I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the matter of Kenya.
I welcome the opportunity to address the House on the topic of Kenya, following the Foreign Secretary's statement last week. At that time, thousands had been displaced from their homes, hundreds killed and the international community was responding to the growing humanitarian crisis. The Foreign Secretary called on Kenyan leaders to be ready to engage in a credible mediation process and he warned that if they failed to compromise, those leaders would forfeit the confidence, goodwill and support of the Kenyan people and the international community. That warning still applies today.
Kenya remains tense and unpredictable. What began as politically motivated protest has changed in some areas to redress of old grievances between ethnic groups. We now know that at least 700 people were killed in the immediate post-election violence and that number is likely to grow as more bodies are discovered. While the political stand-off continues, ethnic tensions increase and the more divided the country becomes. Up to 250,000 people remain displaced from their homes, and there is little sign that they will be able to return soon.
Copy and paste this code on your website
Does the Minister agree that while it is vital that we put political pressure on those involved in the violence, the people who suffer most in such circumstances, as always, are those facing the consequences of the humanitarian disaster? Will she ensure that while we are putting political and financial pressure on the Kenyan Government, humanitarian aid always gets through to those who need it most on the ground? I know that that is a difficult balance to strike.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I can give him the assurance that we are working very closely with the Department for International Development on precisely those issues.
As I was saying, as well as the displaced persons, the National Association of Churches in Kenya estimates that two thirds of slum dwellers in Nairobi, more than 2 million people, have been negatively affected by the violence and the continuing instability. That includes those who have lost family members, their homes or their livelihoods. The splits in Kenyan society are deepening. We condemn without reservation all acts of violence; those acts of violence that have an ethnic motivation are especially disturbing given the risk that they run of escalating tension. It is incumbent on all to respect the legal framework and human rights, whether those rights apply to media freedom, including live broadcasts, or to peaceful assembly.
Yesterday the world was shocked to witness on its television screens unarmed protestors being shot by Kenyan security forces. A process of national reconciliation is desperately needed to start to heal the wounds that have been inflicted by the disputed elections and the violence that has followed.
Furthermore, while the crisis continues, Kenya's economy will suffer. We do not want that: we want Kenya to grow. But continued political uncertainty means continued uncertainty for the business community and a decline in tourism and investment. That will impact most sharply on Kenyan workers.
We fully support President Kufuor's mission to Kenya, on behalf of the African Union, which succeeded in gaining agreement from both Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga that there should be an end to violence and that there should be dialogue. They also agreed that they would work with a panel of eminent Africans towards resolving their differences and all other outstanding issues, including constitutional and electoral reforms.
Our Government have not recognised the Government and are calling on both leaders to co-operate in a process of mediation.
The panel of experts has our full support, and the UK stands ready to assist them in any way we can. We also wish Mr. Annan a speedy recovery from the illness that has delayed his departure for Nairobi and hope that he will soon be able to travel. Speaking to our international partners, we know that they are also fully behind this effort. Both sides in the political dispute must now use this opportunity to come together for dialogue to resolve their differences. A lasting political solution, based on compromise, which reflects the will of the Kenyan people, needs to be agreed.
The fundamental issues that need to be addressed remain the same. All the allegations of fraud during the elections should be fully investigated. Those who are found to have acted illegally and contrary to the principles of democracy should be held to account. That also applies if they are found to have instigated or orchestrated violence, as has been alleged. The possibility of auditing the results of the election should be examined, although we recognise that the original data may no longer be available. In the longer term, it is important that there is institutional reform to reduce the risk that the events of late December might be repeated.
The Minister mentions the possibility of auditing the votes that were already cast, but most of the available information shows that that will not be possible because they have been destroyed or tampered with. Surely the way forward for Kenya is to hold fresh elections so that people can have their say and have their votes counted properly.
We believe that that possibility needs to be discussed properly. The two leaders need to agree on the mediation process and constitutional and electoral reform need to be considered. It is not for us to say at this point whether there should be further elections. That is a matter for discussion. The African Union delegation and the panel of eminent persons that I mentioned will go to Kenya to talk to the leaders and consider those issues. We must support that process.
I am listening with great interest to the Minister's comments. Of course, the political issues are important, but the humanitarian ones are even more so. It has repeatedly been claimed by UN observers, independent charity workers and local Kenyans that aid dispatched from the west is not getting through to the people who need it, but is being siphoned off corruptly. Is there more that the Government could do to help to prevent that?
We have considered carefully for some time the long-term issue of corruption. For that reason, we try to ensure that our aid is delivered through organisations that are not part of the Kenyan Government. We continue to support all efforts to tackle corruption, as we have done for many years. On the subject of the current situation, the UK and the EU are considering whether they should stop the aid that they provide because of corruption. We need to look at the right way to ensure that humanitarian relief reaches Kenya.
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the safe delivery of aid poses considerable difficulties. All the aid agencies do the best that they can to ensure that help gets to those who need it, particularly when the social situation deteriorates because of the political situation. He is right to be concerned about the plight of ordinary people and the humanitarian crisis, but we also know that the resolution of the political situation and a move towards an agreed solution will help the humanitarian situation. That is why I have placed such emphasis on talking about all the issues, in particular ethnically motivated violence, which is a cause for great concern. Kenya had turned from such violence and its re-emergence poses a risk. The sooner that we have an agreed mediation process and move forward on the subject of constitutional and electoral reform, the better it will be for the humanitarian situation described by the hon. Gentleman.
