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Freight Industry: Operation Stack

Volume 764: debated on Wednesday 9 September 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the costs to the freight industry and to the British economy of the implementation of Operation Stack in recent months.

My Lords, the Government have not completed an assessment of the economic impact of the implementation of Operation Stack, either on the freight industry or the British economy. The main cost to hauliers is the disruption to cross-channel services rather than Operation Stack itself, but we are acutely aware of the impact it has on both local communities and businesses in Kent in particular, and are rapidly exploring longer-term solutions.

I am very pleased to hear that Answer from the Minister. The migrant crisis and the ferry dispute combined have had a major impact on the UK, and the economic and social impact on the freight industry, its drivers, the Port of Dover, Eurotunnel, Kent Police, holidaymakers and, not least, the people of Kent, has been massive. Can the Minister assure us that the Government are looking positively at alternative solutions for the future, and possibly looking at a contraflow solution as used in 2005, with those problems firmly in mind?

I assure the noble Baroness that I was directly involved in many of the COBRA meetings over the summer that dealt with Operation Stack and the alternatives. As the noble Baroness may be aware, the Government put in place a temporary measure at Manston Airport in Kent to relieve those pressures. Thankfully, since 31 July we have not had to invoke Operation Stack. Nevertheless, I assure the noble Baroness that we are working with local partners, including Kent Police, Kent County Council and other key local stakeholders to ensure exactly what she says: a long-term solution that works for the benefit of the British economy and the people of Kent.

My Lords, at the other end of the channel in Calais there is equal chaos. While I welcome a new fence around the Eurotunnel terminal, which may help to reduce the incursion of migrants, can the Minister confirm that the rail freight terminal next door—I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group—will be incorporated by the same quality fence and have the same policing? Rail freight has virtually stopped in the past week, which is extremely bad for the industry and, of course, for the economy.

The noble Lord speaks with experience of this area. Of course, those seeking to cross the channel targeted and had a major impact on rail freight. It is just not about fencing. The Home Secretary, along with her team and the French Government, had several meetings with Bernard Cazeneuve, the French Interior Minister, to ensure a comprehensive protection programme for all facilities on the other side of the channel. We continue to work closely with the French Government in ensuring that those who seek to enter the UK use the appropriate channels so that we can prevent the kind of scenes we saw over the summer.

My Lords, this problem is not likely to go away very quickly. It is likely to occur again several times in the future. Are the facilities at Manston Airport up to dealing with these people? Are there facilities for eating and refreshment, lavatories and security? The place at Manston must have all those things if it is to be taken seriously by the haulage industry.

The short answer to that is yes; the last thing the Government want is aggravated lorry drivers and hauliers who are not satisfied with the facilities. The points the noble Lord has raised, including security, are directly addressed in that provision at Manston.

Is this not an appropriate time to send our congratulations and thanks to the services—fire, police and ambulance—which kept the peace during Operation Stack? None of them complained about being put on night duty at 10 minutes’ notice. As a long-serving police officer, I know what it is like when you have arranged to take your child to a birthday outing the following day, your one day off, and the superintendent says, “Sorry, lad, you’re reporting to me at 11 pm tomorrow, and make sure your motorcycle is full of petrol. You’re on night duty on Operation Stack”. We have heard the Home Secretary criticise the police many times during the last year and I will not argue that those criticisms were not deserved, but it would help a demoralised service if occasionally the Government could say thank you to those who work unsocial hours at a moment’s notice, dealing with the frustration and anger that is building up on Operation Stack.

The short answer is that I join the noble Lord in paying tribute to all the local services, including the police, which did a sterling job during the summer in dealing with what was a challenge for the whole country.

My Lords, I think the whole House recognises that the police and other services came out of that situation with their reputations enhanced, but we cannot say that for the two Governments who created this shambles. Will the Minister recognise just how dangerous and damaging to our exports this failure was over that period? Does he appreciate that exports are lost when blocks of this kind occur? How dare the Government prevent British cheese being exported to Normandy and British sparkling wine being exported to the Champagne region of France?

My short response is that sometimes I think that the Opposition should show magnanimity in terms of the challenges that the Government faced and the action taken. There was general recognition that this was a major challenge for the whole country. The Government acted with our partners in France and with the local services, as we have heard, in a manner that reflected the needs of the country and to ensure a short-term and long-term solution.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government could set an example on magnanimity, given the number of times that they refer to the previous Labour Government?

I, for one—and I am sure that I speak for colleagues on the Front Bench—am certainly always magnanimous in acknowledging everyone around the House.