Politics: Ministers thwart attempt to grant South Helena residents citizenship

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The Independent Online
The Government is planning to block the latest attempt to give the impoverished inhabitants of St Helena full British citizenship.

Dr John Marek, Labour MP for Wrexham, has been told that the Government will not support the second reading of Lord Iveagh's Bill in the House of Commons tomorrow which would give the "Saints" as the islanders are called, a full British passport.

The Government has decided to wait until a Foreign Office-led review of the dependent territories before deciding whether the situation should be changed.

The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, is due to make a keynote address at the Dependent Territories' Association conference in London on 4 February.

St Helena, an island in the South Atlantic, was dealt a severe blow by the 1981 Nationality Act which prevented its people from taking temporary jobs in Britain, one of the few sources of income for the population. It has high unemployment and has been trying to attract new investment, but still needs an enormous British subsidy to balance the budget.

The island, most famous as the place where Napoleon was exiled and died, was once an important refuelling station on the sailing route to South Africa.

Last November Lord Iveagh, a cross-bencher in the Lords introduced his Bill modelled on the special measure rushed through Parliament by the Thatcher government in 1983 which restored citizenship to the Falkland islanders. Of the 13 British dependent territories, only the 30,000 inhabitants of Gibraltar are full British citizens.

"There is a terrible waste of human talent at the moment through an unequal situation," said Lord Iveagh. "They deserve to have freedom."

Dr Marek said yesterday that he was "disappointed" that the Bill would be blocked but said he was pleased that the Home Office was looking at the situation sympathetically.