HC Deb 19 January 1999 vol 323 cc689-90
1. Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester)

If he will restore full British citizenship to residents of the island of St. Helena. [64585]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd)

The issue of British citizenship for all residents of United Kingdom overseas territories who do not already have it is being considered as part of our review of policy towards the overseas territories. The issue will be covered in the overseas territories White Paper, which we expect to publish soon.

Mr. Russell

I am sure that we all welcome the early publication of the White Paper, but can the Minister give any reason why the 5,500 citizens of St. Helena should not have restored to them the full British citizenship that the islanders enjoyed for more than 300 years, before the Conservative Government withdrew it in 1981? Surely the islanders deserve an early return to full British citizenship.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Lloyd

I am very pleased to hear members of the official Opposition cheering on the hon. Gentleman. When all is said and done, it was they who took away that right from the St. Helenians, and he is absolutely right about that. I think that he would be happy to acknowledge that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made it very clear for a long time that the issue of citizenship will be treated constructively and sympathetically, but I must tell the House, and those outside who show a keen interest in the matter, that it is still, I am afraid, necessary to wait for the White Paper, which will be published soon.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

While the Minister is considering citizenship for the St. Helenians, will he also recognise that they have grave concerns about their transport links? Is he aware that, in order to attend a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference—which hon. Members of all parties attended, including me—a delegate from the St. Helena Parliament had to travel for three and a half weeks by ship to Cardiff? Even more urgently than citizenship, the people of St. Helena need an airstrip.

Mr. Lloyd

It may be that, in this case, the people of St. Helena speak for themselves better than the hon. Gentleman speaks for them; when they meet me and other Members of Parliament, they may say that transportation is important, but citizenship is always the issue that they raise first. A review of transportation links is taking place. All that I can say to the hon. Gentleman, and through him to the House and the world, is that the most important thing is to ensure that there is adequate communication. The existing ship that sails regularly to St. Helena must be a long-term part of the island's transportation structure, and we want to do nothing to threaten the viability of that sea route.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

Is my hon. Friend alluding to the charge that many of us made against the then Government, that in 1981 the citizens of St. Helena and other dependent territories were treated cynically as pawns, to ensure that that Government did not face continuing embarrassment over large influxes into the United Kingdom of residents of Hong Kong when Britain was negotiating the handover of that territory?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend castigates the official Opposition in their former role as the Government better than I can, but I can assure him that their days in government are now receding rapidly into the past and that it will be a long time before the British people give that failed party any credence and trust them again with the onerous burden of government.

Forward to