In the longer term, we have to see institutional reform because that will reduce the risks of the events of late December being repeated. Sufficient checks should be put in place to allow Kenyan people to restore their faith in democracy and their trust in the electoral system. We hope that the panel will help Kenya's leaders to examine how the crucial elements of constitutional reform can be fast-tracked. Changes that spread executive power and patronage more widely could reduce the winner-takes-all nature of the presidential election. They would reduce the temptations to cheat or resort to violence.
Indeed there were. It is interesting to note that the previous elections had gone well and it had been considered whether, on this occasion, observers needed to be sent. They were present and reports on the elections have also been made. The Commonwealth observer group produced a report today—hon. Members will understand that I have not seen it in detail—that clearly said that the elections fell below acceptable international standards, so my hon. Friend's point is well made.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, as I appreciate that time is short. I am concerned about whether there were early indications that things were going wrong. For example, everyone whose name began with the letter O was left off the register in Nairobi. That happened well before the elections took place, and members of the second ethnic group that the President wanted to disadvantage commonly have surnames that begin with O. There were early indications of the problem, and I am concerned that they were not picked up.
The hon. Gentleman may have misunderstood me. I was talking in a general sense about how Kenya's democracy had progressed. It was hoped, because of the conduct of previous elections, that the attendance of observers would not be necessary this time, but obviously the decision was made to send them. Concerns were raised by the EU election observers and other observer missions about alleged irregularities in the conduct of the elections. It is important that they are investigated fully through proper democratic and legal channels. Those early indications of the problem were taken into account.
Constitutional reform is important because it would help to ensure that Kenya's diversity is better reflected in its Government and could strengthen the prospect of future Governments carrying the broad confidence of the Kenyan people
I call for the lifting of the ban on live media broadcasts in Kenya and for respect for the right to peaceful assembly. It is important that all people have an outlet through which to express their views, and that the media can report objectively on events in Kenya. We hope quickly to establish the basis for restoring stability in Kenya and regaining the trust of its people in how they are governed. Until that happens, it cannot be business as usual. The United States and the EU made that clear in statements released over the weekend. The Department for International Development is keeping our development aid programme for Kenya under close review.
All Kenya's leaders need to overcome their divisions, to engage in a genuine process of reconciliation and to agree on a way to govern that reflects the democratic will of the Kenyan people. The Kenyan people, Kenya's business community and its international partners have had their confidence in the Government of Kenya damaged over the past three weeks. Kenya's politicians will have to work hard to win back that trust. Let us hope that the swearing-in on Tuesday of Kenya's 10th Parliament, the election of which broadly carried greater confidence in the eyes of observers, and the successful election of a Speaker and deputy Speaker will be a first step on that path.
This is the first time that I have participated in one of the new topical debates. I suppose it is the parliamentary version of speed dating, in which speakers have to make an impact straight away.
I welcome the opportunity to evaluate the efforts that have been made so far to restore calm in Kenya since the crisis erupted more than three weeks ago. The initial outbreak of widespread violence and displacement has lessened, although, of course, confrontations are still going on between protestors and the Kenyan security forces. As the Minister said, some 250,000 people remain displaced and at serious risk of violence, intimidation, hunger and disease. Increasingly, there are worrying signs of tribal and ethnic divisions. The crisis has not been resolved, and although we hope that a compromise will be reached between the two main political contenders, there is a danger that the situation could get much worse.
In the short time that I have been allocated, I want to put a series of questions to the Minister. She might not be able to cover them all when she winds up the debate, but if that is the case, perhaps she will take the opportunity to write to me later.
It is still far from clear what happened during the contested elections. Does the Minister agree that the publication of a full report by the EU monitoring mission would be helpful? Is such a report being prepared and when might it be published? Is there any evidence that the initial violence following the election, which was initiated by Mr. Odinga's supporters, was premeditated rather than spontaneous? I do not ask that question lightly, but some friends in Kenya have told me that there is a strong feeling in the country that the violence was more premeditated than spontaneous.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The observer from this country who was in Kenya as part of the Commonwealth mission said that translations of vernacular radio broadcasts had been obtained and that they showed that the Orange Democratic Movement had appealed for violence, both before and after the election.
Human Rights Watch has accused the Kenyan police of using live ammunition to disperse protestors and looters, killing and wounding dozens. Have the Government been able to confirm such reports, and have strong representations been made to the Kenyan authorities about them? Will the Minister confirm reports that the Kenyan Government are maintaining the suspension of news broadcasts? Have the Government protested about such actions? Will the Minister confirm that the UK has urged the two leaders to meet? What is her understanding of their continued refusal to do so? Are they genuinely at odds, or are they looking for reasons not to meet, in the hope of gaining an advantage one way or the other?
Crucial during this period of instability is the Kenyan army. I taught some of the young men in it when they were officer cadets, and they have a very good reputation for being highly professional. Does the Minister believe that the army's cohesion and discipline have been threatened by the crisis? Can the army be relied on to remain outside politics?
As the Minister said, it is clear that international efforts have not yet had a significant impact on the crisis. Have Ministers spoken to Mr. Annan, and can the Minister shed any light on what sort of compromise plans he is prepared to propose? What plans are there for further African or international mediation if the Annan initiative does not make progress? What options does she believe the international community has to put pressure on President Kibaki and Mr. Odinga to agree a power-sharing arrangement?
Will the Minister say a little more about Britain's role? What is the background and experience of the UK high commissioner to Kenya, and how long has he been in his post? There have been reports of some differences of opinion between the UK and the US about what would be the best political arrangement to emerge out of the crisis, and in particular about the UK's clear support for a Government of national unity. Will the Minister confirm that, and is she confident that we are working effectively with our international partners to co-ordinate a response to the crisis?
