We do not want such progress to be reversed. The ONE campaign’s recent report noted that the US, France and the UK in particular have carried what it calls an “unsustainable” share of the burden in the international community. It is incumbent on the Government and their international partners to press donor countries,

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and indeed those developing countries able to provide support to those who need it, to do more. I look forward to hearing more details about that from the Minister.

The November 2014 UNAIDS report talked of a fast-track approach to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, with a target to be reached by 2020, called 90-90-90. The target is that 90% of people living with HIV should know their status, 90% of those who know it should have access to treatment and 90% of those being treated should have suppressed viral load. That is a difficult but positive target, achievable if there is the will in the international community. It has been said that turning the target up to 95-95-95 would be tantamount to ending the epidemic.

A further report, “Fast track: Ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030”, also said that nearly 28 million new infections and 21 million AIDS-related deaths could be averted by 2030 if the target were met. However, it also warned that “business as usual” could mean missing the opportunity to end the epidemic for a long time to come. UNAIDS estimates that, by June 2014, 13.6 million HIV-positive people around the world had access to antiretroviral therapy, but an estimated 35 million need it. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s response to the UNAIDS 90-90-90 target, what partnership work the Department for International Development is doing with it towards that aspiration, and what global leadership we are showing to get our bilateral partners and multilateral funding agencies to reflect those priorities.

It is important to talk about funding and to recognise the responsibility of the UK and the global community to support HIV and AIDS treatment. In 2012, the UK Government contributed 10.7% of all bilateral aid for HIV. That statistic is welcome, and so is the fact that between 2008 and 2013 DFID’s overall spend, including bilateral and multilateral funding, averaged £300 million a year. At the time of the recent global health fund replenishment, a commitment was given to provide £1 billion for 2014-16, which means that the annual contribution will increase significantly to £500 million. I am sure the Minister will confirm those figures.

I wonder, following the UNAIDS report, whether that funding and support have been reflected on. We have heard today, in the context of DFID funding, about budget spending that has been committed and unallocated funding. Might there be scope to look again at the funding and support we give to the global health fund, particularly given our withdrawal of funding for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, which my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts pointed out? I welcome the fact that we spend £300 million annually, and the £500 million commitment for 2014-16, but cutting by up to 80% our support to IAVI—the fund trying to find a cure and a vaccine—is unacceptable.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s explanation for that cut. We should not give up on the dream and hope of finding a cure and a vaccine for HIV and AIDS. I would like to think that we could find those things in my lifetime and bring an end to a global injustice.

Although the UK has come in for praise from the ONE campaign, as have the US and France, there is still a hell of a lot of work to do. Global funding for

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anti-HIV programmes reached an all-time high of $19.1 billion last year, but that is still an estimated $3 billion a year short of the annual $22 billion to $24 billion that the UN says we need to spend.

By 2020, low-income countries will need $9.7 billion, lower-middle-income countries $8.7 billion, and upper-middle-income countries $17.2 billion for the fight to bring the epidemic to an end. However, the report says that if the money is forthcoming and enough effort is made to reach the 2020 targets, the need for more funds will decline. That is an interesting point: the fund could decline if we matched the UNAIDS aspiration. By 2030, the funding needed globally could drop from $35.6 billion in 2020 to $32.8 billion. If we make an initial big investment—not taking any wasted route, in terms of value for money, but investing in genuine care and treatment to help to save lives—the long-term positive effect will be not only those lives saved and a reduction in the proliferation of the condition, but money saved that can be used to fund other areas of work.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby) and my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts noted the important point made in the report about middle-income countries. There are many issues related to extreme poverty besides HIV and AIDS, including access to education and other health care, such as drugs and treatment for TB and malaria. We still have a lot of work to do in middle-income countries: 50% of people in extreme poverty live in those countries, so the international community, and particularly the UK, cannot afford to ignore or pass by their challenges. We must still engage with them, and consider need, as my hon. Friend said, rather than classification.

We need to support people as those countries graduate from the low-income to the middle-income group, rather than thinking that that means our job is done. Quite the opposite: sometimes in those cases, even more support is needed, particularly when there is a lack of governance, although some people might think that the graduation to middle-income status means Government officials can think less about their obligations to the poorest citizens.

I have in mind two examples raised by my hon. Friend and in the “Access Denied” report, which have been the subject of much discussion and negotiation. South Africa and India, with their continuing struggles, still need our support—particularly technical assistance and help with strengthening health care systems. Currently, 58% of people who are HIV positive live in middle-income countries. By 2020, the proportion is expected to rise to 70%. We cannot ignore that 70%; we need to engage and work with them.

There are a couple of other issues. First, 52% of people suffering from HIV and AIDS in low and middle-income countries are women. One young woman contracts HIV every minute. The report also found that in sub-Saharan Africa the proportion of young women aged 15 to 24 living with HIV is twice that of young men. There are also cultural issues. Given that carers and people with caring responsibilities when loved ones are unwell are often women and girls, we have a responsibility to support people with conditions and to support people who support those with conditions. Perhaps the Minister will respond to that, too.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway rightly mentioned child treatment and transmission. When I read some of the stats in preparation for today’s debate, the stat that got me most was that, across the world, there are 3.2 million children with HIV and that 20,000 children a month are still being infected. Up to half of all new paediatric HIV infections occur during breastfeeding, which is a heartbreaking tale: a mother trying to do her very best to give her child the best possible start in life has, through breastfeeding, transmitted HIV and AIDS to that child.

In many cases, perhaps, the mother had to choose whether to breastfeed her child, knowing that the child would suffer because of her condition. That is heartbreaking indeed. More work needs to be done to ensure that we are giving adequate treatment to women and girls to prevent the transmission of the disease to children in the first place. If children contract the condition, they should get the support, medicine and treatment they need.

I have two further points in relation to women and girls. First, education is crucial. There should be education for all, and we should ensure that people know about the risks of HIV and AIDS. Secondly, we must address violence against women and girls. The Minister and I have talked about the important issue of female genital mutilation and violence against women and girls more generally, particularly in conflict. We have talked about putting women and girls at the heart of development, and putting women and girls at the heart of support for HIV and AIDS is also crucial and must be considered much more carefully.

Another issue raised in “Access Denied” that has perhaps been mentioned less in the debate is the support given to people who inject drugs. If we are to follow the “no one left behind” principle, we must ensure that we give adequate support to people who inject drugs, which means access to clean syringes, opioid substitute treatment and naloxone to prevent overdose and the spread of infections.

We have two good cases where treatment has helped to make a difference. Tanzania and Kenya have demonstrated good practice on those issues, but we must scale that up and ensure that we give them and other people in the region the same adequate support and treatment. UNAIDS estimates that $2.3 billion is needed annually to fund preventive measures for those who inject drugs, but all global donors combined spend only $160 million—that is $160 million when we need $2.3 billion every single year. How can we ensure that those issues are more fully considered?

