The Guardian view on sewage: ministers must insist on a clean-up | Editorial

The Guardian view on sewage: ministers must insist on a clean-up | Editorial

People are rightly disgusted by the filth being poured into English rivers. Weak regulation is to blame

The decision by the Conservative MP Philip Dunne to support the government’s version of an amendment on tackling sewage, in preference to one put forward by the Duke of Wellington and voted for by peers, means that ministers have succeeded in blocking a revolt that had already caused them embarrassment. Since the government’s amendment is weaker than the House of Lords’ one, this is an unsatisfactory ending to a row that had been bubbling up for years, before erupting last month when the Lords decided to impose a new legal duty on water companies to reduce raw sewage discharges, in an amendment to the environment bill.

Mr Dunne’s move is significant because it was his private member’s bill, last year, that dramatically raised the temperature on an issue that has long troubled surfers, anglers and environmental groups – but rarely featured in headlines or in parliamentary debates until the Guardian began highlighting the scale of raw sewage discharges. That has now changed, hopefully for good. Thanks in part to smart campaigning, including the release of drone footage showing sewage being pumped into Langstone Harbour, a conservation area in Hampshire, huge numbers of people are now aware that there were 400,000 sewage discharges by water companies in England last year. The public reaction, which in many cases has been communicated to MPs, is anger and disgust.

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