Skip to main content

Road Traffic

Volume 684: debated on Monday 23 November 2020

I beg to move,

That the draft Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 1) (Amendment) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 22 October, be approved.

With this we shall take the following motion:

That the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 2) (Amendment) Order 2020 (S.I. 2020 No. 1155), dated 21 October 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22 October, be approved.

These amendment orders relate to the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 1) Order 2019 and the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 2) Order 2019. Although the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 3) (Amendment) Order 2020 is subject to the negative procedure, the House should be aware of it when considering the other two amending orders. Together they support the effective management of Operation Brock and strengthen the enforcement regime that underpins it.

Operation Brock is a co-ordinated, multi-agency response to cross-channel travel disruption. It replaces Operation Stack and has been specifically designed to keep the M20 motorway in Kent open in both directions, with access to junctions, even in periods of severe and protracted disruption. The Kent Resilience Forum is responsible for the Operation Brock plans. Any decisions relating to the activation and timing of the different phases of Operation Brock will be taken by Kent police silver command.

It is crucial that these instruments are brought into force in time for the end of the transition period, to ensure that the scheme operates as efficiently as possible to reduce the impact on businesses and local communities in Kent. I am grateful, therefore, that time has been found for this debate to take place quickly and also for the speed with which the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has scrutinised the instruments.

Amendment order No. 1 extends to 31 October 2021 the sunset clause in the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 1) Order 2019. To give a little history, the 2019 order gave new powers to traffic officers in Kent, enabling them to, first, require the production of documents to establish the vehicle’s destination and readiness to cross the border; secondly, direct drivers to proceed to a motorway, removing the vehicle from the local road network; and, thirdly, direct drivers not to proceed to the channel tunnel or port of Dover except via a specified road or route.

The amendment sets the amount of the financial penalty deposit, which will be issued and taken immediately at the roadside by the police or staff from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. The amount of the deposit for breaching the traffic restrictions introduced by the other two instruments is set at £300.

Amendment order No. 2 extends to 31 October 2021 the sunset clause of the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 2) Order 2019, which prohibits cross-channel heavy goods vehicles from using local roads in Kent other than those on the improved Operation Brock routes. The amendment goes further to define local Kent roads that will require a Kent access permit, which can be obtained from the “check an HGV is ready to cross the border” service.

My constituency is, in many ways, the gateway to Kent from both London and Essex, via the Dartford crossing. Will she assure me that her Department will use its best endeavours to ensure that lorries do not use local, small roads either for travelling to a different location or for parking up overnight?

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He and his constituents can be assured that the powers we are taking in this legislation require Kent lorries to stick to certain specified routes only if they are crossing the border. I hope that that provides him with some reassurance; I am more than happy to meet him to discuss this matter much further.

To complete the picture, the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No.3) (Amendment) Order 2020, which is subject to a negative procedure, will extend the sunset clause in the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 3) Order 2019 to 31 October 2021. The order also further defines the strategic roads that need a Kent access permit, as issued by the “check an HGV is ready to cross the border service”, and allows the fining of HCV drivers without a Kent access permit on those roads. It will also allow HCVs carrying only specific goods of fresh and live seafood for human consumption and day-old chicks to obtain a priority goods permit that allows them to bypass the Operation Brock queues. It also clarifies who local haulier permits may be issued to, in line with Kent County Council guidelines. These orders are vital to enable sensible traffic management in Kent. We must show the public and businesses that Operation Brock will be ready, fully operational and enforceable on day one, should it be needed to deal with impact of cross-channel disruption. I commend the orders to the House.

Let me start by saying that of course we accept the need for this legislation, although the timing, so late in the day, is hardly ideal, particularly for those in the haulage sector. The fact that we are still discussing statutory instruments, not to mention the fact that we still appear to be teetering on the brink of a no-deal Brexit, with only 16 sitting days to go before the end of the transition period demonstrates just what a shambles this Government’s handling of Brexit has been from start to finish.

Many of the stakeholders in the haulage sector I have spoken to feel that the Government have done nowhere near enough to prepare for what the Road Haulage Association has described as:

“the most challenging task the supply chain has ever faced”.

