HC Deb 27 January 1997 vol 289 cc3-5
3. Mr. Viggers

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his role in the co-ordination and presentation of Government policy in respect of the replacement for the royal yacht. [11112]

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Roger Freeman)

My right hon. Friend chairs the Ministerial Committee on the Co-ordination and Presentation of Government Policy and undertakes other activities as necessary to ensure the successful presentation of the Government's policies across its range of responsibilities.

Mr. Viggers

Does my right hon. Friend agree that last week's statement about a replacement royal yacht has been widely welcomed? Does he agree also that, ideally, Britannia should become the centrepiece of the millennium project in Portsmouth harbour, spanning Gosport and Portsmouth? I am sure that that idea would prove very popular.

As to plans for a new yacht, does my right hon. Friend share my distaste for the Opposition's tactics? They had every opportunity to express their grudging and negative attitude during the past two years when the project was under discussion.

Mr. Freeman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us that the royal naval ship to replace Britannia should be commissioned in 2002, which is the golden jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. I hope that the new ship will play an important role in those celebrations.

As to the Opposition's attitude, we have witnessed their small-mindedness and their misunderstanding not only of the role of Her Majesty but of the promotion of the best interests of the United Kingdom economy abroad.

Mr. Cunliffe

How can the Minister reconcile in any shape or form public expenditure cuts—which have forced many authorities, such as that in my area, to sack home helps and teachers and make all kinds of cuts to public services—with the proposed expenditure on a new royal yacht? Is that not indefensible, as most people consider the vessel to be a kind of floating palace which is used mainly by the privileged? The idea is totally unacceptable to the majority of British people and certainly to many of my colleagues.

Mr. Freeman

I think that the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the function of the royal yacht. It is in no sense an irrelevant "floating palace": its primary role is to make a very positive statement abroad about the importance of this country and to promote trade with the rest of the world. Her Majesty the Queen will use the royal yacht on certain occasions, but it is not for her exclusive use. I am very glad that Her Majesty is pleased with the decision.

As regards the proportionality of the decision, it does not represent additional, unplanned public expenditure, as the money for the Ministry of Defence will come from the reserve.

Sir Sydney Chapman

In welcoming the Government's recent announcement and disagreeing with the uncharacteristically unfair comments by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe), for whom I have great regard, I ask my right hon. Friend to confirm that a replacement for Britannia is justified on commercial and trade grounds alone. In answer to those who say that the money might come from the national lottery rather than the taxpayer, will he confirm that everyone who buys a ticket in the national lottery immediately pays 12p to the Treasury? Therefore, if we were to hypothecate, we could say that a fraction of the lottery money will pay for the new royal yacht.

Mr. Freeman

It will take the next five years to design and build the new royal yacht. She will be commissioned with, we hope, a life of 25 to 30 years at the very least. It will be money well spent by the Government on behalf of the taxpayer in promoting the best interests of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Beith

Will the Minister confirm that it has been the Government's practice to consult the Opposition parties beforehand on every announcement affecting or concerning the royal family, so as not to embroil the royal family in any political controversy? Will he explain the thinking behind the refusal to accept any element of business support for the project? Surely we have passed through the days when it was fashionable to disparage those in trade. Are the Government not acting rather like one of the Minister's former hon. Friends towards one of his right hon. Friends, who referred to him as the sort of person who had to buy his own furniture?

Mr. Freeman

On consultation with the Opposition parties, this is not a constitutional matter. It is a right and proper decision for the Government in commissioning a royal naval ship. I hope that the House will appreciate that business sponsorship of a royal naval ship, which occasionally will be used by Her Majesty the Queen, is not appropriate.

Mr. Jessel

Will my right hon. Friend confirm my arithmetic that £60 million, when divided among the United Kingdom's population of 58 million, works out at about £1 per head, or about 20p per head per year over five years? Is it not unbelievably small-minded of Opposition Members to carp about such a small sum that can do such a great deal to generate employment and exports?

Mr. Freeman

I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will very much agree with my hon. Friend. The Opposition do not understand the importance of promoting the best interests of the United Kingdom throughout the world.