We have heard colleagues talk about the obstacles faced in licensing and about companies putting profits before people. I welcome the progress that has been made on relaxing intellectual property rights to produce low-cost generic drugs for first-line treatment. I welcome the coalition of five big pharmaceutical companies that is granting licences for generic production to the UN-backed medicines patent pool, but more can and must be done.

Second-line drug combinations are far more expensive than the basic cocktail, which costs no more than $100 per person per year, although we have heard that in South Africa people are being charged exponentially even for first-line treatment. Granting licences for second and third-line drug combinations must be implemented much more efficiently than in previous decades. We

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must reduce the price of front-line drugs to a much more manageable level. That is the responsibility of the UK Government, working in partnership with the international community and other key development agencies, whether in country or through multilaterals. It is also for the drug companies to ensure that second and third-line drugs are available and affordable for all, irrespective of the income or the affluence of a person or a country. I emphasise the 80% cut to IAVI.

We can all get wrapped up in one fundamental issue, and I say that particularly in the climate of the discussions on sustainable development goals, which are ongoing and will continue—hopefully, they will conclude later this year. We see a lack of strong universal health care systems in developing countries. We see clinics popping up for tuberculosis, malaria and HIV and AIDS, but what we need is holistic care so that people, whatever conditions they turn up with, receive adequate support and the care they need.

There is no better example than our own national health service. We have a system that is based on people’s need, not their ability to pay. If we have that great system in the UK, it is incumbent on us to work with the international community to help to promote such a system of universal health coverage globally. That is why we have already said that we would set up a universal health coverage institute within the Department for International Development to provide technical assistance using the expertise of the Department, of the people who work with and for the Department, and of the NHS.

The institute would bring together the expertise of people who put together tax systems to help to create and build models in developing countries so that those countries may have universal health care systems that have the support they need, but are sustainable and able to raise their own funds. There is no greater example than the Ebola crisis. In Nigeria, where money has been spent on the health care system, Ebola was brought reasonably under control, which helped to save lives, and in Sierra Leone, which did not have such a system, the Ebola crisis worsened and up to 10,000 people lost their lives. I encourage the Minister to move forward with universal health care systems and access to health for all.

Today, let us resolve to do as my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts and the wider all-party group on HIV and AIDS have done and put this important issue at the forefront by talking about it, discussing it and debating it. We must put the solutions at the forefront, too, so that in my lifetime, and in the Minister’s lifetime, we can bring HIV and AIDS to an end.

3.38 pm

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Desmond Swayne): It is always an enormous pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar), particularly when he makes such a helpful and thoughtful contribution. I congratulate the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) not only on securing this debate and on introducing it so well but on the enormous impact that her all-party group has achieved with its two publications. It is extraordinary for an all-party group to be able to

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inform the public and the legislature in that way. I commend the other Members who have contributed: the hon. Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan) and for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Brown) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby). I owe my hon. Friend a particular debt because he drew my attention to this subject and engaged and interested me in it. He has worked very hard on HIV and AIDS in his constituency, where he rightly says that they have been a significant issue. I pay tribute to him.

I have been asked a large number of questions, so I will race through putting the Government’s position on the record, and then I will deal with the questions as expeditiously as I can. The hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts said that there are 35 million HIV-positive sufferers, but I think that one of the most worrying statistics is that 19 million of them do not know that they have the disease. We have to draw attention to that. Only 34% of those who are eligible for treatment under the World Health Organisation’s 2013 treatment guidelines have access to antiretroviral treatment.

We remain the second biggest donor in the world. We set out our approach in the document “Towards zero infections” in 2011, and we updated it in “Towards zero infections: two years on” at the end of 2013. In those documents, we clearly laid out a pathway for withdrawing from bilateral funding and transferring to a multilateral approach to this problem. Principally, we are going to work through the Global Fund, which represents about one fifth of the entire world’s contribution.

We have changed the way we operate, but we have not reduced it at all. I looked at the figures extensively this morning. From 2006-07 to 2009-10, we spent £849 million on HIV/AIDS, and from 2010-11 to 2013-14 we spent £1,070 million. The highest years for expenditure were last year and one a couple of years before that. Therefore, quite properly, we are maintaining the pressure on this important issue. We are not slacking or suffering from donor fatigue. The measure of that—the hon. Members for Glasgow Central and for Airdrie and Shotts referred to this—is our commitment of £1 billion to the Global Fund from 2014 to 2016, subject to a 10% burden share.

We see ourselves as the voice of the affected populations. I will return to that point, because a number of hon. Members have expressed concern about it. We are driving forward improvement and integrating HIV treatment with health systems in the countries where people are affected. The hon. Member for Glasgow Central drew attention to that important agenda. We are driving forward the centrality of women and girls. He was entirely right when he said that, every hour, 50 young women between the ages of 15 and 24 are affected. That is twice the infection rate of young men, and it represents 22% of new infections. In sub-Saharan Africa, 57% of sufferers are women.

We want to use market shaping to ensure that drugs are available at affordable prices, so we have committed £35 million between 2012 and 2015 to the Clinton Health Access Initiative. That money has been used effectively to shape the market and to bring about £1 billion of savings to the purchasing countries, which translates to 2.5 million more people being treated and getting drugs, so it is an important part of the agenda.

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The hon. Members for Dumfries and Galloway and for Airdrie and Shotts spoke about children. I recognise that there is a gap in the market for paediatric care. The United Kingdom and France are the major funders of UNITAID, to which we made a 20-year commitment. As part of that agreement, we have committed an average of €60 million per year. UNITAID provided 400,000 children with fixed-dose combinations last year, and was instrumental in reducing the price of those doses from $252 per child in 2006 to $130 in 2011. Those actions contributed to the 52% reduction in child infections since 2001. That reduction has been accelerating in recent years.

UNITAID also funds the medicines patent pool, which has been performing well. I know that the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts has an interest in it because she raised it with my noble Friend Baroness Northover. That model was designed specifically for AIDS, but it is reasonable to ask whether it can be expanded and used to deal with other diseases. It is an effective way of operating and it has been a success, so I hope it is going to be part of the agenda in future.

Pamela Nash: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for making that point, which will be good news not only for the all-party group but for the organisations that support us. I want to make one small point, which I have raised informally with the Department. The minutes of the UNITAID board meeting in December state that there was a reduced contribution from the UK Government. Can the Minister clarify that or seek advice from his colleagues?

Mr Swayne: The commitment of an average of €60 million per year for 20 years has been and will be met, but it is an average. There was a reduction, and my understanding is that it was made good with a €40 million contribution. The contributions are being met and we are fulfilling the requirements.

HIV treatment is linked to broader issues of health development, the strengthening of health systems, gender equality, and stigma and discrimination. All those things have to be addressed. We have to have a rights-based prevention and treatment regime. That remains a key policy objective in tracking how our contributions and investments deal with those issues. We need to be much better informed, and we must understand how to tackle stigma. Only when that happens will more people be able to access preventive programmes, get tested, and initiate and adhere to treatments.