Does the Minister, or any other member of the Government, plan to visit Kenya in the near future? If so, does she believe that that would have a positive impact? Does the Minister agree that it is important that we listen to the voices of the Kenyan people? Does she accept that we should send a message of support to the population, making it clear that the international community does not back either of the contending political groups? An impression exists, rightly or wrongly, that the British Government tend to back Mr. Odinga rather than the president. I do not assert that that is the case, but it is the impression conveyed by some press outlets.
Have the Government sought contact with influential groups in the wider Kenyan society, such as the Churches, business and trade unions? In his recent statement to the House, the Foreign Secretary said that the UK would consider providing more aid, as necessary. Is the Minister confident that sufficient international aid has been dispatched to meet the immediate needs of displaced people, and are the Government considering further assistance?
Louis Michel, the EU's Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, has warned that the EU may consider cutting long-term development aid to Kenya unless the political situation there improves. Is that something that the British Government support, and at what stage would decisions about EU aid be made?
All the matters that I have raised will need to be addressed, and Kenya will need international support to that end, but will the Minister assure the House that the Government are giving no thought whatever to the idea of imposing sanctions on the Kenyan Government—something that has been suggested by the Liberal Democrat party? Will she assure the House that the Government are considering the long-term support that should be extended to Kenya, especially as that concerns the reforms to the electoral and judicial systems that the country will need if it is to deal with electoral disputes in the future?
I turn now to the wider ramifications of the crisis. The Opposition remain concerned about the impact on regional stability. As the Minister knows, Kenya is the transit point for a quarter of the gross domestic products of Uganda and Rwanda, for one third of the GDP of Burundi, and for the supply of many essential commodities. Many hon. Members will know that this is not just a Kenyan crisis but an east African one.
The road blocks and instability in Kenya have made it impossible to move fuel along the regular routes through east Africa. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are in close contact with the Governments of countries neighbouring Kenya? Are those countries providing good feedback? What assessment has been made of the number of Kenyans who have fled to neighbouring countries? Is humanitarian assistance reaching them, as their presence is having a major impact on the economies of the countries involved? Will the Minister confirm disturbing reports that Ugandan soldiers have been brought into Kenya, and does she agree that that would be a worrying escalation of the situation?
There have been al-Qaeda attacks and major terrorist incidents in Kenya in the past. Is there any concern that the current crisis might provide cover for an upsurge in that sort of activity, especially since al-Qaeda is known to be active in Somalia?
Kenya is an important hub for international bodies and non-governmental organisations operating across Africa. Has the crisis had any impact on their ability to operate?
In the past, Kenya has been held up as a good example of a new African country which, although not a perfect democracy, has managed to maintain many democratic institutions. Its level of violence has been lower than that experienced in many of its neighbours. The sadness is that Kenya may be joining the group of African countries that are sliding away from the democratic process. I am sure that all hon. Members would want the Government to give Kenya all possible assistance, but to make it clear to the authorities there that the UK does not back one political party over another.
The situation in Kenya is extremely serious, for Kenyans and for black Africa as a whole. Kenya's stability since independence has enabled it to attract inward investment in sectors such as tourism, horticulture, telecoms and banking. It is a low-income country, but not so poor as to count as one of the world's least developed nations.
Just after the new year, I was fortunate enough to be invited by Mr. Speaker to attend the conference of Commonwealth Speakers. I was able to speak at some length with quite a few of the African Speakers and to get their views. They were extremely concerned about what was happening in Kenya, in part for the reasons outlined by Mr. Simpson. Mombasa is the seaport for Uganda and Rwanda, and a great deal of the exports from Burundi also go through it. In addition, Jomo Kenyatta airport is a regional hub for countries in sub-Saharan Africa and around the Indian ocean.
The crisis with Kenya's stability is a problem for Africa for other reasons as well. The unexpected collapse of the rule of law in Kenya has sent a signal to investors in other parts of the world that Africa is not a safe place to do business, and that could have very serious consequences for the continent's development.
Some people in the media and elsewhere in this country—including some Kenyan expatriates living here—have suggested that Britain should do something, such as supervising new elections. Yesterday evening, I attended a meeting on Kenya organised by the all-party group on Africa, and I heard a Kenyan expatriate call for Britain to send in the troops. The Government must be level-headed. We are not the colonial power—Kenya has been independent for almost 50 years. We would not expect to step in to manage the affairs of India, France or the United States if they faced an electoral crisis, and we should not do so in Kenya.
I support strongly the visit of John Kufuor, chairman of the African Union, which seemed at least to damp down the violence, for which we should all be grateful. I hope that Kofi Annan will soon be fit and able to visit the country and start work toward a process of reconciliation. Well respected African leaders are more likely to be able to broker some sort of settlement than a UK envoy.
As always, my hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Although it is difficult in the short term not to want to do more, does he agree that it is far more important for Africa's long-term development and stability that it and the African Union sort out the situation themselves, involving political leaders in the region in the process of bringing people together, than there be a quick fix, which is probably not possible in Kenya anyway?
I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. We should stand with the African leaders and support their efforts.
I do not want to be prescriptive. I support mediation, but I have to say to the Minister that I doubt that a power-sharing deal would work. Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga are both strong men with enormous egos. Ten years ago, at the request of the Labour party, I went on an exercise funded by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to see the then opposition candidates who intended to stand against President Moi in the election before last and to ask them whether they would unite around a single candidate, to make defeat of the KANU party, which had been the ruling party of Kenya since independence, more likely.
