Last week MPs voted on an amendment relating to storm overflows in the Environment Bill, with it being voted down by 268 votes to 204.

This was an amendment suggested in the House of Lords by the Duke of Wellington when the Bill was scrutinised there.

As reported by Evolve: “Lords Amendment 45 to the Environment Bill would have placed a legal duty on water companies in England and Wales “to make improvements to their sewerage systems and demonstrate progressive reductions in the harm caused by discharges of untreated sewage.”

This then meant that water treatment companies could continue to dump sewage into waterways.

Many people were angered by this decision, with many on Twitter publicly shaming their local MPs for voting to not implement this amendement.

However, is there a bit more to their decision than at first meets the eye?

Why did MPs vote against Amendment 45?

Robert Courts, the Conservative MP for Witney & West Oxfordshire, posted an explainer on his website for why most Tory MPs voted against the amendment.

He did call the Duke of Wellington's proposal "admirable" and it was something he agreed with "in principle".

However, the main reason it was not accepted was because it came with no plan as to how it could be delivered and with no impact assessment.

Courts said: "Some might argue that a plan is not essential, that one can be formulated afterwards. I would be sympathetic to this point of view if we were talking about a simple, inexpensive endeavour.

"But in eliminating storm overflows, we are talking about transforming a system which has operated since the Victorian Era, the preliminary cost of which is estimated to be anywhere between £150 billion and £650 billion.

"To put those figures in perspective, £150 billion is more than the entire schools, policing and defence budgets put together, and £650 billion is well above what has been spent combatting the Coronavirus pandemic.

"The Government’s view was that it would have been irresponsible to have inserted this section in the Bill given that it was not backed by a detailed plan and thorough impact assessment. It would have been the equivalent of signing a blank check on behalf of billpayers."

What action is the Government taking against sewage dumping?

There were a number of proposals that the Government passed in its Environment Bill to help deal with storm overflows and sewage dumping in the short-term.

They are as follows: 

  • A new duty on water companies and the Environment Agency to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis.
  • A new duty on water companies to publish near real time information (within 1 hour) of the commencement of an overflow, its location and when it ceases.
  • A new duty on water companies to continuously monitor the water quality upstream and downstream of a storm overflow and of sewage disposal works.
  • A new duty on water companies to produce comprehensive statutory Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans setting out how the company will manage and develop its networks, and how storm overflows will be addressed through these plans.