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Sewage Discharge

Volume 730: debated on Thursday 30 March 2023

We have asked water companies to deliver their largest ever infrastructure investment, £56 billion over 25 years. Nearly 800 improvements are under way already, and that is dealing with storm sewage overflows. The Secretary of State and I have asked sewage companies to come up with an action plan for every single storm overflow in England, and water companies will face higher penalties, to be enforced and paid more quickly than ever before. Under Labour the monitoring record of storm sewage overflows was woeful, but by the end of this year it will be 100%.

Labour does have a plan—a much more ambitious plan—to tackle combined sewer overflows, and this would include cutting discharges by 90%, mandatory sewage outlet monitoring, and automatic fines for discharges. Will the Secretary of State enact that plan with immediate effect?

I am glad the hon. Lady has asked me that, because her plan would add £1,000 on to every customer’s bill and we would have to add pipes that would go two and a half times around the world to cope with what Labour is proposing. We are already doing everything that has been called for, and more: we are increasing fines; we are increasing monitoring; we are taking tougher sanctions on businesses; and we have a costed plan and are mindful of the impact on customers.

Investment has already seen an over-50% reduction in storm overflows in North Devon, resulting in bathing water quality being rated good or excellent along the coast. However, this is only tested between May and September. Will my hon. Friend consider extending the testing season for the increasing number of all year round bathers and surfers, or at least look for waters to be tested after a storm overflow has discharged?

My hon. Friend is a great voice for her constituency in this area and I am very pleased to hear about those figures for the improving water. We are using powers in the Environment Act 2021, and under them we require companies to make discharge data available to the public in near real time if there has been a discharge that could have affected water quality, and to monitor water quality upstream and downstream of their assets. This monitoring will be all year round and will come into force at the end of this year, and all water companies will also have to install new flow monitors on more than 2,000 wastewater treatment works.

The Tory sewage scandal is a national disgrace. The waters that run through our communities, the seas that millions look out to, and the quality of life and livelihoods have been turned into an open sewer. The Tory plan means discharges will continue to 2050, 27 years away, and even then there is no delivery plan, and we do not know which communities will benefit first and which could be waiting for decades, whereas our plan will see systematic dumping ended by 2030. Over the weekend The Times reported new data showing 800 discharges every day. Is the Secretary of State familiar with those figures, and if so, given that the Environment Agency has said it will publish by midday tomorrow, will she make a statement to the House before it rises for Easter today?

I will honestly say that a lot of the—[Interruption.] Well, I am not sure they are facts. [Interruption.]

Thank you, Mr Speaker. A lot of what we are hearing is disingenuous and misleading the public. The plan, as I have just—

Order. We must think about what we say, and I am sure the Minister would love to withdraw what she has just said.

I will definitely withdraw that, Mr Speaker, but we do have to be careful about what we say to the public, and I have pointed out that the so-called plan the Labour party has put forward is thoroughly unworkable in the cost it would put on the public, the time it would take and the amount of pipes that would be required. It would involve digging up the entire nation, whereas we have a completely costed plan: it is very clear, and we have set targets on when these storm overflow monitors have to be in place—by the end of this year—and all the work on the storm overflow plans must be delivered to the Secretary of State and me forthwith. So we are definitely on top of this like never before.