The Westminster toilet needs flushing


We all know the story by now. Water companies have been discharging untreated sewage into our rivers and seas for decades. Closed beaches, plastic toiletries spewing from pipes, and the spoiling of seafood that would have otherwise gone to market has been the effects, alongside record earnings for water companies and their shareholders. Southern Water has consistently disclosed annual profits of between 100 – 200+ million.

Look at this:

In the spirit of democracy you’d think that our government would sit up and take note of such awareness amongst the public. That is how democracy works, I was told by someone once. Well it would seem not. Last Wednesday MP’s voted overwhelmingly against Lords Amendment 45 to the Environment Bill that would have placed a legal duty on water companies to stop polluting our seas and beaches.

Encouraged by the environmental secretary George Eustice, 265 TORY MP’s voted against the ratification, including Rye’s own Sally-Ann Hart, this despite widespread polluting at the hands of Southern Water within her own constituency this summer. More details of who voted for what here.

Frankly I’m lost for words. Not good for an opinion piece…

To cite Sally-Ann Hart’s excuses, on her website she refers to the cost of transforming the entire Victorian sewage system; that it would be ‘irresponsible’ to spend ‘150-650 billion’ on updating the current UK network – not exactly a convincingly precise sum that would result from a proper cost analysis.

I thought that’s why we pay our water bills; so these water companies can maintain our infrastructure to keep it in good working order. Oh yes I forgot. In our system of unbridled capitalism we pay our bills so that board members can become millionaires for sitting at a table.

How can Sally-Ann Hart possibly reconcile the situation with high public costs when Southern Water nets annual profits numbering the hundreds of millions? Lets not forget that her government is happy to throw over £100 billion of public money at a railway that is been proven pointless by changing work habits, and is wanted by few.

It is perverse, and yet another example of how an unregulated business agenda has gone too far.

But to simply denounce the current formula without some context would be unfair. Indeed, the intentions of the Laissez Faire school were honourable. Spearheaded by Margaret Thatcher, it saved Britain’s economy from the crippling unions. Government support, corporate tax breaks and sympathetic journalists became the apparatus that promulgated the new agenda, giving rise to the businesses that provided employment and security for the many.

Yet it was only a matter of time until the power shifted too far to the other side, and I believe this situation is an example of how we are beyond that threshold.

Though once constructive, it is now deconstructive. The dissolution of local employment at the hands of big tech; the growing disparity in wealth through the failure of so called ‘trickle down’ economics; the attrition of the environment by corporate malfeasance, and a flagrant disregard for our democratic processes have become the hallmarks of the Tory leadership. Perhaps this is only because they win the elections.

Inconvenient demonstrations, substantive evidence and scientific reports to the contrary are consistently ignored and quelled by this government. Politicians have known about pollution from water companies for years and years, yet no action is taken to prevent it. Big business is left to pollute and take as it wishes, unaccountable to politicians, and by extension, the people. Democracy becomes plutocracy; petition and protest displaced by corporate lobbying.

As Thatcher did to the unions, it is time again for a tectonic shift to re-balance power; for principled politicians to come forth and institute a balance between private, public and environmental interests.

The Tories are not the party to do this. They have failed to break from the legacy of their deceased former leader. In today’s world the party is an irrelevant lumbering dinosaur, so smug in its lineage of victories that its top brass flagrantly pursue their own interests at the expense of the tax payer. It is entirely corrupt.

I’m no communist, and clearly no capitalist, but with this palpable disconnection between the people and their voted representatives, Boris’ Britain is becoming an example of how the two are not so different.

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  1. Elsewhere Rye News reports the to be welcomed U-turn by the Government over this issue.
    It is a pity that this Opinion Piece becomes a tirade against the Government and the Conservative Party, past and present. Mrs Thstcher resigned over 30 years ago. Since then we had three successive Labour Governments although I suspect the author would not wish to be associated with New Labour.
    It is quite proper for Rye News to carry criticism of Government policy ( now reversed) on an important issue of local concern. I’m not sure it should be a platform for whatever party the writer supports.
    Incidentally many of the major shareholders in the water companies are pension schemes, including local government pension funds.

    • I think it is quite right that Rye News should publish press releases by our MP where invited to do so. However, these press releases are carefully written to appear neutral, but are in fact heavily politically biased, so it is equally important to hear other opinions, to redress the balance. I hope you agree. If you want to write a piece supporting Government policy, I would be happy to read that.

      • I made it clear that I support Rye News in publishing articles critical of Gkvernment policy, especially as here the issue is relevant to our locality. My post is not defending the Government. It is perfectly proper for people to take our MP to task.
        But the article in question reads in its last parts like a party political broadcast – perhaps for the Tooting Popular Front.
        It also conveniently ignores the fact that the Government has been legitimately elected by those who don’t see it as dinosaur, and with sn 80 seat majority.
        The way to overturn that majority is by well-argued alternatives, not polemics invoking the ghost of Margaret Thatcher.

