26 January 2021
Government and Opposition front benches both confirm support for aims of Dunne’s Bill to start process to end sewage pollution

Philip Dunne welcomes the Government's indication of support for the aims of the campaign to improve water quality by reducing sewage pollution to our rivers and calls on the Government to use the delay in the Environment Bill as a chance to adopt many of the measures in his Private Member's Bill.

Philip Dunne [V] 

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I thank him for his support for my private Member’s Bill, which I will touch on briefly. But my thanks primarily go to the Minister, who was generous while talking about my campaigning efforts to improve the water quality of our rivers, which I wish to talk about under part 5 and, in particular, in support of amendment 3 to clause 82 and amendment 42 to clause 78.

It has been clear to me for many years, but particularly this year as I have been campaigning to improve water quality by reducing sewage pollution to our rivers, how significant this issue has tragically become. Many people have been in touch with me through campaigning groups, all urging the Government to get behind my Bill.

I was delighted on Friday, when I was unable to be in the Chamber to debate my private Member’s Bill because sittings had been suspended, that as something of a consolation prize the Minister announced the Government’s support for the aims of my Bill. I look forward to a second consolation from the unfortunate development today—we hear that the Environment Bill will be deferred until the next parliamentary Session. I invite the Minister to use that time to work with me to bring into the appropriate legislative and regulatory space the many measures in my Bill that have significant support: they have support from 135 Members of this House today, on both sides of the House. I hope that, when she responds to the debate, she will give some encouraging noises to give me hope that that will happen. I am also grateful to her for establishing the storm overflows taskforce, which is the mechanism through which she is seeking to get advice from industry and campaigning groups to try to identify the measures that need to be undertaken.

Through the Environmental Audit Committee, we have launched an inquiry into water quality and we will be providing recommendations to the Government. The delay may mean that we are in a position to provide some recommendations through that Committee prior to the Bill appearing in the other place. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to use this time to introduce relevant amendments to the Bill as it passes through the Lords. We also hope to provide some help in assessing what the suitable water targets are under the Bill, which are so welcome, through the drainage and wastewater management plans laid out in the Bill.

I support the measures that I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) will talk about shortly. I also support the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), whose new clause 4 is widely supported by my constituents, not least members of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, which is based in my constituency. It acknowledged the inclusion in July last year of the hedgehog in the red list of endangered British mammals.


Minister applauds Philip's efforts on water quality

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rebecca Pow)


Before I talk about the water section of the Bill, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) for his dedicated work on water issues and for being a dogged and determined advocate for our precious rivers.

Our climate is becoming less predictable, and we need to manage our water sources better to ensure resilience to future floods and droughts. The water measures in the Bill will help achieve the goals set out in our 25-year environment plan for clean and plentiful water and to reduce the risks of harm from environmental hazards. Water companies will have to produce drainage and sewerage management plans, which will set out how environmental risks, including sewage outflows into rivers, must be managed. Reforms to the abstraction licensing system will mean that less water is taken from our environment when it causes damage or harm.

I know that the health of our rivers, in terms of both flow levels and reducing sewage outflows, is of great concern to many Members; I have met so many of them to discuss this. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) has tabled amendment 42, and I look forward to hearing what I am sure will be an impassioned speech from him. However, I am pleased to inform the House that the Bill already delivers the outcomes he is seeking: less water taken where it damages our environment and less sewage spilling into our precious waterways. Water companies will be able to produce joint water resource management plans for the first time, enabling water transfers from areas with plentiful water to water-stressed areas. We will reform the system of internal drainage boards, ensuring that our water management system is fit for the future. Technical Government amendment 8 will update clause 91, as it currently refers to the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which has now been superseded by the Sentencing Act 2020.


Opposition front bench confirms support for Private Member's Bill

Ruth Jones (Shadow Minister) 

The Minister is right: we all want strong, effective management of our water; we want clean water; and we want to mitigate the impact of hazardous waste in our waters. I am pleased that the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), spoke earlier in the debate. He knows from the shadow Minister for water, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), that Her Majesty’s Opposition support his private Member’s Bill. Water quality is so important. That is why, when preparing for the debate, I was shocked to find that in Camborne and Redruth—the Secretary of State’s seat—all 10 rivers that pass through the constituency have failed to meet the standards of chemical pollution set by the Environment Agency. Simply put, the Government’s inaction has seen contaminated water not just across the country but in the Secretary of State’s own backyard. I hope that that will focus the Minister’s mind.