I am so sad and disappointed that we have got to this place: we are under pressure, because of the primacy of the other place, to pass a Bill that is not as good as the one we amended. It seems that the Government do not understand what they have done in stripping out some of the safeguards we have put in.
I would argue that the Government have legitimised the sewage discharges that will be happening from now on. There is no timetable and there are no targets. Quite honestly, it seems that the Government do not understand the pressure that is coming from the grass roots—from dog walkers, fishing enthusiasts, Surfers Against Sewage and wild swimmers, who have seen this and really care about it. We have returned to the 1970s version of ourselves as the “dirty man of Europe”.
I hope that the Government will now admit the deliberate confusion that they created about the cost of stopping any further discharges. The figure—was it £60 billion or £600 billion?—that they put forward was absolutely outrageous; of course, they quickly withdrew it when people started to check. The Government could loan the money to the water companies to put in the infrastructure that we need to prevent discharges in a relatively short space of time. However, that would mean, of course, that those water companies could not pay dividends to investors, senior people and shareholders until the debt was paid off. If we had a tough regulatory system, the scandal would never have been able to escalate in the way that it has. It has been a failure of the Government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency and, unfortunately, the Environment Bill does nothing to deal with our relatively toothless system of enforcement.
The Government have still not achieved what we hoped would be achieved and what the general public want us to achieve: a cleaner Britain.
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