Meon Valley MP Flick Drummond's Letter from Westminster. This was published in the Hampshire Chronicle: https://www.hampshirechronicle.co.uk/news/19711304.meon-valley-mp-flick…
IT was very disappointing to see a social media campaign suggesting myself and other Conservative MPs had voted to pump sewage into our rivers and seas. It was untrue. I regularly swim in the Solent and I often meet Southern Water to discuss this very issue. The amendment that caused the controversy was brought from the Lords by the Duke of Wellington as part of the Environment Bill’s progress through parliament. As bills progress, amendments are incorporated or rejected and wordings change – that is how the process works. Nothing is law until Royal Assent is given – hence my disappointment over the accusation that I voted for sewage discharges. I was of the view the amendment was badly worded and its obligation uncosted.
The Duke has now agreed to the new government amendment. It seeks to ensure that there is a legal duty on water companies to progressively reduce the adverse impact of sewage discharges. The reason this will work, contrary to the claims of campaigners, is that it dovetails with the existing provisions in the Environment Bill for each water company to produce a statutory Drainage and Sewerage Management Plan every five years. This sets out how such reduction in sewage discharges will be achieved and, crucially, funded.
There is also a power of direction for the government to direct water companies in relation to actions in those plans if they are not good enough. There is a raft of other enforcement duties on water companies in the Bill. The fact is water companies have had existing duties since 1991 to treat sewage “effectually” and the new amendment does not replace nor override this duty.
The problem has been that the Environment Agency and the industry watchdog OFWAT have failed to use their existing powers over the last 30 years.
We also simply cannot fix 60 years of under-investment overnight with a blanket ban on sewage discharges - however much campaigners and we might wish. The cost of doing so at the lower end is estimated at around £150 billion. That would add thousands to water bills or might put the water companies out of business.
Another recent controversy was the Owen Paterson suspension from Parliament. I spent several hours reading the Standards Committee report regarding Owen Paterson including all the appendices and I thought that he had violated the rules. However, I then was told he had no right of appeal against the sanction and that those going through the system are not allowed to tell anyone. This has caused huge mental stress to those going through the process.
That is not acceptable so when the Andrea Leadsom amendment was put forward on Wednesday I decided, on balance, to vote for it because it did not exonerate Owen it just delayed the verdict until February. Subsequently, I found out the Standards Committee has already launched an inquiry into the process. In hindsight, I wish I had known this before the vote because I would have voted differently. I am very unhappy about how this has been handled and lessons need to be learned.
The Government gets credit for quickly changing its mind in the face of public concern and I think Owen Paterson’s resignation was the right thing to do. The disciplinary system for MPs does need reform but it was a mistake to bring Owen Paterson’s case into it.
Flick Drummond Meon Valley MP