The product development partnerships model has been very successful in bringing forward new drugs to the market. It has brought forward 43 new drugs in the past 10 years, and there are 350 under development. The Department for International Development is a strong supporter of PDPs; indeed, we were the first Government donor to them. I congratulate the Labour party on its initiative in 2008 and on driving forward that innovative agenda. It was an important contribution. We remain a globally significant player in that field, having committed £154.2 million between 2013 and 2018.

I was asked any number of questions. Let me start with those about vaccines and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. There has been no cut. We fulfilled the contract that we had with IAVI. All the money that

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we had committed was paid. We have a new contract now for £5 million, for which it competed, for a slightly different programme.

Let us be clear about what has happened. It is quite right that we have withdrawn from something that we were previously involved in, just as any organisation continually reviews its operations and does what it does best. I understand that some six vaccines went for field trials and we were funding that process. The results were disappointing, so it was back to the laboratory. We do not consider laboratory work as part of our comparative advantage. There are organisations in the world that are much better at dealing with that sort of scientific funding and do that work. Frankly, I believe that our funds are better expended elsewhere, where we have a comparative advantage.

Remember that we have not made a saving; we are spending more than we were spending before. We are spending it differently and I believe that we are spending it effectively, although we are not funding IAVI to the extent that we were in the past. That is a perfectly reasonable position to have taken, given the change in the situation.

Anas Sarwar: The Minister mentions the six vaccines that went to field trials and the “disappointing” results. He does realise that we only need success once, but we need to fund that programme to be able to get that one success.

Mr Swayne: Absolutely, but the difference is this. Funding field trials is one thing but going back to the laboratory and working there is a different field of endeavour, one where we have no comparative advantage. [Interruption.] I think we will just have to agree to disagree about this one, but there has absolutely been no cut in our funding of IAVI. We fulfilled our contracts and entered into a new one—a quite different one—with IAVI.

Now we come to the big question of the middle-income countries. I accept entirely that, when a country becomes a middle-income country, it hits a double whammy: one, the funding is withdrawn; and, two, all the prices go up. But hey—they are middle-income countries, and we are trying to encourage people to invest properly and to step up, as they are richer countries, and fund their health systems properly and have properly integrated health systems. That is an important part of the deal.

I accept entirely that that is a bit like falling off a cliff. Perhaps we should have some system akin to, say, universal credit, where there is a taper, as countries move from low-income status to middle-income status. I accept that there is an argument—a case to be made here. I am open to that discussion. It is something that we would have to agree with our international partners; I do not think we would have leave to change the system ourselves. Hon. Members have drawn attention to a very clear problem. The way we get around it at the moment is through the funding of the Robert Carr network, to which we have committed £4 million until the end of this month, and then we will have to replenish it. That is underfunded; there is a £13 million funding gap in respect of the Robert Carr network. We have to work with our donor partners to try to see how that gap can be filled.

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I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts that viral load testing is the top end. It is exactly what we should be pursuing. I am glad that the price has fallen significantly as a consequence of the market shaping; it is down to a cap of $9.40, which is down some 40% in low-income and middle-income countries. The problem is, as she rightly pointed out, that that requires a developed network of laboratory testing. Again, I entirely share her view that we have to continue investing in alternative point-of-care technology, and in research and development in that area. I know that there have been more than 924,000 CD4 tests at point of care, but she is right that load testing is a much better and much more valuable tool. The way the Global Fund works is that it asks countries that are capable of supporting the network with laboratories for viral load testing to apply for that funding, and it asks other countries that are not able to support that to apply, certainly for the moment, for funding to deal with CD4 and whatever else may be brought forward. The work of UNITAID and the Clinton health foundation has been instrumental in reducing the price of viral load testing, which was one of the principal problems with it.

I come on to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the impact of any trade negotiations. I was asked whether we have formal input into the process. The reality is that, as a consequence of decisions taken in 1975—decisions that might be reviewed if the election result turns out the way I want it to—trade policy is a European Commission competency. Within the UK Government, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is the lead Department in relation to that, but DFID successfully ensures that issues such as access to medicines and intellectual property rights lead to joint discussions between our Departments. It is physically in BIS but it is actually staffed by DFID officials. Therefore, we do that.

On the issue itself, my own view is that it is down to the negotiations at the time, on a case-by-case basis. When we make a trading agreement, we have to ensure that we are absolutely certain that we are not compromising ourselves on intellectual property and that we are not going to restrict access to drugs as a consequence of the decisions we make. That is just down to being vigilant when we come to make these arrangements.

I was specifically asked about research and development. That agenda has been driven forward largely by civil society, rather than by nation states and Governments. Nevertheless, it is important. Frankly, it is unlikely that there will be a legally binding instrument for health research and co-ordination. The Government’s view is that any agreement needs to be built on existing mechanisms, such as that proposed by the expert working group.

The background to the issue is that for the past 10 years the World Health Organisation has convened a number of working groups to discuss and suggest solutions to the issues that the hon. Lady has raised, namely, funding flows, innovative funding mechanisms and co-ordination of health research. The latest of these groups—the consultative working group—suggested that we should establish a WHO global R and D observatory and a pooled fund for product R and D, together with a co-ordinating mechanism to support the fund.

The World Health Assembly is due to discuss that matter later this year. My concern is this: will countries wish to put more into this pool than they are putting in

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at the moment to contributions to R and D, particularly when the pool will be controlled by a mechanism other than the countries themselves? My estimate is that most countries would want to put research funding into a direct contribution that they control and to know where it is going. I will not go any further than that, because I was asked about 90-90-90 and I have one minute left to respond. It is a very interesting thing. It is far too soon to tell. My concern is that it adds a very substantial burden to the funding that already exists, and the emphasis must be on the poorest and the sickest first. I would want to see a little more about how the UNITAID proposals are brought forward before committing myself irrevocably to the 90-90-90 strategy.

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Co-operative Schools

4 pm

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): In 2007, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron), now the Prime Minister, said the Conservatives would shortly publish their policy proposals for a supply-side revolution in Britain’s schools system—a long-term response to various challenges and what he saw as educational failure. He said that he wanted to highlight one specific aspect of that revolution: the opportunities that his reforms would create for a new generation of co-operative schools. What better way to give parents direct involvement in their school than to give them ownership—not just as stakeholders, but as shareholders, and as shareholders not in a profit-making company, but in a co-operative built around the needs of local children?

The co-operative model reflects an important vision of social progress that Conservatives believe in: the role of strong independent institutions, run by and for local people. The right hon. Gentleman said that he wanted the Conservative party to take the lead in applying the co-operative ideal to the challenges of the 21st century, and announced the establishment of the Conservative Co-operative Movement.

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): I am absolutely tickled to join the hon. Lady in the debate. She has reminded me what a strong supporter I am of the Prime Minister and how delighted I would be if he completely fulfilled that vision.