This sector has helped to keep the country going during the coronavirus outbreak, especially in maintaining essential deliveries of food, medical supplies and other goods. However, the sector has also been hard hit this year, and chaos at our ports and on our roads come January is something it does not need. Those in the sector just want to do their jobs, but the Government are making it difficult for them. I am yet to be persuaded that the Government have done what is needed to prevent huge delays in Kent for those making the short straits crossing. The Government’s own reasonable worst-case scenario suggests there might be a freight flow of 60% to 80% of the usual volumes in the near year, which could, according to the Government, lead to queues in Kent of up to 6,500 HCVs in January, rising to 7,000 in February. That could have significant consequences for the delivery of vital goods and could severely disrupt the lives of local residents, too. I would therefore appreciate clarity from the Minister on the additional measures being taken to avoid their own estimates of delays in Kent.

Unite the union and others have raised concerns about conditions for drivers caught in delays, who will need access to food, water and toilet facilities. There is also an issue as to what this would mean in terms of driver hours and driver fatigue. So what measures are being taken to provide these basic facilities for them? I understand that when giving evidence to the EU Goods Sub-Committee in the other place earlier today, the Minister said that she could not give details as to how many toilets would be needed in Kent because there are still some details the need to be worked out. I would be grateful if she elaborated for us what those details are and when she thinks the Government would be ready to give a figure. Mention has been made of a plan to deploy Portaloos along the queues if traffic is static for a prolonged period. I would be grateful if the Minister told us a little more about that. Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association recently described information provided to hauliers by the Government as

“incomplete, inadequate and quite often totally incomprehensible.”

One measure that could have helped was the timely delivery of the haulier handbook. I gather that the launch date for the full version, which is intended to provide clear guidance to drivers, is now set for 7 December —only 25 days before the end of transition. Given that 85% of freight drivers are from the EU, the document will need to be published, translated and promoted across most of the continent in around three weeks, which includes the breaks for Christmas and new year. I understand that it will need to be translated into 14 languages.

Hauliers also face uncertainty about the use of the proposed fixed penalties for drivers who do not have a Kent access permit. Unite has expressed concerns about how they will work, because it is the driver who will be faced with paying a roadside fine if they do not have the correct documentation, but they rely on the employer or customer to provide it. I was a little confused by what the Minister said just now. I think she confirmed that the penalties would be roadside fines, but when she gave evidence in the other place this morning, she said that because the fine was levied on the owner, it could be sent by post. Perhaps she could give some clarity as to how those penalties will work.

Leaving the EU means that we will need to process around 270 million customs declarations a year, compared with only 50 million now, and we will need around 50,000 customs agents to manage that properly. In July, the Government announced a £50 million fund to try to achieve that figure, but the British International Freight Association warned in September that almost two thirds of customs brokers felt they would not have enough agents by 1 January, and that covid had made the task even more difficult. It was also very critical of the lack of clear guidance from the Government.

More recently, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster swerved an attempt by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) to find out from him how many new customs agents have been trained and are ready to go to. He now says that the 50,000 figure was only an estimate, and that there have been significant increases in the number. That makes me think that either he does not know the answer—that is bad enough—or he does know, and it is so bad that he does not want to tell us. Can the Minister do better than the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and tell the House how many customs agents we now have, and how many have been fully trained? I have been told that there are probably around 10,000 in place right now. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether that figure sounds about right.

What does the Minister think will be the consequences if traders cannot find customs agents to do the paperwork for them? The Kent access permit involves a self-declaration process. Does she envisage any problem with false declarations by drivers? What will happen if those drivers are challenged in Calais, and they do not have the right paperwork and are sent back to the UK?

I have largely been speaking about potential border chaos using the future tense, but reports suggest that it has already begun, most notably in Felixstowe, which is struggling to cope with the volume of business as firms stockpile supplies in anticipation of severe disruption. Clearly, the Government have lost the confidence of businesses. As the holiday season approaches, would the Minister like to use this opportunity to reassure an increasingly concerned public about the timely delivery of vital supplies and Christmas presents?

