‘Is breakwater maintenance a big enough contribution?’

GUERNSEY’S relationship with the UK on matters of defence and whether maintenance of the Alderney breakwater is an acceptable contribution have been raised in the House of Lords.

In debate on the UK’s National Security Bill, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a long-term critic of the Crown Dependencies, highlighted the islands’ exemption from the bill.

He also referenced Jersey’s Territorial Army base and contrasted this defence contribution to that made by Guernsey – the commitment to maintain the breakwater, an arrangement agreed in the 1980s.

‘That is a very interesting conceit,’ he said in the debate. ‘When, nearly 20 years ago, I asked the Ministry of Defence a written question on the importance of the Alderney breakwater, an official phoned me up to say, “We don’t understand your question”.

‘On further investigation, he said that they had ceased to be concerned with the Alderney breakwater at the time of the Second World War. There are many ambivalences here but surely, they should be part of this bill. They are neither foreign nor entirely British.'

Three amendments sought to have the Crown Dependencies included in the provisions of the bill but were withdrawn following a response from Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Home Department, Lord Murray of Blidworth, who said that the UK government had consulted with the islands over the bill.

‘The Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories are not a part of the United Kingdom, of course, but self-governing territories with democratic assemblies able to legislate for themselves, including on national security,’ he said, adding that if the islands needed to adopt certain provisions of the National Security Bill, they could do so within their own legislation.

‘It is only right and proper that the UK respects these decisions,’ Lord Murray said. ‘I am sure the Bailiwick of Guernsey will think long and hard about the Alderney breakwater.

‘As the grandson of an Alderney girl, I can tell noble Lords how much that breakwater is a feature of conversation.’

Lord Wallace highlighted what he considered inconsistencies in the way the islands featured, or did not, in UK legislation brought before the Lords.

Defence contributions date back hundreds of years

(Picture By Peter Frankland, 31614625)

THE tradition of Guernsey contributing to the defence of the wider realm financially dates back at least 800 years, with an annual payment of 70 livres tournois being considered enough to forgive any requirement to provide armed forces, unless it was to ‘recover England’ or to free the ‘king’s person’, should he be imprisoned.

By 1985, the payment of specific sums of money had been replaced by an obligation to maintain ‘HM Breakwater in Alderney’, to pass on any fees for the issuing of passports and to fund the UK government’s costs borne in pursuit of representing Guernsey on the international stage. This was agreed by resolution of the States of Guernsey following a letter from then Home Secretary Leon Brittan about the Bailiwick’s defence contributions.

According to the States of Guernsey accounts, the cost of maintaining the breakwater in 2021 was £621,000. About £500,000 is typically accrued via passport fees each year, though this halved due to travel restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although Guernsey is not formally obliged to provide a fighting force for the protection of the UK, residents of the Bailiwick have volunteered individually to join the armed forces throughout the period of Guernsey’s relationship with the Crown.

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