Money from fines handed out to water companies that pollute our rivers and seas will be re-invested in schemes that benefit our natural environment, under new government plans. Water companies were handed a record amount in fines for pollution incidents last year as part of ongoing action to hold rule-breakers to account. Since 2015, the Environment Agency has concluded 56 prosecutions against water and sewerage companies, securing fines of over £141m. At present, money from fines imposed by Ofwat and those arising from Environment Agency prosecutions is returned to the Treasury. Under the new plans, ringfenced funds will go to Defra and be invested directly into environmental and water quality improvement projects. This could include initiatives to restore our water environments by creating wetlands, re-vegetating river banks and reconnecting meanders to the main channel of rivers. This can include the Environment Agency imposing civil sanctions or pursuing criminal prosecutions with the courts, for which there can be unlimited fines, and in some cases prosecution of CEOs and company directors where there is evidence against those individuals and where it is in the public interest to prosecute. Earlier this year, the government announced plans to expand the use of, and raise the cap on, the civil Variable Monetary Payments that the Environment Agency can issue, meaning sanctions can be imposed more often without lengthy and costly court cases. Ofwat also has the power to issue fines up to 10% of a company’s turnover for the affected business and order companies to take the action necessary to return to compliance where they are in breach. The EA and Ofwat are currently carrying out the largest criminal and civil investigations into water company sewage discharge ever, at over 2200 treatment works, as a result of increased monitoring. Earlier this year the government published its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, which brought in strict targets on sewage pollution and will require water companies to deliver the largest infrastructure programme in their history to tackle storm sewage discharges – a £56 billion capital investment over 25 years. I’m pleased to see elements which I led on from my Bathing Waters Bill in 2016 included, and I am also pleased South West Water have included my suggestion for water butts to be rolled out as part of their latest scheme.
The Prime Minister, Home Secretary, and Policing Minister met with police leaders last week, as we commit to cracking down on disruptive, illegal protests. The right to protest is something we will always protect in this country, but this should not stray into disrupting people’s lives – such as recent protests which have prevented people from doing their jobs, getting to school, and saving lives. I join the PM in offering police leaders our full support to cracking down on those protests and welcome discussions with them if they require more powers or guidance about how to further address these guerrilla tactics we have seen. Those breaking the law should feel the full force of it, and as we progress with our Public Order Bill we will continue to give the Police the support they need to clamp down on illegal protests.