Rt Hon Sir Ed Davey MPLeader of the Liberal Democrats
Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Ed Davey writes exclusively for Chamber on sustainability and environment
After a ground-breaking set of elections for the Liberal Democrats, there’s no denying that people were not just voting against the constant scandals of the Conservative Party, they were also voting out of concern for the planet. The public may have had no confidence in Rishi Sunak and his Government’s never-ending chaos, but evidently, people also want a better world for their children.
Elections across the country hinged both on people’s concern for their local environment – as sewage continues to pour into our rivers – and the carbon impact of their council – as the 1.5 degree warming looms ever closer. I am incredibly proud of the Liberal Democrat record on both these issues, with the Lib Dem-run Stockport Council becoming the first council to launch a sewage inquiry, and the top six councils for recycling also being Lib Dem-run.
While our Party works tirelessly on climate and biodiversity, Conservative Ministers seem to have forgotten the commitments they made to our planet, especially their headline announcements at COP26.
Now, we have a Prime Minister who travels across the country in helicopters and private jets, completely ignores the problems plaguing our public transport and refuses to invest the money needed in renewable energy, even as oil and gas profits go through the roof.
This is a government that even has to be dragged to court over their plans to pump millions of tonnes of oil in the Surrey countryside, and one that approved a new coal mine in Cumbria just last year. Indeed, my Liberal Democrat colleagues in the House of Lords recently had to force the Government to give even a passing glance to protecting the planet as they passed an amendment to the Energy Bill that would ban all new coal mines in the UK.
Evidently, this is an out-of-touch government on its last legs, desperately trying to distract the public with a manufactured culture war, rather than tackling the problems that will affect this country for decades to come.
Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, have a range of policies to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises that are currently being ignored.
In government, we would cut greenhouse gas emissions to Net Zero by 2045, while investing enough to ensure that 80 per cent of the UK’s electricity is generated from renewables by 2030. This country needs real action, not the same old lip service we have seen from this Government for the last eight years.
That’s why the Liberal Democrats would ensure that the UK’s Net Zero commitments are at the forefront of any international trade agreement, alongside planting 60 million trees a year and working to restore our woodlands.
We would begin an emergency retrofitting programme, which would provide free retrofits for low-income homes and generous tax incentives for other households to reduce energy consumption, emissions, fuel bills, and reliance on gas, and help to end fuel poverty.
In power, we would not only set meaningful and binding targets to stop the decline of our natural environment and double nature by 2050, but we would also give the Office for Environmental Protection real teeth. Our independent bodies need the powers and the resources to stop the egregious destruction of British wildlife that the Conservatives have allowed to continue for years.
This includes the way that Conservatives have allowed water companies to get away with enormous amounts of sewage dumping. Over the last three years, water companies have dumped sewage into England’s rivers, lakes, and coastlines over one million times, lasting seven and a half million hours. Meanwhile, in the last two years, water company executives have paid themselves £51 million, including £30 million in bonuses, benefits, and incentives.
“Water executives should be banned from paying themselves bonuses until sewage dumping stops.”– Sir Ed Davey, Leader of the Liberal Democrats
The Conservative Government simply cannot be trusted to tackle the issue, they’ve repeatedly voted against stronger action to tackle sewage dumping, while announcing piecemeal measures such as a wet wipes ban that was first announced five years ago. The Secretary of State for Environment simply fails to take the issue seriously, calling claims by campaigners, “misinformation”, and saying that the UK’s bathing water is cleaner than ever, clearly misses the point.
Liberal Democrats are calling for real action to end sewage dumping. Water executives should be banned from paying themselves bonuses until sewage dumping stops, England’s water companies should be transformed into public benefit companies that place the environment at the heart of what they do, Ofwat should be abolished and replaced with a new regulator with teeth, and a sewage tax on water companies should be introduced to fund the clean-up of the most polluted lakes, rivers, and coastlines.
These recent elections have proven beyond a doubt that people are voting to protect the planet and their precious local environment. For the sake of our planet, our rivers, lakes, and coastlines, for our green and pleasant land, the Conservatives cannot continue to sit on their hands. If they do, they will, once again, be punished at the ballot box.