As you may know, I’ve been working closely with my friend and colleague Philip Dunne MP to stop the amount of sewage currently being discharged into our waterways at times of flooding. This started with my strong support for his Private Members’ Bill and has continued more recently with us trying to improve the Government’s Environment Bill. I listened carefully to the debate on the Environment Bill yesterday, and especially what assurances Ministers were able to make from the despatch box, and I took carefully into account the assessment and advice of Philip Dunne MP which I enclose and attach to this correspondence.
I hope this makes it clear why, like Mr Dunne, I voted for the Lords' amendment and against the Government on 20th October 2021 but felt able to support the Government on 8th November 2021 after it made its important changes to the Bill.
Please also find attached a letter for Minister Rebecca Pow MP explaining how this Act of Parliament will now work in practical terms to improve things.
With best wishes.
Jonathan Lord MP
Member of Parliament for Woking
8th November 2021
Thank you for all your help and support over many months in our efforts to reduce and ultimately eliminate the discharge of sewage into our waterways at times of flooding and very heavy rainfall.
Ahead of the return of the Environment Bill to the House this evening, the Government has proposed an amendment in lieu of the Duke of Wellington amendment, which we supported last week.
I want to explain to those, like you, who voted against the Government why I intend to support this latest Government Amendment in Lieu. It places a legal duty on water companies to reduce the impact of sewage discharges, which was the main issue I wanted to see on the face of the Bill, and has an effective enforcement mechanism under the existing Water Act; whereas the Duke’s amendment would require further work to be effective and may have exposed the Government to underwriting the obligations of the water companies.
I attach a copy of the letter I circulated on WhatsApp last night, which outlines how the amendment will dovetail with existing provisions within the Bill.
You will also find attached a briefing provided by the principal NGOs with whom I have been working, namely the Rivers Trust, Surfers Against Sewage, the Angling Trust and Salmon & Trout Conservation regarding the two amendments. While they do not support the Government’s amendment, they do outline how it can be strengthened, by actions of DEFRA and the regulators outwith the legislation.
Earlier today, I wrote a twitter thread (https://twitter.com/Dunne4Ludlow/status/1457679774508269568) to provide context to today’s vote, which I have copied below:
“The Environment Bill comes back to the Commons today to consider Lords Amendments. Having been heavily involved in amending the Bill to introduce measures to improve water quality, am setting out in this thread what the latest amendment means, as there has been some confusion.
The latest Govt amendment will require water companies to progressively reduce the impact of sewage discharges on the environment and public health. This is a legal duty which will be delivered through the new requirement, already in the Bill, for each water company every 5 years to publish a formal [Drainage and Sewerage Management] Plan to show how it will achieve and fund reductions in sewage discharges each year. There is also a power of direction for government to direct water companies in relation to actions in those plans if they are not good enough.
The water companies can be held to account in meeting their statutory duties, as can the Environment Agency, by the new Office of Environmental Protection, also being established through this Bill.
Claims that failing to support the Lords Amendment of the Duke of Wellington (which I voted for last week) means an MP is voting in favour of sewage discharges is disingenuous. The Bill is introducing a host of measures to tackle sewage discharges not previously in statute.
Claims that the Govt amendment weakens existing legislation are also wrong. The water companies have an existing Section 94(1)(b) duty to treat sewage “effectually”, which has existed since 1991, and the new amendment does not replace nor override this duty.
The problem is that this duty has not been enforced.
The new duties and the focus on preventing sewage discharges which this growing awareness and debate has prompted, will place greater pressure on the EA, Ofwat and DEFRA to require investment in treatment infrastructure, including through nature-based solutions like reed beds. DEFRA needs to strengthen its guidance to Ofwat at the end of this year to increase capex on treatment by each company.
We cannot fix 60 years of under-investment in sewage systems overnight. This is why I shall vote in support of the latest amendment, having secured from the Govt a direct duty on the face of the bill, which will have teeth to require water companies to reduce sewage discharges.”
I trust the above is helpful in today’s debate.
With best wishes,
Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP
Member of Parliament for Ludlow