  2. There is an ecologically sound answer to the problem, which is to use sewage to produce gas and inert fertiliser. The gas can be used to produce electricity using the Allam-Fetvedt method that is carbon free. The raw material is free and a constant supply. Why we pollute our countryside with Wind Turbines on great slabs of concrete (Ditto in the sea) that are inefficient (to be kind about it) would be a mystery if it were not for the massive wind/solar industry. If politicians are serious about saving the planet it’s time they freed up land for food and housing and used waste to good purpose, not to kill the oceans and rivers.

    • Hi Michael – sewage sludge (the inert residue from sewage treatment – I hope you’re not having your breakfast!) is indeed used as a soil improver – but this is the minority of the sewage process (the vast majority here is treated water) – and the issue here is that water companies bypass treatment altogether when the sewers are overwhelmed. This is supposed to happen in emergency situations only, but the longer our infrastructure has been left to decay and become outdated the more frequent this situation has become.

      With regards to the gas that can be produced it’s small beans in the great scheme of things. Typically enough gas can be produced to power the sewage treatment works, but not much more.

  3. It seems that our government are unable to organise anything practical. They are good at throwing money at the wrong things, but when it comes to doing something practical, it all goes wrong. Track and trace was a shambles, HS2 unnecessary, water treatment inadequate, NHS struggling to cope. They try to take credit for the Covid vaccinations, but it was the people who organised the practical side of administering the injections. The government appear to be a load of amateurs who are not in touch with the people except for the very wealthy who they have to look after.

  4. Over on the western side of Rother, at least our MP, Huw Merriman, along with a couple of other West Sussex MPs, whose constituencies have all suffered from the malign neglect of Southern Water, voted for the House of Lords amendment. Perhaps however the Conservative government may have second thoughts, given the general mood of the country against favouring corporate greed over our environment and our health.

  5. Good articles from Alex Thomson, Chris Lawson and Charles Harkness.

    Raw sewage, although it has had much press coverage, is sadly not the only issue here.
    Last week, the House of Commons rejected ALL the non-Government Amendments put forward by the House of Lords relating to the Environment Bill.
    These included for greater provisions for ancient woodland protection in planning frameworks; tighter controls on air pollution in accordance with WHO guidelines; restrictions on ministerial powers to weaken habitat-related regulations; setting soil health and quality as a priority area; protection of bees and other pollinators from pesticides; and moves to strengthen the independence of the new watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP).
    This is hugely disappointing, particularly on the eve of COP26.
    Our MP, Sally-Ann Hart, as so often, voted with the Government.
    The Conservative Government cannot be trusted on its pledge “to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited it”.

    Air Pollution:
    In March 2021, the UK was found guilty by the European Court of Justice of “systematically and persistently” breaching air pollution limits.
    This followed the death of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah in London, the first death to be directly attributed to air pollution in the UK.
    The House of Lords introduced an amendment into the Environment Bill to bring air pollution limits in line with World Health Organisation guidance.
    It suggested the limit would have to be met by 2030 at the latest.
    The Commons voted the amendment down, saying that government powers “should not be limited in the manner proposed”.
    Protecting pollinators:
    The Lords also introduced protections for pollinators like bees from pesticides.
    The amendment included introducing a “competent authority” to oversee pesticide products, with the body consisting of “individuals free from vested interests in pesticide use”.
    This authority would oversee authorisation of pesticides, producing reports on their potential negative impacts and banning any which would be damaging to pollinators.
    Sewage in rivers:
    Last year, every river in England failed a test for pollution, with just 14 per cent deemed in “good ecological condition”.
    Sewage discharges by water companies are partly to blame, with more than 400,000 incidents recorded in 2020 alone.
    The Lords introduced an amendment in the bill imposing a duty on water companies to “take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows”.
    The amendment was rejected, but no reason was given.
    An independent environment watchdog:
    A watchdog named the Office for Environmental Protection is proposed in the Environment Bill to monitor progress on improvements.
    Peers added an amendment to guarantee the body would be independent, but this was voted down by MPs.
    There was no reason given for doing this.
    Meeting targets on environmental protection:
    The Environment Bill contains clauses compelling the secretary of state to meet long-term targets on protecting the environment.
    “Long term” is defined as no less than 15 years.
    The Lords suggested an amendment compelling the environment secretary to meet “interim targets”, but this was rejected by MPs.
    The reason given was that “the Secretary of State should not be placed under a statutory duty to meet interim targets.”
    Soil Health and Quality:
    The Lords amendment suggested this should be a priority area. UK average soil loss, at 2.38 tonnes per hectare per year, is 1.7 times higher than the average rate of soil formation. Restoring soil health is essential to creating sustainable farming.
    The reason for rejection was that “it is not necessary for soil health and quality to be a priority area in order to set a target.”

  6. I clearly am in a minority here with my views on this article. That’s fine and perhaps to be expected.
    But I do think that given the recent murder of an MP and the constant threats made online to MPs of all parties the article’s headline is rather unfortunate to say the least.

  7. Thank you Dominic for your scrutiny of the amendments to the Environment Bill. It takes time and effort to hold the government to account, especially on this crucial issue. Congratulations to Rye News for being open to such views.


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