Jim McMahon – 2023 Speech on Water Quality and Sewage Discharge

The speech made by Jim McMahon, the Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton, in the House of Commons on 25 April 2023.

I beg to move,

That this House calls on the Government to set a target for the reduction of sewage discharges, to provide for financial penalties in relation to sewage discharges and breaches of monitoring requirements, and to carry out an impact assessment of sewage discharges; and makes provision as set out in this Order:

(1) On Tuesday 2 May 2023:

(a) Standing Order No. 14(1) (which provides that government business shall have precedence at every sitting save as provided in that Order) shall not apply;

(b) any proceedings governed by this Order may be proceeded with until any hour, though opposed, and shall not be interrupted;

(c) the Speaker may not propose the question on the previous question, and may not put any question under Standing Order No. 36 (Closure of debate) or Standing Order No. 163 (Motion to sit in private);

(d) at 6.00pm, the Speaker shall interrupt any business prior to the business governed by this Order and call the Member for Oldham West and Royton or another Member on his behalf to move the motion that the Water Quality (Sewage Discharge) Bill be now read a second time as if it were an order of the House;

(e) in respect of that Bill, notices of Amendments, new clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.

(f) any proceedings interrupted or superseded by this Order may be resumed or (as the case may be) entered upon and proceeded with after the moment of interruption.

(2) The provisions of paragraphs (3) to (18) of this Order shall apply to and in connection with the proceedings on the Water Quality (Sewage Discharge) Bill in the present Session of Parliament.

Timetable for the Bill on Tuesday 2 May 2023

(3) (a) Proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be taken at the sitting on Tuesday 2 May 2023 in accordance with this Order.

(b) Proceedings on Second Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) at 8.00pm.

(c) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) at 10.00pm.

Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put on Tuesday 2 May 2023

(4) When the Bill has been read a second time: (a) it shall, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 63 (committal of Bills not subject to a programme order), stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put; (b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.

(5) (a) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee of the whole House, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.

(b) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.

(6) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (3), the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply—

(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;

(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;

(c) the Question on any amendment, new clause or new schedule selected by The Chairman or Speaker for separate decision;

(d) the Question on any amendment moved or motion made by a designated Member;

(e) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded; and shall not put any other Questions, other than the Question on any motion described in paragraph (15) of this Order.

(7) On a Motion made for a new clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

Consideration of Lords Amendments and Messages on a subsequent day

(8) If on any future sitting day any message on the Bill (other than a message that the House of Lords agrees with the Bill without amendment or agrees with any message from this House) is expected from the House of Lords, this House shall not adjourn until that message has been received and any proceedings under paragraph (9) have been concluded.

(9) On any day on which such a message is received, if a designated Member indicates to the Speaker an intention to proceed to consider that message—

(a) notwithstanding Standing Order No. 14(1) any Lords Amendments to the Bill or any further Message from the Lords on the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly;

(b) proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under subparagraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed;

(c) the Speaker may not propose the question on the previous question, and may not put any question under Standing Order No. 36 (Closure of debate) or Standing Order No. 163 (Motion to sit in private) in the course of those proceedings.

(10) Paragraphs (2) to (7) of Standing Order No. 83F (Programme Orders: conclusion of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments to a conclusion as if:

(a) any reference to a Minister of the Crown were a reference to a designated Member;

(b) after paragraph (4)(a) there is inserted—

“(aa) the question on any amendment or motion selected by the Speaker for separate decision;”.

(11) Paragraphs (2) to (5) of Standing Order No. 83G (Programme Orders: conclusion of proceedings on further messages from the Lords) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings on consideration of a Lords Message to a conclusion as if any reference to a Minister of the Crown were a reference to a designated Member.

Reasons Committee

(12) Paragraphs (2) to (6) of Standing Order No. 83H (Programme Orders: reasons committee) apply in relation to any committee to be appointed to draw up reasons after proceedings have been brought to a conclusion in accordance with this Order as if any reference to a Minister of the Crown were a reference to a designated Member.

(13) Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings on the Bill to which this Order applies.

(14) (a) No Motion shall be made, except by a designated Member, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken, to recommit the Bill or to vary or supplement the provisions of this Order.

(b) No notice shall be required of such a Motion.

(c) Such a Motion may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

(d) The Question on such a Motion shall be put forthwith; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (c) shall thereupon be resumed.

(e) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to proceedings on such a Motion.

(15) (a) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings on the Bill to which this Order applies except by a designated Member.

