Some Bucks MPs have hit back at claims they have green-lit water companies dumping raw sewage in rivers.

Buckingham MP Greg Smith joined fellow Conservative MP for Beaconsfield Joy Morrissey in 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.

Wycombe MP Steve Baker and Aylesbury MP Rob Butler (also both Conservative) voted in the same way.

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

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

Since then, there has been “considerable anger” online.

Greg Smith MP, who also represents Princes Risborough and Winslow, said he does not want to see sewage discharged into UK rivers, adding the Lords’ ‘well-intentioned but terminally flawed’ amendment would have cost the taxpayer dearly.

He also said were such discharges suddenly turned off, there is “nowhere else for the excess to go” but back into residents’ homes or streets.

Joy Morrissey MP said the Lords’ amendment was “un-costed and unworkable”.

“There has been considerable anger on social media about a vote in the House of Commons last week,” said Greg Smith MP. “Without the context or detail, I can understand why.

“No one wants to see sewage discharged into our rivers and waterways, including me. I was an early backer of my colleague Philip Dunne’s Bill to tackle this very problem, much of which has now been incorporated into the Environment Bill passing through Parliament right now.

“The Government is taking river and waterway pollution very seriously. The Lords’ amendment, however, whilst well-intentioned was terminally flawed by the fact it was not costed. In fact, the cost of such fundamental changes to our Victorian sewerage system to stop such discharges is somewhere between £150 and £650 billion. And there is only two places that money could come from: taxpayers or additions to water bills.

“With roughly 23 million households in England, the simple maths behind what this sort of expenditure would do to water bills is eye-watering. It’s my firm view that no matter how worthy the cause, you just can’t legislate blank cheques.

“There is also the uncomfortable truth that if such discharges, which have been happening for decades, are immediately turned off — there is nowhere else for the excess to go other than back up toilets into people’s homes or into the streets. This is a very technical and complex engineering problem given the infrastructure we start with.

“The provisions in the Environment Bill, which I have actively supported through its passage so far, include provisions for a realistic plan to be formed by 2022 – that is the sensible way forward and I hope goes to show there is always more to things like this than an attention-grabbing Tweet or headline.”

“The Government is committed to eliminating the discharge of sewage into our country’s waterways and the Environment Bill contains provisions that will help us do precisely that,” said Joy Morrissey MP.

“The House of Lords’ amendment we voted on last week, while admirable in its intent, was both un-costed and unworkable. It would have required that £650 billion worth of work was done instantaneously.

“It is unfortunate that some activists on social media have, with ill-intent, chosen to misrepresent the Government’s decision to find grown up, practical and workable solutions.”

In a statement by Steve Baker MP received after the Free Press went to press, he writes: “Of course no one wants sewage entering our precious waterways – I certainly do not.

“The fundamental problem with the amendment was it implied a complete transformation of our sewage system at a cost of £150 billion to £650 billion. To put that in perspective, £150 billion is more than the entire schools, policing and defence budgets put together. And £650 billion is billions more than we have spent on supporting livelihoods and jobs throughout the health pandemic. It would have been reckless and wrong for me to rebel to support this amendment. Such measures must be led by ministers.”

To read Steve Baker’s full response, click here

Rob Butler MP did not respond before the Free Press went to press.

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