The candidates, including Odinga, all agreed that there should be one candidate; the problem was that they all said, "It should be me." Five years ago, however, a deal was struck among the opposition parties. Raila Odinga stood back, Mwai Kibaki went forward as a rainbow coalition candidate and the KANU presidential candidate was defeated. Raila Odinga entered Kibaki's rainbow coalition cabinet, but did not stay long. He fell out with President Kibaki over the President's constitutional reform programme fairly soon—two years, I think—after the election. He left the Government and formed an opposition party, now known as the Orange Democratic Movement.
I am certain that what Kenya needs is not a political fix between Kibaki and Odinga, or between Mwai Kibaki and the minority parties in Parliament. Kibaki has already done a deal with Kalonzo Musyoka, who broke from Raila Odinga's ODM last year to form the ODM-Kenya. Mr. Musyoka has been rewarded with the vice-presidency, which delivers 16 parliamentary votes—the 16 members of Mr. Musyoka's party who were elected to Parliament—to the Government coalition. What Kenya needs is not a fix between leaders. What Kenya needs is the rule of law and democracy. I believe firmly that it needs fresh elections—at least, fresh presidential elections—this year. We know that such elections cannot happen immediately, because so many people have been driven from their homes and would be unable to vote. A period of calm is needed to enable people to return home, but the elections need to take place this year, not in two, three, four or five years' time.
What can our Government do? First, we should advocate good policies, but recognise our limitations. We can advocate such policies, but we cannot enforce them. Secondly, we should press for and provide technical assistance for a forensic investigation of the ballot, if such an investigation is possible. In that way, we and the world would know whether the election was stolen and what went wrong, so that lessons could be learned for the future. That was proposed at yesterday's meeting in Parliament by Gladwell Otieno, who is an extremely well respected Kenyan anti-corruption and human rights campaigner and founder of Transparency International-Kenya. She flew in yesterday to speak to our group on behalf of a coalition of voluntary bodies, Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice.
Our Government should continue to refrain from recognising the election as free and fair and from recognising Mr. Kibaki's election as President. We should discuss with other African countries whether Kenya, in the present circumstances, should be suspended from the Commonwealth. I agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Reed that we should not cut aid—certainly not humanitarian aid. I have seen the work that DFID money funds for people with HIV/AIDS in Kisumu and Kibera—one of the worst slums in Nairobi—and that work should not stop. However, DFID should do what we did in Ethiopia after that country's President jailed some opposition MPs and politicians, which is reroute the money through channels other than the Government of Kenya.
We should work to strengthen the democratic institutions in Kenya, especially the electoral commission. The present commission must stand down—it is wholly discredited. The chairman of the commission who announced that Mr. Kibaki had been elected President said later that he did so under duress; the commission cannot be allowed to remain as it is. Through the mediation process, we need to broker talks on how members of the electoral commission in future will be elected or appointed on the basis of all-party support.
We also need to work to strengthen the judiciary and to work with the Kenyan Parliament. Parliament is especially important because Mr. Kibaki's party, the Party of National Unity, has only 43 seats. Mr. Odinga's ODM party has 105, but not an overall majority. Although the presidential election—whatever the true outcome—was extremely close, the parliamentary elections were not. The small parties in the Parliament hold the balance of power, which provides an opportunity for negotiation and compromise between the parties. We should do whatever we can to foster that process.
We must recognise that Kenyan parties are not the same as UK parties. They are, if I may say so, less tribal than British parties. They are much more fluid: members of parties and Members of Parliament move from party to party, almost in pursuit of the best offer from a party leader. To be blunt, people are swayed by offers of office or of money. Parliament voted against MPs being able to switch parties last year, but it has not implemented that rule. As I mentioned, President Kibaki's decision to make Mr. Musyoka Vice-President delivered an additional 16 parliamentary votes to his parliamentary camp. We have to enter into dialogue with various parliamentary parties in Kenya to discuss the basis on which they can work together and whether a compromise between the parties in Parliament, at least, is possible.
Many of Kenya's MPs are new. That was bound to happen, given the ruling party's loss of so many seats. Many of them have little experience of how Parliament works and what it can do to hold the Executive to account. I should declare an interest as chair of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. I know that one of our trustees, Myles Wickstead, who was the secretary of the Commission for Africa set up by our former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and who was formerly our ambassador in Ethiopia, has spoken to our high commissioner in Kenya, Adam Wood, to explore whether the Westminster Foundation for Democracy can help. The foundation has a history of work with political parties and Parliaments in east Africa. If we can help, I hope that the Foreign Office will get in touch with the foundation. We would be only too pleased to do what we can to help.
Some people have criticised the Leader of the House for her decisions on subjects for topical debate, but today her choice cannot be faulted. It is very welcome that the House has this opportunity to debate the crisis in Kenya. As we speak, thousands of Kenyans are protesting on the streets of Nairobi, in Kisumu and throughout the country. I am particularly delighted to follow Hugh Bayley, who made an eloquent and powerful contribution and who has much experience in international development.
Let us be clear: the humanitarian and political crisis in Kenya has arisen because on
I welcome the right hon. Lady's intervention. There is a huge amount of anecdotal evidence from media reports. One television channel showed an official leaving the count saying, "I can't do this anymore, because of what I am being asked to do." We have been told what the chair of the electoral commission said about making the announcement of results under duress. We need forensic examination, as far as is possible, to determine the scale of the deception, but I do not think it is in doubt that the actual election result was not the one declared.
