We expect the consultation to start in April and take 16 weeks. The consultation document will set out details of the timetable and of how people can participate. We will run the exercise in line with the Government’s code of conduct for holding public consultations.
As my hon. Friend is aware, Swindon has the largest St. Helena community outside London. What hope can he give my constituents, who are British citizens, that their families will not be left stranded and that the consultation will not delay the introduction of 21st century transport links for that very remote island?
My hon. Friend is always a keen advocate for her constituents, especially the Saints in Swindon. I reassure her that the consultation document, when it is produced, will make it absolutely clear that we remain fully committed to providing access to St. Helena.
Is the Minister aware of the view across the House that the Government are guilty of a breach of faith and of dithering in their handling of this matter? What will the new consultation tell him that he does not already know from the past nine years of this process?
I do not recognise the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman describes. I am not going to prejudge the outcome of the consultation exercise, but I look forward to reading his contribution—and perhaps that of his constituents on the Falcon Lodge estate in Sutton Coldfield, for instance—to see whether they think that it is right, in the current economic circumstances, to spend the amount of money that is being considered on an airport for St. Helena.
Does the Minister not understand that Ministers’ handling of this matter has been shameful, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn), the respected former Foreign Office Minister, has eloquently explained? The people of St. Helena are British citizens, so do we not have a duty to them to resolve this issue? Is not it time that he and his colleagues got a grip?
At a time of global downturn, we are talking about 50 million people around the world being unemployed. An extra 90 million people will earn less than $1.25 a day, and it is expected that an extra 3 million children will die as a result of the global downturn. We have to take all those circumstances into account when making a decision about spending the amount of money that we are talking about on an airport for St. Helena.