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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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The Future of St Helena

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A debate was held in Westminster Hall on the situation in St Helena at which Meg made a contribution, given below. For a full report of the recent debate visit:



Meg initiated a debate on this topic in March, see http://www.megmunnmp.org.uk/press-view-entry.asp?type=Views&id=335


Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) on securing this debate and demonstrating again that despite St. Helena’s distance and its relatively small number of inhabitants, as well as those Saints living in the UK, many parliamentarians take seriously the responsibilities that this country owes to our overseas territories. I will not make a long speech, as I had my own Westminster Hall debate on this subject a few months ago, but some of the issues bear repeating and considering in greater depth.


Overseas territories that receive budgetary aid from the UK Government do so through the Department for International Development. That creates a number of problems. In our previous debate, the Minister compared the support given to the people of St. Helena to support given to people in developing countries. I hope sincerely that he will not do so today. Although we have a moral responsibility to help people in developing countries - a responsibility that this Government have taken more seriously than any previous Government - we have legal responsibilities to the people who live in our overseas territories. To counterpose the two is most unhelpful and does not take us further forward.


Development aid to people in developing countries is given for all sorts of good reasons, but just as we have had to consider how to develop the regions of our country - our policies to close the gap between the poorer regions of the UK and the south-east have been important to economic policy here in Britain - we must take seriously closing the enormous gap between the situation of British citizens in our overseas territories and British citizens who live here.


I will concentrate briefly on the social issues. The hon. Lady covered the wide range of issues important to the debate, but I want to focus a bit more on the social fabric. Successful societies have a diverse range of people of all ages. One issue facing Western Europe generally is an ageing population, so we must consider how to get more people in to support the economy and so forth.


Like a number of our overseas territories, St. Helena has a small society. It needs people of all ages if it is to be successful, not just economically, but socially. If the economy does not enable people of working age to stay on St. Helena, the social side will suffer. These are not short-term problems. If children are not brought up by their parents because one or both of them have to work away from the island, that will impact on their long-term emotional well-being. If children have to stay with other people, all sorts of issues can arise.


I do not want to suggest that the people of St. Helena are different from any other society. However, we know that when children grow up with other families, whether through fostering or informal care, problems arise. My background is in social work, which I did for many years. I have seen the kinds of problems that children face in such situations. We know that those can be exacerbated in smaller societies because there are fewer people with the resources to provide support. If, in addition, the time that it takes for people to return to their families is exacerbated by poor transport links, that will affect children who, for example, become ill and need to see their parents. Those things can be damaging and we must take them seriously.


Elderly people do not face only the issue of whether they can get the right medical care and support. People thrive more if they have regular contact with their families. We often worry in the UK that people move away from where they grew up - for all sorts of reasons, such as jobs - and do not support their elderly parents. How much more difficult must that be for people who live thousands of miles away from their elderly parents, and for whom it would take several days to return?


I believe that if we invest in the island by creating an airport and opening up access, this society has real potential. That is not just a wish that comes out of the air. It is based on the experience of another of our overseas territories. The Falkland Islands had a population that was in decline and had relatively few elderly people because the resources for them were so poor that many had left. As a result of an event that none of us would have wished on the Falkland Islanders - the war of the early ’80s - the UK Government invested hugely in that territory.


The Government built roads. When I had the privilege to visit the Falklands, I was surprised to learn that there were few roads there before the conflict. The Government gave hospital support. A whole range of support is now available. The Falklands can sell fishing licences, and the economy is doing well. It has fewer residents than St. Helena. Elderly people who grew up on the Falkland Islands and then left because of the lack of support have returned. The hospital can undertake a wide range of medical procedures because of its links to other hospitals through technology and advice. Surgeons from the UK can also fly out there to undertake operations in a relatively short time.


The future for the people of St. Helena could be so much brighter. I will not go into the economic case because it is blindingly obvious. To delay at a time when we have the support of the private sector, which has invested hugely, is sheer madness. We should move ahead with the airport and give a real future to the people of St. Helena. Without doing so, can this Government say in all conscience that they are meeting their responsibilities to this overseas territory?

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