Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss did not vote on crucial environment amendment to stop sewage discharge in UK waters

The Tory leadership candidates both had No Vote Recorded for an environment bill amendment that would have placed a legal duty on water firms to stop dumping sewage.

Tory leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak both had No Vote Recorded for an important environment bill amendment, that would have placed a legal duty on sewage firms.

This means they both either abstained from voting, could not vote at the time for a particular reason such as an illness, or did not due to the ministerial code.

The vote has been put back in the spotlight, after pollution warnings were issued across the UK with water companies releasing sewage into seas and rivers.

People have taken to social media to re-share details of the bill, shaming their MPs for “allowing” raw sewage to be dumped, calling out both Truss and Sunak for not voting.

The vote back in autumn 2021 was on whether water firms should either reduce sewage overflows or eliminate them completely - with the Tory Government voting only to reduce it.

Ministers at the time argued to eliminate the sewage discharge completely would have cost the taxpayer billions of pounds, and was unaffordable.

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NationalWorld has contacted both the candidates’ campaign teams for reasons as to why they abstained from voting.

Why did Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss not vote on the sewage bill?

The reason for both Truss and Sunak not voting could be if the whips enforced a ‘payroll vote’, which means MPs would have to resign in order to oppose the Government.

Ministers are included in the traditional payroll vote and held by Cabinet collective responsibility, which means once a policy is agreed in private by the frontbench they have to back it publicly.

They are restricted from voting against the Government or even "associating themselves with recommendations critical of or embarrassing to the government" by the ministerial code.

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What has been said about Liz Truss’ time as Environment Secretary?

Labour has claimed Liz Truss presided over “efficiency savings” during her time as Environment Secretary that significantly slashed funding for the Environment Agency and resulted in “doubled sewage discharge”.

Its analysis of official figures shows that since 2016, when Liz Truss was in charge of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), raw sewage discharge more than doubled from 14.7% overflow in 2016 to 29.3% in 2021.

This coincided with her cutting £80million of sewage monitors as part of a £235million Tory axe to the Environment Agency’s budget.

As Environment Secretary, Ms Truss justified the cuts saying “there are ways we can make savings as a department” citing better use of technology and inter-agency working.

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However, shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon has criticised her actions, saying: “Under the Tories, the country is facing a crisis in our water supply. Our water infrastructure is at bursting point, with billions of litres of water being wasted every day and raw sewage being dumped into our waters.

“The fact that Liz Truss was the one to cut the EA (Environment Agency) so severely, not only demonstrates her lack of foresight but also her lack of care for the detail, in recognising the need to adapt to the serious flooding that had just happened on her watch.”

What has the Government said about the sewage problem?

A spokesperson for Liz Truss said the cuts were part of a “wider drive from central government” to make savings across department and agency budgets.

Her team member added that if the South West Norfolk MP was elected Prime Minister she would ensure we “get a grip” on water pollution.

However they did not provide any further detail. Number 10 said it was the duty of firms to put customers before shareholders.

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A government spokeswoman said: “We have been clear that the failure of water companies to adequately reduce sewage discharges is completely unacceptable.

“They have a duty to put their customers before shareholders and we would expect them to take urgent action on this issue or face fines.”

The amount of sewage discharged into the waterways has increased.

The spokeswoman added: “We continue to speak regularly with them.

“The Environment Agency undertakes enforcement action and monitoring, which we have stepped up.”

Downing Street also said water companies were already facing legal action from regulators.

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The spokeswoman said: “Since 2015 the Environment Agency has brought 48 prosecutions against water and sewerage companies, securing fines of over £137 million.”

She added that since privatisation, the equivalent of £5 billion had been invested to upgrade water infrastructure, but the companies must “continue to take action”.

What was the MPs vote on sewage dumping last year?

MPs and Lords have had a lot of complicated votes on the Environment Bill, which has now passed and is the Environment Act.

The House of Lords voted for Amendment 45 last year, tabled by the Duke of Wellington.

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Amendment 45 proposed a “duty” on water firms to take “reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged” from storm pipes.

The vast majority of this amendment passed in the Commons, but the Tory government ordered MPs to strip out seven crucial lines including that “duty” not to discharge sewage.

MPs voted 268 to 204 to pass most of the Duke of Wellington’s Amendment 45, but with those seven lines deleted.

This is this vote that went viral and is still being shared by campaigners as the sewage problem arises once again.

Labour and 22 Tory rebels were among those who voted against watering down Amendment 45.

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Later, the Duke of Wellington proposed a similar amendment (45B), which would have kept the crucial phrase on “ensuring untreated sewage is not discharged”.

Once again, Tory MPs voted down the amendment in the Commons.

However, by this point the government proposed a compromise.

Instead of a duty to “ensure untreated sewage is not discharged”, the law would force firms to ensure “progressive reduction in the adverse impact of discharges” from storm overflows.

Which cabinet ministers did not vote?

The majority of Tory MPs, except 22, voted down the amendment in the Commons.

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However, 70 Conservative MPs either deliberately abstained or were absent for the vote.

These include some prominent cabinet members.

The cabinet members that had No Vote Recorded at the time are:

  • Liz Truss 
  • Rishi Sunak
  • Dominic Raab
  • Nadhim Zahawi 
  • Priti Patel
  • Ben Wallace
  • Alok Sharma
  • Anne-Marie Trevelyan
  • Robert Buckland