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MPs Sir Desmond Swayne and Julian Lewis vote against stopping water companies pumping sewage into rivers

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NEW Forest MPs Sir Desmond Swayne and Julian Lewis came under fire for voting against stopping water companies pumping sewage into rivers – days before a partial government U-turn to phase in tighter controls.

There was outrage when MPs voted 268-204 last week to block proposals tabled in the Lords which sought to place a new duty on water companies to reduce raw sewage discharges into rivers.

Locally, the New Forest Liberal Democrat group slammed the two backbench Tories, with Cllr Malcolm Wade saying it was "extraordinary" given it came on the eve of the COP26 world climate conference.

New Forest MPs Sir Desmond Swayne and Julian Lewis
New Forest MPs Sir Desmond Swayne and Julian Lewis

"Why wouldn’t our MPs want water companies to have a legal obligation not to pollute our rivers and ocean with sewage around our precious coastline, for example?" he said.

Amid a national outcry, the government later announced the bill would be strengthened with an amendment that will see a duty enshrined in law to for water companies to secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows.

The bill initially came forward because Britain’s sewers have been struggling to cope in heavy rain, leaving sewage works overwhelmed.

In such times water firms are allowed to release rainwater and untreated sewage into rivers and the sea to stop waste backing up in streets and homes.

However, drone footage captured sewage being poured into the sea within a Hampshire conservation area for 49 hours.

Explaining his vote last week, New Forest West MP Sir Desmond said the Lords amendments would have required the government to produce a plan to reduce discharges from storm overflows and their adverse impacts before 1st September 2022, alongside costs and benefits.

The "difficulty" with that, Sir Desmond said, was "it would make it illegal to have sewage discharges after a certain date".

There was concern the potential cost could be "between £150bn and £600bn", and it could add significantly to customers' water bills without a plan in place.

He said: "It would be irresponsible to outlaw emergency storm discharges before it can realistically be delivered and, as a consequence, have sewage backing up in the system to flood our lavatories."

Dr Lewis agreed, saying the government had "already taken serious steps to reduce the sewerage discharge problem".

He added: "The Lords amendment, which the Commons rejected, for a total ban on any discharges, was both impracticable and could have led to sewage contamination on our streets."

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