We have known for some time that Mr. Kibaki has failed to tackle corruption as he pledged to do when he took power in 2002. That is just one in a long line of broken promises, such as the pledge to create the new constitution that Kenya so badly needs. Most seriously, more than a year ago Kibaki stacked the electoral commission with his own appointments and failed to consult Opposition parties. Surely that should have been the canary in the mine—a clear warning of what was to come. The crisis was predictable; in fact, it was predicted. I refer to the comments of my noble Friend Lord Steel of Aikwood in the other place on
"Does the Minister therefore agree with the outgoing chairman of the commission, who is quoted in the Kenyan press as saying that if it is constituted in a way that people are not happy with, they will not trust the result?"
The situation in Kenya shows how true that was. The Minister, Lord Triesman, responded in part by calling the lack of consultation
"a weakness which we will continue to bring to the attention of the Kenyan Government."—[ Hansard, House of Lords, 31 January 2007; Vol. 689, c. 227.]
I welcome the Government's clear statement that they do not recognise Kibaki as the Kenyan President. We must ensure that there is no doubt, either in Britain or the international community, that the December elections are not seen as legitimate. The international community must be united in its rejection of Kibaki as Kenyan President.
I understand that the UK Government have already put in place travel bans against certain members of the Kibaki Government. There is another lever that we can use: surely we could wield influence through the extension of such bans to all those who are blocking the political process, including, if necessary, Kibaki himself. I should be interested to know whether the Minister has considered that, and whether we have considered whether there are other members of the Government and the political class in Kenya to whom travel bans could be extended. We should work closely with our EU neighbours to widen the impact of such personal sanctions.
Of course, when applying sanctions, we have to be careful that they are targeted against corrupt members of the Government, and those blocking the democratic process. They should not harm poor Kenyans, who are already victims in the crisis. The free education and HIV health programmes must be safeguarded.
Elections are due in Angola, Malawi and Ghana in the next 18 months. There is a great danger that failing to deal rigorously with electoral corruption in Kenya will make similar problems more likely in those other African states. The political solution to the crisis in Kenya must involve fresh presidential elections.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right: the only lasting solution to the crisis is fresh elections and, as Hugh Bayley says, they should be held relatively soon. Does she not agree that both the parties concerned should use this interim period to reach a joint agreement on the composition of the electoral commission of Kenya, so that whoever wins the election will buy into the commission's processes, and so that the elections can be seen as free and fair?
I welcome that intervention. The hon. Gentleman is right: it will, of course, be key that everybody involved in the Kenyan political process buys into the electoral commission processes, and the body must be seen to be independent.
The idea of a Government of national unity is unlikely to work. Let us remember that Kibaki reneged on a memorandum of understanding between him and Raila Odinga back in 2002, so there is unlikely to be sufficient trust. The only realistic solution is for a transitional power-sharing Government to take office, and a timetable for new elections to be drawn up. It will take time for Kenyans who have been displaced to be resettled and reregistered to vote, and a lot of rebuilding work will have to be done across the discredited branches of government. The restoration of the electoral commission's independence is a vital step, as Mr. Clifton-Brown says.
The year 2002 brought a new sense of optimism to Kenya. That year's elections deserved the praise that they received for being the most free and fair in Kenyan history. Last December, voters again approached the polls with optimism, and recorded turnout was 70 per cent. However, the situation has quickly turned into a seminal crisis. Whether the violence is blamed on tribal tensions, a conflict between the haves and have-nots, or an intergenerational clash, we should not lose sight of the fact that the direct cause of the bloodshed was the manipulation of the presidential election result.
As we enter the second day of fresh protests in Kenya, the potential for further large-scale loss of life is very real. Pressure must be brought to bear on Kibaki so that Kenya can have a transitional Government and fresh elections. Failing to act now will push Kenya closer to the brink.
I am extremely pleased that we now have topical debates, and particularly pleased that today's is on Kenya, a country with which I have had involvement over the past few years. Like other hon. Members, I want to consider the political and humanitarian dimensions of the issue.
Last summer, I was fortunate enough to go to Kenya with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and spent some time speaking to Raila Odinga. I met Kalonzo Musyoka on the day when he moved from his previous party to the Labour party of Kenya. I also met the chair of what was then the party of Mwai Kibaki, the President. That gives some idea of all the changing of parties that goes on. Having spoken to a number of extremely articulate and able politicians, one thing was overwhelmingly clear: that the recent elections would present people in Kenya with a stark choice.
They would be choosing between stability, economic growth and Kibaki's track record of universal primary education, albeit with criticism of the corruption, his Government's centralism and lack of vitality, and change under Raila Odinga, which would provide redistribution and decentralisation, and tackle the poverty agenda in Kenya, with the downside that the party was an unknown quantity and untested in government.
I went back just before Christmas and it was clear that the ODM was way ahead, but there was a fervour of debate and people were looking at the big choice that faced Kenya. Jo Swinson made some important points, but I disagree with some of her comments. It was for the Kenyans to choose, not for us to say, and it certainly was not for any political party to steal the elections, which is what has happened. It is just not clear who stole what.
In the parliamentary elections, as my hon. Friend Hugh Bayley said, there was clearly an overwhelming majority in favour of the ODM. When I visited Kenya last year I could see that people were fed up with politics as they had been, and they did not like politicians. That was reflected in the number of Ministers who lost their seats. Younger people wanted a greater say, and people wanted sweeping changes. The presidential election was clearly going to be closer, and that is where the conflict lies. As long as the results are disputed and people in Kenya believe that the election was stolen, there will be no resolution of the other problems that have arisen. It is therefore essential that the political situation be resolved.
On the humanitarian front, there has been much talk about the various tribes of Kenya. I have quite a large number of Kenyans in my constituency and they had a prayer meeting at the weekend. One of them said that there were only two tribes in Kenya—the haves and the have-nots. The haves are a small group who hold power. The have-nots are a vast mass of people. That is the real political divide in Kenya.