Meg Munn: I welcome the hon. Gentleman—a strong supporter of co-operative schools who has advocated for them.

Let us find out a little more about what actually happened as a result of what the Prime Minister said. When the coalition Government came to office, there were 87 co-operative schools in England. Today, there are 834. The majority of those are foundation trust schools established under the Education and Inspections Act 2006, passed by the previous Labour Administration. One might expect the Government to trumpet the growth of those co-operative schools. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. What is heralded instead is a hoped-for expansion of free schools: 500 in the next Parliament. That is where effort and money are targeted—not on the parent-owned co-operative free schools, despite co-operative trust schools excelling with parent involvement.

Clearly, the Prime Minister’s words have been forgotten by the Department for Education—and by him. Some might say, “But there are 834 co-operative schools, so the commitment is there.” However, the remarkable advance of co-operative schools has happened despite, not because of, Government support. In debates in the past two years, Ministers have said they have not prevented growth and that they are therefore supporting co-operative schools. However, that is not the same thing at all. I am beginning to think that there is an ideological block on the issue somewhere in the Department.

I have been trying to engage the Department for some time in removing a fundamental barrier to the expansion of co-operative schools. I proposed two legislative changes: enabling schools to register as industrial and provident societies and amending the 2006 Act to enable nursery schools to be established as school trusts.

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Let me provide a brief history. In 2013, I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill. The two proposals were adopted as Labour party amendments to the Deregulation Bill in Committee in the Commons in February last year. The Labour team withdrew their amendments when the Government indicated that they were willing to work with the Co-operative party to put Government changes in the Bill. With the Co-operative party and co-operative schools experts, I worked with the Department to try to make that happen.

The then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), was supportive, but officials indicated that the Department lacked the expertise and resource to take the issue forward. Lord Nash, a Minister in the Department, then expressed limited support for co-operative schools and changes to legislation. Following the reshuffle, the Department indicated that it would not be introducing legislative change.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend is, like me, a Co-operative Member of Parliament. Perhaps this is not a question of detail or the Department blocking. Perhaps it is just that the political leadership of this Government is put off by those schools, which are in favour of equality, equity, solidarity, openness, honesty, social responsibility and caring for others.

Meg Munn: I would like to know what is putting the Government off, because I spoke to the new Secretary of State for Education and she indicated that she was willing to consider the issue.

The Department said that it would work with co-operative schools to produce data on performance and look at a power to innovate to try to resolve the issue preventing nursery schools from becoming co-operatives. The power to innovate would suspend the relevant legislation for three years to test whether nursery schools wished to join co-operative trusts. However, since that offer was made the Department has not, despite repeated inquiries, responded to requests for an update on progress. On Second Reading and on Report in the Lords, the amendments were tabled again and ably moved by Baroness Thornton for Labour, but were not supported by the Government. Can anyone now believe that there is any Government commitment to co-operatives in the public sector?

Why does this matter? Leaving in place barriers to the growth of co-operative schools is simply an opportunity wasted. It holds back the possibility of lasting improvement in educational standards, which would benefit children’s education and local communities.

Many schools want to adopt the co-operative model. They have a desire to develop a self-improving school system, where a number of schools can work together and inculcate those co-operative values mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman): self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. We know that some schools, working together in a group, are achieving outstanding results.

The Schools Co-operative Society believes that by encouraging everyone within an organisation to work together they gain mutual benefits. Performance improves and pupils are engaged in the life of the school. The best possible environment for young people to learn

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and develop is created. Stakeholders in the local community have a say in the way the school is run. The values of equality and equity ensure that the environment is free from bias and that everyone can be the best they can be.

Mr Sheerman: When my hon. Friend and I were together on the Bill Committee—the Minister was there, too—we picked up on the fact that the quality of teaching matters in every school. Has she seen the high retention rates of staff and the contentment of teachers and staff working in co-operative schools? That trickles down to the students.

Meg Munn: Of course, my hon. Friend is right: these are key issues. He is a great advocate of that approach. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) spoke extraordinarily eloquently about the schools in his area and he is, believe it or not, a Conservative, so there is still some support.

Mr Sheerman: The hon. Gentleman is not a run-of-the-mill Conservative.

Steve Baker: Listening to the hon. Lady describe those schools, I was reminded of the success we are seeing in Cressex school in Wycombe. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), whom I work with occasionally, is a bit of a rascal, because Conservatives do support many of the values he described. The disagreement is probably on the margins. I say to the Government that it is time that we woke up to this message.

Meg Munn: I agree. I am not for one minute suggesting that Conservatives do not support those values. In fact, the Cabinet published a document called “Making it mutual: the ownership revolution that Britain needs”, which stated:

“The conditions are right for a resurgence of co-operative mutual and reciprocal activity.”

That has been said not just by people in the Labour and Co-operative movement, but by Conservatives, so my puzzlement at why we are not moving forward grows ever more.

Steve Baker: I hope the hon. Lady agrees that what is needed is another term of Conservative government so that we can put all those things fully into practice.

Meg Munn: We are getting into the realms of fantasy now, are we not? The hon. Gentleman can hardly expect me to agree to that. What I am saying is, regardless of our party political affiliations and regardless of where we come from, why can we not get together around the issue of co-operative schools? Why have those schools become so contentious when there is support for them, and not just from the hon. Gentleman? In a previous debate, we also heard support for them from other Conservative Members. The Minister attended that debate.

Why can we not get together around something that is good for our children? Let us do what the electorate so often ask us to do and put party politics aside and say, “This is how we should move forward.” Whether the coalition remains in place after the election, or whether we have a Labour Government or a coalition of another type, the Department will still be there, so let us get the officials working on this now.

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Getting back to my specific points on why we should move forward, encouragement is given in co-operative schools to supporting each other and the local community—to give back to others the benefits that have been had and to spread the positive learning experience. There is evidence that young people brought up in that environment continue to contribute positively to their communities long after they have left school.

Children benefit from a positive start in life. That was recognised when the academies programme was extended to primary schools. Children need the best foundation at primary level to realise their potential at secondary level, but we have to go further and ensure that we also get it right at nursery level.

Many co-operative school trusts are based on strong geographical areas. They aim to raise achievement by supporting young people through the education system from nursery age to school leaving age. We have to recognise that children do not differentiate between being looked after, being cared for and learning. Learning begins as soon as a child is born, so we need our nursery schools to have a co-operative approach that involves parents, and then the children can do so well. Would they not do even better if they were part of that co-operative ideal from the start?

While there have been failures with co-operative schools—it would be wrong to paint a rosy picture everywhere—there have also been failures in the academy programme. Co-operative schools have seen remarkable success. More than 80 have been judged by Ofsted as outstanding. That was achieved with no support from Government, financial or otherwise, which is in stark contrast to the many thousands and millions spent on the academies and free schools programmes. Co-operative schools do not want preferential treatment; they just want a fair and level playing field and the same engagement and support as free schools.

