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Oral Answers to Questions — St. Helena

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th April 2001.

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 12:00 am, 25th April 2001

What recent assessment she has made of the transport infrastructure needs of the island of St. Helena. [157645]

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

We are currently awaiting the results of a comparative study of air and sea access which will identify the least-cost solution to the island's future international passenger and cargo transport needs. The final report is expected shortly and its recommendations will then need to be discussed with the St. Helena Government. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has agreed, subject to the outcome of the study, that the Department for International Development would provide funding equal to the least capital cost option—that is either the cost of replacing RMS St. Helena or the estimated capital cost of an airport and related infrastructure.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

In the Secretary of State's written reply to me on 27 March, I was told that the Department would be responding to the report that was available then within a week. The governor of St. Helena, David Hollamby, is in London this week. Surely there is an opportunity to make more rapid progress. What timetable can the Minister produce so that the matter can be resolved as soon as possible?

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

In the written reply, the hon. Gentleman was told that we would comment on a draft of the report within a week. I understand that that happened. We expect the report to be delivered shortly. The matter will then need to be discussed with the Government of St. Helena. When we have done that, we will reach a conclusion.

Photo of Ms Jean Corston Ms Jean Corston Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

Is my hon. Friend aware that in 1999, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association annual conference was held in Trinidad and Tobago? Most delegates were able to get home quite quickly, even those who lived in some of the Pacific archipelagos, whereas the St. Helena delegate said that it would take him three and a half weeks to get home. Does my hon. Friend agree that that does not assist the viability of St. Helena?

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

The problem is under careful consideration. We must take full account of the costs involved. St. Helena is second among the overseas territories in terms of the amount of aid that we already give. There must, of course, be limits, which is why we say that we will fund the least cost option. The matter is being carefully thought about. Watch this space.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Does not the Minister recognise that hon. Members from all parts of the House who have met St. Helena delegates at Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conferences over the years consider it outrageous that people should have to travel three and a half weeks by sea from a Commonwealth country to Cardiff to exercise their democratic rights? At the beginning of a new century, is it not right that the Government should recognise their responsibilities to democratic representatives in Commonwealth countries, by ensuring proper air connections?

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

St. Helena is a very remote island. That is a fact with which we all have to cope. The time taken to get there is the same under this Government as it was under the previous Government. [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. The House must come to order. The disruption is unfair.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

We are carefully considering the options. We are doing that along with the Government of St. Helena, but there is no magic solution to the problem. It is a matter of geographical location, which not even the Government whom the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) supported were able to resolve.