(b) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

(16) Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

(17) No private business may be considered at any sitting to which the provisions of this Order apply.

(18) (a) The start of any debate under Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) to be held on a day on which proceedings to which this Order applies are to take place shall be postponed until the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.

(b) Standing Order 15 In line 4 (1) (Exempted business) shall apply in respect of any such debate.

(19) In this Order, “a designated Member” means—

(a) the Member for Oldham West and Royton; and

(b) any other Member acting on behalf of the Member for Oldham West and Royton.

(20) This Order shall be a Standing Order of the House.

The motion would allow for parliamentary time on Tuesday 2 May to progress Labour’s Bill, the Water Quality (Sewage Discharge) Bill, which would finally see an end to the Tory sewage scandal. The reason we are here today is that the country we love, and the quality of life for millions of working people, is being treated with utter contempt: dumped on with raw human sewage; dumped on on an industrial scale; dumped on with at least 1.5 million sewage dumps last year alone; and dumped on for a total of 11 million running hours. That is a sewage dump every two and a half minutes. Just in the course of this debate, 70 sewage dumps will take place in the country, in the places where people have invested everything they have, where they have put down their roots and where they have invested the most precious of things—their families and shared futures. Those sewage dumps are going into the seas where people swim, the canals alongside which people take their dogs for a walk and the very beaches where our children build sandcastles.

Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con) rose—

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con) rose—

Jim McMahon

I will make some progress and take some interventions later—[Interruption.] Hang on; your moment will come.

It goes to our leisure and beauty spots. Businesses rely on tourists coming with confidence.

It is clear that the Tories either do not know, or do not care about the human impact of the Tory sewage scandal. This affects every stretch of our coastline across the country, and it shows the contempt that the Tories have for our seaside towns, from Hartlepool to Hastings, from Bournemouth to Falmouth, from Camborne to Blackpool, and everywhere in between. Beyond the coast, our national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, which are home to our stunning lakes, and our rivers, the arteries of our nation, are being sullied by the Tory sewage scandal.

Alun Cairns rose—

Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester and Strood) (Con) rose—

Mr Speaker

Order. May I say to the hon. Lady and the right hon. Gentleman that, yes, the hon. Member has to give way, but you cannot permanently be stood there until somebody—[Interruption.] You do not need to give me any indications. I am telling you what the rules are and the rules will be applied. Secretary of State.

Jim McMahon

Thank you, Mr Speaker—we’ve 12 months yet. I will take interventions once I have made progress on this section. Hon. Members should not worry; their opportunity to defend the last 13 years in government will come—they should not worry too much about that.

At its heart, this speaks to whether families should have the right to live a decent and fulfilled life. People look to our seas, lakes and rivers for quality of life. They are the very places where people live, work and holiday together, and where families create memories, forge bonds and strengthen relationships by enjoying the beauty that our country has to offer. More than just the daily grind of work, it is about who we are and it is those moments together that make life worth living. But the truth is that the Tories are turning our green land into an open sewer.

Kelly Tolhurst

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I would like him to outline when he or the Labour party realised that sewage was being put into rivers and seas. When was the Labour party made aware of that originally?

Jim McMahon

I welcome that intervention. I would also welcome an explanation to the hon. Lady’s constituents as to why there have been 200 sewage incidents in her own backyard. That is why her constituents send her here—to ensure that their interests are put right—[Interruption.] I will come on to Labour’s record, but I warn Government Members that it may not paint the last 13 years in a good light.

Several hon. Members rose—

Jim McMahon

I will make some progress.

This is an environmental hazard, a health hazard and an economic hazard. The full scale of the billions of pounds that the Tory sewage scandal is costing our businesses and local economies is still not fully known. Why? Because the Government will not undertake an economic assessment of the impact of sewage dumping. What do they have to hide? [Interruption.] Members will like this bit—hang on. While the Secretary of State has been on taxpayer-funded jollies to Brazil, Canada, Egypt, France, Japan, Panama and the US, as shadow Environment Secretary, I have travelled to every corner of the country to hear first-hand about the impact of the Tory sewage scandal. While she has been in duty free, I have been here on duty—that’s the difference—[Interruption.] There’s more, hold on. You’re in for a bumpy ride. The next three hours will not be like first class, I can tell you that much.

