Motion to Approve
My Lords, this package of statutory instruments ensures that traffic can be managed effectively in Kent should there be any disruption on the short straits. This project is called Operation Brock.
As noble Lords will be aware, the Government have been working with partners in Kent to continue to develop Operation Brock during the transition period. Brock is a co-ordinated multi-agency response to cross-channel travel disruption, specifically when capacity for heavy commercial vehicles—HCVs—to leave the UK through the port of Dover or the Channel Tunnel is significantly restricted. We are prepared to use Brock should cross-channel disruption occur due to the UK’s departure from the EU at the end of the transition period, although it could also be deployed as a result of disruption relating to bad weather or industrial action. These three orders are a vital part of Operation Brock, as they will significantly expand and strengthen the enforcement regime that underpins it.
The first SI—the (No. 1) (Amendment) order—will see the extension of the sunset clause in the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 1) Order 2019 to 31 October 2021. To give some history: the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 1) Order 2019 provides powers to direct drivers to proceed to a motorway, removing the vehicle from the local road network, and powers to direct drivers not to proceed to the Channel Tunnel or the port of Dover except via a specified route or road.
The (No. 1) order 2019 also sets out the amount of the financial penalty deposit for offences relating to Operation Brock, and it may be helpful if I briefly explain the roadside enforcement regime. A driver with a UK address who commits a road traffic offence can be issued with a fixed penalty notice, which can be paid immediately or within 28 days. However, if a driver does not have a UK address and could avoid that follow-up enforcement action, the police or the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency can require the immediate payment of a financial penalty deposit. If a driver cannot pay the deposit, their vehicle can be immobilised. This regime is used for many road traffic offences and ensures that penalties are paid. The deposit for breaching the traffic restrictions included in the other two 2019 orders as amended, and for failing to comply with a traffic officer exercising the (No. 1) order 2019 powers, is set at £300. The fixed penalty notice amount is also set at £300 by the (No. 3) (Amendment) order 2020.
The (No. 2) (Amendment) order is a “made affirmative” order that will extend to 31 October 2021 the sunset clause of the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent Order (No. 2) 2019, which prohibits cross-channel HCVs from using local roads in Kent other than those on the approved Operation Brock routes. To facilitate traffic flow, the legislation also requires cross-channel HCVs to remain in the nearside or left-hand lane when using those parts of the Operation Brock routes that are dual carriageway local roads. Appropriate exceptions to this prohibition have been provided after consultation with the Kent Resilience Forum and freight associations.
Finally, the (No. 3) (Amendment) order has been laid using the negative procedure. This order extends the sunset clause of the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent Order (No. 3) 2019 to the same date as the others, so they will all expire on 31 October 2021.
The amending order further defines the strategic roads which will require HCV drivers to obtain a Kent access permit through the GOV.UK “Check an HGV is ready to cross the border” service before setting off on an international journey via Kent. This amending order would also allow vehicles carrying specific priority goods to obtain a priority goods permit that allows them to bypass the Operation Brock queues. It also clarifies to whom local haulier permits may be issued in line with Kent County Council guidelines.
To summarise, these amending instruments continue the powers from the 2019 orders by extending the sunset clause. These instruments allow for an enforceable border readiness check to be conducted. At the end of the transition period, the UK will become a third country and the customs authorities in EU member states will introduce EU border and customs rules. Traders will need to complete new processes for customs and provide documentation to their hauliers, who will need that documentation when carrying goods, to enable smooth movement across the border. The border readiness checks will look to see whether a haulier has those documents. This is important because, without the right documentation, drivers may not be able to complete their journey to the EU. The UK port may turn them away if they do not have the required documentation—for example, some of the customs documentation will need to be scanned at the Eurotunnel check-in before the vehicle can board the train.
These orders are vital to sensible traffic management in Kent. It is critical that we demonstrate to the public and to businesses that Operation Brock has been developed and strengthened from the 2019 orders and that it will be ready, fully operational and enforceable on day one should it be needed to deal with the impact of any cross-channel disruption. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her words. She made it sound as if these amending orders were a relatively straightforward way of dealing with the post-Brexit situation but, taken together with everything else we know, it conjures up something closer to a hard border in Kent than the free, frictionless trade we were promised after Brexit.
I have four areas to raise with the Minister but, when she winds up, can she first indicate whether any of this is likely to be included in any trade agreements that might be reached within the next few days? Rumour is that there is a specific sub-agreement on road haulage that might make life a bit easier than what she has described when Operation Brock would be needed.
The first point I want to raise is on guidance. Over the weekend, I tried to read the Government’s 24-page guidance for hauliers and commercial drivers. It is not an easy read or particularly user-friendly, but it is better than the 262-page document they issued the previous month. However, it is not comprehensible at a glance. What efforts have the Government made to ensure that information is communicated to haulage offices and to individual drivers, who themselves may be of multiple nationalities, in a form that is easily comprehensible? What is surely needed here at this late stage is a user-friendly handbook, plus perhaps an electronic equivalent. Can the Minister report on discussions with the industry and the trade unions on a short, easy-to-read guide for hauliers and drivers to understand?
Secondly, on the related point of enforcement, failure to produce correct documents will fall on individual drivers who may have their vehicles demobilised or turned back, and who may themselves be fined £300, as the Minister explained. My point is that the penalty should surely fall on the company, which has the legal responsibility for documentation, not on individual drivers. It is surely wrong to penalise the worker or subcontracted driver for the failures of the haulier’s administration. Has any discussion on this arrangement involved the trade unions representing drivers? I understand that the Minister’s colleague, Rachel Maclean, told some of our colleagues that she would meet Unite the Union but that, as of this morning, no such meeting has yet been arranged.
