I am aware of a number of social media posts that misleadingly state that I, and other Conservative MPs, voted to allow water companies to release more sewage into our waterways. This is false and I have never voted for amendments that would allow water companies to illegally discharge untreated waste water, damaging the environment and endangering public health.
In October 2021, an amendment to the Environment Bill calling for the complete overhaul of the sewage system was put forward by a member of the House of Lords. Although I support the general principle behind the amendment, there were unanswered questions about the implementation and cost. If voted through, the Duke of Wellington’s amendment would have required more than £150 billion to completely eliminate storm overflow discharges. The amendment did not include a plan for how this overhaul would be funded or delivered.
In response, the Government tabled its own amendment to the Environment Bill, placing a new duty on water companies to progressively reduce the adverse impacts of storm overflow discharges. This duty delivers the same outcome of reducing sewage discharges as the Duke of Wellington’s amendment. I voted for this amendment and through measures set out in the Environment Act, water companies will have to produce plans setting out how they will manage and develop their drainage and sewerage system and the Government will have the power to direct water companies in relation to the actions set out in their plans. Water companies will also have to publish near real time data on the operation of storm overflows and to monitor the water quality upstream and downstream of storm overflows and sewage disposal works. The Environment Act will have swift impact in tackling the unacceptable levels of sewage released into waterways and protecting our water quality.
Let me be clear that the quantity and frequency with which Southern Water is discharging untreated waste water (storm overflow discharges) from their sewage treatment plants is unacceptable and I have continuously raised issues about sewage discharges and flooding with Southern Water and the Environment Agency.