The Environment Secretary should ban water companies from discharging sewage on popular beaches over the Bank Holiday weekend, the Lib Dems have said.
It comes as a freedom of information request by the party showed that the Environment Agency, responsible for monitoring water quality, has no record of sewage discharges during July and August.
However, the Conservatives claimed the Lib Dems’ proposals would “mean people spending their bank holiday with sewage backing up through their toilets”.
In light of the upcoming last public holiday in England until Christmas, Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Tim Farron said: “The British public should be given a weekend off from swimming in polluted waters.
“Yet again the Environment Secretary Therese Coffey is missing in action whilst families are at risk of becoming sick from sewage. The Government should haul in these profiteering firms and demand they clean up their act this weekend.
“If that means the companies complete emergency infrastructure work over the next 48 hours, then so be it. Let’s not forget, water firms have been stuffing their pockets whilst leaving pipes leaking.
“Why on earth is the Government not speaking up on these disgusting acts of environmental vandalism? Water firms are committing a national scandal whilst ministers look the other way. Frankly, the whole thing stinks.”
A Conservative source warned the Lib Dems’ proposals would be unworkable.
They said: “We’re used to the Lib Dems making up ridiculous policy but this is the most dangerous one yet.
“It would mean people spending their bank holiday with sewage backing up through their toilets.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs added: “This is a reckless suggestion that risks the safety of homes and businesses.
“Storm overflows cannot just be ‘switched off’. They are an automatic feature designed to stop sewage backing up into properties.
“They should only be used under strict permit conditions – and we are clear that the volume of sewage being discharged into our waters is utterly unacceptable. That is why our Plan for Water sets out more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement to increase capacity in the network and tackle every source of pollution.
“Last year, 93% of bathing waters met the highest standards of ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, up from just 76% in 2010.”