I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) on obtaining this debate. I echo an awful lot of what he said. There is enormous potential for the expansion of shellfish production in the UK.
I want to talk specifically about my constituency and echo some of the comments of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). Looking around the room, I see that we have representation from Devon and Cornwall, Yorkshire, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. I want to talk on behalf of Essex, where oysters have been cultivated since Roman times.
When I was first elected to this place, I had the honour to represent part of Colchester, so I used to attend the Colchester oyster feast, with oysters from Mersea Island. I have always represented Maldon, where the Maldon Oyster Company is based. I had the pleasure of visiting its new depuration and packing plant in Cock Clarks recently. Restaurants across the great city that we are in now frequently have Maldon oysters on the menu.
The Maldon Oyster Company is doing well. The oysters are grown in the Blackwater estuary, which is a category B water. It has only exceeded that once in recent times. Various explanations have been put forward for that, with suggestions that it is to do with discharges from houseboats or seabirds, but my constituents believe—this is where I follow on from the comments of the hon. Member for Huddersfield—that it is due to the level of sewage discharge, particularly from development that is taking place.
My area, like many represented here, is undergoing substantial extra housing development, which is putting ever-increasing pressure on the sewerage companies. In my case, that is Anglian Water. When I talk to the company, it tells me that it monitors and is compliant with the requirements of its permits, and it is fitting new discharge monitors; 70% of my constituency has been fitted, and Anglian is confident of reaching 100%. But part of the problem is that the contamination affecting oyster production is not subject to monitoring outside of designated shellfish waters and bathing waters. While part of the Blackwater estuary is a designated water, other parts where oysters are grown are not.
I recently held a public meeting in my constituency on the issue of the water quality in the Blackwater estuary. The hon. Member for Huddersfield mentioned the Rolling Stones. I invited an old friend of mine to participate in the public meeting, who I think will be known to the Minister. He was known to me in his previous capacity as the lead singer of the Undertones, who I saw perform on several occasions. He has now become a strident campaigner on the issue of water quality. While I do not always agree with Feargal Sharkey, he is doing an important job in raising awareness.
My contribution this afternoon is to pass on the request from my constituents at Maldon Oysters that there needs to be more monitoring, not just in specified designated shellfish waters, of such things as E. coli and bacterial contamination, which is not generally monitored, and that priority needs to be given to investment in the processing of discharge, perhaps through UV treatment of discharges that are close to shellfish waters. At the moment, Blackwater continues to grow extremely popular oysters that are enjoyed around the country, but there is concern that, if development continues at this pace without additional investment to ensure that the water remains uncontaminated by bacteria, that could one day be put at risk. I echo the point about the importance of maintaining water quality, which is essential if this extremely important industry is to continue to thrive.