BLACK Country MPs have hit back at accusations they voted in favour of the dumping of raw sewage into the UK’s rivers and coastal areas.

Dudley borough's MPs Suzanne Webb (Stourbridge), James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis), Marco Longhi (Dudley North) and Mike Wood (Dudley South) all voted down the Lords Amendment 45 to the Environment Bill which would have placed a legal duty on water companies in England and Wales to "make improvements to their sewerage systems and demonstrate progressive reductions in the harm caused by discharges of untreated sewage”.

The Tory politicians have faced anger on social media for voting against the amendment from the Lords, which was defeated by 268 to 204, but which was followed on Tuesday by an announcement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that the Environment Bill will in fact be "will further strengthened with an amendment that will see a duty enshrined in law to ensure water companies secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows".

Data from the Environment Agency, which has been mapped by The Rivers Trust, shows there were 60,982 sewage spills in the Severn Trent Water area in 2020, while Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Cradley and Wollescote, Ryan Priest, told the News that, by his calculation, raw or partially treated sewage was released into the River Stour more than 600 times in 2020 and he said: “Clean rivers should not be a party political issue.

“With COP26 just weeks away, the world is watching.

“The Severn River Trust is doing some fantastic work on the Stour in Cradley, it is a shame our MP has voted to undermine that.”

The MPs said the public had misunderstood.

Stourbridge MP Suzanne Webb hit back, saying: "Inaccurate rubbish about me voting to pour sewage into rivers very much shows the standard of political discourse in this country from those who should know better. They have managed to get a few cheap retweets by trying to dilute a complex issue into an easy soundbite. I’ve visited our canals and rivers here in Stourbridge. I would never vote to pollute them.

"This misguided outrage conveniently ignores the ground-breaking Environment Bill that this government has introduced and how it will do more to protect our precious wildlife, soil, water, air and landscapes than any other government in history.

"No-one wants a single drop of sewage in our rivers and the water companies have much to do."

She said the cost of imposing a legal duty on water companies has been estimated to be between £150 billion and £650 billion and she added: "These are such massive sums they are hard to comprehend but the lower amount - £150 billion - is more than the entire schools, policing and defence budgets put together.

"As for £650 billion, that’s almost twice what the government has spent on dealing with Covid. Water companies could not afford it and would go out of business unless the taxpayer stepped in with increased bills. These bills are estimated at between £5,000 to £20,000 per household, depending on how much it will cost."

She said over time the problem would be addressed through ongoing work set in motion by the government and added: "Last year it set up the Storm Overflows Task Force, to bring together key stakeholders from the water industry, environmental NGOs and regulators, in order to drive progress in reducing sewage discharges.

"The taskforce has agreed a goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows.

"Significantly, the government will be required by law to present to Parliament by next September a detailed plan showing how it will eliminate sewage discharges, with a separate report on how to achieve it."

Halesowen and Rowley Regis MP James Morris added: "I understand the vote on House of Lords Amendment has been causing some concern, but the reality is that we did not vote for sewage to be discharged into the seas and rivers.

"The amendment was well-intentioned but came with no plan on how it could be delivered and no impact assessment. The Government has already committed to reducing discharges from sewage overflows by next year, with a new duty on water companies to publish real time information on overflows and their locations.

"I believe the provisions of our landmark Environment Bill, with new powers for greater environmental protection, are sufficient for us to deliver the progress we have promised on improving water quality."

Dudley North MP Marco Longhi defended himself from critics on Facebook - saying he "voted to give the environment the best protections it’s ever had by supporting the Bill."

Dudley South MP Mike Wood said the Environment Bill "makes our environmental standards - including waterways - much higher rather than lower" and he added: "Things that were illegal before remain illegal and new protections are added that go well beyond what was in place under EU law.

"The problem was that parts of the Lords Amendment were, depending on how you interpreted it, either meaningless or impossible to implement.

"Obviously we all want to stop storm overflows being used at all, but if we banned their use now then it would just mean that the sewage flowed out of the drains into our streets and fields rather than out of storm overflow outlets. I’m not sure this would be any better.

"To stop the need for storm overflows under all circumstances would require pretty much the whole sewerage system to be replaced a much of it was installed in a Victorian times. At a minimum, the estimate of the cost of doing this would work out as at least £4,000 for every household on their water bills. I don’t think this is something we could realistically consider.

"Instead, we are introducing a new legal duty on water companies to reduce the impact of sewage discharges, and it will be a condition their licences with Ofwat that they must take action to 'significantly reduce the frequency and volume of storm overflows'.

"This is being done alongside a range of other measures to reduce the amount of sewage going into our seas and rivers, including new statutory plans, requirements to monitor discharges and water quality and to publish the data within an hour of real time, and a £7billion package of investment by water companies between now and 2025 - of which £3billion is being specifically spent on improving storm overflows.

"The Environment Bill represents one of the biggest improvements in environmental protections since the Second World War. These changes will make it even stronger."