HC Deb 01 December 1997 vol 302 cc6-7
5. Mr. Godman

What recent representations he has received anent the future of the royal yacht Britannia. [16798]

9. Mr. Syms

If he will make a statement on the future of the royal yacht Britannia. [16802]

Mr. George Robertson

My Department has received a large number of approaches about Britannia's future. Seven substantive preservation proposals are being examined in detail. I should prefer the yacht to be preserved, providing that the use is fitting and that there can be adequate arrangements to ensure that her fine appearance can be maintained. I hope to be able to make an announcement shortly.

Mr. Godman

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has decided to ignore the suggestion, or request, from Buckingham palace that the vessel be scuttled or scrapped. Does he agree that neither London nor Leith has a legitimate claim on her and that, in all fairness, she should go to the Clyde, to be berthed at the Govan dry dock close to the proposed science park? The ship should not finish up at the bottom of the Atlantic; she should be returned to the Clyde, where she was built.

Mr. Robertson

Buckingham palace has been kept closely informed of the options for the ship's future, and has made it clear that the decision should and will be taken by the Government. Britannia is regarded by most people as a national treasure. She has given 44 years of distinguished service to the Queen and the country. My preferred option is that the yacht should be preserved, but its use must be fitting and there must be adequate arrangements to maintain its appearance. All seven bids will be considered fairly and in detail, and we shall come to a conclusion in the near future.

Mr. Syms

May I press the Secretary of State further? When will he come to the House with a decision? The public are greatly concerned that the yacht's use should be appropriate. May I make a plea for the south coast—particularly for Portsmouth, which has a very good claim to have the yacht berthed there?

Mr. Robertson

It is critical that we look at each of the proposals in some detail. I am concerned to preserve Britannia, and to ensure that her dignity and long-term future are absolutely assured. I shall take no prior view of which option is best. They will all be considered on exactly the same basis, and I hope to be able to make a decision shortly.

Mrs. Gilroy

The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) has just issued a plea for the south coast. It will not surprise my right hon. Friend if I rise to make a plea, backed by the representations, which I know that he has received, for Plymouth. I ask not only that the vessel be preserved but that, by means of a private finance initiative, she is kept in use. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give serious consideration to that idea, along with the other representations that he has received.

Mr. Robertson

I am not certain whether my hon. Friend made a slip of the tongue when she said Plymouth—perhaps she meant Portsmouth, as Plymouth has not entered a bid for consideration. We need to take a dispassionate and objective view of the proposals, and to consider all representations. I appreciate that there are strong views in each of the localities involved in the decision. They serve to underline the fact that there are strong feelings in the country that Britannia should be preserved. It is my responsibility to ensure that, if she is preserved, that is done in a way most fitting for the ship and for the country.

Mr. Hancock

Most of my constituents will be delighted that the Secretary of State shares their opinion and not the opinion of the Princess Royal, which was that the ship should be scuttled. Indeed, they have made a strong case for Britannia to go to her natural home, in Portsmouth. However, if the ship is to be kept as a national treasure, I suggest that that can be done only if the Government keep some control over her by providing a dowry to ensure that the ship is restored in the way most people would expect her to be.

Mr. Robertson

It has been made clear that there will be no call on public funds, but we must ascertain that in connection with any of the seven bids that are being considered. The Britannia will not be replaced or rebuilt; that decision is final. All the private finance options would have been viable only with substantial amounts of public money. I appreciate that, inevitably, the hon. Gentleman will favour the Portsmouth option, and it will be carefully considered among all the other options.

I look forward to being in Portsmouth next Thursday for the decommissioning of HMY Britannia.