I have met businesses that have been forced to pull down the shutters when sewage alerts drive people away from beaches. I have met people in Hastings who are suffering the effects of having contracted hepatitis and Weil’s disease just because they encountered sewage in the open waters. I have met community groups such as that self-organising, fundraising and monitoring the water quality in the River Kent. They are saying to the Government that enough is enough. I heard the same things in Oxford and when I met Surfers Against Sewage in Cornwall.

Sally-Ann Hart (Hastings and Rye) (Con)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Member said that he came to visit Hastings and spoke to people—he never informed me of his visit to Hastings.

Mr Speaker

That is not a point of order, but I would say to the hon. Lady that, if somebody has been to her constituency, it is absolutely correct that Members should give notice to the MP whose constituency they are visiting. I do not care which side of the House Members sit on. You must do the right thing and let a Member know that you are entering their constituency.

Jim McMahon

I am very happy to look into that point. As a matter of course, we always ensure when visiting the constituents of Conservative MPs that as a matter of respect we inform the local MP. I would love nothing more than for a Conservative MP to attend those visits and explain their voting record to their constituents. I know that Helena Dollimore, the Labour and Co-operative candidate, was very much made aware, so I will follow that up and ensure, if it did happen, that it does not happen again.

Earlier this week, I met environmental groups from across the country to hear about the impact that the Tory sewage scandal is having on their communities. They stand proud of their communities, but they are equally angry, and they are right to be angry. Only this weekend, we celebrated St George’s Day and spoke about what makes England so special, and what makes it a green and pleasant land. For example, the brilliant Lake Windermere, England largest lake, formed 13,000 years ago from the melting ice, is a world heritage site and attracts 16 million visitors every year. What William Wordsworth once described as:

“A universe of Nature’s fairest forms”

is now dying at the hands of this complicit Government. One member from the Save Windermere campaign told us that, due to the constant pollution, a whole five-mile stretch of the lake has been turned bright green because of excessive pollutants being dumped in it. Even the glorious Lake Windermere is not off bounds.

The fantastic coastline of Cornwall draws in millions of visitors and is a magnet for surfers—surfers who face the prospect of becoming ill simply by going out in the water. There are campaigners for the River Ilkley, in self-styled God’s own country, Yorkshire.

Several hon. Members rose—

Jim McMahon

I will take an intervention shortly from the Opposition Benches.

Mr Speaker, do you know that raw human sewage is even being discharged moments away from these very Houses of Parliament? Members should think about that when they go to vote. There is no place exempt from the Tory sewage scandal—and what a metaphor for the last 13 years of a Tory Government.

Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. My constituency is named after the River Weaver, which is at the heart of our community. We have the River Mersey as well. Some 19,000 hours’ worth of raw sewage has been discharged into those rivers. I thank the shadow Secretary of State for giving the whole House the opportunity to stand up for our local rivers, waterways and beaches. I encourage Members from across the House to join us in voting for the motion today.

Jim McMahon

That is exactly what this debate is about: MPs who care about the places they represent standing up for what is right, instead of making excuses for 13 failed years in government. That is exactly why Members are sent to this House, and others could take note.

What we have seen is that there is no respect for our country, there is no respect for our values, there is no respect for our history and there is no respect for our future. What is more, there is no respect for the working people who make this country what it is.

What was the Secretary of State’s response when this issue was first raised? First, she told Parliament that meeting water companies was not her priority, passing the buck to her junior Minister; then she broke the Government’s own legal deadline for publishing water quality targets; and then she announced, repeatedly, that she would kick the can down the road on cleaning up our waterways. Since then, we have had three panic-stricken announcements of the Secretary of State’s so-called plan, each one nothing new but a copy and paste of what went before. We know the Tories do not have a plan. At best, they have a recycled press release. That is the difference. I give way to the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

Sir Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)

I do not think anyone would argue that we do not need to invest more in better water quality. More parts of the country need to see schemes such as the new water treatment works in Scarborough and the 4 million litre storm water tank, also in Scarborough. What we need to debate is timescale and affordability. Does the hon. Member think that it is slightly ironic that, when even the most modest prediction is that his proposals would put £1,000 on the average water bill, the second debate this afternoon is on the cost of living increases?

Jim McMahon

Honestly, I am staggered. I say that with respect to the Chair of the EFRA Committee. Our figures are based on the Government’s figures, and I am happy to put them in the House of Commons Library. DEFRA’s own figures put a cost on Labour’s plan and, let me tell him, the lowest estimate is 10% of what has been taken out in dividends. Those are not our figures; they are the Government’s own figures. If the Environment Secretary has not read her own assessment of ending the Tory sewage scandal, it will be in the Library at the end of the debate; Members can read it for themselves. This is her day job, right? She is meant to understand the data her Department produces and form a plan behind that. I am sorry that my expectations were obviously too high. [Interruption.] Members will enjoy the next bit.

