Tom Harwood: Did MPs really vote to allow water companies to dump raw sewage into rivers?

Or are things perhaps just a little more complicated?

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A vote last week in Parliament has initiated a social media storm that has only built over the weekend, with many MPs now reporting abusive communications from an irate public.

Yes, social media has been awash in recent days of confused members of the public hurling abuse at politicians accusing them of deliberately polluting our waterways with raw sewage.

Articles began to spring up, inciting more rage.

The left wing activist website Evolve Politics, ran a story which was reportedly shared incredibly widely. Its headline read "Here’s a list of every MP who just voted to ALLOW water companies to continue dumping RAW SEWAGE in our rivers."

Did they really? Or are things perhaps just a little more complicated? What is this all about?

Well the Environment Bill is making its way through Parliament. Not that you’d know from all the headlines around it but this is actually a bill that itself is designed to get tougher on water and waste management.

The Chair of the Environment Audit committee Philip Dunne - himself a Tory MP - wrote an amendment to reduce storm overflow discharges, crucially with a fully costed plan to do so.

So far so simple.

Well when the Bill reached the Lords a further amendment was attached with an uncosted proposal to ban all storm overflows.

The amendment was tabled by the 9th Duke of Wellington no less. A hereditary peer, whose great6 grandfather defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.

Now I’m sorry Your Grace, but having a familial connection to Waterloo doesn’t make you as much of a plumbing expert as you think you are, despite that battle's name.

Indeed this amendment could have both accidentally cost hundreds of billions of pounds, and divert sewage into our streets instead of away down waterways at times of high pressure on the system.

Gloucester MP Richard Graham sits on the Bill Committee for this legislation. He said it would lead to a stratospheric amount of spending on new sewage systems. He went on to warn that it may “Cause discharges into the streets during extreme rain, when currently discharge is allowed to prevent flooding”.

Yes, this clearly well intentioned yet poorly drafted Amendment far from being an easy fix to prevent relatively rare events of overflow discharge into waterways - could have instead ended up flooding our streets and houses with that raw sewage instead.

Some estimates suggest that digging up the entirety of the UK’s Victorian sewage infrastructure could cost taxpayers more than was spent on the entire pandemic.

So this amendment would have committed the Government to splurge an uncosted, functionally unlimited amount of taxpayer cash- cash that is likely to run into the hundreds of billions of pounds - to attempt to fix a problem all in one go. Which, in the meantime, may mean more sewage discharged into streets rather than waterways at times of flooding.

It all doesn’t sound so simple now does it.

The irony is that if Ministers weren’t bringing forward an environment bill that is trying to deal with some of these issues in a methodical and costed way, that amendment wouldn’t have been tabled, these headlines would not have happened, and MPs would have an easier life.

The concerning conclusion here may be that MPs get an easier time by simply ignoring issues rather than attempting to find costed solutions.

And that should worry us all.