Last week, the House of Commons voted on a number of amendments proposed by the House of Lords to the Environment Bill. Constituents have raised a number of different areas of this Bill with me over the almost 2 years it has been making its way through the Commons. The biggest area of contention last week was Lords Amendment 45, and I’d like to take the opportunity to explain why I voted the way I did.
Firstly, let’s be clear, the Bill doesn’t allow raw sewage to be dumped, it recognises that raw sewage is already being dumped and sets out a range of measures to try and tackle it. Fundamentally, neither the Government amendment nor the Lord’s amendment actually would address the key part of this problem; developers continuing to add houses to the system without any discussion, consent or contribution to the cost of maintaining the sewage system. On that basis, I believe the following should happen:
- Developers should have to ensure the additional discharges from new homes are not only clean but won’t put additional pressure on the sewerage system - it’s the extra water into the system which causes the overflow.
- They should pay a sum to the water company to update the sewerage infrastructure and should put an additional sum into a pot for clean up to be used if overflows happen.
- Water companies should be required to put in place a plan to deliver zero sewerage overflow by 2025, whilst meanwhile being fined for every overflow meanwhile. They’ve become too complacent and this needs to change.
- The water companies should not be allowed to increase consumer bills to cover fines or remedial works.
The issue with the Lord’s amendment is that it didn’t outline how to actually achieve these measures or make an assessment of the impact that implementing these new measures would have. The bottom line is that introducing the new measures is going to cost a lot of money (the estimated cost to making these changes ranges from £150bn to £650bn) and water companies will almost certainly pass that cost straight onto consumers through water bills, if not legally restricted from doing so. On that basis, I was deeply uneasy voting for an amendment that would deliver higher water bills for constituents, especially given that here in the South West we already have highest water bills in the UK.
Part of my reasoning for supporting the Government on this occasion, alongside the water bill cost concerns, was to allow the Government the opportunity to set out what their alternative solution to the Lord’s amendment was and why their proposals are the most sensible step forward. There are a number of areas that I am seeking clarification from the Government on:
- What steps the Government is taking to meet its 1 September 2022 reporting target and the repercussions for not meeting this target;
- What steps the Government is taking to regulate the developers when it comes to increasing pressure on the system;
- What sanction and enforcement processes they will be putting in place to ensure compliance from water companies;
- What measures they plan to put in place to ensure the infrastructure costs are not passed onto bill payers.
Depending on the response to the above areas from the Government, I will make a decision on how to vote on the Lord’s amendment when it almost certainly returns to the House of Commons via the ‘ping-pong’ procedure. It's about getting the legislation right. This is one of the reasons why I continue to support Philip Dunne MP’s Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, a Private Members’ Bill, that places a duty on water companies to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into rivers and other inland waters.
I hope this helps to set out why I voted the way I did last week. As is often the case with legislation, it is important to look past the headlines and navigate the actual process. If you have any further questions about this then please do email me (email@example.com )