Let us not forget the Environment Secretary’s first spell in DEFRA. In her three years as water Minister, she slashed the Environment Agency’s enforcement budget. Its ability to tackle pollution at source was cut by a third, resources to hold water companies to account were snatched away and there was literally the opening of the floodgates that allowed sewage dumping to take place. What have been the consequences? There has been a doubling of sewage discharges: a total of 321 years’ worth of sewage dumping, all on her watch and straight to her door. She said that getting a grip of the sewage scandal was not a priority, but something for other people to sort out. What she really meant was that it was not politically advisable, because her own record spoke for itself. I have a simple question: how can she defend the interests of the country when so implicated in destroying it? The public are not stupid. They see this issue for exactly what it is: the Tory sewage scandal.

Kelly Tolhurst

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Jim McMahon

I have already given way once. Let me make some progress.

Last week, Labour published analysis of Environment Agency and Top of the Poops data which showed that in 2022, Tory Ministers—this is the Cabinet, the highest seat in government—allowed 7,500 days’ worth of raw human sewage to be dumped in their constituencies. The data showed that there is a sewage dump taking place every 22 minutes in their own backyard. That Tory Cabinet Ministers are willing to allow that to happen to their own constituents really speaks volumes. In Suffolk Coastal, a constituency that may be familiar to the Environment Secretary, there were 426 sewage dumps last year. In the Chancellor’s constituency, there were 242. In the Prime Minister’s Richmond, Yorks constituency—proof that this goes all the way to the top—there were 3,500 sewage dumps.

Cherilyn Mackrory (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will he acknowledge that the only reason he is able to reel off those statistics is because the Conservative Government have ensured that we now have 91% monitoring, soon to be 100%, across the country? Will he also acknowledge that that has only happened under a Conservative Government and that the last Labour Government did absolutely nothing?

Jim McMahon

I am not one to offer advice to those on the Government Benches, but I will just say this to eager Back Benchers bobbing for their Whips: they might want to check their constituency’s data before getting up to defend the Government’s record. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker

Mr Seely, you are trying to catch my eye, but you will not do it by chuntering from that position.

Jim McMahon

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The hon. Lady will know that her own constituency has had nearly 2,000 sewage dumps. If she wants to defend that record to her constituents, then so be it—fine. But if she does not want to remind her constituents, I can guarantee this: the Labour candidate will. That is what this debate is about and why Members are so exercised, let us be honest. Are Members exercised because our rivers, lakes and seas are being dumped on, or are they exercised because they have now realised that they might have to face the consequences of that dumping? That is what the excitement is about.

Several hon. Members rose—

Jim McMahon

I am going to make some progress.

The Government will blame everybody: the Victorians, devolved Administrations, home drainage, housebuilders, people flushing items down the loo. Now, it is true that this issue has to be faced on multiple fronts, but there is one common theme that has run throughout the Secretary of State’s period in office. What is it? They never take responsibility; it is always somebody else’s fault; it is never at the door of the Government. Let me be clear: the levers of power were always there to be pulled. The truth is that the Government did not even lift a finger to try and that is why we are in this situation today.

Conor McGinn (St Helens North) (Ind)

One hundred years ago in St Helens we had chemical factories, coalmines, glassworks and no environmental regulations, but with 835 sanctioned spills in 2022, pollution in our rivers and waterways is arguably worse now than it was then. Does my hon. Friend share the frustrations of the volunteers who look after the Sankey canal and valley, and engage in activities such as litter picks, that no matter how much rubbish they get from the towpath, there is 10 times more going into the canal itself?

Jim McMahon

That is a really good point. Many people think that this must be an issue that affects our seas and our national parks, but it goes to every community. For those who live in an urban community, the stream or canal network near their home is being dumped on. For many communities that is all they have. That is their bridge to nature, and it is being treated with such disrespect by the Government in a way that cannot carry on.

I want to return to the issue of levers of power, because quite a lot of what I hear is that the scale of the challenge is overwhelming and that to face it is far too great a mountain to climb. Economic regulation of the water industry in both England and in Wales has always been controlled by the Tories here for the last 13 years, treating England and Wales as an open sewer. That lever could have been pulled to improve water performance, holding water companies to account and resourcing the work needed to combat sewage pollution in England. [Interruption.] I hear the Environment Secretary chuntering; hopefully, she will address that.