The majority of drivers employed by foreign and British hauliers operating on the cross-channel routes are not British nationals; many are, of course, eastern European. There is a difficulty not only of communication but, potentially, of collecting any fine if it falls on the driver and not the company. There is another problem here as well. There will be a need to differentiate drivers and trucks of different nationalities. I understand that there will be an electronic system, which is not completely working properly. It will be able to do so to a degree, but what then happens? For example, trade between Ireland and the remaining countries in the EU mainly transits via Great Britain, but Irish lorries from an EU member state—Ireland—will presumably have easier access through French and Belgian ports, so should the UK side of this operation not allow them to go through more easily? What arrangements have been made for this Irish trade? Will it be given priority, as would logically be the case? While I am about the Irish trade, what are the equivalent arrangements at Holyhead and Fishguard?
Regarding Operation Brock, traffic management and parking, these regulations imply an enormous operation. They envisage situations where the traffic is either near static or gridlocked. Does responsibility for enforcement and Operation Brock, with traffic management on the M2, M20 and feeder roads, fall on the Kent Police or some new organisation? I understand that document checks will be carried out by DVSA personnel. Is the cost of all this to come out of general taxation or a grant to DVSA, Kent County Council or Kent Police? Does the operation involve customs officers and Border Force staff in checking other aspects of the documentation? What are the additional cost and manpower resources for that operation? It is potentially an enormously substantial traffic management task.
Moreover, how will local commercial traffic which operates only within Kent and south-east England—not in international trade at all—be allowed to proceed and not get caught up in the gridlock of international trade? How, for example, will those lorries given key priority because they are carrying live animals or fresh produce be able to work their way through and who is responsible for seeing that they do? Is that the police or the DVSA, and how will they have the authority to get them through?
Are there systems for communicating severe delays back upstream, so that lorry drivers coming through the country either divert or rest well before they reach Kent, so that the situation does not get worse? I understand that hauliers and Unite the Union have also raised the question of facilities at the lorry parks, where drivers may have to stay for hours, if not days, in some cases, if the situation gets really bad. Frankly, a few Portaloos scattered along the M20 is not sufficient.
Finally, can the Minister clarify something on phasing in? In dealing with traffic coming the other way, into the UK, the Government have indicated that they do not initially intend to impose heavy checks at Dover and that the system will be phased in in five stages. Is there a similar understanding with the EU, or with the French and Belgian authorities, so that there will be a phasing-in of their controls the other side of the channel? If that were the case, it would ease the problem on this side to a degree and much in these orders would therefore not often be needed.
My Lords, building on what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has said, a large number of drivers involved in international haulage working for either British or continental companies are saying that if the arrangements in this country for their conduct through it are too onerous, they will opt not to come to Britain and seek work elsewhere. If that is to be the case, it will lead to a crisis in the haulage industry. Drivers will obviously not travel here from Spain with fruit, for example, if they are to be heavily delayed because that will far outweigh the earnings which they would get.
I hope that the Minister will think about the use of traffic officers to enforce very carefully. I remember that when PCSOs were introduced into the police force there was a lot of argument about what powers they had. Bearing in mind the reluctance of government to allocate enough police to roads anywhere, it seems time that the Government faced up to the question of how much power will be given to officers, particularly if they are to undertake duties as envisaged in these instruments.
My major point, and I have told the Minister of this, is that I believe we are in danger of having, virtually, a hygiene crisis along the whole of the routes in and out of the ports. There is already a problem in Kent with a lot of human waste. It is a lot of trouble. Haulage firms have never provided adequate facilities for drivers, as is the case in most other industries, but it is important that these issues are faced. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to a few Portaloos strewn here and there along the motorways. It is a much more serious problem than that. These people have to be able not only to use the loo but to wash, eat and sleep. The proper facilities will need to be provided, unless the arrangements with the EU are much easier than we believe.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to some part of the agreement which might make things easier, but it is a very fragile arrangement which depends on timely arrivals of vehicles at points of departure and their swift clearance away from points of arrival. Unless that is met, after Christmas the Government will be faced with an almighty crisis, which they are going to have to deal with.
My Lords, I wish to declare a kind of interest in this debate. I am a resident of the Isle of Thanet in the county of Kent, and as such have an interest in some of these important issues, especially those before the House today: the commercial and environmental aspects that impinge on the county of my birth—St Peter’s, Broadstairs, to be exact. Some noble Lords will have other, very meaningful reasons for entering this debate, and I look forward to hearing those and, indeed, the Minister’s reply to this short debate. As a remainer, I would have hoped that the instruments before us were unnecessary—although there have been traffic problems surrounding the outskirts of Dover for as long as I can remember—but we are where we are.
In this short debate I wish to dwell on the amount of money that has been expended in such a prolific way, reflecting the level of stupidity, when taking these three instruments together, mindful of the fact that no doubt the problems envisaged may never take place at all. I wish to dwell on that narrow yet important part of the instruments before us today. In that regard, I recently asked some Parliamentary Questions of the Minister sitting on the Government Bench today. I was concerned about the costs to the taxpayer that have already been expended in relation to the Manston Airport project. As an aside, I am sure everyone here will know that Manston Airport is the largest airstrip in the country and played a great part in the Battle of Britain in the Second World War.
The Answers to the Questions that I put to the Minister concerning the Manston Airport project were that
“between August 2015 to June 2020, the Department for Transport (DfT) has paid a total of £19.4m for the use of Manston Airfield as a lorry park”—
it might be of interest to noble Lords that not one lorry has been parked at Manston during that period—and that some £10.3 million has been expended
“as part of the EU Exit no deal preparation contingency planning and £9.1m for the use of Manston Airfield for business as usual”,
whatever that means,
“and Operation Stack. This has enabled DfT to use Manston Airfield to hold HGVs for traffic management purposes”
in the event of a dispute. Yes, Minister, the money spent is of concern, but imagine the net effect on the villages of Manston, Minster and Monkton, and the surrounding areas, of what they have had to put up with for over a year. What the Minister’s department refers to as a temporary backup holding lorry facility causes disruption not only to the villages mentioned but to traffic generally. The department described the measure as temporary—needed for a period of six months based on current planning, it was said—when in fact it has been going on for some 18 months.