I run a little charity, which some hon. Members support. It works with organisations in the slums of Kenya, in particular in conjunction with the Kenya Network of Women with AIDS. It works in Kibera, Mathare and the other slums in Nairobi. I visited the project before Christmas when, among other things, we had the kids from the slums together for a great big Christmas party. It is sobering to think that most of those children, who have already been orphaned by HIV/AIDS, have now lost not only their parents but their homes and their few possessions. Even worse, the agencies that were feeding them cannot operate, so they have not had food for quite a while.
The Kenya Network of Women with AIDS had to shut down all its feeding programmes because of the violence. World Vision in Kenya has also reported appalling consequences for its programmes, which were supporting some of the poorest people in Nairobi and outside. As that work cannot go on, the UN has to run feeding programmes in the slums. Kibera is not a slum on the fringes of the city; it is right in the middle of Nairobi. One drives past big affluent houses, and just round the corner, or just down the street, one finds oneself in the biggest slum in Africa—in such a rich city. It is an appalling thought that the UN has to run feeding programmes in such a place.
Colleagues have spoken about the importance of Kenya, and they are right. It is a centre for east Africa. I understand that at one point the blockades on the roads were stopping fuel reaching Uganda, and that pressures were building up in Uganda because of fuel shortages and problems with other strategic supplies. Much of the humanitarian work that goes on in southern Sudan and Somalia, and some of the security work there, is based in Nairobi. That is affected by anything that damages the ability of people in Kenya to move about and carry out their business properly.
Others have spoken about Kenya's having been a beacon for multi-party democracy. It is therefore important that we deal with the political crisis and the humanitarian fallout from that. Although it is for Kenyans to decide, there are steps that we in the UK can take, given our historic relationship and our close economic ties with Kenya, to make sure that things keep moving there. The first is to keep on Kenya's case, and especially on Mwai Kibaki's case.
I suspect that some are hoping that after the world has made a fuss and a compromise deal is reached, which people in Kenya are quite capable of achieving, the world will accept that and life will go on, while the underlying question of what happened in the elections is never resolved. It is important that this debate is taking place, and I hope that the scrutiny and the pressure from the Government will continue. A recount is probably not possible because of the tampering with the ballot papers, but there should be an investigation of what happened in the elections. In due course there must be fresh elections. I hope that they will take place in an orderly fashion, and that all the lessons will be learned about how the monitoring is carried out, how the ballot boxes and ballot papers are moved and so on, to avoid a rerun of the disaster.
If there is to be power sharing, my hon. Friend the Minister and her colleagues in Government should keep a close eye on the nature and basis of that power sharing. There is ample previous experience of coalitions in Kenya. At best they can be inspiring and move the country forward; at worst they can be a grubby deal between politicians horse-trading power and influence. The former is needed, not the latter. We should ensure that there is a genuine sharing of power, not just a divvying-up of jobs. That is difficult under the present constitution, without certain checks and balances, with a very powerful presidency, and with the vice-presidency apparently now occupied as well.
I hope my hon. Friend and the rest of the Government will push for real transparency about who is pulling the strings. Like others, I welcome the mission by the UN and other African Heads of State. However, I notice that almost every communiqué issued refers to talks with Daniel arap Moi. Moi's influence in connection with Kibaki is well known. He was his fund-raiser during the election campaign. This is a president who was thrown out in the previous elections for corruption on a scale that leaves most people gasping. It is important that if there is to be international confidence and transparency, the elected politicians, not those who were chucked out for corruption, are making the decisions and pulling the strings.
I ask my hon. Friend to keep a close watch on what happens with the Kenyan Parliament. When Mwai Kibaki lost the referendum on the constitution and was in difficulties, one of the responses was to put Parliament into recess and keep it there for several months. That must not happen again. I understand from reports that it is not due to sit until March. Can the Minister confirm that? If that is the case, that means that while there is unrest on the streets and there are debates about the nature of the power sharing and the future of the country, Kenyan MPs are in their constituencies, but Parliament is not sitting and holding the President and Government to account, which is really important.
The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire rightly mentioned the packing of the electoral commission; the same happened with the judiciary just before the election, when the President appointed a number of judges. People say that things should be left to the courts, but there are real fears that that is a difficult issue. I ask my hon. Friend and her colleagues to keep up the pressure on those points and provide the space and certainty so that the Kenyan people can make their own decisions on the proper way forward for their country.
I plead above all that we maintain long-term commitments to the humanitarian work and ensure that that goes through non-corrupt channels. One night I opened the Evening Standard and saw a picture of flattened parts of Kabira. I knew that a number of the children whom I had seen only a couple of weeks previously had lived there. Either those shacks—and they were terrible things—will re-emerge or the international community will say that in this day and age such housing is not appropriate and we should consider providing proper shelter there, and do the same for the other appalling slums. We should ensure that the supply lines for people's HIV/AIDS treatment, some of which is being disrupted, are maintained. Above all, we should ensure that the children will get food.
Kenya has been a country of great wealth, dynamism and enterprise, but it has also been one of massive poverty. As other Members have said, what is happening there now is impacting grossly on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.
I must admit that I am somewhat resistant to modernisation of the House, but topical debates are a brilliant idea, as a number of contributions clearly demonstrated today.
Perhaps I should not admit it as an ex-banker, but sometimes I struggle with numbers—250,000 people in Kenya have been displaced; I struggle with the enormity of that number. More than 600 people have been killed—about the same as the number of Members in this House. I think of the life of the young girl in Kenya whom my wife sponsors. She writes to us every six months about what is happening in her village, which is one of the affected areas.
