Ludlow MP Philip Dunne has done it again. Calling those who criticise his and his government’s weakness on sewage overflows “political”. It is never political to call out government failures and Dunne has spectacularly failed.
Under the plans backed by Dunne, water companies only need to reduce the number of discharges by 2.2% a year and volume of discharges by 2.7% a year. That’s letting privatised water companies off the hook for 20 more years while people bath and swim in sewage.
In his own Ludlow constituency, Seven Trent Water (STW) reduced dumps into rivers or the sea by 23% between 2021 and 2022. The hours of discharge were reduced by 32% (Top of the Poops). Water companies across England and Wales reduced the number of discharges by 6% and the volume by 11% between 2020 and 2021. Of course, some companies are not improving but all companies need strict targets to bring them up to speed, not what the government and Dunne have agreed.
“There has been some very inappropriate politicisation of this issue which is alleging that politicians don’t care. That we’re voting for pouring sewage into the river.
“This is pure political posturing. It is not true and it is not helpful of some parties to try and make political capital.”
Here Philip Dunne is following the current Conservative meme. Anything that challenges Conservatives, anyone that takes a different point of view, is described as being “political”. We see this at almost every Shropshire Council meeting. It happens all over the country.
Let’s look at Philip Dunne’s record. He introduced the cross-party Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill in October 2020 as a private members bill but the Conservative government would not allow it to progress. Dunne chairs the Environmental Audit Committee which produced an excellent report in January that recommended:
“We recommend that Ofwat require water companies, as a condition of their continued licensing, to deliver year-on-year reductions in the number of pollution incidents, with a target of zero serious incidents by 2030.”
But when it came to the Environment Bill, Dunne voted for target of 2050. That lets the water companies off the hook for another 20 years. That what opposition parties, led by the Lib Dems, are complaining about. That’s not being political. It’s fighting for what people want. For what Philip Dunne once wanted.
Dunne is championing a target that doesn’t meet his ambitions. It is up to him whether he does that but he can’t accuse others of being political.
There could be worse to come. The government is pressing forward with the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. This removes thousands of EU rules and regulations from statute. Which of those are retained or abolished will be at the whim of ministers. This is probably the biggest power grab of ministers over parliament in our lifetimes, though even they don’t even know how many rules and regulations will be abolished. There are serious concerns that EU rules on improving water quality and biodiversity will be weakened.
Philip Dunne should tell us his position on the Revocation and Reform Bill.
The UK is not a dictatorship. We have a democracy based on challenge. It is the task of opposition parties to keep the government on its toes and, as much as it is able, to prevent the government steering the country away from a national consensus.