HL Deb 25 November 1999 vol 607 cc583-4

3.19 p.m.

Lord Monsonasked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they plan to take emergency action to get supplies of food, drink, fuel and medicine to St Helena before Christmas following the temporary immobilisation of the only cargo ship regularly supplying the island.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, action has already been taken to ensure that supplies that would have been delivered by the RMS "St Helena" will reach the island before Christmas. Cargo on the RMS "St Helena" at the time of its breakdown will depart from Brest tomorrow and arrive at St Helena on 14th December. Parallel arrangements have been made for the delivery of cargo from Cape Town to arrive at St Helena on 3rd December.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, for that excellent news and I congratulate Her Majesty's Government on their commendably prompt action. Presumably this will ensure that the people of the island will not only receive basic necessities but will be able to enjoy a merry Christmas and a festive start to the new millennium. Does the noble Baroness agree that this news will greatly cheer my noble friend Lord Iveagh who, as the House knows, fought valiantly for the rights of the people of St Helena, but who was unfortunately narrowly defeated in the elections three weeks ago?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that the cargo and indeed the passengers will arrive in St Helena on time. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord at this point that the freight includes not only general foodstuffs and frozen foods, but drinks, medical supplies and fuel. In addition, I understand that there are seven Rhode Island Red cockerels and one dog. However, I am unable to tell noble Lords what kind of dog.

I agree with the noble Lord that the noble Lord, Lord Iveagh, did indeed fight long and hard in this House on behalf of St Helenians, and that he would be very pleased with the news today.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, can the noble Baroness advise the House when repairs are expected to be completed on the cargo ship concerned? If those repairs are expected to take a long or even a medium length of time, what arrangements for supplies to St Helena have been made for the period following Christmas?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord that it is anticipated that the repairs will take around three months. The ship that has been chartered to take cargo from Brest to St Helena will be used to provide an interim service between St Helena, Cape Town and Ascension Island. Following that, the managers of RMS "St Helena" will look at when they can put the original timetable back into place.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is there any possibility that an airport could be built on St Helena?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, air access is an issue that has been raised by the St Helena Government. Indeed, DfID has funded a programme to examine the feasibility of air access. We are now looking at the possibilities of that and we shall know within the coming year the extent to which we will be able to look seriously at that project. Cost is clearly a major consideration.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, I was pleased to hear the noble Baroness's clear reply. No doubt, if this is to be a success story it will be claimed by the Foreign Office, but if it is a failure it will be DfID's responsibility. Can the noble Baroness tell the House what co-ordination there has been between the Foreign Office and DfID over this very serious matter? When did they last meet to discuss the issue?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that this is the response of Her Majesty's Government. We are committed to joined-up government.

Forward to