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Cross-channel Services

Volume 598: debated on Thursday 16 July 2015

1. What discussions he has had with the French authorities on preventing disruption to cross-channel services from the port of Dover and channel tunnel in summer 2015. (901041)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and I have had regular contact with Alain Vidalies, the French Transport Minister, and his predecessor Frédéric Cuvillier, both in the run up to and during the current dispute.

Operation Stack has been in force on the Kent motorways for 14 of the past 28 days, closing the M20 and causing chaos on Kent’s roads. What consideration is the Minister giving at the moment to emergency measures that can be brought in this summer if there are further delays, to alleviate the pressure on the people of Kent and keep our roads open?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The road situation in Kent has been intolerable for many local people, although it has to be said that because of Operation Stack we have managed to keep the coaches and tourist traffic flowing. A working group led by Kent County Council is looking at all these issues, considering short and long-term mitigation of the problem.

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I am pleased to hear that the Minister is in regular dialogue with his French counterparts, but given that the gangs of people traffickers particularly change their tactics constantly, what measures are being discussed to resolve the problem of traffickers simply moving further away from Calais to attack lorry drivers and get into their vehicles, in order to circumvent the steps that have been taken at Calais?

The Home Secretary made a statement on this problem on 14 July, and I know that measures are being put in place, including fencing, at Coquelles to try to improve the situation. I spoke yesterday to my opposite number in the Republic of Ireland, who expressed the very same fears about lorry drivers being put at risk by migrants, who may engage in aggressive tactics.

I thank the Minister for his update on the action to try to avoid the continuation of Operation Stack. As my fellow Kent MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), has said, it is causing untold disruption and misery to local people as well as to lorry drivers. Does the Minister consider it an option to continue Operation Stack during the summer? For my constituents, an alternative solution as soon as possible really is a priority.

We continue to keep all options under review. I know that it has been suggested that Manston airfield may be used to store trucks, although that is 43 miles from Dover. One or two issues that can be addressed more urgently include queue-jumping. Queue-jumpers cause congestion on local roads and they also cause problems when they get to the front of the queue, when there is usually an altercation before they are sent back. We are looking at how we can make Operation Stack work more efficiently, but looking at alternatives too.

Tourists going to France are being inconvenienced by delays. Lorry drivers are accosted by migrants in great numbers. There is clearly a lack of confidence in the cross-channel routes at this moment in time. What can the Minister do to reassure tourists and lorry drivers that they can cross the channel without any bother whatsoever?

Obviously, this is a problem on the other side of the channel, of which the French authorities are all too well aware. We anticipate that it will be a continuing problem, but it is of course made worse by the industrial action in Calais. Although Calais is open, it still is not operating at full capacity. DFDS ferries are not able to use the port, and two of the five berths at Calais are occupied by striking workers.