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By Earl Russell
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Tory MPs Defend Controversial Sewage Vote As A "Storm In A Teacup"

4 min read

Conservative MPs have defended their decision to vote against an amendment to the Environment Bill that would have seen raw sewage banned from being dumped in British rivers and oceans.

The amendment, which was introduced last week by the Duke of Wellington, received the backing of opposition parties but was blocked by Conservative MPs under the recommendation of Environment Secretary George Eustice, with the exception of 22 rebels.

Backlash to blocking the ban has led Conservative MPs, particularly those representing coastal constituencies, to receive an influx of emails from angered constituents.

But defiant Conservative MPs have told PoliticsHome the whole issue is a “storm in teacup”, because the amendment, they argue, was good in principle but poorly written, which they say prevented them from voting in its favor.  

“We need a realistic and achievable plan to clean up our rivers, and one which is practical to implement and can be enforced,” MP for Keighley, and Environment Bill Committee member, Robbie Moore told PoliticsHome.

“The opposition amendment to the bill, which would have forced water companies to pay to upgrade storm systems which have operated since the Victorian era, would have led to massively increased water bills for us all. That's not right, and that's why I supported the government's plans instead.

“You can’t govern by headlines. The Environment Bill will put significant pressure on water companies to stop sewage discharge into our river systems altogether.”

Last summer MPs in East London blamed Victorian-era drainage systems as a leading cause of devastating floods in large swathes of the city. 

“Sadly, this amendment was little more than a form of warm and comforting words,” Simon Jupp, the MP for Devon East, wrote in a statement on his website.

“It came before Parliament with no detailed plans, impact assessments or costs. Costs that could potentially be passed onto customers who are already living on a tight budget.

“When addressing an issue which involves infrastructure stretching thousands of miles across the country, connecting every home to a water supply; you need more than an aim, you obviously need a solid plan.”

Richard Graham, the MP for Gloucester, justified voting down the amendment by claiming it would “cause discharges into the streets during extreme rain, when currently discharge is allowed to prevent flooding”.

Today health minister Maria Caufield went so far as to describe backlash around the subject as “toxic”.

“This is the truth about how we voted on the environment bill,” the minister tweeted.

“None of us voted to discharge sewage into the sea and those of who have spread lies and misinformation should hang their heads in shame.

“Don’t ask why MPs get death threats if you have been part of this today #toxic.”

But Labour has said blocking the amendment is anti-environmental, at a time when the UK should be leading on green issues as the host of COP26.

“It was painful watching Conservative members tie themselves in knots trying to give reasons not to support the amendment on sewage in rivers,” Labour MP for Putney, Fleur Anderson told PoliticsHome.

“As a river MP myself, I know that this will be hard to explain to constituents across the country who live next to rivers filled with sewage.

"In the same week as the Government voted this amendment down, it was revealed that Thames Water pumped yet more untreated sewage into the Thames.

“Without tougher legislation, I have no faith that the new Office of Environmental Protection will be any more able to stop this than the Environment Agency does now.”

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