Action is being blocked by the Department. Why? What will the Minister do to ensure progress on the issue and, in particular, to ensure that actions agreed with the Department are implemented? I would also like him to put on the record the assistance the Department will give to fulfil his Government’s pledge to support co-operatives. That pledge has been given by the Prime Minister and two Secretaries of State. An incoming Government must support the growth of co-operative schools.

We need cross-party support so that swift progress can easily be made. Just two steps would go a long way. First, the co-operative model as defined in the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 should be made available to foundation trusts. Secondly, nursery schools should be enabled to form or join foundation trusts by removing the restriction in the 2006 Act. The remarkable progress of co-operative schools proves that there is an instinct among many school leaders for co-operation as a means to drive up standards, rather than a dogmatic view that only competition can achieve improvement.

Mr Sheerman: This may be the last Westminster Hall debate where my hon. Friend and I are together. It is so appropriate that she is talking about co-operative schools and she has had such a distinguished career in the

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House. I congratulate her on all the effort she has put into co-operative schools and so much else in Parliament over the years.

Meg Munn: How could I object to that intervention? Before I finish, on the issue of co-operation as opposed to competition, I quote Franklin D. Roosevelt:

“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but co-operation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off”.

The Department’s vision is for a highly educated society in which opportunity is equal for children no matter their background. That is a vision I believe we all share. I thank my colleagues, my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield and the hon. Member for Wycombe, for intervening and showing that there is cross-party support for co-operative schools. I thank them for all their work to support co-operation and co-operative schools.

I want us to take an important step in helping to make that vision a reality. Let us put aside ideology and dogma, allow real choice in education and allow co-operative school trusts to flourish by removing the barriers that make achieving that vision difficult.

4.15 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Edward Timpson): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. In the usual way, I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) on securing another important debate on co-operative schools. I well remember the debate we had in October 2013, which I have taken the time to re-read. Other Members who are present today also spoke at that debate. What struck me was that through it shone a real shared purpose on the need to raise standards right across the education system. There was also a recognition that co-operatives are a part of the solution. I will remind Members of some my comments, which support my contention that the Government support the work that many co-operative schools across the country are doing. I said:

“We should, and do, cherish the values of co-operative trust schools”.

I also expressed the hope that I had given—I hope I will do so again today—

“a forceful indication that this Government hugely value the co-operative movement’s work in our schools.”—[Official Report, 23 October 2013; Vol. 569, c. 127WH, 132WH.]

I want to make it clear that those values, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) said in his intervention, are shared by all parties, which is demonstrated by the fact that there has been no attempt to prevent in an ideological way the growth of co-operative schools. In fact, they have seen their biggest growth in quite some time. We have more than 700 of them, and we will be close to 1,000 by the end of next year. That is a huge increase for the co-operative movement in education.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) slightly stole my thunder in recognising that, in her time as an MP, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley has, there is no doubt, been a huge force for good in ensuring that children of all backgrounds, but particularly the most disadvantaged, have their voices heard. It is a great loss to us all that she has decided to go on to bigger and better things in her future career. The service

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she has given and her commitment to the area is noted and should be applauded. In doing that, I hope that she recognises that we share the same endeavour. I reassure her and other Members that the Government continue to support wholeheartedly the role that school collaboration and partnerships play in achieving our goal of a high-performing, self-improving education system, which includes the role of co-operatives.

Mr Sheerman: The Minister is the acceptable face of the Conservative party, as is the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker), but they are atypical. The fact of the matter is that we need a real commitment to change the law. That is what we want. We do not want to muck around. We have got 837 schools. We want a change in the law, for a faster expansion—

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. Interventions should be brief and in the form of a question.

Mr Timpson: I like to think that I am typical of the Conservative party, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman feels the same about himself and his party. It is clear that there is a determination to drive up standards across our education system. He will appreciate that we are in the last few weeks of this Parliament, so there will be no time to change legislation. Nevertheless, we must increase and better understand the evidence base, so that co-operative schools can show the impact they are having and we can possibly widen their remit and potential in future.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley has met Lord Nash, and as part of her exchange with the Secretary of State for Education, she was invited to provide evidence on why we should accede to some of her suggestions, both legislative and otherwise. I look forward to receiving that evidence in due course.

Meg Munn: Significant evidence has already been provided. With all due respect to the Minister, for whom I have a lot of time, the problem is that the evidence is there and the opportunity was there with the Deregulation Bill, but this has simply been blocked.

Mr Timpson: The hon. Lady received a letter from the Secretary of State on 11 February that set out the Government’s position on the legislation and the amendments that were tabled in both this House and the other place. She will appreciate that the position articulated by the Secretary of State in that letter makes it clear that additional evidence or arguments in support of the educational benefits are still required to reassure the Secretary of State that the changes would be worth while. The hon. Lady will appreciate that that issue falls outside my portfolio. The best I can offer is to take back her clear sense of the direction that we need to follow. If she wishes to provide any further and better particulars to support her argument, I will endeavour to ensure that they are shared as soon as possible.

We are seeking to ensure that we are able to deliver better results, year on year and right across the education system. Inspection data show that more schools are now rated as good or outstanding than at any time since Ofsted was created in 1992. Based on the most recent inspections, 81% of all schools are outstanding or good. Since 2009-10, the proportion of schools rated less than

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good has decreased from 33% to 19%. As part of that process, the values of co-operative trust schools are ones that the Government share. They are good values. They were given a strong airing in our previous debate, and I would reiterate them all today, particularly the importance of shared responsibility for problems and designing solutions and of the people involved in a child’s learning having a real stake in that learning.

I am pleased to note the role of the co-operative movement as a sponsor of schools that require extra support and the increasing number of co-operative schools that are choosing academy status, thereby becoming co-operative academies. Collaboration is a defining feature of the academies programme as well. The formal partnership arrangements for academies and maintained schools provide a framework for joint working in which the lines of accountability remain clear. The co-operative trust model is one of many that facilitate effective partnership working. It is true that the education system is increasingly diverse, and we are seeing many models emerge, such as multi-academy trusts and teaching schools. That is helping to increase the choice for parents and the support for schools. Parents are clearly aware of the co-operative movement in the education system because more of their children are being taught within it. There is clearly value for communities across the country, including my own constituency, in having that model available for education provision.

The hon. Lady asked about amending the legislation on maintained nursery schools—an issue that goes back to the previous Government and the Education and Inspections Act 2006—and I know that she has some regret that the opportunity to resolve the matter was not taken up at that stage. I am sure that, beyond 7 May, she will continue to fight to allow a co-operative trust to support a maintained nursery school in much the same way as it can a maintained school. The Government have supported collaboration in such institutions, with the sector already benefiting from the freedom to create partnerships, should that be the choice. Maintained nursery schools can already work with other local partners and the wider community, and they can federate with other schools and early years providers. A wide range of providers facilitate the parental choice that we all hold dear. That comes with a high degree of autonomy. Similar to our position on schools, the Government require more evidence of educational gain if we are to expand provision into the nursery arena, and we must look more closely at the fact that only a small percentage of overall providers could do that.

