The government faces further pressure over its handling of the water industry, with Labour set to force a binding vote on draft legislation aimed at bringing sewage dumping to an end.
Labour confirmed it will table an opposition day motion today in the House of Commons for a debate on the Water Quality (Sewage Discharge) Bill, which will be introduced by shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon.
The private members’ bill aims to enforce legally-binding reduction targets and automatic fines for companies found to be dumping waste in rivers and the sea.
It will also bring in requirements for the environment secretary to publish a strategy for the reduction of sewage discharges and regular economic impact assessments.
The opposition has announced the bill represents its plan to end sewage dumping by the end of the decade.
Labour argued a vote on its bill would give Tory MPs an opportunity to support draft legislation that will put an end to sewage dumping “once and for all”.
McMahon said: “Today, Tory MPs have an opportunity to support Labour’s Water Quality Bill which will put an end to sewage dumping once and for all. Their constituents will be watching to see if they will put the best interests of our country before their party.
Labour’s analysis of Environment Agency data has revealed that since 2016, a new sewage dumping event has taken place an average of every two-and-a-half minutes.
This means rivers, lakes, seas, and beaches having faced a staggering 1,276 years’ worth of raw sewage over just a seven-year period.
Environment secretary Therese Coffey unveiled the government’s ‘Plan For Water’ earlier this month, with suppliers now set to face unlimited fines for sewage dumping in the latest action plan to crack down on poor performance across the industry.
It also includes a further £1.1bn in funds to tackle 250 sewage overflows, with Coffey aiming to slash 10,000 spills from the sector every year by the end of the decade.
However, with 300,000 spills at overflow sites across England last year, this means the funding is set to tackle just 3.3 per cent of spills.
Cameron Smith, spokesperson for the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), told City A.M. the prospect of unlimited fines for illegal pollution showed the government is taking more action to clean up the UK’s rivers and seas.
He said: “It’s clear that the Labour Party wants to make water quality an election issue. That’s why the Conservative Party must deliver on its plans and take further action to clean up our rivers, like designating more bathing water sites and accelerating measures to reduce agricultural pollution of our rivers, which is missing from Labour’s plans.”
Currently, six water suppliers including Thames Water face enforcement action from the Environment Agency and Ofwat over sewage dumping.
Industry body Water UK said: “Every water company is firmly of the view that urgent action is needed to tackle the harm caused by storm overflows. More than £56bn will be invested by water companies in the largest ever infrastructure programme the industry has ever seen to improve overflows and tackle spills.”
The government has been approached for comment.