PRESS RELEASE: Sewage vote - Government and Guildford’s MP ignore millions of people
By Zoe Franklin
Last month the cross-party peer, the Duke of Wellington, put forward an amendment to the Government's Environment Bill recommending that a legal duty should be introduced on water companies and Government itself to demonstrate progressive reductions in discharges of untreated sewage and would require them to "take all reasonable steps" to avoid using combined sewer overflows. These overflows see our rivers, lakes and seas polluted with sewage and other human waste, something that is completely unacceptable. This amendment was voted down by Conservatives in the House of Commons on 20th October 2021.
Following public outrage and protests, including one in Guildford organised by Liberal Democrat campaigners and led by Zöe Franklin, Guildford's Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate with Lib Dem Councillors and members of other political parties and environmental groups, the Government performed yet another U-turn.
Yesterday MPs voted again on the Environment Bill which will include new rules on sewage being dumped into our rivers. The Liberal Democrats asked the question during the debate - do these rules go far enough? We do not believe that they do.
Part of the defence given by the Government for their original vote to block the amendment was that it would cost too much and taxpayers would have to bear the cost. We disagree. Ahead of the vote today Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey MP, called for a tax to be put on water companies who continue to pollute our waterways, to clean up the mess of their making. Following the findings of the River Trust that more than half of England's rivers currently fail to pass cleanliness tests after raw sewage was pumped into them over 400,000 times last year something must be done; we need actions not excuses.
The "Sewage Tax" would tax the profits of water companies, which last year made pre-tax profits of £2.2 billion despite polluting Britain's rivers with dangerous levels of sewage. The proposal would be a 16% tax on pre-tax profits, providing a £340 million fund to fix the sewage system - this would be in addition to the current 19% rate of corporation tax.
For example, Southern Water, which makes the most profit of England's water companies, would have paid £70 million in 2020. Thames Water, the company which made £434 million pre-tax profit in 2020, would also pay £70 million in Sewage Tax after pumping raw sewage into the River Wey near Guildford for an estimated 1789 hours last year.
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Guildford Cranleigh and our Villages Zöe Franklin said:
"Last night the Conservatives ignored the millions of people who are demanding action to save our treasured local rivers and voted through a weak proposal to tackle sewage flowing into them and our coastal waters. The proposal fails to include any deadlines or targets for addressing this serious issue and simply will not be strong enough to hold water companies to account. They will continue to drag their feet and likely attempt to pass on the costs to the public.
"The Liberal Democrats are clear that it is water companies that should be made to pay for the mess they have made not the public. That's why we called on the Conservative Government to bring in a new Sewage Tax that would tax the profits of water companies and provide around £340 million to fix the sewage system.
"I was especially disappointed to see Guildford and Cranleigh's MP back the Government proposal and refuse to put the needs of her constituency first. It is a sad reminder that local people cannot reply on her, or the Conservative Government, to listen to local people or stand up to big corporations and hold them accountable when something as important as our environment is at stake."