Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
TUESDAY 31 OCTOBER 2000
40. It was contracted to BP.
(Mr Mumford) We do have some drivers who pick up at
Cardiff. If Cardiff is blocked there are some other terminals
that we can go to. I am rather amazed by their comment.
41. This was evidence from the Union which represents
(Mr Mumford) I would like to look into that specifically.
42. You can write to us. I am more than happy
for that to occur.
(Mr Mumford) Yes.
43. Surely one of the issues was that the public
supported overwhelmingly this protest and, not surprisingly, quite
a lot of drivers felt that circumstances were intimidating because
of the strength of public opinion in favour of the protest. There
have been attempts to rewrite history since this protest and suggest
that it was all because there was criminal behaviour and criminal
intimidation but what really happened was that people protested
very strongly at the fact that petrol taxes are more than double
what they are in competitor countries, diesel taxes are two and
a half times what they are in competitor countries, and that viewpoint
is supported by the overwhelming mass of the population. That
was what was "intimidating" and that was why many drivers
decided that they would, in a sense, join the protest. Rather
they did not feel intimidated for their lives or for their safety,
they felt sympathy with the cause.
(Mr Brinded) I would like to refute that. Right from
the outset as far as I am concerned that was never an issue. The
issue both for them and for us was always around safety and it
was around intimidation. When we were satisfied about the level
of policing and the policing had been discussed with the drivers,
on no occasion did the drivers say they were not going. There
is absolutely nothing behind your suggestion.
44. Can I give you a specific one. That is on
the Monday I phoned up the Deputy Chief Constable of Hampshire
when there was no fuel in my constituency, in Christchurch, and
I said "Where is the rule of law being applied outside the
Fawley refinery". He told me that it was perfectly possible
for people to get in and out of the refinery if they wanted to
and there was no intimidation, there was no policing issue. Then
we went on to discuss how in any event the police can only police
by consent and the big thing about this protest was that it was
supported overwhelmingly by the people.
(Mr Polkey) The issue is broader than just being able
to get out of the terminal, it is the concern of being on the
road and also discharging at the service stations. We worked very
closely with the police at Fawley refinery. In fact, actually
in terms of developing plans to be able to get trucks out we did
not do that one evening on the recommendation of the police as
extra protestors came in. We deferred that until the following
day. That was in conjunction with the police working at the time.
We tried throughout to move fuel out. I fully endorse all the
comments about safety. We were conscious throughout that we wanted
to get fuel out to our customers if it was safe to do so. I do
not know whether you have any Esso comments but I would be very,
45. I have one here, Mr Polkey, in relation
to a Fina Express driver who said that he had been requested to
move from Jarrow and had his fellow protestors been requested
to move from Jarrow from the Shell site there then they probably
would have done so. The assumption, therefore, is that the supine
attitude adopted by yourselves and the police, perhaps at your
insistance, meant that the protest went on in ways that need not
have happened. This was reported in the Commercial Motor
of 12 October.
(Mr Polkey) All the experience I have says that was
not the case.
(Mr Jones) Coming back to the safety culture that
we try to build with our people. We run a programme called Stop.
Stop just means that if you have any question about the safety
of what you are doing the job stops. This is a culture, as has
been mentioned before, that goes back many, many years. So for
us it was not any surprise that our drivers stopped what they
were doing and said "Let us understand how we are going to
make this safe". I think, in fact, that when the drivers
were convinced that the terminal gates, the roadways and forecourts
were made safe they went back to work and they did deliver the
product once we had assured them, working with the police, working
with the local authorities, that the route was safe.
46. Mr Brinded, that question about Jarrow should
have been directed to you, I am sorry.
(Mr Brinded) I would say right across the country
we made sustained efforts to ensure the safety of our drivers.
As I say, there was no instance that I know of where drivers were
unwilling to drive once they were satisfied about the level of
police protection that had been provided. We were basically, together
with the drivers, in the lead with the discussions with the police
about what level of policing would be necessary. I have talked
about the 20 tankers that were cut up who had to take evasive
action on the road. It was not just a question of outside with
the blockades. Can I mention also there were scores of instances
of personal abuse. You could say "Well, words will never
hurt" but "We know where you live."remember
there was a very strong local content where a lot of the drivers
were known to the protestors"We know where you live.
We will kill you. Your house will be fire bombed. We will publish
your picture on the internet labelled as a paedophile", those
are three extracts. The nice peaceful protestors, we need to be
very careful they are not continually characterised as that. No
doubt there was a significant number who were there for peaceful
protest reasons but there were other elements present and that
had a significant impact on the mood locally and, like all intimidation,
it is something which gets around. There was a strong network
between the drivers nationally as to what was happening and what
level of safety was being provided locally for them.
47. If there are to be future demonstrations
of this kind the following apply. Firstly, you cannot say you
are taken by surprise. You can never say again that you are going
to be taken by surprise. On the other hand, the protestors now
know that there are a comparatively small number of distribution
centres around the country which if they succeed in closing can
cause very substantial disruption. Everyone is better informed
as a consequence of what has happened. Is the Committee to understand
from what you have said that you are now satisfied that there
are protocols in place with police forces up and down the country
which would ensure if there are any further demonstrations that
you could move fuel safely in and out of the distribution centres?
