French asked to help British truck drivers

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The Independent Online
The Department of Transport yesterday urged the French government to help with compensation claims made by British truckers caught up in the seven-day lorry drivers' strike across the Channel.

Hundreds of UK lorry drivers have been trapped in France since the dispute began last Monday and it is feared that many of the smaller British haulage companies may be ruined by the cost of cargoes rotting after being stranded.

Sir George Young, the Secretary of State for Transport, wrote to his French counterpart Bernard Pons over the weekend to ask for urgent information on how the British truckers should make their compensation claims.

In his letter, Sir George said: "I hope that the relevant French authorities will take all necessary steps to ensure the well-being of British drivers, particularly if the weather, or the mood of the French strikers, worsens."

Talks between the employers and lorry drivers' trade unions reconvened yesterday evening in the presence of a government-nominated mediator, Robert Cros. Mr Cros chaired the road transport conciliation committee until 18 months ago. In a statement, the transport ministry said: "The state, in so far as it has the power, is determined to play a full part in bringing about an agreement."

The government, which had tried to keep out of the dispute, is said to be under strong pressure to produce a settlement.

Almost three-quarters of French people are on the side of the lorry drivers, according to an opinion poll by the Ipsos polling organisation. Of those asked, 74 per cent said they sympathised with the strike; 87 per cent said they thought the demands of the lorry drivers were "justified" or "more justified than not". Only 59 per cent, however, approved of the methods being used by the lorry drivers to pursue their case.

In England, angry MPs accused the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, the European Union Transport Commissioner, of failing to act to rescue the stranded British truckers. They said that no leadership was being shown to end the dispute and the issue is set to be raised again in the Commons this week.

David Shaw, the Conservative MP for Dover, said that a number of haulage companies in his constituency had been badly affected. "I am now involved in discussions with them as to whether I should go over to France and have a stand-up row with the French police," he said.

Sir Teddy Taylor, the Conservative MP for Southend East, said: "This is an intolerable situation ... If Mr Kinnock cannot do something about this in exchange for his excessive salary, why do we need commissioners at all?"