Environment Bill: Water pollution amendment

This is not just about chemicals that we should not drink going in; that is only a tiny part of the picture. The River Thames floods with human sewage multiple times a week and also has some of the highest recorded levels of microplastics in the world. It is long overdue for the Government to get a grip on water pollution.

Sewage and water companies make a lot of money and they should be clearing up their own mess. If they cannot take on these contracts, they should not take them on. When it comes to cost, we should look at the businesses that make money out of our rivers and our sewage, and we should make them pay.

This amendment does not quite measure up to everything that we want from it, but it is a really good start. And I think that this is an issue that we will defeat the Government on. In all my talks with Conservative Members of your Lordships’ House, they have mentioned how concerned they are about rivers; a lot of landowners are massively concerned.

I take the point made by Lady McIntosh of Pickering, about sewage and water companies. It does her credit that she is so sympathetic towards them but, quite honestly, they make a lot of money and they should be clearing up their own mess. If they cannot take on these contracts, they should not take them on—or they should dig bigger holes to bury the sewage, or whatever it takes. When it comes to cost, we should look at the businesses that make money out of our rivers and our sewage, and we should make them pay.

I shall go back to my speech now. Basically, the issue of water pollution is very much underserved by this Bill at the moment, so I urge the Government to pick this up and run with it, because it is something that they will lose on. The truth is that many of our rivers, lakes and water courses in this country are still filthy and polluted. It is something that the European Commissioner rightly took us to task on—the Government have repeatedly lost legal challenges on the issue. For that reason, it is also one of the big environmental risks of leaving the EU system of environmental laws. The Government could have a convenient opportunity to quietly end their long tradition of losing court battles on water pollution simply by ditching those rules altogether or subjecting them to the jurisdiction of a toothless regulator.

We know that water is life. We cannot do without it and, if we pollute it, many things die, including humans. Water pollution has a long-lasting and pervasive impact on our lives and the natural world around us—it is not always easy to clean up. Most people do not even know how polluted our water is. I have had gastroenteritis from swimming in the Thames; I thought that I was high enough up the Thames for it to be clean but, apparently, it was not.

The Government have to understand that it is not just about chemicals that we should not drink going in; that is only a tiny part of the picture. For example, the River Thames floods with human sewage multiple times a week and also has some of the highest recorded levels of microplastics in the world. It is long overdue for the Government to get a grip on water pollution. Quite honestly, this amendment is a good little start, and I congratulate the Duke of Wellington, on this. I look forward to him toughening up future amendments on sewage.

Read the whole debate on Hansard