(Mr Brinded) Yes, exactly what you say. I am not going
to go into all the details of the security arrangements for obvious
reasons. There are protocols in place, as you say, which would
ensure that the level of policing was very quickly agreed, commensurate
with the level of threat experienced locally and perceived threat.
I think, therefore, it significantly increases the chances that
we would be able to maintain continuity of supply but I think
you always have to take account of what will the actual level
of blockades and protests be. There is no doubt that the police
and ourselves have plans which are much better crystallised and
will be triggered much more quickly. There will be clear chains
of command and communication. Those have been extensively discussed
locally. We can all be much more confident but, I just want to
stress again, it cannot be assumed that it will be business as
usual. If we are in a situation where every tanker needs police
escort and needs the police to be present at the site during unloading
the whole operation will naturally be limited by the availability
of resources to enable that to happen.
48. There have been suggestions in the newspapers
over the last few months that the Government is training members
of the armed forces to driver petrol tankers. What would be your
approach to the idea of members of the armed forces being used
to distribute fuel?
(Mr Brinded) I am answering because these are all
Fuel Task Force questions and on the Fuel Task Force we have been
involved together with Government. I think we would not see the
use of the military drivers as part of the initial response to
any repeat of the problems. In the event of the problems being
prolonged and having a significant impact on national life that
could happen. That would be a matter for Government to decide
and to instruct us to allow the military drivers on our vehicles.
I do not see it happening as part of the first response in any
49. Just help me on this. A young driver in
the Royal Logistic Corps, how can he drive a tanker any more safely
or be expected to drive a tanker any more safely than one of your
(Mr Brinded) I would suggest that the conditions in
which the military are recruited, trained and deployed are different
from those of commercially employed people. I can well imagine
that there could be situations where you would say "This
is not a situation where we can be absolutely sure of the safety
of the drivers" and the use of the military might be something
sensible to do at that point, depending on the impact on national
life that was then prevailing. Certainly I do not see it as being
one of the early measures in any way, it would be at the request
50. Mr Jones, you commented on the culture of
safety, I think we are pleased to hear the culture of safety is
working so effectively. People do make decisions when they are
concerned about safety. I think it is important to recognise that
it is management's responsibility to tackle this. In fact, I would
say one of the most significant factors is not in terms of whether
we operate our industry, is not whether or not we stop, but whether
or not we take action to deal with it and whether or not the problems
are solved ahead of time, knowing the likelihood that incidents
could arise. We see very clearly that you have some very serious
safety concerns. Can we be assured that we will see very fast
management action in the future should further incidents occur?
(Mr Jones) I think, as has already been said, the
Fuel Task Force and the working groups have been working these
past weeks to ensure a faster response. Certainly the last one
caught us by surprise. It took a bit of time to put together protocols,
to put together working groups, to understand how to deal with
the various situations and even to identify the stations that
we would have open and what the priorities would be for services
from those stations. That has all been done ahead of time now
and I think we should be able to react much faster to any sort
of situation now.
51. Will there be communication and information
sharing across the industry to make sure that happens?
(Mr Brinded) Yes, absolutely. It is part of the response
52. Mr Mumford was saying that quite a lot of
fuel was going out during the incident. Why did none of it come
to my constituency and can you make sure that does not happen
(Mr Mumford) Absolutely, if you let me know which
is your constituency. If I could respond on that point. Panic
buying was a major factor. The demand was running at a very, very
high level. A lot of the stock outs occurred not because of shortage
of supply but because of the panic buying situation.
(Mr Polkey) I think that is an important point as
well with the question Mr Butterfill asked. In terms of stocks
in the service stations, panic buying will very quickly deplete
service station stocks. I think even if you increase those you
are still going to find very quickly the general public have a
very high level of tank capacity if they decide to go out and
fill it up. It sucks it up quickly and that is clearly what we
saw through this period.
(Mr Jones) In fact, one can do the calculation and
see that there is more capacity in the customers' tanks around
the country than there is in the forecourts. Whilst normally we
would have three to five days' supply at a forecourt, if there
is panic buying that can be depleted in a matter of hours.
53. What is the capacity within the forecourts
in the UK? Have you any idea?
(Mr Jones) The total capacitywe could come
to the numbernormally a forecourt would have three to five
days of fuel capacity for normal demand.
(Mr Brinded) There is 67 days' supply at the terminals.
54. How many vehicles are there in the UK at
the present moment?
(Mr Jones) 28 million.
55. 28 million each with 50 litre capacity.
We can get it down. 140 million litres we could store in our own
cars if we did not move.
(Mr Brinded) 1.4 billion.
56. What do you think the impact of this particular
crisis overall and panic buying has been on the profitability
of your companies? Presumably you had some benefit from the cash
(Mr Codd) Absolutely not. It has had a very negative
(Mr Codd) You have to remember it was not just a question
of demand shifting, people stopped driving. There was an absolute
loss in fuel sales.
58. How can there be an absolute loss in fuel
sales when all filling stations were hoovered dry of fuel in the
space of a day?
(Mr Codd) Just consider the week, in that week there
were considerably less car miles undertaken in the UK than in
a normal week. Those are lost miles, that is lost fuel consumption.
59. There is real evidence of that? Can you
give us figures?
(Mr Codd) We can try and give you an estimate afterwards.
(Mr Jones) The figures are not available for another
quarter so it will be some time before we have industry figures
together. Clearly I think when we all look at our own records
we see September was going to be a very low demand month.