THE MP for Ynys Môn has said that ‘no Conservative MP voted to pump sewage into our rivers’ after an amendment to the Environment Bill which would have placed a legal duty on water companies not to discharge waste into waterways in England was voted down.
Virginia Crosbie MP, along with every Conservative MP in North Wales aside from Wrexham MP Sarah Atherton who did not register a vote, opted to vote against the Amendment 45 last week, which was voted down by 268 MPs to 204.
On Tuesday, though, the government announced a partial U-turn, with new rules including a duty on water companies to reduce the impact of sewage discharges from storm overflows.
The organisations will be required by law to show a reduction in sewage overspills during the next five years.
The Westminster Government has no say on these matters in Wales, where sewage management and discharge is carried out by Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water, which answers to the Welsh Government.
Mrs Crosbie said: “I think everyone needs to understand that no Conservative MP voted to pump sewage into our rivers – that is just a left-wing myth.
“The amendment was brought from the Lords as part of the Environment Bill’s progress through parliament – it’s not law yet – nothing is set in stone. As bills progress, amendments are incorporated or rejected and wordings change – that’s how the process works.
“The Government, of which I am part, took the view that imposing a legal obligation on water companies that was uncosted would be unwise.
“Various calculations on how much it would cost to revamp the entire sewage network to avoid storm overflow is estimated at the lower end at £150 billion, so ministers’ hesitation was well founded.
“No government in its right mind would wave such an amendment through that could lead to water companies going bankrupt and either the tax payer or water bill payers forking out thousands each to sort out the sewage system.
“If that happened, no improvement is going to be made to the sewage system.
“Instead, the Government has taken a proportionate view. It will now bring into the bill ‘a duty enshrined in law to ensure water companies secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows’.
“This is robust action that will allow water companies time to sort this problem out but with a legal obligation.
“No-one wants a drop of sewage in our rivers and seas and water companies have much to do. But we have to be practical and work with the industry and regulators to achieve it.”
Liz Saville Roberts, the Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, voted in favour of the amendment.
She said: “Wales is home to 45 Blue Flag status beaches like Nefyn and Morfa Bychan, and a whole range of unique biodiversity along our rivers and waterways.
“Plaid Cymru have long called for serious action to protect habitats, clean air and clean water. We fully support the introduction of legally binding nature recovery targets too.
“The WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) states that there are 17,684 licensed sewer overflows across Wales and England which discharge untreated sewage directly into the environment.
“Of these, 89 per cent discharge into rivers.
“The Tories have yet again proven that Wales can not trust Westminster to protect our natural resources.”
In July, the Government set out for the first time its expectation that The Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat) should incentivise water companies to invest to significantly reduce the use of storm overflows in the forthcoming pricing review period.
The Government has this week announced that it will now place this policy position into the Environment Bill, to underline the action it is taking.
Figures provided by the Environment Agency show that water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers in England more than 400,000 times and for more than three million hours last year.
A pollution alert has also been issued for Traeth Benllech on Anglesey in a Surfers Against Sewage map which tracks combined sewer overflows and pollution risk forecasts, having reportedly been contaminated by human waste due to a sewage discharge.
The legislative process for this bill continues and further consideration of it is due by the Commons on Monday, November 8.