St. Helena

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 22nd January 2003.

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Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester 11:30 am, 22nd January 2003

When she expects to make an announcement on the provision of an airfield on the isle of St. Helena.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

In talks in St Helena with the island's Government last September, it was decided to seek proposals for private sector participation. A prospectus is currently being prepared as a basis for inviting bids from interested parties. The future timetable should become clearer once proposals have been received and assessed.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

I am not sure whether that is good news and represents progress. We will have to wait and see what happens. May I remind the Minister that the island's expectations on this issue drag back for several years? Indeed, when a Commonwealth Parliament Association group of which I was a member visited the island in the summer of 1999, the airfield was top of the agenda then. I urge the Minister to get on and to make a decision one way or another because the island has been waiting years. I detect from her answer that the decision on the matter will be prolonged even further.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

No, I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman is wrong. I know from his repeated questions on the matter of his continued interest in it, but since he last asked about it, I think, two years ago, the island has decided in a referendum that it wants the airfield. The financing has been agreed and the prospectus, which we expect to be completed around about the end of next month, is being drawn up. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will keep asking questions about the airfield, but steady progress has been made and there is a firm route forward.

Photo of John Smith John Smith Labour, Vale of Glamorgan

Given the long historical link between the island of St. Helena and the people of south Wales through the coal trade, in particular Barry dock, which was the biggest exporter of coal in the world, and given the lifeline that was provided by the SS St. Helena and the port of Cardiff, will my hon. Friend do all she can to ensure that the island gets the airfield it deserves?

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of the sea link. Even when the island gets the airfield, assuming that the financing fits together, it will still be important for it to remain involved in sea freight, which will probably be provided on a commercial basis. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has agreed that we will provide £26.3 million, so substantial progress has been made. We look forward to seeing the prospectus and to the project being carried forward.