Environment Bill — After Clause 78 — Storm Overflows — Sewage — 8 Nov 2021 at 20:07
The majority of MPs voted to use Government proposed text, rather than text proposed by the House of Lords, to require those responsible for sewers to reduce the impact of their discharges via storm overflows; the two texts appear functionally similar.
The motion supported by a majority of MPs in this vote was:
- That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 45B and proposes amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.
The background to the motion is complex. Lords amendment 45B was an amendment to Commons Amendment 45A, which itself was an amendment to Lords Amendment 45.
At issue here was the precise wording of a provision to require those responsible for sewers to reduce the impact of their discharges via storm overflows.
Lords amendment 45B, which applied to Commons amendment 45A, stated:
- At end insert “and insert—
- :“141A Duty on sewerage undertakers to take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows into inland and coastal waters
- (1) A sewerage undertaker must, as soon as reasonable, take such steps as are necessary to—
- (a) demonstrate improvement in the performance of sewerage systems, and
- (b) secure progressive reductions in the harm caused by untreated sewage discharges into inland and coastal waters.
- (2) The Secretary of State, the Director and the Environment Agency must exercise their respective functions under this and any other Act to secure compliance with this duty.”
- Leave out lines 7 to 14
The relevant lines in Lords Amendment 45 contained slightly different text for the proposed new clause 141A:
- :141A Duty on sewerage undertakers to take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows
- (1) A sewerage undertaker must demonstrate improvements in the sewerage systems and progressive reductions in the harm caused by untreated sewage discharges.
- (2) The Secretary of State, the Director and the Environment Agency must exercise their respective functions under this and any other Act to secure compliance with this duty.
The changes appear nuanced, with the latter text in amendment 45B including requirements to act "as soon as reasonable", and to "secure" rather than "demonstrate" reductions in harm caused by the discharge of untreated sewage.
Commons amendment (a), which was supported by a majority of MPs in this vote, provided alternative text for a provision on this subject, stating:
- page 73, line 29, insert the following new Clause—
- “Reduction of adverse impact of storm overflows
- In Chapter 4 of Part 4 of the Water Industry Act 1991, after section 141EB insert—
- “141EC Reduction of adverse impact of storm overflows
- (1) A sewerage undertaker whose area is wholly or mainly in England must secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impact of discharges from the undertaker’s storm overflows.
- (2) The reference in subsection (1) to reducing adverse impacts includes—
- (a) reducing adverse impacts on the environment, and
- (b) reducing adverse impacts on public health.
- (3) The duty of a sewerage undertaker under this section is enforceable under section 18 by—
- (a) the Secretary of State, or
- (b) the Authority with the consent of or in accordance with a general authorisation given by the Secretary of State.””
The wording in this amendment does not explicitly refer to untreated sewage, nor does it apply to any discharges of untreated sewerage occurring other than a via storm overflow, however it appears to be seeking to achieve the same aims as the Lords' versions of the clause.
Commons amendment (b), which was supported by a majority of MPs in this vote, stated:
- page 125, line 41, at end insert—
- “( ) section (reduction of adverse impacts of storm overflows) (reduction of adverse impacts of storm overflows);”
This added the new clause to the list of clauses to be commenced (brought into force) on a day to be set out in regulations.
This vote was in essence on a choice between the text for the new clause in Commons amendment (a) and the latest text proposed by the House of Lords (in amendment 45B).
The Commons amendment appears to be the result of the Government accepting the principle of House of Lords amendment and putting it into its own words to enact it. The Government is likely to take the view their version is preferable and easier to operate, enforce and interpret.
Technically the commencement element was, given provisions elsewhere in the Bill, required to bring the clause into force, however once the principle had been settled one would expect such consequential issues to be dealt with.
There was some disagreement on which wording was more effective.
Conservative MP Simon Jupp wrote:
- One of the issues with the Lords’ amendment is that it did not include a workable enforcement mechanism. It would not have allowed Ofwat to financially fine, direct or otherwise force companies to comply with this duty. The government amendment that I supported does do this.
Campaign group Surfers Against Sewage stated:
- We’re hugely disappointed that the government has decided not to back the tougher Duke of Wellington amendment, which would have given them greater powers in tackling the sewage pollution emergency in our rivers and ocean
The organisations on which duties were to be imposed by all versions of proposed new clause, in all versions, were sewer operators wholly or mainly in England.
-  Parliament's webpage on the Environment Bill, Parliament.uk
-  Explanatory notes to the Environment Bill, 30 January 2020, Parliament.uk
-  The Environment Bill as introduced to the House of Lords on 26 May 2021, Parliament.uk
-  Amendments to the Environment Bill, 8 November 2021, Parliament.uk
-  Amendment paper for consideration of the Environment Bill, 25 October 2021, Parliament.uk
-  Lords amendments to the Environment Bill, 14 October 2021, Parliament.uk
-  Amendment paper for consideration of the Environment Bill, 8 November 2021, Parliament.uk
-  Explanatory notes to the Lords amendments to the Environment Bill, 14 October 2021, Parliament.uk
-  The Duke of Wellington, Parliament.uk
-  MPs pass compromise to cut sewage dumping by water companies, The Guardian, 8 November 2021, TheGuardian.com
-  Environment Bill vote on Monday 8th November, Simon Jupp MP (Conservative, East Devon), SimonJupp.org.uk
-  Surfers Against Sewage statement following the vote, Twitter.com
Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.
What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.
What are Boths? An MP can vote both aye and no in the same division. The boths page explains this.
What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.
|Party||Majority (Aye)||Minority (No)||Both||Turnout|
|Con||279 (+2 tell)||1||0||78.1%|
|Lab||0||143 (+2 tell)||0||72.9%|
|Philip Davies||Shipley||Con (front bench)||no|