Meg Munn: One thing that I struggle with is that the evidence base for free schools is nowhere near as robust as the evidence base for co-operative schools. For example, the excellence that has been achieved in a multi-school trust in Birmingham is there for all to see. Why is the Department so resistant to supporting co-operative schools as an alternative model?

Mr Timpson: We have, of course, seen co-operative free schools emerge as well. The free schools policy is benefiting the co-operative movement and helping to increase the diversity of choice for parents. There is no reluctance, and there is no attempt either to suppress or deny the expansion of any type of school. The issue is one of empowering parents to make the decision to

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expand provision if they feel that there are not enough good school places in their area. On Monday, I visited Cheadle Hulme primary school, a new free school that will be opening soon to meet the need in an area with mixed advantage but a particular lack of places. That is a good example of how the flexibility that we have provided to the education system is allowing parents, outstanding head teachers, charities, and others with an interest in boosting education throughout the country, the opportunity to do just that.

Steve Baker: The hon. Lady opened her speech with a clear summary of what the Prime Minister has said. As Conservatives, surely we should believe in a dynamic process of discovery. Although I admire my hon. Friend the Minister’s noble defence of the Government’s position, is it not time that we allowed some of these schools to expand at nursery level to discover whether they will succeed?

Mr Timpson: I applaud the passion displayed by my hon. Friend not only today but on many other occasions when he has advocated the co-operative movement, both at Cressex school in his constituency and elsewhere. He will appreciate that I am not the man with the manifesto in his hands, so I cannot give him any reliable information about what reassurance we might be able to provide in that document. Nevertheless, I hope that I am able to put across the fact that, in the expansion of co-operative schools that we are seeing—they are set to get into four figures by the end of next year—there has been no holding back of those who want to take that step. Ultimately, it should be for the individual school or community to make the choice that they feel best fits with the need in their local area. That is the right approach. Through the expansion of the academies programme, with more than 60% of secondary schools and 17%—and rising—of primary schools now having academy status, we have seen a real movement that helps to support and complement the co-operative movement in driving forward quality and higher standards in the education system.

Meg Munn: We could get to 5,000 co-operative schools in the next five years if we changed the law and made it easier. Why will the Government not sign up to give so many schools that opportunity?

Mr Timpson: No limit has been put on the expansion of co-operative schools under this Government; indeed, we have seen a huge rise. There is no cap and there has been no attempt to try to dilute that opportunity. With the hon. Lady’s huge influence in her party, I am sure that when she has some control over the manifesto that is being written, she will make co-operative schools a centrepiece of Labour’s offer. In saying that, I re-emphasise that the Government do hugely value the role of co-operative schools, but more importantly the people who work in them. They work extremely hard to ensure that children in their area get the best possible start in life. That should be the driving force for any of our efforts to support children into adulthood. I hope that we can do that in future.

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Transport Management: Kent

4.30 pm

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): It is a pleasure to have the debate under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I am bringing before the House the issue of gridlock in Dover recently and the wider problems on the M20 and A20 through Kent.

The most pressing matter for my constituents is the gridlock in Dover. In January and February 2015, and indeed today, Dover has been experiencing a serious rise in gridlock on the roads through and into the town. Tailbacks and gridlock have been a constant problem for many years, but they have become more serious recently. They have the following effects: residents are unable to travel around my constituency or Kent in general; local businesses are hurt as visitors stay away or cannot access businesses in the town; access for emergency vehicles is restricted, as is access altogether to some parts of Dover, in particular for the long-suffering residents of Aycliffe; and vast amounts of rubbish and litter are left along the A20 by the drivers of parked heavy goods vehicles. Some of that rubbish is unhealthy or contaminated waste and does not belong on a roadside.

To give an idea of the gravity of the problem, a number of my constituents have got in touch to tell me their experiences over the past few months. On 20 December, Mr and Mrs Brown, residents of Dover, wrote to me:

“Dover has been gridlocked with lorries and traffic travelling to the Port constantly for 3 weeks. I dread to think what the fumes from the continuous running of the static engines are doing to our health, let alone the use of our streets as lavatories”.

On 15 January 2015, Rohan Sootarsing, a resident of Guston, wrote:

“Every night this week my usual 20/30 minute drive home from work has taken nearly two hours.”

Mr Parsons, a resident of Martin Mill, wrote to me on 20 January:

“I have taken nearly 3 hours to complete a road journey that would normally be completed in 25 minutes. There was a backlog of HGVs that started at Capel and continued to the docks. This area of the A20 was gridlocked entirely due to trucks blocking both carriageways.”

Mr Dowley of Capel-le-Ferne wrote to me on 24 January about the M20 between Dover and Capel:

“On 21st January numerous lorries were parked, without lights, on the hard shoulder. On 24th January on the M20 heading west, 15 articulated lorries were parked on the hard shoulder”.

On 30 January Mr Terry, a local businessman, wrote to me:

“I run a business in Snargate Street and the continual queuing of lorries is having a seriously detrimental effect on it. The Harbour Board Police block the roundabouts to prevent the lorries from cutting into the queue, but this also prevents us from getting into Snargate Street”.

Mr Wilson, another local businessman, wrote on 5 February:

“Last evening after leaving work I had to drive up the A20 to Capel-le-Ferne to get back into Dover via the B2011. An extra 7 miles or so on my journey home”.

On 11 February a Mr Williams wrote:

“Roundabout is blocked, and fire service answering a call at the school could not get past traffic”.

This morning Mr Dodd, a resident of Aycliffe, which is again cut off today, wrote:

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“Lorries are backed up on the A20 and both lanes are blocked. The first roundabout at South Military Road to Aycliffe and lorries are continuously blocking the entrances and exit”.

This morning the chairman of community group Castle Forum, Denise Smith, wrote to me:

“Local and regular disruption happens many times a week and is not caused by extreme events, but by volume of freight traffic not being processed and taken into the docks. Therefore we would like to make it clear that this request is NOT about Op Stack but about Operation Open-Dover.”

I hope to set out the situation that my residents and constituents have to face and put up with constantly. The causes include, first of all, simply, economic growth—our long-term economic plan is working, and all too well for the port of Dover. The rise of international trade is greater than economic growth. In the past year freight traffic has risen 10% and it is forecast to grow further. So the problem is structural and it will not go away; it will become more serious unless action is taken.

There is also a structural problem around Dover, with restrictions on the flow of traffic through the town and the lack of space in the port zone causing gridlock. Poor management of one-off problems such as the fire in the Channel tunnel not so long ago, and Dover port ferries being away on maintenance because there have been problems, have contributed to the situation, as has a lack of investment by the Dover Harbour Board and ferry companies in IT systems or advance check-in for the management of inbound lorries. I want to focus on advance check-in as a way to deal with the problem through a longer-term, sustainable solution.

