amendment.

Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.

Motion agreed.