To put the numbers into context, 6,000 people regularly meet at Southend United football club; 250,000 is an enormous number. The situation is horrific for Kenya, the region and the African continent generally. As one who spent a lot of time working in Africa before entering this place, I know it to be a place of great optimism and entrepreneurship. There are great business opportunities in Africa. However, every crisis there is an indicator for the uninitiated that Africa is not a safe place in which to holiday or work or to trade with. That is a complete tragedy.
A number of hon. Members have spoken about Kenya's regional role. I, too, am deeply concerned about the links with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi in respect of essential goods and petrol. The Kenyan crisis could have a severe long-term impact on the whole region. I would welcome any information that the Minister can provide on Nairobi being a financial hub for the whole region. I presume that the stock exchange is closed and that financial transactions are not taking place; if so, that will have wider impacts, beyond Nairobi.
Kenya always provided great optimism—just as, ironically, Zimbabwe did as a large, affluent country with lots of natural resources. Now, however, those are two major blights in Africa. Although we should not interfere in Kenyan affairs, we should look critically at the failure of the British Government and international institutions to spot the problems. Specifically, there were strong indications before
The statistics and facts prove absolutely that the elections cannot be relied on. In some areas, 115 per cent. of the voters apparently voted. In an intervention, I mentioned the problem of the electoral register and the manipulation that left whole tribal groups with a common name off the register. All that happened before the election, so there were early indicators that there could be major problems.
The Kenyan economy might not be fundamentally damaged. There is some cause for optimism; everyone feared that the bombs in Nairobi in 1998 and Mombasa in 2002 would bring Kenya and its tourism to a grinding halt. However, Kenya has managed to get back on its feet and attract business and tourism again. However, the country is losing £15 million a day as a result of the problems, and a country with a GDP per capita of about $500 a year cannot afford that.
Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I spend a lot of time considering Africa through the prism of development and the departmental prism of the Department for International Development rather than that of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There needs to be greater co-ordination between the two; it seems farcical that, as the DFID budget is rightly being ramped up and spending on governance is increasing—some of that money needs to flow through to places such as Kenya—the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, for example, is not receiving the same funding increases. Perhaps that organisation would be more effective than DFID trying to reinvent the wheel. Although I support DFID as an independent Department, perhaps there is not the co-ordination that there would have been under a single Department in respect of situations such as Kenya's. I urge greater co-operation.
This topical debate has rightly concentrated on Kenya's problems, but the Minister should take time to reflect on what the Department does to spot other problem areas. We often talk about the three major issues of trade, aid and conflict resolution for the developing world, but we need to consider not only post-conflict, but pre-conflict resolution. There were certain signs in Kenya that indicated that there might be social, civil and political unrest—issues of corruption, overpopulation and pressures on the land are very evident in Kenya and they are easily monitored. Corruption can be followed through the excellent organisation, Transparency International and population growth is closely monitored by a number of international organisations, including the UN. Land pressure can be monitored by looking at agricultural statistics on land yield. Surely the FCO should do some statistical modelling to note countries at risk across Africa and give greater economic, governance or political support. Indeed, extra FCO and DFID people should go to the country to try to assist.
I did not hear the Minister mention British citizens in Kenya. When my good friends Councillors Liz and Mel Day were in Kenya, their return was delayed because of the difficulties. While it is not our primary concern to worry about British citizens—and should not be, given the large numbers of people killed and displaced—there are significant issues in that regard.
Several Members mentioned the African Union, which must be the powerhouse of change and peer-to-peer review within Africa. It is not right for the UK, as an ex-colonial Government, to impose solutions, nor even for the EU or any other international organisations to do so—much better that the AU should do it. That is easy to say, but we need to give the AU a lot more support. It would be fair to say that while Britain has encouraged the AU to act in several other countries—for example, in Zimbabwe—it does not have the momentum to be what we would call the critical friend that would allow countries to be critical of one another and say, "You're my neighbour but what you're doing is unacceptable." We need to give it the confidence to be able to do that.
That said, I am optimistic. Kenya recovered from the Nairobi bombs. I wholly disagree with one aspect of the speech by Jo Swinson, which was very good overall. I think that imposing sanctions or travel bans now, 30 days or so after the incident, would be premature and counter-productive, even if it was the right thing to do at some point. It might be possible to resolve the situation quite quickly, and there should not be a knee-jerk reaction to these events.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the Government already have travel bans in place for some of the individuals concerned, so it would just be an extension of that? The elections were on
I do not accept the hon. Lady's proposition; in fact, it might get in the way of people travelling here for international discussions about what is happening.
Other than that, it has been a good debate. I very much hope that for the young girl whom we sponsor in Kenya, and for the whole community, things get better, because it is a dire, horrific situation.
I am pleased to be able to make a brief contribution to today's topical debate on Kenya and to follow my hon. Friend James Duddridge.
I have never visited the country, and therefore have no personal experience of it, although I have many friends who have visited on business or on holiday and tell me what a beautiful place it is and what great people Kenyans are. However, the results of the recent elections and the subsequent crisis remain of great concern to us all. The humanitarian issues remain tragic and the consequences are very worrying for the future. The indiscriminate violence has been appalling and still, sadly, continues. Without doubt, the top priority for Kenya's political leaders and the international community must be to bring the murder and violence to an end. All Kenyan political leaders have an obligation, and must do everything in their power, to end the bloodshed and to start talking.
As we have heard from many Members in a very good and measured debate, Kenya has been quite different from many of its African neighbours, with relative stability. Surely compromise and all the politicians working together must now be the answer. The efforts of the African Union, the United Nations and the Commonwealth to bring political reconciliation must be supported, and I welcome what the Minister said about that in her opening remarks. We must all be ready to assist wherever possible. I strongly support the questions posed by my hon. Friend Mr. Simpson in his opening speech from the Opposition Front Bench.
