Thérèse Coffey accused of ‘complacency’ and slated for dragging up last Labour government during water sewage crisis debate

'The complacency she’s demonstrating is frankly, frankly shocking.'

Therese Coffey

On April 25, Tory MPs voted against a bid by Labour to introduce legislation aimed at preventing sewage being dumped in UK rivers and seas.

Labour had tabled a motion that would secure time for the Water Quality (Sewage Discharge) Bill to be considered. The Bill would impose automatic fines for sewage dumping and would require water companies to reduce discharges from storm overflows by 90 percent by the end of 2030.

The opposition day debate was opened by Labour MP Jim McMahon, shadow environment secretary. He called on the government to set a target for a reduction in sewage discharges and for water companies to be fined for discharging sewage and for breaching monitoring requirements. McMahon said the plans “would finally see an end to the Tory sewage scandal.”

“The reason we’re here today is because 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 an industrial scale, and dumped on with at least 1.5 million sewage dumps last year alone,” he told MPs.

MPs voted 290 to 188 in favour of the Tories’ amendment to Labour’s motion. The amendment removed reference to Labour’s bid to introduce draft legislation. 

During a debate on the legislation in the Commons, Caroline Lucas accused the environment secretary Therese Coffey of ‘complacency.’ 

Coffey said the government would introduce legislation to put plans to reduce storm overflows on a “new legal footing.”

“Today, we are announcing plans to enshrine the plan further in law.

“Through the Environment Act 2021, we will legislate for a clear target on storm overflow reduction in line with our plan,” she said in a written statement to Parliament.

The Green MP told the House that she was grateful to Coffey for giving way, ‘because the complacency she’s demonstrating is frankly, frankly shocking.

“Not one English river is classed as being in healthy condition. None meet good chemical standards, few meet good ecological standards, and they have been in power for 13 years. That is a record of failure. When you look as well at the fact that dividends now average £1.6bn a year, that’s money going out of the system altogether, why won’t she actually accept that privatisation has been a complete failure? Put it back in public hands and make sure the investment goes where it’s needed.”

Coffey responded to the comments by attempting to pin the blame on the last Labour government, saying “we knew in 2010 that there was no money left after Labour’s damage to the public purse.”

The environment secretary’s weak comeback attracted criticism.

Author Brendan May tweeted: “Ah, just Therese Coffey blaming the disastrous state of our shit-infested rivers on the Labour government that left office ‘checks notes’ 13 years ago.

‘It’s truly pathetic they’re still using that Chief Secretary ‘note’ line, a generation on. Really pathetic.’

‘Maybe I’ve missed something here but what’s the relevance of the supposed lack of public cash left by Labour 13 years ago to privately run utilities?’ someone else asked.

Another wrote: “Therese Coffey just blaming Labour for the Tories voting to allow water companies to dump sewage.

“Apparently, it’s because Labour left a tongue in cheek note about no money in 2010.

“The new lows are being found.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Image credit: Twitter screen grab

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