Labour held a vote in the Commons today to pressure the government into dealing with sewage-dumping water companies. However, the debate ended with MPs voting by 290 to 188 – a majority of 102 – for a government amendment blocking the opposition’s plan for to allow time for its water quality bill to be debated next month.
They used an Opposition Day motion to provide parliamentary time on 2 May, to allow for the passage of their Water Quality (Sewage Discharge) Bill, introduced by Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, Jim McMahon. The onus was on Tory MPs to support Labour’s Bill, which would have put an end to sewage dumping once and for all.
Water Bill debate
During the debate, McMahon accused the Tories of turning the country into ‘open sewer’. He, along with environmental campaigner Feargal Sharkey and Labour Parliamentary Candidates, wrote an open letter to Conservative MPs, urging them to vote for Labour’s Opposition Day. The letter, critical of Conservatives who blocked previous Labour-backed amendments to end sewage dumping, accused Tory MPs of showing disregard for the environment, public health, and businesses that rely on the beauty and nature of Britain.
Sewage in our rivers is proving hazardous to pets. Last week, one woman in the Woodbridge Community forum on Facebook wrote: “I walk my dog in Kingston Park and he sometimes goes into the stream which runs along the park. Since yesterday he has been really poorly and I’m wondering does anyone know if it’s safe for dogs to go in.”
One responder answered: “I used to take my dog swimming at Martlesham Creek. Not anymore. I’d be very careful with anything along the Deben valley these days.” Another wrote: “I used to let my dog off the lead at the river and in Kingston Field but not since he got a really bad dose of E. coli last year. It’s terrible how that river and water system into it has got worse and worse.”
The aim of Labour’s Water Bill was to legally underpin four crucial reduction measures to end the problem with sewage dumping by 2030, leading to cleaner, safer rivers. These measures included:
- setting a legal requirement for monitoring of all sewage outlets and imposing penalties for failures in adhering to monitoring requirements,
- implementing automatic fines for sewage dumping,
- introducing a legally binding target to reduce sewage dumping events, and
- a requirement for the Secretary of State to publish a strategy for the reduction of sewage discharges and regular economic impact assessments.
No government plan to end sewage dumping
Labour’s attempted intervention comes in the absence of a credible government plan to end sewage dumping. Earlier this month, their analysis of Environment Agency data revealed that since 2016, a new sewage dumping event has taken place on average every two-and-a-half minutes nationally, with rivers, lakes, seas, and beaches facing 1,276 years’ worth of raw sewage over just a seven-year period.
Jack Abbott: “damning indictment”
Jack Abbott, Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Ipswich, stated that people in Suffolk, like the dog owner, are sick of raw sewage being pumped into rivers and out into the sea. “Last year,” he says, “raw sewage was discharged into Suffolk nearly 2,000 times for a total of 7,023 hours. That’s the equivalent of there being a continuous flow of sewage taking place for a staggering 10 months of the year. It is a damning indictment of the Conservatives who have allowed raw sewage to pollute the places in which people live, work and holiday.” Abbott was also a signatory of the open letter.
Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary was disappointed by the result of the vote. On Twitter McMahon wrote: “Boasting a Tory plan which continues sewage dumping to at least 2050 is an insult to millions affected.”
Shadow Environment Secretary, Luke Pollard, summed up his disgust saying: “Raw sewage is the perfect metaphor for 13 years of Tory Britain.”