That is not the end of the disruptions taking place for those people: there is also the extra cost of flood- lighting, security and road diggers, while the entire airfield has been covered in cones for months for no obvious reason. For those reasons, I hope the Minister will respond and give some very good explanations for why so much money has been expended unnecessarily on these projects.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, who obviously knows what he is talking about and speaks with great local knowledge.
I thank my noble friend for setting out these orders so clearly, but they raise concerns. In effect, they extend the sunset provisions from the end of this year to the end of October 2021. I have various questions for my noble friend based on the Explanatory Memoranda for the orders. First, the orders refer to a position where in January it seems about 60% of the normal flow will be unimpeded—the memorandum states that that is about 6,500 vehicles—but that rises to 7,000 in February 2021. I wonder why it rises; is that because of increased usage in February?
Nothing is said beyond February 2021, but the sunset provision lasts until October. Is it anticipated that this will continue until October, and is there any assessment of what its impact is likely to be thereafter? Presumably, if it is extending until October 2021, there must be an anticipation of delays throughout that time. The orders talk of a risk of some additional friction at the border, at least initially. I appreciate that, but it seems to be quite some friction if it is going on for nine months plus—10 months, in fact.
I want to ask my noble friend about local involvement. It is to be welcomed that the Kent Resilience Forum is central to the implementation of the orders, but I wonder how it is being engaged. How often does it meet the ministerial team? When was the last time they met so that some of the forum’s local knowledge could be made use of and the ministerial team was made truly aware of the impact that this is going to have in Kent?
With regard to the implementation locally of Operation Brock, how many staff have been recruited, what training has been put in place for them and, importantly, who is paying for those staff? Like the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and others, I am concerned about the lavatory and washing facilities that are going to be made available. It is so important that we have proper hygiene facilities. As can be appreciated at the moment, this is something that everyone is rightly going to be concerned about. Could my noble friend expand on what proper facilities are being provided for the 6,500 vehicle drivers anticipated in January and the 7,000 anticipated in February?
It is not just washing and lavatory facilities that are important, important though they are; what about food outlets and so on? I also wonder, given the importance of having the appropriate paperwork, if there is going to be internet access, whether at Manston airfield or anywhere else. If my noble friend could say something about that, it would be appreciated because that point is central.
Are there any special considerations in the Covid pandemic period that have been brought to bear? Obviously, when this was first considered in terms of an earlier possible delay to a Brexit agreement, there was no pandemic. There has been a pandemic since. How has that been factored in? Is the prospect of all those people in close proximity presenting particular problems? How are we addressing that?
Like the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I am concerned about the position regarding Holyhead and Fishguard. I appreciate that is not directly an issue here but I wonder whether my noble friend can say something by way of reassurance that we are on top of that issue. I know this point came up yesterday at Oral Questions, at least with regard to Holyhead, and it appears that there are some difficulties there too, although perhaps not of the same magnitude. Perhaps she can say something about that.
These orders appear to be specific to Kent. I understand that, but given the impact that all this is having, are we sure that it will not have an impact on the surrounding counties of Essex, Sussex and Surrey, and the capital, London, as well? If not, what are we doing about the position in the adjoining counties and areas? Are we ensuring that there is proper publicity in the surrounding areas—indeed, throughout the country—so that people travelling to Kent will be aware of the problems involved in doing so, particularly close to Dover, Ashford and so on? There are many considerations, and I appreciate that my noble friend might not have answers to all the questions. If she does not, I shall be happy to receive a letter from her, with a copy placed in the Library.
I am grateful to the Minister for introducing the orders. However, she did so somewhat blithely, as if these were a couple of routine matters that could swiftly be disposed of—whereas, as my noble friend Lord Pendry outlined, we are talking about events that will have an enormous impact on the county of Kent and elsewhere.
There are also some radical departures from what has been accepted as normal policing in the United Kingdom. I refer the Minister to the explanatory memorandum issued with the orders, and especially to paragraph 6.1, which mentions
“a financial penalty deposit of £300 to be taken immediately at the roadside from a person without a United Kingdom address who is believed to have committed the offence of contravening the new restrictions”.
This is a vast departure from our normal procedure. The Police Federation has for many years been emphatic about the police’s desire not to be seen as fine collectors on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government. I wonder what conversations have taken place with the federation about these proposals. Can the Minister tell us whether there are any other motoring offences that involve the police habitually stopping motorists at the roadside and given them on-the-spot fines? I know that happens in other parts of the world, but it does not happen in the United Kingdom.
Three hundred pounds is a not insubstantial sum. How many lorry drivers drive around the United Kingdom with £300 in their back pocket? Maybe there will be other arrangements. Will Visa be acceptable, or perhaps PayPal? Will people have to use a mobile phone to arrange a transfer from a bank account? Have these proposals, and their impact on the ground, been thought through?
Who will administer all this? The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, spoke about the number of heavy goods vehicles that could be involved under the orders, but when I looked online, the Kent road police unit appeared to consist of about 100 officers. Are they to be deployed entirely on Operation Brock, or are they still expected to carry out their other duties? Has the police and crime commissioner for Kent been consulted about the deployment of the police in this way? The Explanatory Memorandum mentions 5,000 or 6,000 lorries. That will be no small task for police documentation checks. Traffic officers are specifically mentioned in the Explanatory Memorandum, but this is difficult to envisage with only 100 traffic officers. If they are to be deployed entirely on Operation Brock checks, what will happen to road policing generally in that part of the United Kingdom?
