Water companies are committed over the next five years to a £1.1 billion programme to improve the monitoring and management of sewage discharges. However, I have made it clear to water companies that more action is needed. That is why we have established the storm overflows taskforce, which has agreed to set a long-term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows and is working on plans to start progress towards that goal.
The River Lea, which runs through my constituency, is well used for water sports by many clubs and schools, and it is much loved. Sadly, it is also one of the most polluted waterways in the UK; in 2019 alone, Thames Water spent over 1,100 hours discharging raw sewage into the River Lea. When will the Government finally hold water companies to account to protect our waterways properly?
The hon. Lady raises a very serious issue, and indeed the Department is taking it very seriously. In fairness, as I said, water companies already spend £1.1 billion to improve their monitoring and discharging, but we have set up the taskforce to hold their feet to the fire to come up with some measures for how we can set this long-term goal of getting rid of these sewage outlets once and for all. They will be doing more real-time data checking, so we will have the relevant data that we need soon, and they will be installing more monitoring devices, but the taskforce will report back in the spring on further actions that we may be able to work on.