HL Deb 16 March 1967 vol 281 cc427-9

3.30 p.m.

THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF HOUSING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (LORD KENNET) rose to move that the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth (Solent Forts) Order 1967, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, there are in the Solent between Portsmouth and Ryde four old forts, called St. Helen's Fort, No Man's Land Fort, Spitbank Fort and Horse Sand Fort. At the moment, so far as local government is concerned, all of them are in no-man's-land, and this Order brings each of them within the area of the nearest local authority on the mainland. The forts were built between 1861 and 1880, following a Royal Commission to consider the nation's defences. With the advances then being made in naval technology, and in particular the development of steam power, it was feared that the Navy might no longer be able to maintain mastery of the Channel; and the forts were built to protect Portsmouth Harbour and the Solent.

I do not think that anybody, on either side of the House, will feel that mastery of the Channel against Her Majesty's possible enemies on the other side is of such immediate importance to-day as it was a hundred years ago, and for this reason the Defence Department wishes to dispose of the forts. They are deserted, but they represent a continuing liability of about £1,000 a year for upkeep. In 1963, accordingly, the Army Department decided to sell them, but three local authorities, the Isle of Wight County Council, the Hampshire County Council and the Portsmouth City Council, expressed the fear that when the forts ceased to be Crown property they might be used for advertising stations or some other purpose which ought to be subject to control. It might appear to many of us that they were right.

I remember sailing past these forts on a warm sunny day and one of my daughters, then aged 12, said "Let us buy one". I said, "I will see if we can raise the price. What shall we use it for?" She said "A restaurant, night club, coffee bar; I do not mind. Somewhere where I can give parties." Children grow up. The ambition seems to be not unreasonable, and I am sure all your Lordships would agree that restaurants, coffee bars and night clubs ought to be subject to the normal services and controls provided by local authorities even if they are standing in the middle of the water. The Army Department accordingly agreed to postpone the sale until the forts had been included in a local authority area.

This Order gives effect to proposals made to the Minister by the Isle of Wight Council County and Portsmouth Corporation under the relevant section of the Local Government Act 1933. The proposals were advertised last autumn and no objections were received. The forts are deserted and no private interests are affected, and the Minister decided, as it was within his power to do under the 1933 Act, that it was not necessary to hold a local inquiry. The Order will now enable the Army Department to put an end to their continuing liability for upkeep, and to dispose of these forts without any risk being run of their being used in ways contrary to the ordinary plannings laws. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth (Solent Forts) Order 1967, be approved.—(Lord Kennet.)


My Lords, I think many of us know the Solent and many have sailed, like the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, past these forts. Those of us who know them are grateful to him for his careful explanation of the reasons behind this Order. We in this House will shortly be discussing defence. Many of us have some quarrel with aspects of the present Government's defence policy, but I think we have no quarrel with this particular decision. As the noble Lord has explained, these forts were built some hundred years ago to defend the anchorage of Spithead and Portsmouth Dockyard from distant bombardment from the East. I think we all agree they are not likely to serve that particular purpose very adequately in the future, and because of that, and because, as the noble Lord has explained, this Order is made with the full agreement of the local authorities concerned, I should like to add that we fully endorse it. I look forward to seeing what transpires at these forts in the future, and perhaps enjoying some of the facilities the noble Lord has foreshadowed.

On Question, Motion agreed to.