While accepting, as the Minister did in response to my intervention, that a political solution is vital and the way forward, the suffering of the people must not be forgotten. In the UK, we must be ready to respond to the appeals from the Kenyan Red Cross for humanitarian support. The displacement of people, the destruction of homes, the violence, the killings and the problems of so many are heart-rending, and we remember that today. The UK-based charity Merlin Relief International has stated, and I hope that the Minister will note, that it needs £300,000 to continue its work beyond the end of this month in Nyanaza province alone. What plans has the Minister made for dispatching aid, especially financial provision, to Kenya and supporting the efforts of UK charities such as Merlin and the British Red Cross? These are vital areas where we should be looking to help. Of course, the political influence that the Government can exert is very important, but the humanitarian aspect is equally so.
Kenyans complain bitterly of Government corruption, stressing that few of their own parliamentary leaders visit the poorest areas and that domestic and foreign aid packages are mis-targeted or appropriated so that they do not reach those in greatest need. Others claim that neither Kenyan nor foreign leaders fully appreciate the problems facing the common man and woman in the country. That hinders the effective application of aid packages. All the issues that have been raised today on both sides of the House have highlighted how critical the situation is, and we urge the Government to do everything possible.
DFID's recent policy has been, rightly, to direct aid in most cases, and wherever possible, directly through the foreign Government concerned. Does my hon. Friend agree that in this case that policy needs reassessing so that we can get money quickly to the NGOs that are involved at the sharp end? Mention has been made of AIDS, but many other health and food projects urgently need aid to get into Kenya.
For clarification, although DFID provides aid through the Governments of many developing countries through a process called budget support, it does not, because of corruption and for other reasons, use that as a route for delivering aid in Kenya, so it is not a problem in this case.
I am grateful for that comment and hope that that is so.
We are all united in the belief that it is absolutely essential that Kenya returns to normality as quickly as possible to avoid long-term damage to the economy, to end the suffering of the people, and to protect the future of a very beautiful country.
I was not expecting to speak in this debate; I would have hoped not to have to speak in such a debate, but the images that I saw on the television of young men carrying machetes struck home tremendously.
Last summer, I spent time in Rwanda, and those who know that country know that over a period of 100 days in 1995, an incredible genocide took place involving the Hutus and the Tutsis, in which the Hutu majority slaughtered 750,000 Tutsis. I went to see one of the memorials, on which it said "Never again". That phrase struck me when I saw television reports showing young men carrying machetes in the aftermath of the election in Kenya. That is why I wish to speak briefly; I appreciate that I have only a brief time to talk on this important issue.
We heard from President Kibaki that the elections were free and fair, but we would not have seen the response on the street, and from the international community, if those on the ground believed them to be free and fair, and if those internationally, who know best practice when it comes to elections, thought so too. It is important that the Government take a strong stand on the issue, and I hope that the Minister will respond to this point. She should address the question asked earlier about whether the Government will recognise the Kibaki Government.
A simple yes or no will do, rather than equivocation. That is an important message that we need to send to put pressure on the Kenyan Government.
On the nuances of what went on, my experience of what went on in Rwanda is that it was a tribal reaction. I have been to Kenya, and it is important that we do not see the current tensions in a country that is relatively stable compared with some of the countries around it, and which is relatively progressive—Nairobi is a big city—disintegrate into the tribal tensions to which I alluded earlier. What can we do, and what should we do? As an international community, aid is extremely important. I would like to congratulate those from the Department for International Development who are going to Kenya today to give that aid. It is a stressful time, there are tensions and it is not a particularly safe place to go. I know that people from DFID are going out there at the moment, and I want to give them my support.
In particular, I should like to congratulate DFID on the support it gives in relation to HIV/AIDS, which is a big issue in Kenya, as it is, unfortunately, in many other African countries. I know that the Minister was shaking her head earlier; perhaps she can tell me why in her response, and I would also like to ask her about the targeting of aid. One of the criticisms we have heard from experts on the ground in Kenya is that aid is not as targeted as it should be. We are hearing that from independent observers, and perhaps she could address that issue.
In responding to the situation, it is always easy for us in the west to say what we think should be done in Africa, but I am a great believer in the idea that those who are most local to a problem are those best placed to provide a solution. Therefore, I congratulate Kofi Annan, who is leading a panel of eminent Africans organised by the African Union, which includes President Benjamin Mkapa and Nelson Mandela's wife, Graça Machel, to try to resolve Kenya's problems. If Africa tries to resolve things along with its neighbours, we are far more likely to achieve success than we would as outsiders. That is better than us as westerners going in and imposing our views—and our sense of colonialism, as they would perceive it—to try to achieve peace and stability in that part of Africa.
Finally, the overall response should be to try to support the Kenyan Red Cross, which has asked for our support through humanitarian aid. We should provide that assistance to the Red Cross, first of all. Secondly, we should ensure that we protect our citizens. A number of British citizens are there, and the Government have a responsibility to protect them. Thirdly, we must do whatever we can to condemn the Government of President Kibaki, and send a powerful message to him that we do not see his elections as free and fair and, therefore, do not recognise his Government as legitimate.
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 Mr. Newmark on this occasion.
I am not sure whether I can answer all the questions that 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.
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 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
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
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?
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 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.
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
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).
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Before we get on 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, Caroline Flint, saying that she had endorsed the closure of the Christchurch Jobcentre office. I bumped into my right hon. Friend 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—
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.