For close to two years, the Liberal Democrats have been raising the plight of our precious chalk streams, rivers and beaches which have been deluged by discharges of raw sewage.

This week, both Labour and the Conservatives rowed into the debate. After both tried to use some procedural fancy footwork, the result was a rather confusing outcome that left the public completely bamboozled about what any of it meant.

During the passage of the Environment Bill back in 2021, Lib Dems in Parliament got behind a cross-party amendment that would have place a legal duty on water firms to reduce untreated sewage discharges. The government watered it down. Now the government has the power to act against water companies – but they don’t have a legal duty to do so.

In April 2022, Lib Dems tabled a Bill which would have created mandatory timescales to end sewage discharges into waterways, but the government chose not to support it. And this year, Lib Dems pressured the government to accept our amendment to the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill which means the bank can only fund water companies if they produce a plan for ending sewage spills. Since then we’ve also called for a Sewage Tax and a legal ban on bonuses for water company bosses until they clean up their act.

This week Labour used an Opposition Day debate to raise the issue again. The topics are chosen by parties not in government so normally, the votes aren’t binding.

But this week was different: Labour used a tactic to make the vote binding and it was drafted in a way that the Conservatives would have to vote against it.

But the Conservatives outmanoeuvred Labour by amending it, so it no longer had any effect. The high drama quickly fizzled out.

For all the procedural fancy footwork in Westminster, none of this changes the fact that last year, raw sewage was pumped into rivers and seas for 1.75 million hours, including 14,000 hours into our chalk streams.

This continues to damage our eco-systems, can make open water swimming downright dangerous, and pose a hazard to our pets and wildlife.

For me, it also sums up where our politics is at: the government and big water companies think they can just ‘get away with it’