Previous Section Index Home Page

2.33 pm

Meg Munn: We have had an excellent debate, with much agreement in the House. Several hon. Members’ expertise added to its quality. I shall try to answer all hon. Members’ questions—it is a bit disconcerting to be asked questions that one has already answered, but I shall forgive the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) on this occasion.

I am not sure whether I can answer all the questions that the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) asked. I am mightily relieved that I am unlikely to go on a speed date with him because the idea of having to answer so many wide-ranging questions about oneself is frightening. I do not know whether he has experienced speed dating—I certainly have not.

Mr. Keith Simpson: To save herself, I think that the Under-Secretary should move on.

Meg Munn: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was worried that I was pressing him too much about his experience. However, it is right that we should move on because the debate is serious. Hon. Members have rightly asked a wide range of questions and I want to try to respond to as many as I can.

As my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) said, the Department for International Development does not give direct budget support to the Government of Kenya. We will not give them direct budget support unless credible progress is made on tackling corruption. Clearly, we will not abandon people in need. Corruption hits the poorest people hardest and undermines development.

Let me briefly set out our general aid programme and what we are doing in the current circumstances. In 2007-08, the Department for International Development provided £50 million in aid. The UK’s aid programme is directed at health, education and social protection. Any suspension of it would inevitably have a direct negative impact on the poorest people, but we are keeping matters under review. On 3 January, the Secretary of State for International Development announced the provision of
17 Jan 2008 : Column 1129
£1 million to Kenya Red Cross to meet the humanitarian needs of up to 500,000 people who are affected by the problems in the Rift Valley area. The Department for International Development Kenya submitted an application for an additional £1 million on 15 January.

Business as usual is not possible until progress is made on dialogue and reconciliation, and the Department for International Development has temporarily suspended all aid payments to the Kenyan Government. We signed a public statement on 15 January as part of a broader donor co-ordination group to maintain pressure on the Kenyan Government for compromise and resolution.

Jo Swinson: Did the Under-Secretary say that, because of the current circumstances, the Government had suspended all aid payments to the Kenyan Government? How does that fit with the fact that we do not channel aid through the Kenyan Government?

Meg Munn: I am clarifying that there will be no aid payments to the Kenyan Government.

Ms Keeble: Will my hon. Friend also ensure that our payments that go via some of the Kenyan Government Departments from, for example, the World Bank, especially the global fund, are handled carefully during this turbulent period?

Meg Munn: I referred to a broader donor co-ordination group, which has agreed a public statement to ensure international co-ordination so that all those involved are aware of the position. The EU signed the development partners’ statement, which agreed to reconsider budget support if the current situation continues and to channel a larger share of assistance through civil society organisations and the private sector. I therefore believe that I can give hon. Members the assurance that they seek that we are considering the matter carefully, that international organisations and partners are doing the same, that we will keep the position under review and that my hon. Friends in the Department for International Development will ensure that aid concerns are tackled.

The most urgent humanitarian needs are clearly being prioritised. International non-governmental organisations can still operate in Kenya and I am informed that, so far, only World Vision has withdrawn any staff.

Let me deal with some of the specific questions, especially those of the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk. My noble Friend Lord Malloch-Brown has spoken to Kofi Annan about the African Union proposal and his visit. There are no current plans for UK Ministers to visit and we support the African Union-Annan process. We are non-partisan and we are talking to all sides.

We have seen reports from human rights organisations in Kenya that some violence was premeditated and our high commission is looking into those. To answer the question that the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk asked, our high commissioner is Adam Wood, who has been there since 2005 and is well respected. I had a video conference with him yesterday, in which he gave me an update on the situation. The current tension is concerning and we are monitoring it closely. We know that live
17 Jan 2008 : Column 1130
ammunition has been used. We as the Government utterly condemn that and call upon the Kenyan authorities to stop its use.

We know that the Kenyan military has supported humanitarian work, and we have so far heard no reports of the army’s cohesion breaking down. Similarly, we are aware of reports that the Ugandan army is in Kenya, but our investigations have turned up no evidence of its presence. While we are on Uganda, we also believe that between 3,000 and 4,000 Kenyans have moved to Uganda and are receiving humanitarian support there.

To move on to the electoral situation and the future of the process, our high commissioner, Adam Wood, raised the issue of appointments to the electoral commission with the Kenyan Foreign Minister at the time. Hon. Members asked how aware we were ahead of the elections that there might be problems, and I can assure them that those concerns were raised at the time. The election day itself was calm.

Jo Swinson: I appreciate the Minister’s generosity in giving way again. It is welcome that our representative in Kenya raised the issue, but was it also raised by our Ministers at that level?

