Labour to use tactic that finished off Truss to force Tories into sewage vote

Another opportunity for “ I would never vote to pollute our water” Simon Jupp to repeat his vote against toughening up the rules. – Owl

Labour is planning to use the same Commons procedure that helped remove Liz Truss from Downing Street to force Conservative MPs into a politically embarrassing vote about whether to toughen up rules on sewage discharges.

Peter Walker 

The party plans to use its regular opposition day motion on Tuesday to push a binding motion, which would oblige the government to set aside Commons time next week for a debate and vote on a Labour bill to impose tougher penalties for sewage spills.

While the motion will fail if the government, as expected, whips its MPs to vote it down, this outcome would allow Labour to say Tory MPs had opposed plans to clean up rivers, beaches and chalk streams, a potentially potent attack before local elections, also next week.

When Labour last used the tactic of an opposition day motion to seize control of the Commons order paper, in an attempt to ban new fracking, a bungled whipping operation by Truss’s government resulted in bedlam, prompting her to resign the next day.

Tuesday’s motion would overturn the Commons’ standing order 14 (1) to take control of the order paper, a tactic popularised during the period of chaotic Brexit wrangling under Theresa May. Standing order 14 (1) sets out that government business takes precedence in the chamber, but can be overturned by a majority vote.

The Labour motion would set aside Commons time on 2 May to debate and vote on the water quality (sewage discharge) bill, introduced last month by Jim McMahon, the shadow environment secretary.

If passed, the bill would increase penalties for water companies and others who fail to adequately monitor sewage discharges, impose fines and binding targets for such events, and oblige the government to publish a strategy on the issue.

Downing Street and Conservative whips have not commented on whether they will order Tory MPs to vote against the motion. While the government often ignores opposition day votes, allowing an unopposed win, because Tuesday’s motion is binding, they are likely to vote it down.

This could prove uncomfortable for Conservative MPs, given public anger in many areas about sewage discharges into rivers, streams and coastlines, generally exacerbated by a long-term lack of investment by privately owned water companies.

Launching a cleaner water plan earlier this month, the environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, warned that upgrading the sewage network to stop spills could add hundreds of pounds to water bills.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have used previous votes over sewage – particularly one in October 2021, when Conservative MPs voted down an amendment to the environment bill on reducing discharges – to target individual Tories over the issue.

Sewage has become a prominent issue in advance of the local elections that take place across England next week, with the Lib Dems in particular using it in their campaign.

After data showed raw discharges were sent into English rivers 825 times a day last year, Keir Starmer has accused the government of “turning Britain’s waterways into an open sewer”.

McMahon said: “Tory MPs have an opportunity to support Labour’s water quality bill, which will put an end to sewage dumping once and for all. Their constituents will be watching to see if they will put the best interests of our country before their party.”