25 October 2021
Discharge of Raw Sewage

Thank you for contacting me about Lords Amendment 45 to the Environment Bill currently working its way through parliament, as you know the amendment sought to tackle the environmental harm caused by storm sewage overflows.

There has been a great deal of rubbish spoken by political opponents that I and fellow Conservative MPs voted ‘allowed’ water companies to dump raw sewage into rivers. This could not be further from the truth and I want to set the record straight.

I, and I am sure every other MP, want to see an end to the discharge of raw sewage into our streams and rivers. I am also acutely aware that arriving at the point is a monumentally large task.

At the current time sewage should only ever be discharged into watercourses when our sewerage system cannot cope. Effectively to completely stop overflow discharges we as a country would need an entire new sewerage network. The most optimistic estimate for implementing the works needed to make such changes are £150 billion, the most conservative £600 billion.

The Duke of Wellington’s amendment to the Environment Bill would have seen an obligation coming into force to prevent discharges as soon as the bill received royal assent. In other words, had it been supported, MPs would have committed to spending a sum potentially greater than the GDP of many countries and in a timescale of just months to allow for the design, planning and build of a new national infrastructure project. There was no way any responsible MP could or should have voted for Lords Amendment 45 in its original state.

I am pleased that in dealing with amendments Minister Pow said “I turn to storm overflows. All the detail that I am about to outline demonstrates an absolute commitment to tackling the environmental harm caused by storm sewage overflows, on which we have taken significant action. Lords amendment 45, the majority of which has been put forward by the Government—I urge hon. Members to look at it—introduces an entire new chapter to the Water Industry Act 1991 on storm overflows to address that. It places a statutory requirement on the Government to produce a plan to reduce discharges from storm overflows and their adverse impacts before 1 September 2022, and commits the Government to taking action and reporting on progress to Parliament. We will also be required to produce a report on the actions that would be needed to eliminate discharges from storm overflows in England, and their costs and benefits, before 1 September 2022.

“The Bill already places a duty on water companies and the Environment Agency to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis, so this is available and accessible to the public. Crucially, the Bill also introduces a statutory requirement on sewerage companies to produce drainage and sewerage management plans, in which they will fully assess their network capacity and adopt a strategic approach to planning. This will deliver a resilient sewerage system addressing current and future risks and issues, such as population growth and climate change over a 25-year period, because we all know that those things are affecting this system.”

As ever our opponents will always make cheap points – and stretch the truth – to gather a social media storm. I just wish they just wouldn’t resort to blatant mistruths quite as much.