MPs across Kent voted against proposals which would have cracked down on water companies pumping raw sewage into the UK’s seas and rivers.
A proposal from Lord Charles Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, would have seen legal restrictions placed on water companies pumping untreated sewage into British water.
His amendment was however voted down after the government instructed MPs to vote against the proposals.
There has been significant public backlash to the vote, especially across the south coast which bears much of the brunt of dumped waste water.
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Southern Water has come under fire in the south east after repeated dumps of waste water into the sea near towns in Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire.
The Environment Bill, which the government says “will clean up the country’s air, restore natural habitats and increase biodiversity”, has been in the works for a while.
The Duke of Wellington tabled an amendment to the bill – Amendment 45 (45A) – which would have put stricter legal restrictions on water companies pumping raw sewage into seas and rivers.
This particular vote was held in order to decide whether or not to remove Amendment 45 (45A) (‘No’ votes are in favour of the Duke of Wellington’s proposals, and ‘Aye’ votes are against his proposals.)
265 Conservative MPs voted ‘Aye’, while 202 MPs (160 Labour, 22 Conservative, and 20 others) voted ‘No’, meaning the Duke of Wellington’s proposals will not be added to the Environment Bill.
The Environment Bill will return to the House of Commons later this week after it has been once again been reviewed by the House of Lords.
The government say the bill will “secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows”, and that this bill will introduce more protections “than ever before”.
The bill as it is (without the Duke of Wellington’s amendment) will allow the government to direct water companies if they are failing in their sewerage duties, and will require water companies to set out a 25-year plan for how they will manage and develop their drainage systems.
Of the 22 Conservative MPs to rebel against the government in the latest vote, three of them represent constituencies on the Kent coast.
We asked MPs across the Kent coast why they voted the way they did.
Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) – voted with government
Helen Whately joined the vast majority of Tory MPs in siding with the government to vote down the amendment.
The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury said she supported the “sentiment” of the amendment, but said it had “no plan”.
She also referred to the estimated “£660 billion” cost to the public in her objections to the amendment – this estimated figure has however ranged between £150 billion and £660 billion.
Ms Whately did however say she plans to meet with the CEO of Faversham Water Treatment Works to ask what they will be doing.
Ms Whately said: “The amount of sewage released into our rivers and seas is completely unacceptable.
“I have been campaigning on this for years. I welcome Southern Water’s commitment to £2 million of improvements to Faversham Water Treatment Works and I’m meeting shortly with the CEO to ask what they will be doing, when, to solve the problems.
“Water companies need to be held to account, and it’s absolutely right that the Government’s Environment Bill includes steps to tackle the problem. That’s why I voted last week in support of those measures
“While I completely support the sentiment behind the Lords Amendment voted on last week, the amendment came with no plan and no proper assessment of the cost to the public. The estimated cost is up to £660bn – more than the amount we’ve spent in our entire fight against coronavirus.”
Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet) – voted against
Mr Mackinlay was one of just 22 Conservatives to break the party line and vote against the government.
The South Thanet MP, who served as acting leader of UKIP in 1997, says he is “extremely concerned” about sewage dumps on the beaches of Kent.
In particular he called for water companies to take the problem “more seriously”, and said that we “cannot continue like this.”
Mr Mackinlay told KentLive: “I have long been extremely concerned by the problem of sewage polluting our beaches; not least by the latest failure of the pumps at Southern Water’s Broadstairs Wastewater Pumping Station on the morning of 5th October causing the closure of all Thanet beaches once more.
“Such instances occur with alarming regularity and are causing anger and resentment among our residents.
“Despite the £90m fine levied against Southern Water in July and subsequent new ownership, I need to be completely reassured as to their commitment to prevent such discharges.
“We need to ensure that water companies take more seriously the need to reduce raw sewage discharges into rivers and coastal areas. That is why I voted for the Duke of Wellington’s well-intentioned amendment.
“Ministers sought to reassure me both before and after the vote that this amendment is already delivered through the many measures within the Environment Bill and more broadly. I very much hope the Government keeps its promise to us here in Thanet and will be urging them in no uncertain terms to do so. We cannot continue like this.”
Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) – voted against
Gordon Henderson also voted against the government for the amendment to Amendment 45 (45A), despite having earlier voted along party lines on the original amendment.
The Gillingham-born MP did not give his reasons for this vote, but was one of just three MPs on the Kent coast to rebel against Environment Minister George Eustice.
Roger Gale (North Thanet) – no vote
Sir Roger Gale explained that he did not take part in the vote because he chaired the bill at the committee stage back in March 2020.
He did not indicate which way he would have voted had he taken part.
Conservative MPs Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe), Natalie Elphicke (Dover), Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham), Gareth Johnson (Dartford), and Adam Holloway (Gravesham) all sided with the government to vote down the amendment. All were approached for comment but had not yet responded.
Conservative MP Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester and Strood) and Labour MP Rosie Duffield (Canterbury) both voted in favour of the amendment.