Unfortunately, at the weekend I tested positive for COVID-19. Regrettably this means that I am unable to vote and was unable to secure a proxy for the upcoming votes on the Environment Bill.
However, I want to reassure my constituents that I remain passionate about the quality of our waterways and as it stands I support, and would otherwise be voting for, new measures in the Environment Bill to ensure there is a legal duty on water companies to reduce the adverse impact of sewage discharges.
The new Government amendment requires water companies to reduce the impact of sewage discharges on the environment and public health. I understand that these measures are being supported by my colleague the chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee and the Duke of Wellington in lieu of their respective amendments which I voted against the Government to support previously.
I know that there has been apprehension surrounding these amendments from campaign groups - some of which I am an ardent supporter of. I understand this concern, and I will be listening very carefully to the Government's argument for further assurances.
However, as it stands, the reason that these measures will work is that it merges with the existing provisions in the Environment Bill for each water company to produce a statutory Drainage and Sewerage Management Plan every five years, which will set out how such reduction in sewage discharges will be achieved and funded. There is also a power of direction for government to direct water companies in relation to actions in those plans if they are not good enough.
I understand that there are concerns that the amendment weakens existing legislation. The water companies have an existing Section 94(1)(b) duty to treat sewage “effectually”, which has existed since 1991, and the new amendment does not replace nor override this duty.
As a lawmaker, I must carefully consider all amendments to legislation, including the effectiveness, the legal ramifications of, and the necessity of the amendment. Although I understand the desire for immediate change, I believe that the measures set out before us in the Bill will prove affective in implementing longstanding change to improve the quality of our waterways.
I will continue to scrutinise the Government’s plans very carefully through my role on the Environmental Audit Committee, parliamentary questions, and meeting with local and national environment groups.
I of course welcome constituents to contact me to discuss this further.