A Piccadilly line train crosses the River Crane at Cranford. Courtesy of londonslostrivers.com
A Piccadilly line train crosses the River Crane at Cranford. Courtesy of londonslostrivers.com

This week, I spoke in a Parliament in the debate in support of Labour’s motion calling for the Government to empower the water regulator to ban the payment of bonuses to water bosses whose companies are discharging significant levels of raw sewage into our rivers, lakes and seas.  

For too long, too little action has been taken. 

Nothing more graphically illustrates 13 years of failed Conservative government than the tide of raw sewage swelling down our rivers, into our lakes, and washing up on our beaches. 

Our motion came as a BBC Panorama investigation found evidence of a water company covering up illegal sewage discharges, making sewage pollution disappear from the official figures. Whistle-blowers at the Environment Agency told Panorama the company was wrongly downgrading pollution incidents and that the agency was failing to conduct independent checks. 

This Government have done worse than not act. They have weakened the tools we have to protect consumers and our communities. They have cut back enforcement and monitoring of the water companies and are now failing to prosecute them when they are blatantly breaking the law with illegal sewage dumps. 

That’s why in the House of Commons in the debate on the motion, I raised the impact of the failure to prevent illegal leaks. It has led to a drastic increase in discharges – affecting our communities, damaging nature, damaging tourism and putting the health of children and adults at risk. In 2022 alone, Hounslow saw 20 overflows of raw sewage for a total of 164 hours. 

At the same time, in 2021-22, despite their failure to address illegal sewage leaks, 22 water bosses paid themselves £24.8m, including £14.7m in bonuses, benefits and incentives. 

And it is why we must ask what our increased bills are paying for. Analysis shows that residents in Feltham and Heston are paying £175 more a year on their water bills – and water bills are set to rise by an average of 35% between now and 2030. I raised the matter of consumer protection and fairness with the Water Minister because this must be a priority. For too long, the British public have carried the can for water bosses. It’s clear that this can’t go on. 

Labour’s plan will be to boost the regulatory powers of the water regulator Ofwat. This will mean water bosses who fail to meet high environmental standards on sewage pollution will be met with significant sanctions to ensure they cannot profit from damaging the environment. 

While the Tories have allowed Britain’s waterways to become an open sewer, under Labour’s new plans, Ofwat would have been able to block six out of nine water bosses’ bonuses last year due to high levels of pollution. 

That is the first step in cleaning up the water industry, as we will put the sector under special measures. 

We will require water companies to install remote monitors on every outlet overseen by the regulators and the Government. Any illegal spill will be met with an immediate and severe fine—no more delays, no more appeals and no more lenient fines that are cheaper than paying to upgrade crumbling infrastructure. Finally, rogue water bosses who oversee repeated severe and illegal sewage discharges will face personal criminal liability. 

With Labour, the polluter – not the public – will pay the price. 

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