The documentation issue was barely mentioned. The Government have talked about recruiting 50,000 extra customs officers to deal with the documents. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how many of those customs officers have actually been recruited, as we come to finally leaving the European Union.
Her Majesty’s Government are supposed to be producing a driver’s explanatory handbook to explain all these regulations to drivers. It is going to be in 18 languages. So far, we have not even seen one in English; I cannot speak about the other 17. Can the Minister tell us when this handbook is to be produced, bearing in mind that we are only a few weeks away from its being necessary?
The Road Haulage Association—the very people most involved in these matters—has been fairly scathing about the Government’s preparatory work in the run-up to 31 December, recently describing the proposals as “incomplete” and “inadequate”, and using terms such as “total incompetence”. Those are the RHA’s words, not mine. It is not exactly thrilled by the prospect. Have the trade unions—especially Unite, which is responsible for the organisation of lorry drivers in the United Kingdom—expressed an opinion? What are their views about the proposals?
The figure of 5,000 to 7,500 lorries has been mentioned. If I may digress a moment from the actual orders, while remaining on the subject of cross-channel traffic, I can tell noble Lords that 30 years ago, those of us who supported the Channel Tunnel were assured that one of its enormous benefits would be that, for the first time in this small country, there would be the opportunity for long rail freight hauls right across Europe. Many of us looked forward to seeing those trans-European freight trains. But now, 25 years after the tunnel opened, when 1.2 million lorries per year use the Eurotunnel railway merely as a shuttle to get between our country and the continent, how many freight trains are scheduled every 24 hours? Six. There is a slight imbalance there, and given the likely chaos foreseen not just by me but by lots of other people, I hope the Minister and her department will look again at that imbalance between international road and rail freight, and see what can be done.
Funnily enough, the ports of Dover and Folkestone, and many other affected parts of the United Kingdom, were the areas that voted most heavily for Brexit in the referendum. They may find that “getting their country back” means that their county is likely to be choked by a torrent of heavy goods vehicles going nowhere, and their areas will be considerably affected by the carbon deposits that the vehicles will leave. Pollution and congestion could well be the outcome of these two orders.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Snape, and I thank my noble friend the Minister for setting out the orders so clearly. I welcome these SIs, and the pragmatic decision to extend the time-limited regulations for a further nine months, especially because there is no clarity at all on our future EU trading relationship from next month onwards, and because of the disruption we have seen over the past few months due to the pandemic. It is inevitable that we must prepare for chaos at our ports from 1 January 2021.
My noble friend suggests that the orders may not, in fact, be needed—but I must confess that I cannot share her confidence. Whatever the outcome of the trade talks, customs declarations will be required for all British-EU trade. Even if we waive rules for the first six months, we cannot know whether the EU will do the same. If drivers do not have the correct import-export documents or customs declarations, they could be fined, and have their cargos seized or even destroyed. These SIs rightly aim to deal with the logistical consequences of the delays that this might cause at the ports and the Channel Tunnel when drivers are in Kent.
Following the traffic chaos that we have seen during 2020 as a result of hold-ups for various reasons at ports on the other side of the channel, these SIs will ensure that Operation Brock traffic controls will be extended. They also introduce some modifications. I welcome the introduction of special fast-track procedures for perishable goods, but I am more concerned about the Kent access permit for heavy commercial vehicles, to allow them to use the A2/M2 or the M20 to get to the Channel Tunnel terminal in Cheriton, or to the Port of Dover. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned the threat of £300 fines for those who travel on local roads without a permit. I agree with him that the fine should surely be levied on the company rather than the individual driver.
All of this is certainly not what was promised when Brexit was proposed to the people of this country. Far worse than this, it is now four years since that referendum and a little over four weeks until the transition period ends, yet we are told that much of the detail that operators need for effective planning is not yet complete. I ask my noble friend what the reason for this is and how it is being considered in the current EU negotiations.
These regulations are certainly going to be required according to those directly involved. For example, the operations director of the Customs Clearance Consortium suggested that there was
“more than a 50% chance there will be delays”
on Kent roads as a result of the disruption at the ports. Earlier this month, the Commons Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union was told by road haulage leaders that there is an 80% chance of “chaos in Kent”, as the necessary computer systems, lorry parks and customs agent needed to avoid delays were not yet in place.
I was struck by the observation that Ministers seemed to be relying on
“self-belief in their own rhetoric … that everything will be okay”.
Could my noble friend please comment on, for example, remarks by the chief executive of the Road Haulage Association that far fewer than the 50,000 customs agents needed to process the 200 million additional forms generated annually by Brexit are already in place? How many agents does her department estimate are, in fact, in place? If she does not have this, and the other, information I am asking for, please could she write to me? When will the full functionality of the IT systems needed for efficient post-Brexit operations be provided? Do the Government have information on the availability of the heat-treated pallets, which are apparently in short supply but are essential for exports to the EU from January?
I express particular concerns about smaller hauliers, which have limited resources for preparations of this magnitude. Like the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I also tried to look up the Government’s guidance and found it difficult to identify precisely what is needed to ensure readiness. The officials preparing such documentation clearly have a much greater knowledge than those who have never had to deal with customs before because of our free movement rules within the single market and customs union. The Government have always faced significant challenges in communicating policy to the public, struggling to provide user-friendly information.
Once again, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Snape, asking: when will this business handbook that was promised to help hauliers prepare for the radical new systems be in place? The idea that there will now potentially have to be passport-style checks just to get into Kent, and of then having to go through those checks and potentially still queue in giant lorry-holding facilities, is rather shocking. I echo the concerns of my noble friend Lord Bourne and others, and I ask my noble friend what restroom facilities will be available for drivers with delays of many hours. I know that we were told that Brexit would mean an end to free movement, but I do not think anyone ever imagined that that would mean ending free movement inside our own country as well.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this short debate, and I congratulate the Minister on at least updating previous documentation and giving us a sight of what will be needed for the next six months or, probably, a year. It is all highly complex, as other noble Lords have said. I declare an interest as a member of the EU Goods Sub- Committee. We have taken evidence from many of the people involved in this flow issue over the last two or three weeks, including Unite the Union and many of the business groups whose members get involved in it.
