Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report

St Helena

Population: 4,100 (5,326 including Ascension and Tristan da Cunha)

GDP: $23.1 million, GDP per head: $5,622

Key industries: Reliant on UK budgetary aid, agriculture, tourism, fisheries and remittances


512.  This remote island in the South Atlantic is about 1200 miles from the South West coast of Africa. It is of volcanic origin and was uninhabited when it was discovered in the early sixteenth century. The island has distinctive flora and fauna with many rare or endangered species.


513.  St Helena was discovered on St Helena day (21 May) 1502 by the Portuguese navigator Joan da Nova. In 1658 Richard, Lord Protector, authorised the British East India Company to colonise and fortify the island. Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to St Helena in 1815 and remained there until his death in 1821. St Helena became a Crown Colony in 1834. The Zulu Chief, Dinizulu, was exiled to the island in 1890 and up to 6000 Boer prisoners were held there between 1900 and 1903.

Constitutional Status

514.  St Helena's constitution came into force in 1989. The Governor exercises executive authority and has responsibility for shipping and finance. The Governor is advised by an Executive Council and an elected Legislative Council. The Executive Council consists of the Governor, three ex officio members, and five elected members of the Legislative Council. There is a unicameral Legislative assembly (15 seats, including the speaker, 3 ex officio and 12 elected members).

515.  St Helena has two dependencies: Ascension and Tristan da Cunha (information on which is set out separately below). The Governor of St Helena is also Governor of its dependencies although Ascension and Tristan da Cunha each have a resident administrator.

Evidence received

516.  The Committee received eleven submissions from individuals and organisations in St Helena, including from St Helena's Legislative Council, the Speaker, the Citizenship Commission, the Banking Supervisor, the Chamber of Commerce and the Managing Director of St Helena Line Limited.

517.  The Committee heard oral evidence from Hon Brian Isaac, Member of St Helena's Executive Council, in December 2007.

Key recommendations

  • We recommend that the FCO should strongly encourage all Overseas Territories which have not yet done so to introduce freedom of information legislation. We also recommend that the FCO should review with Overseas Territories what steps they might take to improve their public accounting and auditing capability. We support the Public Accounts Committee's recent recommendations that the FCO should explore how Overseas Territories might make better use of UK expertise and that it should also explore whether those Territories with Public Accounts Committees could make more use of ex-officio members. (para 233)
  • We also recommend that the FCO should continue to work with DFID to introduce a financial services regulatory regime in St Helena that is appropriate to its local economy and development. (para 313)
  • We conclude that the building of an airport and related infrastructure on St Helena could be a significant step towards self-sufficiency for the Territory. However, we are concerned about the potential capital and maintenance costs of the project and we recommend that in its response to this Report the Government provides us with figures to demonstrate that it has selected the most cost-effective option for bringing St Helena off dependency on aid. We also recommend that the Government encourages St Helena's government to include affordable housing in its Sustainable Development Programme and that it sets out in its response what action it has taken with regard to allegations of poaching in St Helena's territorial waters. (para 342)

Ascension Island

Population: 1,000

Key industries: MoD, US Forces, BBC and Cable and Wireless.


518.  Ascension lies 700 miles to the north west of St Helena. It is a rocky peak of volcanic origin with 44 distinct craters. The last eruption took place about 600 years ago. Ascension is an important breeding site for the green turtle and various sea birds.


519.  The Portuguese sea-farer Joao da Nova discovered the island in 1501. It has no indigenous population. In 1815, a small British garrison was stationed on Ascension and the island remained under Admiralty supervision until 1922, when it was made a dependency of St Helena. During the Second World War, the US Government established an airstrip and the US Space Command still use Ascension, primarily for the down-range tracking of missile launches. Ascension was also a staging post for the transport of troops and equipment during the Falklands conflict and the RAF continues to have a base there to support flights to the Falklands. The BBC World Service broadcasts radio programmes to Africa from Ascension and Cable and Wireless is also represented on the island.

Constitutional status

520.  See detailed discussion in Part One, paras 75 to 82.

Evidence received

521.  The Committee received four submissions from Ascension Island.

522.  A delegation of the Committee had a brief stop on Ascension Island, en route to the Falkland Islands, in March 2008.

Key recommendations

Tristan da Cunha

Population: 226

Key industries: agriculture, fishing and stamp sales


523.  Tristan da Cunha is the most remote inhabited island in the world lying 2778 kilometres west of Cape Town. It is almost circular in shape and has an area of 98 square kilometres. The Settlement of Edinburgh of the Seven Seas in the Northwest is its only inhabited area. Tristan da Cunha and the neighbouring islands of Nightingale, Inaccessible and Gough comprise the Tristan da Cunha group. Gough and Inaccessible Island are World Heritage Sites.


524.  Tristan da Cunha was discovered in 1506 by the Portuguese navigator Tristao da Cunha. Britain garrisoned it in 1816 to prevent it being used as a base to rescue Napoleon from St Helena.

Constitutional status

525.  The Administrator is advised by an Island Council. The Council consists of eight elected and three nominated members. One member of the Council must be a woman. The member with the most votes becomes Chief Islander. Elections are held every three years. The last elections took place in November 2003.

Evidence received

526.  The Committee received three submissions from Tristan da Cunha: two from the Island's Chief Islander and one from the Managing Director of Ovenstones, the main employer on the Island.

Key recommendation

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