As I started off by saying, my fear is that these measures are too little, too late to cope with impending chaos in Kent. However, given that they are all that we have in front of us today, and given our desire to prevent even worse disruption at the end of the transition period, we will not be opposing them.

It is with great enthusiasm that I rise to discuss the motion concerning traffic management and heavy commercial vehicles in Kent. I am the Member for Dover and Deal, and in the Dover area we spend many hours considering, deliberating and discussing heavy goods vehicles, light goods vehicles, port traffic, holidaymaker traffic, camper van and caravan parking, local traffic and all types of traffic management. That is because we are home to our country’s most successful and busiest port of its type, the port of Dover.

In an ordinary year, the port of Dover deals with £122 billion-worth of trade—about a fifth of the whole UK trade in goods—transiting 4.5 million vehicles and 11 million passengers. Daily, that means up to 10,000 freight vehicles and up to 90,000 passengers. The importance of the short straits route is unquestionable. It will remain the foremost route for trading, not simply because of its geographical convenience and proximity to the continent, but because we are just very good at what we do. Passengers are processed at the rate of one per second. The time it takes for lorries to be managed off the ferries is a matter of minutes. Building on that success, we are determined to expand and thrive. That includes an exciting freeports bid. We want to continue to pursue transit excellence and make the opportunities for investment, jobs and money real for our area. That includes new global trading routes between Dover and the world.

As the Member of Parliament for Dover and Deal, that means working with Ministers to ensure that the Port of Dover is successful and that our area as a whole is successful, too. At the heart of the regulations and what they are seeking to achieve is the need to ensure that traffic can transition smoothly to the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel and, through such active traffic management, ensure that local businesses and residents can get on with their daily lives. It is what we locally call the “Keep Dover Clear” strategy.

I thank the Minister for working with me and listening to the positive suggestions and ideas that have been developed with Councillor Trevor Bartlett, the leader of Dover District Council, and Councillor Nigel Collor, as well as Councillor Roger Gough, Barbara Cooper and Toby Howe and the whole team at Kent County Council, who have been working on these Kent-wide proposals. We have a meeting with the Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster later in the week to discuss the next steps and fine-tuning of our Kent proposals, and I look forward to discussing the progress of the “Keep Dover Clear” plans at that meeting.

In that context, I particularly welcome the second order, which allows controls on local roads. As a backstop measure, it is vital for people that local traffic can get around for school, for work and to see family and friends. The orders give control powers to enable that, but controls also need people to manage and enforce them. Will the Minister consider whether additional traffic control officers can be deployed at our local traffic hotspots, such as the Duke of York and Whitfield roundabouts, together with real-time traffic cameras to optimise the traffic flow for weeks and months ahead?

In the Dover area, we are no stranger to traffic congestion from time to time when there are hold-ups at the port, usually because the French are on strike. We have well-developed and tested mechanics to escalate and manage extreme traffic events in TAP and Stack. Those are now joined by Brock, which is enabled by today’s regulations.

Undoubtedly, we face a period of some uncertainty as we transition to new arrangements in the transit protocols. It is a matter that is not wholly in our hands. Just as French strikes can cause some of our most severe disruption, French border and trade controls may be similarly disruptive, or they may not be. The Port of Calais, like the Port of Dover, has been working very hard to prepare for 1 January 2021. I wish them both every success over the coming weeks as this vital project reaches this major milestone.

I pay tribute to the port’s collaborative work under Doug Bannister, the chief executive of the Port of Dover, in its contributing to transition planning and today’s regulations. Recently, we were discussing the relationship between port and town. Mr Bannister expressed the port’s position to me in these terms:

“We never forget how much the success of the Port of Dover links together with the support of the Dover community. In the weeks and months ahead please be assured that the strategic traffic management will have firmly in mind the needs of residents to get to work, school and to see family and friends.”