The first of my proposed solutions therefore is that Ministers treat this as a national strategic priority. The traffic situation facing Dover should be such a priority and the Minister, who has responsibility for roads, is best placed to lead on finding a solution, in particular because he has been the most proactive and energetic roads Minister on the matter in the past 20 years.

Recently, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), who is in his place, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who regrets that she cannot be with us today, and my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), met with the roads Minister. It was great to see the difficulties being encountered taken up with such alacrity, for which all of us in Kent are extremely grateful. We urge the Minister to go further and to take the situation on as a specific national strategic priority.

My second solution is the necessary advance check-in system. The eastern docks have only 1,000 spaces, but with a park further up the motorway of 1,000 spaces, for example, we could do advance check-in and the sorting of lorries there, then stream them into the docks so that they can move swiftly through the port zone and on to the ferries for departure to the continent. That sort of dedicated lorry park for advance check-in before the lorries arrive at the port should be implemented as a priority.

It is ridiculous that lorries can simply head into Dover irrespective of whether there is space for them or a ferry is available. The issue needs to be dealt with and a site near Folkestone with the possibility of 1,000 spaces has been identified. Shepway district council tells me that it is keen to give planning permission for up to 1,000 spaces. The proposal is supported by the people

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I have spoken to in Dover and Deal, with a measure of consensus throughout east Kent and among the long-suffering residents along the M20.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. As he has acknowledged, the problem is not only a Dover one. My constituents in Ashford and many other people throughout Kent or passing through to do business find the clogging up of the motorways to be unacceptable, in particular during Operation Stack. Does he agree that the solution, as he is beginning to set out, is a series of lorry parks around both the M20 and the M2? A consensus Kent proposal to put to the Minister is now essential, so that we may facilitate his great desire to help us.

Charlie Elphicke: I completely agree. There needs to be a consensus solution. All of us are finding and building that consensus. More places for lorries to park at the tunnel and indeed the docks are welcome, but they are still constrained and not enough given the growth in international trade. A thousand spaces around Folkestone, at the site that has been identified as a leading candidate, would be a start, but it is not enough. We need to look at other lorry parks—not one mega-park, but a number of parks down the M20. In particular, we need to look at Detling; the Kent County Show ground offers great potential for a park to be used in Operation Stack. I will come on to that, as Operation Stack is less frequent than the literally nightly gridlock my constituents suffer.

My proposal is to have an advance check-in lorry park at Folkestone, which would clear Dover of the queues of lorries blocking the town centre and causing tailbacks. That would improve access to residential areas such as Aycliffe, where the long-suffering residents long to get out of their area and not be jammed in by lorries. Port and ferry companies need to work together to invest in advance check-in lorry parks; they should do their bit by taking responsibility for the problems that they contribute to. They need to invest in their IT to bring it up to date in time for the exit checks that will come in shortly.

Funding could also be provided through the HGV road user levy, which has raised over £23 million to date. Funding for lorry parking of £3 million has already been won from central Government through the local enterprise partnership. To that could be added another £5 million that the LEP has won to facilitate the expansion of the port. Port expansion should be conditional on there being lorry parking capacity so that lorries can go into the port zone and on to ferries.

My next solution is more proactive policing. Both Kent police and the Port of Dover police need to take more effective action to ensure that traffic is managed more effectively and more speedily whenever there is short-term disruption at the port and the channel tunnel. The police need to clamp down on illegal HGV parking to ensure that lorries do not cause gridlock or access problems to Dover. Kent county council ought to consider issuing traffic orders under section 1 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to turn the A20 into a clearway, where no parking is allowed. It should also look at weight restrictions on outside lanes and other measures

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that could be used to ease congestion on the A20 and M20. Such measures are taken elsewhere, so we could do it at Dover as well.

I turn now to the related but separate issue of Operation Stack. Since 2010, it has come into effect four times, so effectively, on average, once a year. When it happens it is serious and problematic. That is why, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford rightly says, there need to be further lorry parks further up the motorway, rather than the M20 being turned into a gigantic car park, which is what happens at the moment. When Operation Stack is in place the motorway in effect becomes single lane, causing congestion and massive difficulties throughout Kent. We need extra lorry parks further up the M20.

Finally, I turn to my requests to the Minister. First, will he agree to make this matter a national strategic priority and to take the lead on the issue in his capacity as roads Minister? Secondly, will he give an update on the progress of the review seeking long-term solutions to the problem? Thirdly, will he agree to support, if only in principle, a request made to Kent county council to introduce a clearway through the A20 by a traffic order? Finally, will he look to provide funding for the advance check-in lorry park, either from Government funds, from LEP funds or by leaning on the port and ferry companies so that they understand their need to take responsibility and to do their bit? That way we can bring forward the investment needed to ensure that traffic can move swiftly throughout Kent.

As well as being roads Minister, the Minister has had responsibility for ports, and has been instrumental, as a people’s champion, in bringing forward a people’s port at Dover, for which I thank and praise him. There is a real opportunity to extend that further by ensuring that people in Dover and across Kent are more able to go about their daily business, to enjoy their lives, to bear less of the burden of our centre of international trade, transport and commerce and to enjoy more of its benefits, for the future economic prosperity of Kent and of Britain.

4.44 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr John Hayes): I have not served under your stewardship very frequently, Mrs Main, so it is a particular delight to do so, certainly for me; I hope it will be for you, as well. It is also a pleasure to respond to the debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke). We have met a number of times about Kent issues, including about the port of Kent, which is closely connected to our considerations today. We have also met about road traffic issues in Kent. He is right to draw attention to the meeting I held with a number of Kentish Members, including him and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), who is in his place.

Ruskin said:

“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it but what they become by it.”

In those terms, the assiduity of my hon. Friend the Member for Dover—his labour in representing the interests of his constituents—has turned him into a powerful

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advocate, an impressive campaigner and a sagacious voice in this House. I listen to him carefully about all such matters.

Before I respond to the specific points my hon. Friend has raised, it is perhaps worth me setting those comments in the context of the Government’s wider view about the strategic road network. I will speak about the questions he has raised, and I think I have good news for him, but I do not want to deliver that until the end of my speech, because otherwise I will blunt the excitement that is already beginning to percolate through the Chamber.

Let me instead say a few words about a subject that is almost equally as exciting—there are those who would say it is more exciting, but I am not prepared to say that in a debate on Kent, which, as my hon. Friend and others know, is very dear to my heart. The strategic road network matters for all kinds of reasons. Its strategic importance can barely be overstated. The arterial routes by which goods are moved around and businesses do business are vital to our economic well-being and to the success of our long-term economic plan, to which he drew the Chamber’s attention. Less frequently argued for, although of equal importance, is the effect that our roads have on societal interests—communal well-being and individual opportunities. The ability to get to where we need to go, whether for jobs, for public services or simply for recreational travel, plays an important part in all our lives and can enhance them or do the opposite.