The situation is really serious, from what I understand. I shall not repeat what other noble Lords have said, but I hope we will get a comprehensive response from the Minister when she winds up—or at least she could, perhaps, write to us afterwards. I have always thought that one of our problems is that we spend a lot of time talking—quite rightly—about what is going to happen in Kent, but very little time talking about what is happening on the other side of the channel. That is before we even get to the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland situation.
We recently took evidence from the Port of Rotterdam and the Port of Calais. They were very polite about us, as you would expect, but I got the distinct impression from the representative of the Port of Rotterdam that they thought that everything on their side of the water would be all right, but they did not have much of a clue about what will happen on our side. The message they were getting from their colleagues was that the situation was—shall we say—confused. They probably would have been rather ruder if they had not been giving evidence to our committee.
On that issue, perhaps the Minister could explain the location of the controls between Dover and Calais. This applies to trucks going in both directions. We have heard that the French immigration—or emigration—people will deal with the drivers’ DIT work before they get onto the ferry. However, we then heard that, in fact, the French customs and immigration people would deal with incoming freight at Dover. As the Port of Dover told us, there is no room there—that is a minor detail. We need to know where all the different controls will take place and in both directions. That applies if and when Manston and Sevington and all the other places come into force, because of traffic jams. On the Calais side, there is much more space, but I would like to know where every control is taking place there.
This leads me on to a subject on which many noble Lords have spoken: the location of restrooms—some people call them restrooms; I call them toilets. Where will they be? Again, we got some rather sad evidence from Highways England, which is responsible for motorways in Kent. It is good to know that there will be portakabins and good facilities in Sevington and Manston, but the problem is that, going down the motorway, there are four lanes on the M20 and there might be a situation where there are two lanes in one direction and two lanes in the other, but it is difficult to know where you could put even a portaloo down there. You cannot really put them on the verge, because people will stop on the hard shoulder and, when they are moving, that is highly dangerous. Of course, once they have stopped and there is a traffic jam that lasts for goodness knows how many hours, where will the facilities be? It is very hard to solve, unless portakabins are to be airlifted in, which sounds pretty stupid. We need some answers
My second question for the Minister is about enforcement, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Snape. When stopping a truck, or even going up to a stopped truck, and dealing with the kind of fines mentioned by my noble friend—the £300 and everything—the first question is: who is liable to pay it? Is it the driver? Is it the forwarder? Is it the owner of the goods, the owner of the tractor unit or the owner of the trailer? All of these could well be different people. How long does it take a police officer to administer a fine or a charge? As my noble friend said, £300 is a lot of money. Where are they going to stop the trucks to do it? I do not know whether the Minister has an answer to this question, but I suspect that the answer is that this will not be done—they cannot do it because they do not have enough people. Then, we will get into a really chaotic situation.
I echo previous noble Lords in saying that we have known about this for four years. We had hoped that the single market would allow a freer flow of goods, but there were going to have to be some checks somewhere. There will be checks not just at Dover and the Channel Tunnel but at ports all the way up and down the country, to which drivers may well want to divert to avoid reported jams at Dover and the Channel Tunnel. Are we in a situation where we are going to get chaos everywhere? If so, it is we and our businesses who will lose out.
From having talked to many of the firms involved, I know that, in spite of the fact that we may have 80% of the drivers and trucks coming from eastern Europe and being driven for eastern European companies, if they get held up too much, none of the people or customers will want to try that again. As a consequence, the big and small firms that use these services to move their goods across borders several times in the course of manufacture may well say, “Enough’s enough, we’re going to move it all to the continent”. I hope that I am wrong, but we have to get this right, and at the moment the industry clearly does not think that we have. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who asked some very pertinent questions.
I thank the Minister for introducing these statutory instruments, which are clearly necessary. She explained them clearly; nevertheless, they will not ease the concerns of the nation’s hauliers, who are still in doubt about what their position will be at the end of the year. Can the Minister tell them, for instance, whether they will need ECMT documentation? If so, we have a major problem, since only a fraction of our hauliers would be able to collect such documentation.
Other noble Lords have spoken about the problems that we will have under these arrangements and the new proposals. I have grave concerns about the impact that all this will have on Kent, a county once renowned as the garden of England. I declare an interest: I have a house on the Kent coast. I am therefore very familiar with the weight of freight traffic, which pounds up and down Kent’s road network.
Operation Fennel is the Government’s plan to provide —[Inaudible]—for up to 7,000 lorries in the event of delays at the Channel Tunnel and the Port of Dover. More than—[Inaudible]—4,000 provided at what was Manston Airport. The noble Lords who referred to hygiene are absolutely right. The prospect that, very soon, 8,000 drivers could be cooped together in cramped conditions, inevitably mixing with each other, is nothing less than horrifying. A Covid outbreak would be almost certain. Can the Minister say how drivers displaying symptoms would isolate? This would be in a district—Thanet—with the second-highest Covid rate in England. Thanet District Council’s director of operational services said:
“An outbreak at Manston would have a significant impact on already stretched services.”
Equally, an outbreak at Sevington, where up to 3,400 drivers could be held, could cause—[Inaudible.] The nearest hospital, the William Harvey Hospital at Ashford, is already under strain. But Manston has many other—[Inaudible.] The A229, a road with no hard shoulder, and other nearby roads are likely to become log-jammed, blocking the road network around both Margate and Ashford hospitals.
