Labour issues prison threat for bosses under plans to clean up water industry

Shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon speaks during the Labour conference (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)
Shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon speaks during the Labour conference (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)

Water bosses will face prison sentences for the worst pollution incidents under a Labour government, the shadow environment secretary has announced.

Jim McMahon used his conference speech at the Labour conference in Liverpool to outline how his party would “clean up” the water system if in power after being introduced on stage by a surprise speaker – Feargal Sharkey, who fronted The Undertones.

The shadow environment secretary said Labour would introduce a legally binding target to end 90% of sewage discharges by 2030 and stronger sanctions and fines for bosses and companies who fail to do so.

Mr McMahon said that in the worst cases water bosses could face prison sentences.

Outlining Labour’s plans, the shadow environment secretary said: “A Labour government will end the scandal that sees us losing a quarter of all clean water in leaks that can be prevented whilst at the same time declaring water shortages.

“We will fix the leak by legislating to cut all of that in half by 2050 at the very latest.

“But we will also include a legally binding target that 90% of all sewage discharges will end by 2030.”

Mr McMahon told members there will be “no hiding the problem”, with Labour to demand “mandatory monitors on all sewage outlets” and to introduce “automatic fines for every single sewage discharge”.

“We are not going to wait for expensive and lengthy investigations, we are going to hit them in the pockets from day one”, he said.

He added that there will be a standing charge on the outlets who have not got a “monitoring station in place” and that Labour will protect customers by “capping bill increases”.

He added: “Let me be clear: we will make sure that any failure to improve the system will be paid for by eroding dividends. That will give directors and investors the wake-up call they need, and I hope the clarity that they need too.

“And, after a decade of indifference, we will do what the Tories so far have failed to do. Labour will finally hold water bosses personally accountable for their failures.

“A Labour government will strike off company directors who fail. And, yes conference, we will introduce for the most serious offences, including deliberately misleading investigations, prison sentences for those offences.”

Feargal Sharkey speaking during the Labour Party conference in Liverpool (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)
Feargal Sharkey speaking during the Labour Party conference in Liverpool (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)

In his speech, Mr Sharkey accused the Government and water companies of launching an “unprecedented attack” on the environment.

The singer, from Northern Ireland, recalled his early political experiences as a child before telling the Labour Party conference in Liverpool: “Injustice not only extends to the societies we build, the worlds we create, it permeates and pollutes everything we touch.

“As I speak, there is one brutal example of an injustice that instantly springs to mind.

“Privatised by Margaret Thatcher, presided over for the last 12 years by a Conservative Government drunk on the complacency, founded on indifference, propped up by a regulatory system invested by failure and exploited by an industry corrupted by the fragrance of greed – I am of course talking about the water industry.”

Mr Sharkey highlighted the scale of sewage pumped into rivers and waterways in England and dividends and bonuses paid by companies.

He went on: “As a direct result of the water industry’s profiteering, there’s not a single river in England that achieves good overall environmental health – every single river is polluted and one of the largest sources of that pollution? The water industry.”

Mr Sharkey said the “assault doesn’t stop there”, adding: “While giving the richest people in the country a tax cut last week, the Government quietly tabled some new legislation that will allow ministers to revoke every single bit of EU environmental legislation in this country at the stroke of a pen and without parliamentary scrutiny.

“What we’re witnessing collectively between industry and government is an unprecedented attack on the environment, and it’s one that has to stop.”