12 October 2022
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown speaks in a debate on sewage discharges

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown calls on the Government to put the Environment Act to work, publish the data and speed up the sewage reduction plan.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)

I have public sewage discharge meetings concerning my rivers. I get the water companies, the Environment Agency, the district council and the county council together, and we take verbatim minutes and agree action points. One of the key things we heard in the last meeting was that British water bills are among the lowest in Europe. If we wish to clean up our rivers, there is therefore scope to increase our water bills. The Environment Act 2021 was a wonderful piece of legislation introduced by the Government, and let us make it work. We have already heard about monitoring above and below discharges so we can see where the problem is. Publish the data so the Government get the plans and send them off to Ofwat, which can allow more investment to stop storm discharges. The worst discharges do not occur during storms, however; they happen most of the time.

The other half of this problem is farmers, and I declare my interest as a farmer. Under environment land management schemes, we have new soil quality plans to stop farmers using fertiliser in unsuitable conditions, when nitrates and phosphates run off into water. Over the 30 years for which I have been a Member of Parliament, our precious limestone rivers in the Cotswolds have become more opaque, and there are more weeds in those rivers. Our plans under the Environment Act and under the sewage reduction plan over the next 25 years, costing £56 billion, need to be sped up. That is what our constituents demand.

The only other ask I make of the Minister is to give the Environment Agency enough resources not only to police discharges, but to make prosecutions quicker and easier. That is what we need so that polluters, whoever they are, know they will be caught out and stopped. The public are demanding it and Members of Parliament, who are here in such numbers, are demanding it. We must get on and get these plans into action more quickly.