Greg Smith defends vote against environment bill amendment

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Buckingham’s MP has joined other Buckinghamshire MPs in hitting back at claims they have green-lit water companies dumping raw sewage in rivers, according to the Buckingham Advertiser.

MP for Buckingham Greg Smith joined fellow Conservative MP for Beaconsfield Joy Morrissey in explaining why they voted down an amendment to the Environment Bill that would have pressured firms and the government to reduce discharges of untreated sewage into waterways.

Wycombe MP Steve Baker and Aylesbury MP Rob Butler (also both Conservative) voted in the same way.

A proposal from the House of Lords for tougher measures was defeated by 265 MPs (to 202) last week.

Twenty-two Tory MPs rebelled.

MPs said safeguards are already in place and fresh measures would cost billions of pounds.

Since then, there has been considerable anger online.

Buckingham MP Greg Smith said he does not want to see sewage discharged into UK rivers, adding the Lords’ ‘well-intentioned but terminally flawed’ amendment would have cost the taxpayer dearly.

He also said were such discharges suddenly turned off, there is “nowhere else for the excess to go” but back into residents’ homes or streets.

He added: “There has been considerable anger on social media about a vote in the House of Commons last week.

“Without the context or detail, I can understand why.

“No one wants to see sewage discharged into our rivers and waterways, including me.

“I was an early backer of my colleague Philip Dunne’s bill to tackle this very problem, much of which has now been incorporated into the Environment Bill passing through Parliament right now.

“The government is taking river and waterway pollution very seriously.

“The Lords’ amendment, however, whilst well-intentioned, was terminally flawed by the fact it was not costed.

“In fact, the cost of such fundamental changes to our Victorian sewerage system to stop such discharges is somewhere between £150 and £650 billion. And there is only two places that money could come from: taxpayers or additions to water bills.

“With roughly 23 million households in England, the simple maths behind what this sort of expenditure would do to water bills is eye-watering. It’s my firm view that no matter how worthy the cause, you just can’t legislate blank cheques.

“There is also the uncomfortable truth that if such discharges, which have been happening for decades, are immediately turned off — there is nowhere else for the excess to go other than back up toilets into people’s homes or into the streets. This is a very technical and complex engineering problem given the infrastructure we start with.

“The provisions in the Environment Bill, which I have actively supported through its passage so far, include provisions for a realistic plan to be formed by 2022 – that is the sensible way forward and I hope goes to show there is always more to things like this than an attention-grabbing Tweet or headline.”

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