With stationary lorry traffic comes the important issues of air quality and littering. The regulations bring additional traffic controls to the A20/M20 route. Residents of Aycliffe, which is situated next to the final part of the A20 coming into Dover town, have long argued that the Operation TAP point should be further back along the M20. Air traffic quality monitoring is in place and has been for some time, but I ask the Minister whether consideration could be given to a review of the location and effectiveness of the air quality monitoring in the next period, alongside these instruments. Will she also ensure that the traffic management regulations that are under consideration today are matched with appropriate litter and sanitation facilities along both arterial routes? The A2 does not currently have the same degree of sanitation planning as the A20, yet the needs of lorry drivers stuck in a queue are very much the same.

Let me turn to the bifurcated major road strategy of the M2 and M20, which is at the heart of the traffic management strategy underpinned by these measures. Dover is one of the best positioned locations in the land. It has two major motorways, the M2 and the M20, which become the A2 and A20 for the last few miles into the town. This excellent road positioning will be further enhanced in due course by the lower Thames crossing. This is, in essence, a new national bypass that connects the north and midlands straight through into Dover. To make the best success of that opportunity, there is a parallel programme in the completion of the dualling of the A2. Dover is just so well connected, yet the last few miles into town on the A2 are merely single track at key points. I welcome the Government’s commitment to the A2 traffic management today and, indeed, the A256, which links east Kent as a whole. However, I urge Ministers during this period of post-transition work to reflect on whether it is, as I believe, in the national interest to accelerate a mission-critical last few miles of tarmac on both these key strategic roads. In welcoming these provisions, I ask the Minister to continue working closely with our area post transition; 1 January 2021 is the starting point of an exciting journey to come.

Finally, I strongly welcome the jobs and investment that a new border control point in Dover can bring in July next year. Will the Minister continue working with me and local residents to ensure that it is designed sensitively in order to take into account environmental and further traffic considerations—matters on which I know the Minister is already engaging with the community and council? These measures are a vital first step in ensuring not only that Dover is ready, but that we are best placed to make the most of the opportunities to come—for Dover and for our country as a whole.

I thank hon. Members for their consideration of this very important legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke) speaks up for her port and the vital role that it plays in her town. Like her, I am absolutely sure that the work that we are doing today will open up more opportunities for her port and local community. I thank her and her colleagues in local government for engaging so closely with me, for putting on record their detailed concerns and for inviting me to the Whitfield roundabout to see for myself the problems that she identified in such detail today. I commit to working closely with her, her local government colleagues, her local district council and Kent County Council, and to listen closely to the concerns of the local community. We will absolutely look at air quality and sanitation, and we will look carefully at the results of the consultation. I look forward to more meetings with her, including those later this week to which she has made reference.

I thank the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) very much for her consideration, for the detailed points that she has raised, and for her support for these important statutory instruments. The reason that we are taking this legislation through the House is so that we can put in place plans to manage any disruption that we have outlined in our reasonable worst-case scenario. I assure her that I engage regularly with the sector, including all the different trade bodies, along with the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez), who I see in the Chamber; we work together on many of these issues with the sector, so are aware of and pay close attention to the concerns, some of which the shadow Minister has articulated today.

On the issue of driver welfare, including sanitation and toilets, it is not just toilets that are essential, but all the facilities that drivers would expect. I thank again all the drivers who work in the transport industry, because they do play a vital role, as we have seen in the pandemic with how they have kept supplies moving around the country. We expect that to continue, but it is very important that we do everything we can to support them in that. The Kent Resilience Forum is working through detailed plans on the sanitation, and I am very happy to share the detail of that with the hon. Member for Bristol East when it is available.

The hon. Lady referenced the haulier handbook. This is one part of our plan to make sure that all this information is one place. The handbook will be translated into 18 languages and it will be ready very soon. It is already available on gov.uk, and we will also be making hard copies available in 43 information and advice sites, which are opening up and down the country.[Official Report, 26 November 2020, Vol. 684, c. 10MC.]

It is very important that we pass these measures into law this evening so that we can manage all the possible outcomes that we will see at the end of the transition period. I thank the House for its consideration.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the draft Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 1) (Amendment) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 22 October, be approved.

Resolved,

That the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 2) (Amendment) Order 2020 (S.I. 2020 No. 1155), dated 21 October 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22 October, be approved.—(Rachel Maclean.)

Sitting suspended.