Meg Munn: I do not have that information to hand. Perhaps I can write to the hon. Lady about it after this debate, although she may be aware that the issue was not my personal responsibility.

Problems started as votes began to be counted. The domestic and EU observer missions have reported serious irregularities in the tallying process for the presidential elections. I can tell the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk that the EU observer mission will release its final report on 4 February.

The UK’s position is that we are working closely with our allies. A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for City of York, who speaks with great authority, rightly said that it is not for us to be prescriptive. We are therefore working with our allies—the US, and our European and African partners—to support efforts to resolve the crisis in Kenya. The UK wants Kenyan politicians to live up to their responsibilities and agree a way forward. Crucially, we are supporting the mission led by Kofi Annan to assist them in doing so.

A number of hon. Members called for a rerun of the elections, although I recognise that they appreciated the problems of doing so straight away. We want African mediation to help the parties agree a way forward, but it is not for us to prescribe the outcome of that mediation.

Briefly, on consular issues, we are not advising British nationals to leave—we are currently providing consular support—but we are advising against all but essential travel to Kenya. We keep our advice updated, and we want to ensure both that consular support is in place and that British citizens in Kenya are informed of what is happening.

To conclude, there is a unanimous view throughout the House that the situation needs to be resolved—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings, the motion lapsed, without Question put, pursuant to Temporary Standing Order (Topical Debates).

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Before we get on
17 Jan 2008 : Column 1131
to our substantive business, may I raise a follow-up to an exchange at business questions today, in which the Leader of the House denied that Ministers were continuing to treat Members of the House with contempt by making announcements outside the House before making them to Members here? Shortly after business questions had concluded—I suspect that this was no coincidence—I received a hand-delivered letter in my office from the Minister of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), saying that she had endorsed the closure of the Christchurch Jobcentre office. I bumped into my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) just now, and he had yet to receive a similar letter telling him that the Dorchester office of Jobcentre Plus was also closing. What concerns me is that the Minister knows that I take this issue very seriously. It has been the subject of a public meeting in my constituency, the subject of a petition to Parliament, and the subject of an Adjournment debate that I initiated. Indeed, it was also the subject of a delegation that I took to discuss the matter with the Minister, yet her letter makes no reference to any of those matters. What concerns me most of all, however, is that I have now received a piece of paper from one of the journalists at the Bournemouth Daily Echo which shows that, at 9.21 this morning, the Minister’s Department was communicating directly with a journalist, making the telephone number of the Minister, no less, available—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I think that I have allowed the hon. Gentleman to get his point on to the record. We must not start a full discussion about this. This throws further light on the lapses that appear from time to time at a disturbing level. Mr. Speaker has a strong view on this, and I can only say that, by placing this matter on the record, the hon. Gentleman has perhaps underlined the need for Ministers to be scrupulous in ensuring that hon. Members’ interests are placed as a priority above all other communications. I hope that that will satisfy the hon. Gentleman.

17 Jan 2008 : Column 1132

Orders of the Day

Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill

Not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Clause 1

Powers of Secretary of State

2.46 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 7, page 1, line 4, at end insert

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 4, page 1, line 5, at end add—

‘( ) The powers of the Secretary of State under section 6 of the Railways Act 2005 shall be exercised in such a way so as to ensure that assets associated with the rail link at Waterloo Station are developed for the purpose of providing domestic rail services’.

Mr. Chope: I am delighted that amendment No. 7 has been grouped with amendment No. 4, tabled in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), who sits on the Front Bench. This is an important issue relating to the railway assets at Waterloo international terminal. Most of my constituents who commute into Waterloo had assumed that, by the time the international terminal there was closed, a clear plan would be in place for its re-utilisation. It has now emerged that that is far from being the case. The decision to move the terminal from Waterloo international to St. Pancras was first taken in 1994. The Government have therefore had about 13 years’ planning time in which to work out what would happen to the Waterloo international terminal when it was vacated by London and Continental Railways and the Eurostar services.

Rather late in the day, back in February 2005, the Strategic Rail Authority, as it then was, invited tenders for consultants to look at all the options for future use of the Waterloo international terminal. Ove Arup, the partnership that won the tender, produced a voluminous and, I thought, very helpful report, dated July 2005. It set out a series of options. One of the options, mothballing, was considered and rejected because it was accepted that that was an expensive option. Even then, it was estimated that it would cost more than £500,000 a year. Obviously, it was also considered by many to be a shameful waste of valuable railway assets, particularly at a time when, as everyone who uses Waterloo station knows, the station is under tremendous pressure, with not enough platforms for all the services and passenger numbers close to the station’s capacity. Amendments could be made to the structure of railway assets at Waterloo and nearby that would release the five platforms at the Waterloo international terminal for domestic services use.

