Criminal Justice Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office
Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your guidance this afternoon, Mr Deputy Speaker. I also will seek to be brief and will principally speak to the two amendments in my name.

Let me first say that I fully support new clause 86, endorsed by the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes). Likewise, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), and support her new clause 9 on one-punch manslaughter. Again, sticking with those on the Conservative Benches, I support amendments 32 to 41 from the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), covering the issue of spiking, which is an incredibly serious offence. There are many on the Opposition Benches to whom I could also refer, but I will not do so because of time. I support new clause 35 in the name of the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), which covers the offence of failing to stop at a traffic accident and seeks to close a loophole to ensure that justice is done.

Let me now focus on new clauses 91 and 92 in my name. New clause 91 creates the criminal offence of failing to meet pollution performance commitments, and new clause 92 would make senior managers criminally liable for such an offence. If there were any doubts at all that these new clauses were needed, they should have been dispelled by a quick look at the news earlier today. We have revealed—this was discovered by some of us only yesterday—that, earlier this year, 10 million litres of raw sewage was dumped into England’s largest and most popular lake, Windermere, at the heart of my constituency and our communities in Westmoreland. This incident happened for 10 hours. United Utilities did not alert the Environment Agency for 13 hours.

The outrageous scale of this incident brings into question the extent to which the current framework is adequate. This is a personal issue to us. This is a lake at the centre of the Lake district’s hospitality and tourism economy, which brings in 20 million visitors every year—the biggest number of visitors to any part of the United Kingdom outside London. We are proud of that. It is an industry that employs 60,000 people, worth £3.5 billion to the local economy and contributing hugely to the national economy. The fact that this is permitted at the heart of the jewel in the crown of our tourism economy in this country is an utter outrage. The ecological side of it is even more utterly, utterly appalling.

The revelations of the past day or so have proven that the regulatory framework is utterly and totally broken, so the call for these new clauses for and the creation of criminal liability in this case is absolutely 100% justified. The offence that I have just spoken about is the tip of the iceberg. I shall talk principally about my own water company in the north-west of England, United Utilities. That company spilled sewage 97,000 times for almost 700,000 hours. There are two sites on the river Kent at Kendal; one spilled sewage on 42 occasions, and the other on 69 occasions. The River Eea at Cark on the Cartmel peninsula, near Grange-over-Sands, saw the most egregious example in the whole of the north-west of England: sewage was spilled 281 times for 6,471 hours last year. The River Eden at Kirkby Stephen saw 172 spills for 3,225 hours. At beautiful Coniston water, which has just celebrated being given bathing water status at four sites only the other day—I pay tribute to local councillor Suzanne Pender and the local parish councils for achieving that really important classification—there were 178 sewage spills in 2023 on 141 days.

Across all the water companies in England, there were 464,000 separate spills in 2023. That was a 54% increase on 2022. The water companies and, indeed, Ministers themselves said that that was because it rained more last year—not 54% more it didn’t. These spills are unjustifiable. We are left in a situation where only 14% of England’s rivers are at an ecologically good standard. Of all of the rivers in England, not one—a fat zero per cent—are of a good chemical standard.

My new clauses, which create a criminal offence, are necessary, because the regulatory framework is failing. Regulators have repeatedly let the water companies off the hook, and the data that they have to work on is incomplete. Ministers will say, and rightly, that until relatively recently there was not a lot of data available, and that monitoring did not happen. But who does the monitoring? The water companies do the monitoring; they mark their own homework. The Environment Agency, which is underfunded and the victim of many cuts over many years by this Government, is obliged to come out and inspect at a spill site only if the water company invites it to do so. How ridiculous and how weak is that?

Ofwat’s attempts to tackle egregious acts by the water companies are inadequate. They are too little and too late. For instance, Ofwat has dragged its feet to get around to merely consulting on plans to ban bonuses—perhaps sometime next year—with only the outside possibility that this could come into force. A process that River Action, an excellent campaign organisation, rightly described as far too slow.

Again, Ofwat has taken until now to consider fines of up to 10% of water companies’ turnover for the worst forms of poor customer service. Why so long? Why only now? The Office for Environmental Protection found that the Government were set to miss their 2027 targets to improve the state of England’s rivers, lakes and coastal areas by a “significant margin”.

In the Liberal Democrat policy paper, “Are you drinking what we are drinking?”, we propose a new regulator, with new powers to issue fines to top executives and to initiate proceedings. Given that we are where we are, I simply ask the House to consider new clauses 91 and 92 as a crucial way of being able to tackle the most egregious acts of sewage dumping in our lakes, rivers and coastal waterways.

For those of us in and around the English Lake district, this matter is personal. It is offensive to us. We consider ourselves—if it is not too grand to say this—as custodians of England’s Lake district. We are protecting the area not for us, but for the whole country, the world, the generations who come after us, and the people who will make use of Lake Windemere and the ecology that it supports at the heart of the stunning beauty of the Lake district, which is after all a world heritage site.

We are determined to tackle this problem. I pay tribute to all of those who campaign on this issue, including Matt Staniek and all those involved in the Save Windermere campaign, and others who are determined to make a difference. Citizen science projects going on in the Rivers Kent and Eden are equally important. They are more low-key, but are absolutely vital to trying to get to the heart of the problem. However, all the data in the world will not solve this problem if we do not have the laws to prevent what is happening and to hold people to account.

The regulatory framework has failed Windermere, the Lake district, Westmorland, Cumbria and the whole of our country. Now is the time to criminalise those who callously disregard the regulations and pollute our waterways.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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I am grateful to the Government for signing new clause 62 which I and my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Dame Tracey Crouch) first tabled. We are both grateful to our hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) who moved a similar amendment in Committee.

This is distressing subject matter for an amendment to a Bill, and we regret having to bring it to the attention of the House. It relates to a criminal trial in 2021, when David Fuller, as the Minister mentioned, was convicted of the murder of two young women in Tunbridge Wells—Wendy Knell and Caroline Pierce—in the 1980s. That recent conviction followed a forensic lead that eventually led to his identification. In the course of the police’s gathering of evidence for his murder conviction, for which he received a whole-life tariff, video recordings that Fuller made of himself were found. For context, Fuller was an electrician whose employment by the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust gave him access to hospital mortuaries, in which he filmed himself sexually assaulting the dead bodies of women and girls. There were over 100 female victims of such abuse in the film discovered in his possession. They ranged in age from nine to 100.

Some of Fuller’s convictions were for the offence of sexually penetrating dead bodies, which under the current law carries a maximum sentence of only two years in prison. As I say, it so happens that he received a whole-life tariff for two particularly abhorrent murders for which he was convicted, but had that not been the case, the maximum sentence available would have been two years for each offence. The evidence gathered by the police showed that Fuller also seriously sexually assaulted victims in non-penetrative ways. I will not go into detail, but I can tell the House that those crimes were extensive and grave.

Given that 100 victims were identifiable, more than 33 Members of this House, spreading right across the country, have in their constituencies the families of victims who are known to the police and to the NHS trust. All Fuller’s crimes are frankly unspeakable, but as well as the current sentencing limit being absurdly inadequate to deal with, in effect, the rape of dead bodies, the law does not cover any form of sexual assault that is non-penetrative. In her opening speech, the Minister referred to its being unusual for the House to consider an area of criminal law that simply has not been addressed before. There is clearly a gap that I hope all Members will agree needs to be closed. That is what we aim to do with the new clause.