§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has no plans to visit St. Helena. However, officials from our Department will be visiting the island in January 2000 to discuss with the St. Helena Government the country policy plan for the next three years.
§ Mr. Russell
It is just as well that the Secretary of State has no plans to visit that remote island because it has no airstrip, and the only ship, which is the only way to reach the outside world, is currently off the high seas undergoing repairs. I sincerely hope that it will be repaired in time for the January visit.
Does the Minister agree that there is considerable anger and dismay among the people of St. Helena about their treatment by this Government and the previous Government, which contrasts with the treatment received by the people of the Falkland Islands?
§ Mr. Foulkes
The Government recognise the problems of access to St. Helena. I am pleased to tell the House that this week we have agreed to a comparative study that will investigate the relative costs of air and sea access. It will identity the most effective, least costly permanent solution to the island's international passenger and cargo transportation needs. I am sure that it will be widely welcomed.
§ Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)
Given its importance to the increased self-sufficiency of the economy and to its sustainable prosperity, will the Minister tell the House what steps the Government envisage taking to assist in the diversification of the island's economy?
§ Mr. Foulkes
That is what my officials will be discussing with the councillors of St. Helena when they visit in January next year. That is part of the country's 815 policy plan. We are keen to see diversification. We are keen also to see private investment and enterprise. At present, the Government are subsidising St. Helena more than any other area, island or country other than Montserrat, by about £2,000 per person. We want to see economic development so that that subsidy does not have to continue at that level.