Stephen Kinnock: Many thanks to our witnesses for some really interesting and informative evidence today. I want to focus on the issue of the Kent access permit and get a sense of a few aspects of this around how it would work in practice and around enforcement.
This Smart Freight system has been described as an honesty box whereby the hauliers essentially just tick a box to say they have all the correct paperwork without having to prove they have all the correct paperwork. In order to get the Kent access permit, they just tick that box.
This question is to Elizabeth first, but certainly it would be very good to hear from Stephen and Kevin on this as well. How high would you assess the risk that hauliers will just simply take the path of least resistance and tick the box saying they have the correct paperwork in order to get the access permit? Will they chance their arm and say, “We will sort it out when we are en route” or whatever it might be? Would you assess it as a high, medium or low risk that they will do that?
Elizabeth de Jong: We are a very regulated industry. We are very high on compliance, so we need to keep our HGVs, for example, at a particular standard of maintenance, checks and so on. We are a very regulated industry.
I would suggest that filling it in incorrectly will not be the path of least resistance. There are cameras; there is enforcement by DVSA or Kent Police. If you are found not to have the right paperwork, you will be taken away either to complete your compliance or you may be turned away completely. You may get a £300 fine as well. That is just on your journey. There is a chance of that.
When you arrive at the port without the correct paperwork, you will not be allowed to progress on your way. That has a big impact on yourself as a driver and how you spend your time but also a very big impact on how your company perceives you and how their traders and customers perceive you. It will lead to delay, so I do not believe it is a rational decision to not fill it in correctly.
In any industry there will always be a proportion of people—there have been through the mists of time—who do take their chances; otherwise, we would not need police or enforcement full stop, but I imagine it will be a smaller percentage. I am sure Kevin will have thought about this quite a lot in putting together the enforcement plans. We have not seen the details of the enforcement plans, but we know some of the plans.
Cllr Bentley: On the specific Kent question, you would need a Kent politician to discuss that. The reason I say that is because a lot of work has been going on between Government and Kent County Council on this, and they will be able to provide that information.
If I can briefly broaden it out, other ports have been making a lot of headway in preparing for this. I do not know whether you have spent any time as a Committee looking at the issue of secondary ports, which are also very important. For instance, Harwich in Essex is the secondary port to Dover. Harwich has been doing a lot of preparatory work; other ports will have done that as well. The thing we have to bear in mind is that it is not ships moving around to different ports; it is cargo on the other side in the EU moving to a different port—in Harwich, it would be the Hook of Holland—to get there.
A lot of that preparedness work has been going on. If you have not done it yet, that is something worth looking at. While Calais Dover is an extremely important connection, some of these other issues are important. The secondary ports are something that does need to be looked at.
Stephen Kinnock: Going back to this issue of enforcement, how are the authorities responsible for enforcing going to be able to distinguish between lorries that are only making domestic deliveries and lorries that are heading for the EU? How is that distinction going to be made?
Cllr Bentley: That will be a question around the paperwork that is being prepared.
Stephen Kinnock: Yes, it is the paperwork but also the actual enforcement of that. You say there will be cameras on the roads that will pick up the licence plate of a lorry that is coming into Kent that is supposed to have the correct paperwork. How will that actually be enforced? Are those lorries going to be stopped by the police, or whoever it is, and checked? Are the local police going to have to know what they are looking for and why they are looking for it?
Cllr Bentley: Again, one of the questions we have been asking is precisely this. I would imagine that would go through the local resilience forums, where the police sit. They do not sit on our committee, of course—that is just local government—but we sit on their committees of the local resilience forum. That is something we absolutely have to bottom out. I know the Government have been talking to the LRFs across the country about enforcement.
The exact detail of how that is going to be done I cannot tell you sitting here. That is not to say it has not been done. What we do know is that it must be ready and prepared, to make sure that is enforced, and enforced correctly, and there must be the resourcing to make sure that happens as well.
Stephen Kinnock: I find it quite extraordinary that we are just a few weeks away from 1 January and we still do not know how this is going to be enforced.
Some 85% of what is coming into the UK is on European vehicles, which then fill up in the UK and go back. We would have British authorities stopping and fining EU nationals for these transgressions. Do we see any issues with that? It is not going to endear us to the French, the Germans, the Dutch or whoever it might be if potentially hundreds of their nationals are being stopped and forced to spend two to three days on the hard shoulder on a motorway in Britain somewhere waiting for their paperwork to be processed. Do you see any potential political fallout from that?
Cllr Bentley: One of the reasons we are struggling is because you probably do not have the right witnesses to answer that particular question. I think you need to have members of the local resilience forum and Kent here to ask that question. On a political note, I would say that I do know that a lot of work has been taking place in this area. That is why you need to get those particular witnesses to talk to you about that. The one thing we want out of all of this is a very good relationship with the rest of the EU following 31 December.
Stephen Kinnock: Yes, absolutely.
Elizabeth de Jong: There are a couple of points I can add to that. You said they would be “forced” to be pulled up and wait for the paperwork; they have the choice of getting the right paperwork together. That is what we are hoping for. There will be a period where that is difficult for people, but eventually there will be fewer and fewer people who do not have the right paperwork, because they know it is important and they understand more about the processes.
It also makes the information provision to foreign operators very important indeed. The haulier handbook, which I mentioned earlier, will be translated into different languages. However, it is quite late in the day. We have had a number of issues and a number of iterations of it. It was planned to be launched at the back end of November, but we concluded it was not fit for purpose for that date. It could not answer that fundamental question in sufficient clarity:
“What documentation and checks do I need for my journey?”
Version 1 will be released on 18 November with translations to follow. Version 2, which will have pictures of documents, maps and checklists, will be released on 7 December, with translations to follow. HMRC and the Border and Protocol Delivery Group will be able to tell you more. It is one of our metrics, which are not yet published, about their engagement with other countries. We have held a number of sessions with trade associations from other countries.
The questions you are asking illustrate to me the importance of spending the next few weeks—the next 50 days—focusing very much on other countries and the information they need to know about our systems.
Stephen Kinnock: I am out of time, but I have one more question. When might we expect the decisions and information about the enforcement mechanisms for the Kent access permit and violations in Kent to be published by the Government? That would be useful for us to know. I do not know whether the panel have a brief answer—I am out of time—on when we will know how all of this is going to be enforced.
Elizabeth de Jong: I know there is a consultation period up to 16 November, which might be helpful in working out the date when the enforcement process is going to be published.