Aylesbury MP defends his vote in 'raw sewage' controversy

Anger as Rob Butler MP votes down amendment to the Environment Bill to reduce discharges of untreated sewage into waterways, saying it was 'terminally flawed'

Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 5:24 pm

Aylesbury's MP has joined other Buckinghamshire MPs in hitting back at claims they have green-lit water companies dumping raw sewage in rivers.

MP for Aylesbury Rob Butler, Buckingham MP Greg Smith, Beaconsfield MP Joy Morrissey and Wycombe MP Steve Baker (all Conservative) have been 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.

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

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MP for Aylesbury Rob Butler

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

Since then, there has been considerable anger online.

Posting on his Facebook page, MP for Aylesbury Rob Butler said: "A number of constituents have written to me following last week’s votes in the House of Commons to reject amendments to the Environment Bill that had been made in the House of Lords.

"Unfortunately, the content of much of what has been written is fundamentally flawed; some of the comments are disingenuous and deliberately misleading, attempting to oversimplify a complex issue.

"I also have to say that I have been shocked by the tone of many of the emails given recent events. To suggest, as some have done, that as an MP I voted in order to get a 'backhander' is both ridiculous and offensive, as well as being utterly untrue.

"I share the view of everyone who has written to me that the amount of sewage discharged by water companies into our rivers is unacceptable. It is disgusting, bad for the environment and should end. That’s why I am so pleased that ministers have made it crystal clear that sewage discharges from storm overflows must be reduced as a priority.

"The Environment Bill now going through Parliament will deliver progressive reductions in the harm caused by storm overflows. What’s more, following pressure from MPs, the Government has now agreed to make this a legal requirement on water companies – in other words, the law will be that water companies must do it.

"Other direct action being taken through the bill requires water companies to monitor and publish the impact on water quality of their sewage discharges. Water companies will also have to publish details within an hour when their storm overflows operate.

"I recognise that many people wanted to see even more, and the amendment that has prompted most concern is section 141A, tabled by the Duke of Wellington in the House of Lords.

"His idea is absolutely good sense and I support it in principle. But the problem was that his proposed amendment came with no workable plan to deliver the reductions in discharges, nor an impact assessment of how much it would cost. In fact, the amendment could have actually diverted sewage to roads in towns during severe rain storms: I do not believe this is what people in Aylesbury would want.

"Some say a plan isn’t needed yet and that it can be drawn up afterwards. That might be fine if it were something small and simple. But to eliminate storm overflows, we would have to transform a system which has operated since Victorian times. It could involve the complete separation of sewerage systems, leading to severe disruption for homes, businesses and infrastructure.

"It’s thought this could cost anything between £150 billion and £650 billion. To take even the lowest of those figures, £150 billion, as an example: that’s more than the entire schools, policing and defence budgets put together. Looked at another way, it’s more than £5,000 per household in the UK – for the lowest estimate. And let us be clear – this is not money the water companies have sitting in the bank – the cost would inevitably have to be passed onto us, the consumer.

"The Government view, which I supported, is that to make a law with such a massive blank cheque attached would have been irresponsible.

"What has now happened is that the Government has come up with a specific enforcement mechanism, and a more precise legal duty on water companies, that will mean better water quality, substantial investment by water companies, but also controlled costs for the consumer.

"I am determined to work for a better environment, in ways that are realistic, practical and affordable for this and future generations."