Labour has accused the Government of “siding with the water companies” over the “ongoing scandal” of sewage discharge into rivers.
Defra minister Lord Benyon told peers in the House of Lords the “level of storm overflows into our rivers is totally unacceptable”.
Raising the issues of monitoring and compliance, Labour peer Baroness Jones of Whitchurch said: “The Environment Agency have already said that there has been widespread and serious non-compliance with the regulations, but how can they be expected to act if water companies don’t have to measure the intensity of polluting sewage being discharged.”
She added: “We’ve always known more investment is essential to tackle this problem. The Commons Environmental Audit Committee have already recommended installing these monitors, so why are the Government siding with the water companies against the interests’ of the public who are rightly outraged at this ongoing scandal?”
Responding, Lord Benyon said: “The Government are very much not siding with the water companies. The level of storm overflows into our rivers is totally unacceptable.
“That’s why we are publishing on September 1 this year our storm overflows plan which will give details as to how we will monitor it.
“We have measures within the Environment Act which give new legally binding targets and measures which we will bring into force. We have the 25-year plan commitment, we have our strategic policy statement for Ofwat which has given very clear direction and we have our requirements to the Environment Agency on enforcement which will bring water companies that break the law to account.”
He added: “The target will be to concentrate on bathing waters and very special environmental waterways such as chalk streams and they will be the Government’s absolute priority and by 2035 under our plans we’ll have eliminated nearly all outflows into those waterways.”
Lib Dem peer Lord Oates raised the discharge of raw sewage into rivers in Tiverton and Honiton ahead of the forthcoming by-election.
He said: “Will the Government end this scandal by imposing a sewage tax on water company profits to fund necessary upgrades and will they ban water company bosses from claiming bonuses until that is done?”
Lord Benyon quipped: “I think that’s a very good choice of geography….This is an absolute priority for this Government.”
Related: Activists take water regulator to court over our raw sewage-filled rivers