But it is not just hospitals that cause a problem. If there is a fire in the area, emergency services could find it almost impossible to get through, given that the planned parking lanes leave little leeway for them to pass. Thanet’s council leader has said that a lack of information from the Government on vital issues such as traffic flow proposals is seriously hampering the council’s ability to plan how to mitigate the effects on residents. As recently as Tuesday, the council was still waiting for key information, such as an assessment of the traffic movement in the area, analysis of key environmental impacts and comprehensive operational management plans for the lorry parks. Do the Government realise the dangers they risk imposing on east Kent?
Already there have been months of delays on the M20 as—[Inaudible]—parking lanes were put up, taken down, and have now been put up again. I do not understand why they were taken down, as at that stage we did not have a trade deal. Surely putting them up once and leaving them there would have been a more sensible and economical decision. The area is now being defaced by the creation—without any public consultation —of a monstrously ugly visible lorry park at Sevington.
The Government seem very loath—[Inaudible]—the people of Kent. Recently, they turned the Shorncliffe army camp into a camp for migrants who—[Inaudible]—crossed the channel. The local council handled the issue rather more sensitively than the Government, and the local—[Inaudible]—welcomed the newcomers. Nevertheless, the lack of consultation is a real cause for concern. Now, without consultation, the area faces the prospect of many thousands of drivers, from all over the UK and Europe, being stranded in cramped, risky and potentially insanitary conditions in an area in which Covid is already rampant. So what alternative plans do the Government have to ameliorate this potentially dire situation? In the event of a Covid outbreak in one of these lorry parks, how would the Government react?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson.
My Lords, once again we are updating SIs that we dealt with last year. It is worth remembering that at that time the concept of lorry drivers needing a Kent passport was shocking, and that when the Minister was asked whether the timing of the sunset clause was sufficient, we were strongly reassured that it was generous. The first of these SIs extends the sunset clause from 31 December this year to 31 October 2021, so I ask the Minister again if she is convinced that this new date will be long enough. Are the Government convinced that they will not need Operation Brock after next October?
I am comparing the situation in Kent with the crisis the Government are facing in providing lorry parking for Holyhead. It was clear from an Answer given yesterday to a Question that there is no hope of a lorry park near Holyhead being up and running before July. In the meantime, customs clearance processes will take place in Warrington and Birmingham, over 100 miles from the port. This is obviously an open invitation for all manner of evasion of export and import controls. I echo the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, about the serious disruption in north Wales, although the Reasonable Worst Case Scenario the Government produced seemed to dismiss this entirely.
In September, the Cabinet Office issued a Reasonable Worst Case Scenario for Borders at the End of the Transition Period, as I have just said. That estimated that 30% to 50% of trucks might not be border ready on 1 January and that this would lead to daily queues of 7,000 HGVs in Kent by February. I am assuming that we are now in that worst-case scenario, as we are 36 days away from the end of the transition and there is no deal. We had a taste of this earlier this week when the French border authorities trialled the new passport checks that will be required and five-mile queues of lorries developed on the M20.
So freight operators are being told to prepare for the change, and their very loud response is to ask exactly what kind of change they are supposed to prepare for. A spokesperson for Logistics UK has quite reasonably pointed out that the Government’s own hauliers’ handbook is incomplete, and press reports suggest it is pretty incomprehensible. As a large percentage of the hauliers crossing via the channel ports are not British, if it is to work, it also needs translation. Do the Government intend to translate the handbook, and when do they expect it to be ready? I am conscious that I have also asked this as a Written Question but I had not received a reply by the start of the debate. I apologise if I have received a reply since it started.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, I will take this opportunity to ask about the state of preparedness of the government IT systems for the new border controls and what progress has been made on recruiting the additional staff required. How near the target are the Government?
These orders make some additional amendments to the 2019 orders as well. They modify the approved routes that an HCV can take to the ports and require them to have a Kent access permit when using the local road network. That is understandable as communities in Kent have suffered considerable disruption and inconvenience in the past when there have been short-term problems. The disruption we are discussing here will probably last for some months, of course, and it could possibly be semi-permanent. It will certainly cause supply problems, as an HCV held up on the journey out will almost certainly be delayed on its return, along with its load. So it is regrettable that this is all so close to the wire.
There is an additional specific exception in the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 3) (Amendment) Order 2020, which goes along with these two, allowing hauliers from east Kent and Faversham to use local roads. Was this the only request for such an exception? As I said when we discussed this issue before, there are bound to be hold-ups for other local commercial traffic simply trying to go about its daily business in Kent.
Retailers and hauliers are particularly concerned about perishable goods, so these orders allow priority to hauliers carrying highly perishable goods, live animals and goods which
“would give rise to a disproportionate economic impact on a geographical area of the UK.”
The first two are clear but I wonder whether the Minister can help me with the very strange phraseology of the third exception. It strikes me that this could apply to a very large proportion of lorries. What about steel from south Wales or tinned peas from Lincolnshire? Each of those is very important to the local economy. Forgive me for being sceptical, but this sounds like a last-minute addition put in by a Minister to help a friend.
There is to be a prioritisation site at Ebbsfleet. Can the Minister tell us exactly how that will work? I am concerned that the criterion is that a lorry has to be carrying a single load of fresh or live seafood. Surely the issues about freshness and welfare of animals apply just the same if you have other items in your load as well?
The big pharmaceutical companies are concerned that supplies of medicines and vaccines could well be interrupted and delayed. Can the Minister explain why are they not included as a priority category? The Government apparently do not hold strategic food reserves. Can the Minister tell us what discussions the Department for Transport has had with other departments about shortages of strategic supplies and how they might be minimised?
Finally, I take issue with the Explanatory Memorandum’s impact assessment, which must surely go down in history as stretching credibility until it snaps. It says:
“There is no significant, lasting impact on business … the Check an HGV service will have a limited burden on industry once familiarised”.
