Peers who kicked up raw sewage stink deserve our thanks – Tom Richmond

THE House of Lords created such a political stink – literally – over the discharge of raw sewage into rivers and coastal waters this week that it might just have saved itself from abolition.

An activist sits on a toilet at the entrance to Downimng Street to protest against raw sewage dumping in the rivers and seas around the UK after leaving the EU
An activist sits on a toilet at the entrance to Downimng Street to protest against raw sewage dumping in the rivers and seas around the UK after leaving the EU

After all, it is Britain’s unelected peers, an anachronism to many in the 21st century, whose collective response is forcing the Government to revise its Environment Bill.

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As a result of its intervention, there will be a new legal duty on water companies to “take all reasonable steps” to prevent sewage discharges and “secure a progressive reduction” in their impact on the environment.

An activist sits on a toilet at the entrance to Downimng Street to protest against raw sewage dumping in the rivers and seas around the UK after leaving the EU

For this, the country owes a debt to the current Duke of Wellington – a hereditary peer – who led the charge by saying that “this revolting practice” is unacceptable “in a civilised society in the 21st century”.

“Particularly in a country, which is hosting next week’s climate summit and which is trying to lead the world in high environmental standards,” he added for good measure.

He was supported by former Navy chief Lord West of Spithead, who said: “I have sailed and swam in UK waters for six decades. I have constantly been appalled by the amount of raw sewage I have found in those waters and it has got worse.”

And then Tory peer Ros Altmann, a former Pensions Minister, waded in.

George Eustice is the Environment Secretary.

Noting the importance of private water utilities to many pension funds and institutional portfolios, she added: “I believe they have neglected their sewage overflow problems for years.

“It is time to legislate to force them to spend significant sums to make up for past underspending and egregious behaviour, rather than relying on further promises which leave us with horribly polluted waters.”

Strong words, they contrasted with the obfuscation of Environment Secretary George Eustice and his Lords minister Zac Goldsmith – two pro-Brexit ministers reluctant to ‘take back control’ of this issue. Goldsmith, a friend of the PM and tall in physical stature, behaved like a little s*** in the Lords with his antics.

Now the Lords might be imperfect – and I accept the case for a proportion of peers to be elected in the future on a regional basis – but Britain, for now, should be grateful for the stand that its members are taking over river pollution on our behalf.

Tory peer Zac Godsmith angered colleagues with his response to the raw sewage controversy.

EVEN by his own standards, Gordon Brown was incredibly earnest in the latest episode of Blair & Brown: The New Labour Revolution, when he felt that he was honour-bound, as Chancellor, to back the PM over the Iraq invasion.

Yet, previously, he’d complained that Blair’s office had rebuffed his requests to let him study the evidence – ultimately erroneous – that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed weapons of mass destruction that could be activated within 45 minutes, another bogus claim.

This remains, arguably, the biggest ever betrayal of political – and public – trust since Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler. Yet why didn’t Brown raise his suspicions, and speak out at the time, over the so-called ‘dodgy dossier’? It’s an explanation that he owes to the nation that he once led if he’s to continue hectoring the country.

SIR Lindsay Hoyle feared that he’d made a Freudian slip when he introduced Cabinet minister Michael Gove for the first set up of ‘levelling up’ questions in Parliament.

“We have questions for the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communications – I mean Communities, not communications!” said the Speaker rather sheepishly.

I don’t. I thought Hoyle was being rather prescient given that the Government’s definition of ‘levelling up’, and policy targets, has become a Macavity-like mystery.

LIKE most of the Cabinet, Michael Gove is coy on the status of the eastern leg of HS2 to Leeds.

Asked about the letter sent to him by the leaders of Leeds City Council and Nottinghamshire County Council, which stated that levelling up would “fall at the first hurdle” if this part of HS2 did not go ahead in full, and with new rail infrastructure, Gove obfuscated.

“I will not pre-empt anything the Chancellor may say later this week,” he said. The problem is that Rishi Sunak had nothing to add in the Budget on this – or Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Ominous and who does make the final decision – the PM, Chancellor, Levelling Up Secretary, or Transport Secretary (Grant Shapps) who has gone to ground?

IT is said that Rishi Sunak’s Budget conformed to the ABC of economics – Austerity, Brexit and Covid. What’s D? Decarbonisation and green taxes followed, I presume, by the energy crisis and fuel prices. Can anyone take this further during COP26?

GOOD to see Olympic swimming champion Adam Peaty defend swimming pools following plans to close a leisure centre in Derby – the city where he began his career. “Swimming facilities need to remain open if we are to produce more Olympic swimmers in the next generations,” he said. A bit more enthusiasm – like that he is apparently demonstrating on Strictly Come Dancing – would have been welcome.

A LOVELY anecdote in jockey Frankie Dettori’s new memoir Leap of Faith about his formative months in England, bullying by stable lads and how two tormentors – Colin Rate and Andy Keates – became firm friends.

He confides in them: “My English is getting better and I can understand Andy perfectly well, but with Colin I still can’t make out a single word. ‘Ah’, says Andy. ‘There’s a reason for that’. ‘What’s that?’ ‘He’s from Sunderland’.”

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