Traffic congestion and any compromises on road safety do damage, so it is vital that the Government take seriously the considerations that my hon. Friend has brought to our attention, and also take seriously our duty—I use the word advisedly, as it is more than a responsibility—to plan carefully for the development of our strategic road network.

I think I can say without hyperbole that this Government have done exceptionally well in those terms, with the biggest road building programme of my adult lifetime—that illustrates how very young I am—and a strategic plan that in scale and character is genuinely impressive. There has been investment of £15.3 billion with schemes across the country that, when gauged in cost-benefit terms, on an empirical basis are as impressive as anything we have ever seen, and money following that strategy.

To forward-commit funds to a road investment programme of this scale is not something that Governments have typically done. Our statement of 26 June 2013 announcing the conclusion of the Government’s 2013 spending review made it clear that there would be a step change in road investment. Our more recent work, at the end of last year, with the publication of our road investment strategy, gave life to that investment plan. The plan will take us through to 2020-21, deliver improvements and put us on a path to achieving our long-term vision.

The scheme to improve our major roads will have a long-lasting and wide-ranging effect, but, as we discussed when we debated the Infrastructure Bill, which I was honoured to take through the House, I was determined that the Government should amend their thinking—I like to bring fresh thinking to all the jobs that I do in government—to include a legislative requirement to take into account route strategies. They should take into account the plans of local highways authorities for the roads that adjoin the main arterial routes in places such as Kent, Lincolnshire and elsewhere, because it

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seems to me that we can improve the major roads, but unless we take account of the roads that feed them and that are fed by them, the character of the investment and the nature of the improvements that I have described will not be fully realised. So, it is through the route strategies that we will ensure there are operational investment priorities for all routes on the strategic road network, which are consistent and coherent in as much as they involve those more local plans.

The Kent corridors to the M25 that encompass the area we are discussing, for the period up to March 2021, will be included in the strategy. The Highways Agency published a set of evidence reports developed directly from the work that we have done, and a number of routes in Kent are being considered as part of that work. Those studies are being finalised, and the Highways Agency aims to publish the second part of the route strategy shortly, which will include a number of schemes in Kent.

As part of the spending round in June 2013, the Government committed to funding the M20 junction 10A scheme, subject to finalisation of options and agreement being reached on developer contributions. The existing M20 junction 10 south of Ashford, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford knows, suffers from congestion and delays, especially in peak periods, mainly due to conflict between strategic and local traffic. That is precisely why the relationship between the route strategies and our road investment plan is so vital. Improved access to and from the motorway via the proposed junction 10A is seen as a key part of delivering the proposed development in Ashford. As my right hon. Friend has made clear a number of times, the development in Ashford, which is substantial—31,000 homes and 28,000 jobs—will, under the local plan and the growth area agenda, lead to significant extra demand on the road network there.

In November, we changed the charging method of one of the worst performing parts of the strategic road network anywhere in the country, the Dartford-Thurrock crossing, leading to an immediate improvement in the performance of the crossing. I know that this is only a medium-term measure to alleviate the congestion that previously afflicted the crossing. In the longer term, a new Lower Thames crossing is needed to provide additional capacity. Without going into detail, the House will want to know that we are considering options. We are listening to local stakeholders, and we will say more about that in the next Parliament when the Government, led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and in which I will play a central and vital role, will, I hope, be able to put into operation an exciting new scheme there.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dover raised specific issues and I will deal with them in the way that he asked me to. He has, as other Kentish MPs have, made a strong case for Operation Stack. When Operation Stack is in place, great disruption and inconvenience are caused to the citizens of Kent, and we need to find a long-term solution. I hear what he and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford say about there not being a single solution. There is a strong argument for a series of measures across the county, which alleviate the congestion that arises from those occasional but none the less important happenings that were described.

When I had the meeting that included my hon. Friends the Members for Dover and for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), the point was made to me that a

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regional solution was required precisely because the reverberating effect—the ripple effect—was so significant. Any solution must include managing the traffic better and minimising the effects of traffic as increased numbers of vehicles use the network. The proposal that my hon. Friend the Member for Dover makes regarding the use of Stop 24 in Folkestone as an advance check-in for Dover port is interesting and it will be given further consideration. I give him that undertaking today.

I recognise that Operation Stack must be a last, not first, resort and that the solutions are likely to include a mix of private and public sector actions. I commend all parties involved in this work for taking on this difficult task. I expect the public to see a real difference in the coming months and weeks. The issue has plagued the people of Kent intermittently for many years, and the Government have resolved to ensure it is addressed.

However, Operation Stack is a last resort, not a first resort. I want to see long-term solutions proposed and steps taken to prevent Operation Stack from being needed in the first place. The Government recognise the value of the port of Dover and Eurotunnel to the national and local economies, but we need to ensure that the communities of Kent are not inconvenienced by them. Those involved need to understand that, too, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dover suggested.

I will deal now with the exciting news that I promised. In principle, the Government could, through a traffic order, support any request made to Kent county council to introduce a clearway along the A20. That is something my hon. Friend has asked for. He made his case responsibly and clearly, and it is something I am keen to take forward. I understand that the A20 is a Highways Agency road, not a Kent county council road, and it would put the traffic order in place. However, I have been advised that the creation of a clearway would not necessarily solve all the problems of traffic queuing on the A20.

On the advance check-in lorry park at Stop 24, as my hon. Friend has suggested, this could be done through revenue raised through the HGV road user levy. I am not a great supporter of hypothecation, as I know he is not, either, because we have talked about that on other occasions in other forums. None the less, I think we would need the Department to take action alongside, as he has also suggested, the port and ferry companies to develop a funding strategy for investment in traffic management in the Dover area. We will continue those discussions, but I think we will do more than that.

As my hon. Friend says, we need to look at IT systems. We certainly need to look at lorry parks, and I will ensure that the various groups looking into the issue of traffic management in Kent take his proposal into close consideration. I am prepared to make funding available for this. I will say more than that. There are additional measures emanating from a different Department, which will have an effect on traffic movements in the near term, so we cannot afford to let the grass grow under our feet. We need a solution that will ensure that those additional measures that emanate from Government do not have a deleterious effect on the interests of the people of Dover and other parts of Kent, or on other people using the port.

We will introduce further proposals as a direct result of those considerations—stimulated by this debate, inspired by my hon. Friend’s commitment, informed by him and

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other Kentish Members—to address the issues, and I plan to do so before the end of this Parliament. I put this on the record: we will introduce those proposals in good time, in good order and in good shape.

WB Yeats said:

“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”

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My hon. Friend described me in extremely complimentary terms—perhaps even more complimentary than I deserve—but I am the kind of Minister who makes the iron hot by striking.

Question put and agreed to.

4.59 pm

Sitting adjourned.