People are rightly upset at the frequency of sewage discharges and the damage it does to our most valued, delicate river habitats. I believe it is shameful that insufficient action has been taken to tighten regulation to stop water companies using discharges as a day-to-day measure when they were introduced for only the most extreme circumstances.
Shockingly only 14% of English rivers meet good ecological standards, and water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers over 400,000 times in 2020.
Water should be run in the interests of the environment and consumers, not shareholders. In recent years, customers have faced rising bills while those directing water companies have received multimillion-pound packages, bonuses and dividends. The cost of cleaning up our rivers must come from these profits.
In September, the Government amended the Environment Bill to include new measures on sewage discharges. I believe these measures are insufficiently ambitious and existing laws are inadequate. Water companies must be incentivised or required to undertake necessary systemic improvements to address the current crisis.
I have long supported measures to end sewage discharges into waterways and recently voted to accept the Lords amendment to the Bill requiring water companies to take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged into inland waters. The Government voted to remove it. The House of Lords voted again to include this measure, including coastal waters, which will face further consideration when the Bill returns to the House of Commons.
The Government has since announced it will introduce an amendment to require water companies to progressively reduce the adverse impact of storm overflows. I will look closely at this but believe it should not have taken a public outcry for this issue to be taken seriously.
I support tougher legislation on enforcement and sanctions and introducing penalties for under-reporting, as well as investigating making prosecution for polluters the default when it is in the public interest and there is clear evidence. I think water companies should also be required to contact customers when there is a pollution incident.
I believe the Government lacks a proper plan to stop raw sewage being pumped into waterways.