Thank you for contacting me about sewage in the context of the Environment Act.
As you will know, in October, 265 Tory MPs voted down an amendment to the then Environment Bill to allow water companies to continue dumping raw sewage into our rivers. I voted in favour.
I share your concerns about this disgusting practice, which is risking our health and damaging the environment.
40% of our rivers in England and Wales are polluted with sewage. Just 16% are in a good ecological condition. This is no surprise when it was reported that untreated human waste was released into our streams and rivers for more than 1.5 million hours in 2019 by all nine water companies in England.
As you may know, Thames Water were fined £2.3 million earlier this year after it released sewage containing high levels ammonia into a stream in Oxfordshire back in 2016, killing 1,444 fish and other water life. That is a disgrace.
I agree with you that we need to end sewage pollution now to restore our rivers and streams for people and nature to enjoy.
The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill is a Private Members’ Bill, which was timetabled by Conservative MP Philip Dunne last year, and is supported by the Labour frontbench. The Bill would require water companies to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into our rivers and inland waterways. The Bill would also require water companies to report on their sewage discharge and its impact on our water quality. It is still awaiting its Second Reading.
There are also alternative ways in which we can prevent sewage from entering our rivers.
For example, I’m a big supporter of the Thames Tideway Tunnel. I have a particular insight as members of my family row on the Thames. Through them, I have been made fully aware that every time it rains a lot, a huge overflow of sewage is discharged into the river, killing wildlife and imperilling health. I have had regular progress meetings with Thames Water over the years about this issue.
You can be assured that I am on the right side of the argument so far as this issue is concerned, and it is bitterly disappointing that the Environment Act has become law without including a provision to stop water companies from dumping raw sewage into our rivers.
Thank you again for your email. Should you have any further issues you would like to raise with me, you are welcome to get back in touch.
The Rt Hon. Emily Thornberry MP
Islington South and Finsbury
Shadow Attorney General