The Duke of Wellington is set to pile fresh pressure on Tory ministers after a row about how water and sewerage firms should be held to account
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Peers will launch a fresh bid on Tuesday to defeat Boris Johnson’s government over the dumping of raw sewage into rivers.
The Duke of Wellington will bring back an amendment that Tory ministers watered down last week – prompting public outcry.
The crossbench peer originally tried to force firms to “take all reasonable steps” by law to stop raw sewage being discharged from storm overflows.
Ministers ditched that part of his amendment against the wishes of Labour, Lib Dems and 22 Tory rebels.
On Tuesday afternoon the Duke will bring forward a reworded amendment. This time it would force firms to improve their sewage systems “as soon as reasonable” – allowing slightly more wriggle room.
The new amendment in the Lords is widely expected to pass with Labour support in a vote on Tuesday night.
If so it will be sent back for a final showdown in the Commons – where Boris Johnson could suffer another Tory revolt if he doesn’t agree a compromise.
Ministers insist the Environment Bill already has plans to cut down sewage discharges – though there is no date for eliminating them completely.
Ministers say it would cost between £150bn and £660bn to stop all discharges of raw sewage in England, because the Victorian infrastructure would have to be upgraded.
Defra insisted: “We have every confidence that the provisions in this Bill will absolutely deliver progressive reductions in the harm caused by storm overflows.
“Any suggestion to the contrary is both disingenuous and untrue.”
Tory ministers have been plunged into a furious row over the dumping of raw sewage into England’s rivers and coastal waters.
Thousands reacted with fury after 265 Tory MPs voted to water down the Duke of Wellington’s amendment on the issue in Parliament last week.
The stink grew when huge numbers of people shared Twitter messages shaming their local MP, saying they “voted to allow raw sewage to be dumped in our rivers” and accusing the government of “hypocrisy”.
But the government has mounted a furious fightback, saying it is “disingenuous and untrue” to suggest MPs have backed dumping human waste into our rivers. Some MPs have slammed critics highlighting the vote for continuing a culture of social media “abuse”.
The government pointed to a £90m fine to Southern Water and the bits of the Duke’s “well-intentioned” amendment that it did accept.
There will be new duties in the Bill on water firms to publish annual data, real-time information, and produce a 25-year plan.
Tory MP Robert Courts said £150bn alone would be “more than the entire schools, policing and defence budgets put together”
Defra’s blog said: “Customer bill increases and trade-offs against other water industry priorities would be unavoidable which is why we will be publishing a report looking specifically at these trade-offs.”
But Surfers Against Sewage said the other Environment Bill measures were “good” but “what we really, really needed from this Bill was some clear and tangible action to End Sewage Pollution – we simply don’t have this yet.”
Green MP Caroline Lucas accused ministers of taking “the teeth out” of the Lords amendment.
And Labour ’s Tan Dhesi said there was one thing conspicuously missing from the Bill – any kind of time frame to end sewage dumping completely.
Tory rebel Bernard Jenkin agreed: “The question ‘when?’ is the right one.”