Skip links

Baroness Jenny Jones joins River Action

We are delighted to welcome Baroness Jenny Jones to River Action’s Advisory Board! In our latest blog, we find out more about Jenny’s life, professional experience, and what drives her to help rescue Britain’s rivers.

Q1. Tell us about yourself

I’m a Green. That influences the way I live and my work, both inside and outside the House of Lords, whether doing media or pottering on my allotment. I also believe in fairness, which is hard to achieve, but necessary for a society that works for all.

I grew up on a working class council estate on the edge of Brighton. Later I became an archaeologist as a mature student and worked for ten years in various countries, mostly in the Middle East.

And then, I became a politician. I won three elections to the London Assembly, I was Deputy Mayor of London 2003, and I’ve also been a local councillor, so I know the importance of representing people and getting things done. 

Q2. What first sparked your interest in river protection?

My experience abroad made me very aware that clean water, along with clean air, are basics for human health and Nature. The London Assembly did lots of work trying to get Thames Water to deal with things like leaking pipes and investing in the future, but my personal focus was on cleaning up London’s air. I worked with professors who described how they didn’t trust DEFRA with anything they did on either pollution in water or air. In the 1980s, they ended up taking their own samples of coastal sea water to provide to the European Commission that our water quality was poor. I found it shocking that our environmental enforcement agencies are so complicit in the poor state of water and air, but all my experiences as a politician reinforced that view. 

In the House of Lords, it became an issue that I would invest a lot of time and energy addressing when the Environment Bill began to make its way through Parliament. Others raised the issue of the pollution of specific rivers, chalk streams and parts of our coastline, and it resonated with my Green principles but also with my concern for human and Nature’s wellbeing.

Once I was involved, in spite of sewage and agricultural run off being such awful issues, I found a wonderful cross section of society joining together to battle with water companies, farms and the Govt. Good people. And often great fun to campaign with.

Q3. You have had many prominent roles in politics, including Deputy Mayor of London, Deputy Chair of the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee, Green Councillor for Southwark Council and Chair of the Green Party of England and Wales. Over the years, what are the biggest changes that you have seen in UK politics over the issue of water quality and what do politicians need to prioritise to clean up our rivers?

The rise of public understanding of the pollution of our waterways in a very short time has been phenomenal. It’s now something that people talk about on the tube! Obviously celebrities really help to get the message across and very visible eg Feargal, Chris Packham. They make it understandable, the problems and the possible solutions.

On cleaning up our rivers, there has to be more Govt support for local groups to access good advice on their specific pollution. There has to be help to farmers, to limit their polluting run off and change practices. But most of all, we must invest in our sewage and water systems. We must fund the regulators properly, give them real power to force changes, and instead of fines, which the companies happily pay, we take shares in the companies. When they fail, as they inevitably will, we can take the bankrupt water companies back into public ownership.

Q4. You were appointed to the House of Lords in November 2013.  Tell us more about your role and the changes that you would like to see happen in politics to improve water quality? 

Explaining my role would take ages!

The Green Party has few platforms, so when I speak in the HoL, I try to speak in clear language so that people outside the Westminster bubble can make sense of our arcane practices. Of course I use the HoL to make a fuss about legislation and its environmental impacts, but also to get Green messages across to the public, who might otherwise not hear our wonderful policies and ideas. People used to ask me why I was speaking in a debate on, say, policing or health, and I had to explain that there is always a green angle, to every topic, that needs to be considered. It might be human rights, or how and where our food is grown, or democratic issues about our unfair voting system. There’s always a green angle …

Q5. And finally, In your opinion, what needs to change to rescue Britain’s rivers?

We have to be tough on all polluters and make them pay for the clean up, not taxpayers. But crucially, not allow pollution in the first place.