Following a vote last Wednesday (October 20th) on Lords’ Amendment 45 to the Environment Bill, Rachel said:

“Given talk recently of doing politics better, it’s very disappointing, to say the least, to see misinformation being spread about Lords’ Amendment 45 to the Environment Bill.

“I know there’s a misleading graphic doing the rounds on social media which is claiming I voted to dump sewage into open water. This is an outright lie. I did not vote to dump sewage – nor would I ever do so.

“This graphic, which clearly seeks deliberately spread misinformation and lies, led to me receiving abuse over the weekend. This behaviour is completely unacceptable, and it must stop.

“I have been and always will be a passionate advocate for protecting our environment for future generations, and I’m proud to have voted for the world-leading Environment Bill which goes far beyond what most countries are doing.

“Turning to the Lords’ amendment in question which sought to place a new duty on sewerage undertakers in England and Wales to demonstrate progressive reductions in the harm caused by discharges of untreated sewage.

“This all sounds admirable, and indeed is something I support in principle. But the trouble is that the amendment came with no plan as to how this can be delivered and no impact assessment whatsoever.

“Some might argue that a plan is not essential, that one can be formulated afterwards. I would be sympathetic to this point of view if we were talking about a simple, inexpensive endeavour. But in eliminating storm overflows, we are talking about transforming a system which has operated since the Victorian era.

“The practical problem is that across the UK there is just one system of pipes that takes both rainwater and sewerage from homes, rather than separate systems for rainwater and for sewerage. When there are storms, so much rainwater enters the sewerage system that it cannot be contained and needs to flow somewhere. If we didn’t have storm overflows into the rivers, then there would be flooding with raw sewerage, which can be extremely harrowing for households. Preventing the discharge of untreated sewerage during storms is a major change to infrastructure in almost every town and village in the country. Some mitigations such as storm tanks can reduce discharges but don’t usually eliminate them.

“The preliminary cost of this national infrastructure change is estimated to be anywhere between £150 billion and £650 billion. To put those figures in perspective, £150 billion is more than the entire schools, policing and defence budgets put together, and £650 billion is nearly twice what has been spent combatting the Coronavirus pandemic. It would bankrupt most water companies unless consumers or taxpayers contribute. The cost works out at between about £5,000 and £20,000 per household.

“The Government’s view was that it would have been irresponsible to have inserted this section in the Bill given that it was not backed by a detailed plan and thorough impact assessment. It would have been the equivalent of signing a blank check on behalf of billpayers.

“Stopping sewerage discharge into rivers is so complex that in previous decades no government has tackled it. But now we are. I was pleased to support the other amendments to the Environment Bill relating to storm overflows.

“One of these amendments places a legal duty on the Government to publish a plan by 1 September next year to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows. A separate amendment will also place a duty on the Government to publish a report on the ‘mechanics’ of eliminating overflows entirely.

“This is absolutely essential, as it will provide Parliament and the public with up-front, clear and comprehensive information on the cost and impact of eliminating storm overflows. Between the Government plan on storm overflows and the new elimination report, we will fully understand precisely how we can best tackle storm overflows.

“I hope this information is helpful and reassures you that any suggestion that MPs are not taking firm action on storm overflows is false. After decades of avoiding this difficult problem, we are finally tackling it.”