17 Jan 2008 : Column 1133

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): I agree with my hon. Friend’s argument, but does he accept that his amendment No. 7 is not ideal because it is only permissive, which would enable a Minister to ignore his argument? Does he accept that amendment No. 4 provides a far better way of dealing with the matter because it directs the Minister in what to do?

Mr. Chope: I acknowledge that my amendment is more probing in order to raise the issue, while I view amendment No. 4, proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon, as a more substantive amendment. If we have the opportunity later, after withdrawing my amendment—providing you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, agree to that—I would like to see amendment No. 4 put to the vote. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) is absolutely right that that is a mandatory amendment. On the other hand, even that amendment will not achieve anything unless we have a clear indication from the Government that there is a will to do something. I note that the Under-Secretary acknowledges that. Let us hope that this debate will provide him with an opportunity to explain why we have the mere prospect of having one of those platforms opened for domestic services by the end of 2008 and no prospect whatever of any of the others being available for such services in the foreseeable future.

Of course, there are all sorts of available options, some of which are incompatible with each other, which is the nature of options. That is why the Strategic Rail Authority, before it was abolished by the Government, was wise to engage the services of consultants. What depresses me is that, all these months and years on, it seems that the Government have still not reached a clear conclusion. Indeed, I do not believe that the Government commissioned the additional work recommended by the SRA consultants, so it provides yet a further example—to the detriment of hard-pressed commuters—of Government indecision in the critical area of public investment. Taxpayers are already paying through the nose for the cost of subsidies to Network Rail and railway services.

We know that socialism is normally associated with public waste, public expenditure and declining quality of services, but there is no reason why the Government should make a habit of it, particularly in respect of Waterloo international. This should not be a party political issue because Labour constituencies are served by services going into Waterloo station and there are certainly Labour voters at Waterloo on a Monday morning. People are increasingly bemused by the fact that the Government talk the talk about investment in railways and the need to transfer people from road to rail, yet, when they have an opportunity to invest in it and take a decision, they fail to do so. Indeed, they funk it. That is exactly what has happened in respect of Waterloo international terminal.

This Bill is all about ensuring that we continue to subsidise the channel tunnel rail link services with taxpayers’ money and add value to London and Continental Railways. Yet, as I have said, the Government seem to be very mean when it comes to finding the necessary investment to make the most of the assets at Waterloo. I hope that the Minister will tell us precisely what has happened since the publication of the Strategic Railway Authority’s review in July 2005.

17 Jan 2008 : Column 1134

This issue affects a great many Members of Parliament. That is why I was a co-signatory to an early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), who is anxious for the assets to be returned to use as quickly as possible. What worries him and many others is that although the Government know that it would be right to invest in Clapham Junction as well, and thus to enable full use to be made of the facilities at Waterloo, they lack the will to find the money to do so, thereby leaving the commuting public and other passengers in a much worse position than would be possible if they made the necessary investment.

I do not need to make a meal of this issue, but I would not want anyone to think that the fact that I had not spoken at length meant that I did not feel strongly that the Government must address the issue and address it today, and also apologise to the people of London and others who use Waterloo for the fact that they have already wasted valuable years with their indecision.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): I support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), but, as he said, my amendment is subtly different, and requires action by the Minister.

Mr. Greg Knight: Will my hon. Friend confirm that, if our hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) seeks leave to withdraw his amendment, he will seek the Chair’s permission to press amendment No. 4 to a Division?

Stephen Hammond: In that eventuality, I shall certainly seek the Chair’s permission to do so.

When the decision was made to transfer the international rail terminus from Waterloo to St. Pancras, the reasons for the move were announced by Eurostar’s director of communications, Mr. Paul Charles, who listed some key benefits. He said, for instance, that

and that there would be

That announcement was made on 15 November 2004. In the three years that have passed since then, the move to St. Pancras has taken place and we have witnessed the successful opening of the United Kingdom’s first high-speed rail line, which enables travellers to cross from London to Paris in two hours and 15 minutes. However, improving Paris-London services was only one part of the deal. The other part of the deal was opening up the vacant platforms at Waterloo, and that has not been kept: the platforms remain empty.

It is interesting to look at the forecasts of traffic and passenger numbers. In 1996, when LCR first bid for the project, it forecast that the number of passengers using Eurostar would reach 21.4 million in 2004. In fact, by that stage the number was only 7.3 million, and the latest available figure is 7.85 million. When we contrast that rather optimistic forecast with the huge increase in the number of people using routes into Waterloo, we see the problem. The Office of Rail Regulation estimates that 60 million people a year—164,000 a day—are now either coming into or leaving Waterloo.

Next Section Index Home Page