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Environment

Government accused of ‘hiding’ amendments to Environment Bill ahead of sewage vote

The government hasn’t yet published the wording of an amendment on river sewage pollution – with days to go until MPs vote on it.

Campaigners say they’ve been given no time to scrutinise a government amendment on river sewage pollution ahead of a vote on Monday – because it hasn’t been made public yet.

Clean river campaign groups have accused the government of “hiding” the amendment to the Environment Bill, which relates to water companies’ responsibility for dumping sewage into rivers

MPs recently suffered a public backlash after voting against a Lords amendment to the Environment Bill which would have placed a strict duty on water companies to avoid sewage discharges into rivers. 

Following the outcry MPs U-turned on their decision, with the government pledging to “further strengthen” the bill with its own amendment.

It said the amendment will involve “a duty enshrined in law to ensure water companies secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows”.

MPs will on Monday vote on the amendment, but as of Friday, the government hasn’t published its wording online. 

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Clean river campaigners have claimed the government is leaving publication to “the last minute” to avoid scrutiny from groups like theirs. 

Ashley Smith, of clean river campaign group Windrush WASP, believes the government’s amendment will be weaker than the one tabled by the Lords. He told The Big Issue: “The attempt to keep the Environment Bill’s weakened law, first by frightening the customer with ridiculously inflated costs, and now by hiding the government response to the Lords latest amendment until the last minute smells of desperation and underhandedness.”

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A spokesperson for the Ilkley Clean River campaign group echoed these comments, saying: “The Environment Bill is muddying the waters. The last government amendment watered down current legislation. 

“The Lords Clause (Duke of Wellington Clause) requiring water companies to stop using our rivers as open sewers is the only way to ensure that they do actually stop.”

A Defra spokesperson said the government planned to add “a range of new legally-binding obligations directly on water companies in the Environment Bill” and had “made our expectation that water companies reduce the frequency and volume of sewage discharges clear to Ofwat in the draft Strategic Policy Statement.”

They added: “The government has today [Friday] tabled an amendment to the Environment Bill to put that instruction on a legal footing”.

Defra did not say when the wording of the amendment would be publicly available, saying only that “parliamentary authorities will publish the amendment online in due course.”

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