That refers to a required set of documentation that will, according to Sainsbury’s, cost thousands of pounds per load. It continues:
“There is no … significant … impact on the public sector.”
Tell that to the police or the NHS or the local councils concerned—
My Lords, the orders extend the sunset clauses of existing 2019 orders, as the Minister said, from the end of this year so that heavy commercial vehicles can continue to be regulated by traffic officers in Kent until the end of October next year. That is to keep Operation Brock, which is intended in particular to keep the M20 in Kent open in both directions, on the road in a bid to avoid the consequences of cross-channel travel disruption. The orders also provide for penalties for drivers of heavy commercial vehicles who do not have a valid Kent access permit, and for heavy commercial vehicles carrying priority goods via the Channel Tunnel or the Port of Dover to be given priority when travelling through Kent.
Since we are only just over a month away from the end of the transition period, could the Minister place on record the Government’s latest assessment of the likely level of cross-channel travel disruption from the beginning of January, since I assume this is a matter that the Government now keep constantly under review? The Explanatory Memorandum says:
“The Government’s reasonable worst-case scenario suggests that there might a freight flow of 60% to 80% of usual volumes at the short Channel crossing in the weeks following the end of the transition period, and that could lead to queues of up to 6,500 HCVs for January 2021 rising to 7,000 in February 2021 in Kent.”
What does that actually mean in terms of travel disruption? It also says:
“The traffic management measures proposed would only be used during temporary activations of Operation Brock”.
How often, and in what circumstances, is it expected that Operation Brock will be activated? Is it expected to be activated after February, since the Explanatory Memorandum refers to queues of numbers of heavy commercial vehicles only up to February 2021?
The Government are introducing an online check for heavy commercial vehicle drivers taking goods from this country to the EU, which would enable them to confirm at the point of loading their goods that they had the appropriate border documentation. If so, they would then be advised that they could continue their journey. If they did not have the necessary documentation they would be told not to take the goods until the trader had provided all the relevant documentation. Use of the online check for heavy commercial vehicles will be necessary to obtain a Kent access permit, enabling travel on the M20 or the A2/M2. The Government intend to make the use of this online check mandatory for those travelling through Kent to reduce the number of heavy commercial vehicles coming into the county that were not border-ready to travel from Dover or through the Channel Tunnel.
To what extent do the Government expect the new mandatory online check to reduce the need to use a stretch of the M20 and off-road holding areas in Kent for heavy commercial vehicles waiting to cross the channel? Will it eliminate that need? If not, to what extent will they still be needed, and by a maximum of how many heavy commercial vehicles at any one point? What will be the extent of delays if on-road and off-road holding areas have to be used? How much longer, on average, will it take a heavy commercial vehicle to complete the journey across the channel, once in Kent, than it does now?
If there are to be delays for heavy commercial vehicles in Kent and the need for the use of holding areas, what facilities will be available for use by the drivers of those vehicles from the end of the transition period? Can the Government guarantee now that there will be no issue of insufficient driver welfare facilities, including sanitation, toilets and food, being available from the end of the transition period at the beginning of January? Is it expected that the arrangements provided for in these orders will not be needed at all after the end of October next year, when the orders cease to have effect, or do the Government anticipate having to extend them again?
It is suggested that a reason for delays in Kent could be queues created by extended checking procedures at the port of disembarkation on the other side of the channel, causing blocking back. Is that the case, and by what length of time will journeys for heavy commercial vehicles be extended by new checking procedures at the port of disembarkation on the other side of the channel? Will there be new checking procedures that extend journey times for heavy commercial vehicles travelling in the other direction from France to the UK via Dover or the Channel Tunnel and, if so, will that be as a result of checks this side or the other side of the channel? By how much would journey times be extended on average?
What will be the increase in the number of customs declarations per annum required to be processed in respect of heavy commercial vehicles travelling through Kent en route to the other side of the channel after the end of the transition period, compared with the current annual figure? A question was asked during the debate in the Commons on these regulations about the number of additional customs agents who would be required to manage the increase in customs declarations, but it did not receive an answer. How many customs agents will be required after the end of the transition period, compared with the number needed to handle the current number of customs declarations each year, and how many additional customs agents recruited will be in place from the end of the transition period in some five weeks’ time?
The regulations provide for financial penalties to be imposed on drivers who breach these regulations, most of whom will not be residents of this country. Will there be on-the-spot fines payable immediately, or will there be a set number of days in which to pay? Will a breach of the regulations in all or any cases be regarded as a criminal offence? As my noble friend Lord Whitty and others have asked, is it right that a driver should be fined for having incorrect documentation, which is surely the responsibility of the company sending the goods?
The heavy commercial vehicle sector of the road haulage industry has helped keep our country going during the coronavirus outbreak; in particular, in maintaining essential deliveries of food, medical supplies and other goods. We do not want to see this vital sector hit by chaos at, or near, our major points of exit for UK trade in goods at Dover and the Channel Tunnel. I hope that the Government will be able to respond now or subsequently to the many questions and points that have been raised by noble Lords, including me, during this debate, and provide assurances that chaos at our major point of exit for UK trade in goods is not going to materialise.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions to this important debate. I already know that I do not have a hope in answering all their questions. I will therefore deal with as many as I can and, of course, will write on points that I have been unable to cover. I should like to address up front some of the points that noble Lords raised.
This SI covers Kent because it is the area that will be most under pressure, but I reassure noble Lords that we are working closely with local resilience forums at all the major ports. We do not expect levels of disruption to be as significant at those other ports. Indeed, many plans are already being put in place by local resilience forums. We will keep an eye on that but this measure is about Kent. More than any of the others, the short straits is the crossing that is most used. I reassure noble Lords that the Kent resilience forum liaises closely with surrounding counties. It is not just about Kent but about movement of traffic that is sometimes a significant distance away. The Kent forum liaises with the surrounding areas.