To be absolutely clear about where power sits in our democracy and where Government responsibility sits when it comes to water: first, economic regulation—the levers of power, the purse strings—are not devolved at all.

Alun Cairns

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance. The shadow Secretary of State may have inadvertently misled the House. He said moments ago that water and environmental policy were reserved, but they are devolved. I suspect that he might be embarrassed that the Welsh Government have not acted—

Mr Speaker

Order. You will leave—

Alun Cairns

He is seeking to obfuscate responsibility—

Mr Speaker

Order. I have told you before, Mr Cairns, that when I stand up, I expect you to sit down. When I start to speak, I do not expect you to carry on speaking. Mr Cairns, you have been pushing your luck for quite a few weeks, and I am serious. I hope that in future you will take notice, because we will make sure that you do. I do not want to get to that point, but you are pushing me towards it. I am not responsible for what the shadow Secretary of State says. He has heard your point—although it was not a point of order—and I will leave it to him.

Jim McMahon

I am not sure whether Parliament can do some sort of induction for Conservative Members on how Parliament works and where power sits, but the House of Commons Library is very good at providing briefings for MPs. To be clear, the economic regulator Ofwat reports solely to the Environment Secretary for the UK. That is a matter of fact. It is not devolved; it is for the UK. The economic levers of power have allowed £72 billion of shareholder dividends to go out the door on one side, while England and Wales have been turned into an open sewer on the other. That goes right to the door of the Secretary of State.

I credit the Welsh Labour Government for their record of leading on nature and the environment. Like me, they say that whether in England or in Wales, every part of the land that we care about and love, where working people have a right to a decent life, should be kept in good check and with the respect that it deserves.

Several hon. Members rose—

Jim McMahon

I will make some progress.

Conservative MPs should see this as a second chance, which everyone deserves. Let us take our mind back to the first chance, which was the passage of the Environment Act 2021, and an amendment that Labour backed that would have introduced a legal obligation to bring down sewage dumping progressively. It was blocked by Conservative MPs, who voted against it. It fell at the first test, but we believe in second chances. Today provides that second chance to right that wrong and to get behind Labour’s plan to clean up the Tory sewage scandal.

Let me come to Labour’s record, because the Conservatives would have us believe that the scale of dumping was inevitable, that there is nothing we can do about it, and that there is no alternative or somehow it has always been terrible. That is not what the evidence says. The last Labour Government had a proud record of delivering improvements in water quality. Shortly after the Labour party left office, the Environment Agency—in the Secretary of State’s own Department—reported that our rivers were cleaner than at any time since before the industrial revolution. In fact, in 2002, the then Environment Minister—the former Member for Oldham West and Royton, as it happens—celebrated how clean the water was when he took to it in Blackpool, with cameras looking on, to celebrate the proud moment that it met bathing water quality status. I would not think that the Environment Secretary would have the confidence to go swimming on the shores of Blackpool today, since over the past year there have been 22 incidents—62 hours—of raw human sewage being dumped in those waters, straight into the Irish sea.

We have shown that Labour will clean up the Tory sewage scandal—we have done it before, and we can do it again. In the absence of any leadership from the Government, Labour is stepping up. Today, there is finally something worth getting behind, after waiting 13 lost years—a whole generation of opportunity taken away.

Let me address cost. We are in the middle of a Tory cost of living crisis. Households are being hammered, and at every angle it seems that things are getting worse, not better. People see that when they go to the supermarket for their shop—again, a risible failing by the Secretary of State responsible for food, who does not think it is her job to have a roundtable with the food industry—and straight through to energy bills and mortgages. People are feeling the pinch. In their water bills, people are already paying for a service. Sewage treatment is itemised in every one of our bills but is not being delivered. Instead, the Tories are allowing water companies to cut corners and to dump sewage untreated.

Paul Holmes (Eastleigh) (Con)

Will the shadow Secretary of State give way?

Jim McMahon

Let me make this point, because it ties in with following the money and tracking back to the impact. The storm overflow data, which water companies themselves provide to the Government, tells us that not a single one of the dumping incidents from last year was a result of exceptional circumstances. They were not down to rainfall or storms—the water companies and the Government say so. It is about a lack of treatment and investment. [Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes) can learn to be quiet without the attention. That is basic good sense.

