Thank you for your email. I have been clear that the frequency with which sewage is discharged from storm overflows into our waters is absolutely unacceptable. It is a credit to my Rt Hon Friend, the Member for Ludlow,(Philip Dunne) and the campaigning of many others that the phrase “storm overflow” is now used 47 times on the face of the Bill. However, I recognise that many Hon Members wanted to see more, and I am pleased to have tabled a further amendment that says that water companies “must” secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impact of discharges from their storm overflows. In this legal drafting, the word “must” means that we are placing a direct legal duty on water companies to do this. That is really crucial. Water companies will have a simple choice: reduce sewage discharges or face the consequences—that is, strong enforcement action.
Turning back to the specific amendment from the Duke of Wellington, we have redrafted it to ensure that it has proper legal effect and there is more effective implementation, and we have gone further in places. I have had much discussion with the Duke of Wellington - I greatly respect and value that - and I would like to clarify a number of points. This amendment places a clear legal duty on water companies to deliver improvements —something that the Duke particularly pressed for. Indeed, ours is a stronger duty than in his wording. Our amendment will ensure that they have to take the necessary steps relative to the size of the problem. We have taken the “progressive” reduction wording from the Lords’ amendment.
“Progressive” means that water companies must continue to take action even after the next price review period and even after they have achieved a significant reduction and tackled high-priority sites, as required in the draft policy statement to the regulator, Ofwat.
The following is taken from Hansard 8/11/21 from the Minister’s Speech:
“I am aware of some wildly inaccurate claims that have been circulating online over the past week that we are somehow legalising the dumping of raw sewage - we are not. Our amendment goes further than the Lords amendment by legally specifying that “adverse impacts” includes impacts both on the environment and on public health—for bathers, canoeists and so forth. Enforcement was a key part of the Duke’s amendment and our version goes further, because it will dock in with the existing enforcement regime in the Water Industry Act 1991. Ofwat can issue enforcement notices that can direct specific actions or fine companies up to 10% of their annual turnover, running to millions of pounds. If we do not see sufficient progress from water companies, Ofwat and the Government will be able to take enforcement action, and we will not hesitate to do so. Not only that—under other provisions in the Bill, the OEP will be able to take enforcement action against the Environment Agency or Ofwat or, indeed, the Government, should it feel that any of us are not adequately discharging our duties.
“There has been much debate about the costs required to eliminate sewage discharges from storm overflows. Last week, the Storm Overflows Taskforce, which I set up, published research on this issue. It estimated that the complete elimination of sewage discharges through storm overflows in England, which many are calling for more broadly, is likely to cost between approximately £350 billion and £600 billion. That could mean up to £1,000 on bills every year. There are important discussions to be had about the best way to address this important issue while protecting bill payers, and this very morning, I called the CEOs of all the water companies into a meeting. They assured me that they recognise the need for urgent action. We must see better performance from them and I will be watching the progress closely, as indeed, will the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I would much very like to thank my Rt Hon Friend the Member for Ludlow and the Duke of Wellington for their tireless efforts on this issue. “
I hope that this information is of interest and will help clarify the current position.