A number of noble Lords mentioned the date and whether 31 October is sufficient. We believe it is. It is right to come back to Parliament to seek to extend it. I hope not to be back in October to face the music in your Lordships’ House. The purpose of the entire project is to enable traders to have time to adjust to the new customs requirements. Once that has happened and the hauliers know which documents to expect from their traders, this will not be required. You need customs documents at borders in all sorts of places, across the world. This is not a unique circumstance; it is a transition.
This will be activated. The simplest answer to when it will be activated is when it is needed. That depends on the readiness and volume of the hauliers approaching at any time. Many variables will go into the decision by Kent Police to put Operation Brock in place.
Many noble Lords talked about the level of disruption. Our current estimates state that there could be up to 6,500 HCVs in January. Given a slight increase in usage of the crossing in February, if trader readiness does not improve—and I hope it does—the queue could reach up to 7,000 HCVs. These are maximum or reasonable worst-case figures. This is not what we expect or anticipate to happen; it is what we are planning to happen. Our motto in the DfT is to plan for the worst and hope for the best. It is important to recognise that: there will not be 7,000 HCVs parked in Kent, every day, from January to 31 October. It will get better.
I will address the recent disruption in Kent, which I recognise happened, on Tuesday. The French authorities trialling their post-transition boarding systems was one factor, but there was also a power outage at Euro- tunnel, which exacerbated the situation and caused delays on the M20. That disruption was contained and further measures were not required.
Local consultation is important, because we all recognise the impact on residents in Kent, which is why we want this to be resolved as quickly as possible. We want traders to be ready and for things to go back to where they were before, when one could get on the Eurotunnel easily and quickly, whether one was a private driver or in a HCV. So we have been in consultation with local people, which is incredibly important. We consulted local people, unions and various stakeholders on the policy changes that are before your Lordships’ House today.
Picking up the point made by my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft, the site at Sevington, previously known as MOJO, was put in place using an SDO—special development order. It is a quicker way of getting planning permission. However, even that requires engagement with local residents. There is a 14-day engagement period, when the views of local stakeholders can be gathered. It is important to understand local concerns and to mitigate them where we can. We understand that we probably cannot make everybody 100% happy but, where we can improve the situation, we are committed to doing so. We continue to communicate closely with local residents and businesses.
Also mentioned by my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft was the on/off nature of the barrier in the middle of the M20. The permanent barrier was removed, because it requires a speed limit of 50 miles an hour, which slows down the traffic. We have a much better solution now; we have a monster machine that can move a barrier in place when we need to put a contraflow into action. We do not expect that barrier to be in place most of the time.
A number of noble Lords had questions on fines and enforcement. Basically, if you are stopped as a driver, you will get a piece of paper that says, “You need to pay £300.” You will either get a penalty charge notice, which gives you 28 days to pay, or, if you are a foreign haulier, you will get a piece of paper saying, “We want the money now”, in the nicest possible way. I reassure noble Lords that fines can be paid by direct transfer or credit card. It is very unusual for cash to be used in these circumstances.
A number of noble Lords also asked why the driver is at fault here. It is because the driver has done something wrong. The driver is not being fined for having incorrect documentation. The driver is being fined for driving on a road that they should not have been driving on. The driver is being fined because they committed the offence.
A number of noble Lords expressed deep concern about the DVSA and whether it would be able to do this. The DVSA does this every day. This is what it does. It does enforcement. It levies fines for various areas including overloads, drivers’ hours and construction and use defects. This is what the DVSA does. It takes about 10 minutes to issue one of these fines. and the DVSA is perfectly capable of pulling over a vehicle into a layby.
A number of noble Lords asked which vehicles are included, whether some vehicles would get priority and all that sort of stuff. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, asked whether we would give special dispensation to vehicles coming from the Republic of Ireland through to the short straits. All vehicles of whatever nationality will be treated equally, whether they start in the Republic of Ireland or anywhere else. These Kent access permits can be booked at any time of day. They last for 24 hours, so that should not cause a problem with planning journeys.
I forget which noble Lord mentioned emergency vehicles and their ability to pass. That is the point of these orders. They define exactly where HGVs can park up and stop and therefore leave the routes clear for private motorists, local traffic and emergency vehicles. That is the entire point of these orders.
We talked about prioritisation. It is very important. It is right that it is limited for animal welfare reasons to single loads of fresh and live seafood and day-old chicks. Defra estimates that on average about 70 HGVs a day would be of such exports. As I mentioned earlier, because the orders are in place we know where the trucks will be. They will be able to bypass the trucks and get on to the ferry or the Eurotunnel train quicker. Local haulier permits are needed only if they are going abroad. It means that they do not have to go to the back of the queue and can go straight to the departure point.
On information for drivers, I recognise that one type of information will not fit all. That is why we are providing information in different formats, in different locations, in handbooks and in physical advice sites. Our engagement with Logistics UK and the RHA is ongoing. It is extensive and we take great heed of what the unions have to say. On driver welfare, the Kent Resilience Forum is looking at that in great detail. Facilities will be in place at Sevington and at Manston Airport. There will be wi-fi at Manston Airport. There will be loos. There will be catering facilities. We are looking at putting in medical facilities. I believe that by the time we get to use these facilities they will have all that is needed for driver welfare. I will also remind my honourable friend Rachel Maclean about her offer to meet Unite. It is only Thursday and the offer was made on Monday, so I think we can give her a few more days.
I have many other questions that I really wanted to address but I have gone over so I will have do so in writing. They were on customs agents, heat-treated pallets and Covid contingencies. I go back to the key point that after 31 December we will need customs documents. Therefore, these arrangements may be required. It is essential that hauliers and traders are ready for 31 December. The more they are ready, the less likely it is that we will need these arrangements.