We need to address the issue of who pays. We believe that the polluter should pay. At the same time, water companies have walked away with £72 billion in dividends, and water bosses have enjoyed payments and bonuses of millions of pounds, even after sewage dumping had been identified. The Bill is about fixing those loopholes that allow poor practice and corner cutting, to ensure that the Government and the water companies together are acting in the public interest. It is not right that working people are paying for the privilege of having raw human sewage dumped in their communities.

Paul Holmes rose—

Jim McMahon

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, as he has been persistent.

Paul Holmes

I note that the shadow Secretary of State’s paragraph on the Labour record was very short—perhaps because under the Labour Government 7% of sewage discharges were monitored, whereas now that is 91%, with an ambition of 100% through the legislation that the Secretary of State has laid out. Why can the shadow Secretary of State not stand at the Dispatch Box and welcome that, and accept that his party did nothing about this issue in its time in government?

Jim McMahon

I am not sure that was worth waiting for. The hon. Gentleman was so persistent that I thought a gem would come to advance the debate, but the House was left wanting, yet again. I am proud of Labour’s record. We went from industrial pollution affecting our rivers and canals to the cleanest water since before the industrial revolution. That progress and legacy should have been built on, but they have been trashed. We have gone backwards, not forwards.

We need to change the culture in water companies and demand change, by setting down legally binding targets and enforcing straightforward penalties for failure. The Bill protects bill payers in law—no ifs, not buts. The cost must and will be borne by water companies and their shareholders, protected in the Bill in black and white. That is the basis of our motion, and it is what Members on all sides of the House will vote for later—not a fabricated version of reality that does not hold up to the evidence; no more jam tomorrow, asking people to wait until 2050 at the earliest to see an end to the sewage scandal; in black and white, a plan finally to end the scandal.

Let me outline what the Bill does, before I close and allow other Members to speak. It will deliver mandatory monitoring on all sewage outlets and a standing charge on water companies that fail.

Kelly Tolhurst


Jim McMahon

One minute. That will mean that where a discharge station is not in place or is not working, the water companies will pay a standing charge, assuming that sewage is being discharged. Automatic fines for discharges will end the idea that people have to go through a costly and protracted investigation and prosecution to hold water companies to account. Water companies will pay on day one, the second that sewage is discharged. Legally binding targets will end the sewage discharge scandal by 2030. We will give power to the regulators and require them to properly enforce the rules. Critically, and in black and white, we will ensure that the plan is funded by eroding shareholders’ dividends, not putting further pressure on householders by adding to customers’ bills.

Let me be clear: any Tory abstentions or any votes against the motion or the current Bill are yet another green light to continue the Tory sewage scandal.

Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman has made the fatal error of thinking that we are supporting the water companies, when we are holding them to account. That is exactly why we have threatened them with unlimited fines; exactly why Ofwat has passed new rules to restrict dividend payments; and exactly why we now have the most stringent measures on water companies in Europe. What did the Labour party do, because it did not hold water companies to account?

Jim McMahon

The hon. Gentleman is definitely currying favour with the Conservative Whips Office, and I give him credit for energetically reading out the Whips’ top lines—[Interruption.]

The hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) said earlier that her office was not informed about our visit to her constituency, when we met our fantastic candidate, Helena Dollimore. I have been handed a copy of an email that proves not only that her office was informed of the visit, but that that email was acknowledged by her office.

Mr Speaker

Does the hon. Member wish to respond to that point?

Sally-Ann Hart indicated dissent.

Mr Speaker

Okay. Carry on.

Jim McMahon

I will come straight to the point: had the Conservative Government, in their 13 years in office, treated this issue with the importance that is needed and dealt with the water companies—

Anthony Mangnall

Will the hon. Gentleman answer my question now?

Jim McMahon

The hon. Gentleman can answer this question for his constituents: over the last 13 years, why has an average of £1.8 billion every year been taken in shareholder dividends and not invested in water infrastructure? That is a record. [Interruption.] I do not care what the Whips Office has briefed; I care about the evidence. That is what every debate in the House should be based on. I respectfully ask him to go away and test the evidence, rather than reading the top line.

Several hon. Members rose—

Jim McMahon

A lot of Members have put in to speak in the debate and they have a right to be heard, so I will bring my remarks to a close.

This plan is the first step in Labour’s reform of the water industry and will work towards building a better Britain. After 13 years, the Tories have run out of road, run out of ideas and run out of time. Labour is ambitious for Britain and for working people. That starts with treating the country, working people and local businesses with the respect that they deserve.