Herefordshire MPs Jesse Norman and Bill Wiggin have not backed a parliamentary move by their Conservative colleague and MP for Ludlow Philip Dunne to prevent raw sewage being discharged into rivers.

This has been greeted with some dismay in the county, given that sewage is known to contribute to the poor ecological condition of the river Wye – an issue that Mr Norman, MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire, has frequently put his name to.

But Mr Norman has stressed that debate about the Bill is not over, and some key clauses are still being discussed and negotiated.

He said: "I and other Wye valley MPs have been pressing the Government separately for a long-term cross-border approach to clean up the river Wye in the Spending Review, which is taking place this week.  

“The need to place stronger statutory safeguards on sewage is a further and wider related issue of great importance, to which we will return in Commons next week.”

Independents for Herefordshire councillor Liz Harvey, deputy leader of Herefordshire Council, said: “How serious, pertinent and imperative to their constituencies must an issue be before these Tory Boys actually do the right thing by Herefordshire?”

Her Independents colleague Coun Yolande Watson said both MPs “have engaged in high-level conversations with Herefordshire Council about what to do about the state of the river Wye and the urgent need to stop water companies from spewing millions of litres of untreated sewage into our rivers”.

“How can residents trust what their MP say when their words do not follow their actions (i.e. their voting)?” she said.

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Responding to Coun Harvey's criticism in particular, Mr Norman said: "I do not think aggressive personal comments are ever in order, least of all at the present moment." 

Both Herefordshire MPs were present in the Commons during a debate on the proposed amendments to the Environment Bill last Wednesday, and did vote on other amendments, though neither spoke during the debate.

The amendment, which would have placed a duty on water companies “to take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows”,  stemmed from a Private Member’s Bill that Mr Dunne had earlier introduced to Parliament.

Hereford Times: Hereford and South Herefordshire MP Jesse NormanHereford and South Herefordshire MP Jesse Norman

Rivers should not be treated as “the cesspit of humanity”, he said ahead of the vote. “The completely unacceptable spillage of sewage into rivers is routine. It has to stop.

“There should be a primary legislative duty on water companies, to persuade them to treat this issue with sufficient seriousness.”

But he acknowledged that costs of improving the country’s sewage treatment network “are going to be significant —possibly huge”.

Mr Norman and Mr Wiggin, along with Fay Jones, Conservative MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, and Mark Harper, Tory MP for the Forest of Dean, put forward a bid to the Treasury at the end of September for a £10-£15 million “three-year integrated spending package specifically focused on cleaning up the Wye”.

An announcement on this is expected as part of the Chancellor's Autumn Spending Review on Wednesday.

Hereford Times: Bill Wiggin MP pictured with his herd of HerefordsBill Wiggin MP pictured with his herd of Herefords

Mr Wiggin said: “We believed it would be prudent not to vote against the Government on this issue when we are working towards the same goal and negotiations on the specifics of the legislation are far from over.

“By abstaining we have been reasonable with the Government and not endangered our request for this funding.”

Ms Jones also sat out the vote, while Mr Harper voted to reject the amendment.

Ms Jones said: "In eliminating storm overflows, we are talking about transforming a system which has operated since the Victorian era, the preliminary cost of which is estimated to be anywhere between £150 billion and £650 billion. This cost would ultimately have been paid for by the taxpayer through our water bills.

"The Government’s view was that it would have been irresponsible to have inserted this section in the Bill given that it was not backed by a detailed plan and thorough impact assessment."