Yesterday saw unprecedented levels of support in the House of Lords for the building campaign for clean and healthy rivers with the first reading of the Duke of Wellington’s Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill and the second reading of the Environment Bill.
The debate about the Environment Bill centred on water issues, with water being mentioned 189 times (rivers 50, sewage 29, and chalk streams 9), compared to 93 mentions of air quality.
Lord Cameron of Dillington spoke passionately of the need for a catchment-based approach to tackling the complex issues of water pollution, highlighting that 86% of our rivers are not in good ecological condition and stating that the UK has “once again reverted to being the dirty man of Europe”. He also listed abstraction licenses and compulsory water metering as targets for amendments.
Baroness Boycott, a keen river swimmer, spoke of the need for more funds for regulators to do their job, highlighting a reduction in The Environment Agency’s environment and business budget, which covers agricultural regulation, waste crimes and incident response, from £117 million in 2010 to just £40 million in 2020. She added that the total budget for agricultural enforcement across England was just £320,000, equating to 0.65 full-time staff in each of 14 areas, leaving polluters secure in the knowledge that they are unlikely to be caught or prosecuted.
Many peers also questioned the independence and budget of the new Office of Environmental Protection which is being set up to hold the government to account for its implementation of environmental laws created by Parliament.
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of The Rivers Trust, said: “It is fantastic to see so many members of the House of Lords championing the cause of clean and healthy rivers and we hope to see the Environment Bill made much stronger as a result, with stretching targets and robust regulation, so that it delivers a water environment that can sustain and delight the next generation.
“If laws are passed, they need to be enforced by a properly-funded regulator. The government must also be held to account by a truly independent and well-funded Office of Environmental Protection. There also needs to be much greater investment in the 105 Catchment Partnerships, which are doing a vital job restoring rivers at a local level with completely inadequate funding.”
Christine Colvin, Director for Communications and Partnerships, said: “The first reading of Duke of Wellington’s Private Members Bill (PMB) also marked an important moment. We know that sewage pollution in our rivers reflects a current failure of holistic water management. The Duke’s PMB presents a chance towards move more quickly to action, beyond just improvements in reporting and transparency.”