Hilary Benn - Member of Parliament for Leeds Central
Lots of constituents have contacted me about sewage pollution.
This issue shames our nation and we should act against water companies that pump raw sewage into our rivers, killing wildlife and habitats. Only 14% of English rivers meet good ecological standards and water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers over 400,000 times in 2020. People are rightly shocked at the frequency of sewage discharges and the damage it does to our most valued and fragile river habitats. 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.
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, not customers.
I supported the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, which would have required water companies to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged into waterways. The Bill did not finish parliamentary scrutiny before the end of the last session and therefore fell. In September, the Government amended the Environment Bill to include new measures on sewage discharges but 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 recently voted to accept the amendment added to the Bill by the House of Lords 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 in the House of Commons.
The Government has now 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 amendment, but I believe it should not have taken a public outcry for this issue to be taken seriously and I am concerned the Government still lacks a proper plan to stop raw sewage being pumped into waterways.
MP for Leeds Central