The Bishop of St Albans asked a question about government discussions with water companies regarding pollution on 1st March 2023:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask His Majesty’s Government what recent discussions they have had with water companies regarding water pollution.
Lord Benyon (Con): My Lords, the current environmental performance of water companies is unacceptable. In December 2022, the Water Minister and the Secretary of State met with CEOs of lagging water companies—as identified by Ofwat’s recent assessment—to outline the Government’s expectations that performance must improve significantly. Furthermore, in January, my colleague Rebecca Pow met with the CEO of South West Water. She will be meeting the CEOs of all lagging companies individually every six months and she expects to see significant progress. Most recently, I also met CEOs of water companies with Minister Pow to highlight the importance of addressing water pollution and reaching their net-zero goals.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, the water companies are themselves responsible for monitoring the quality of water. They are awarding themselves top marks and bonuses when they are clearly failing, as the Minister has acknowledged. When will the responsibility for monitoring water quality be taken away from these companies and given to the Environment Agency? When will there be serious sanctions against those running these companies for their repeated failures?
Lord Benyon: In 2013, we only knew about 5% of the storm overflow points where sewage was going into our rivers. We now know about 90% because we instructed the water companies to provide that information. By the end of this year, we will know about 100%. The Environment Agency is the guardian of water quality and it takes forward prosecutions. The Government have said that they will increase the fines available as, at the moment, there is a cap on them, which we think should be higher. The Environment Agency is already able to launch criminal prosecutions against CEOs. Ofwat has the power to impose a fine of up to 10% of a company’s annual turnover and all fines are taken from the water company’s profits and not from customers.
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