Defence minister ends hopes for return of royal yacht to Portsmouth

The Royal Yacht Britannia in 1997

The Royal Yacht Britannia in 1997

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A DEFENCE minister has said the government has ‘no requirement’ for a new royal yacht as ‘times have changed’ with a host of other ways to promote the UK around the world.

Earl Howe said if a privately funded business case for a new ship was put forward it would be looked at, but pointed out this still left the question of who would pay for the vessel.

He said a new royal yacht would have to fly the White Ensign and so be state-owned and manned by the Royal Navy.

Given the government had no need for such a vessel, the minister told peers he found it difficult to see how any public funding could be justified.

This month The News reported that Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond had called for a new royal yacht, were it to be commissioned, to be based in Portsmouth, which was the home port of Britannia. Britannia was decommissioned in 1997 and is now a tourist attraction in Edinburgh.

Lord Howe was responding to a question by Conservative former cabinet minister Lord Forsyth of Drumlean over the commissioning of a new royal yacht to replace Britannia, which was taken out of service in 1997 and is now a popular tourist attraction in Leith, Edinburgh.

The minister told the Tory peer: ‘The government has no requirement for a new royal yacht and therefore is giving no consideration at the current time for the commissioning of one.’

Lord Forsyth said: ‘I think that is a very disappointing answer.

‘When I was Secretary of State I hosted a dinner on the royal yacht in Toronto and we asked the top industrialists, who flew thousands of miles to be there.

‘I didn’t think they were coming to see me.

‘Given that more than a hundred backbench Conservative MPs, the present Foreign Secretary and the past foreign secretary have all expressed support for a privately funded royal yacht, will he not at least agree to spend the money raised by The Daily Telegraph on having a privately funded cost benefit analysis.

‘What possible objection could there be for that and the government giving its full support?’

Responding, Lord Howe joked: ‘I am sure he underestimates his pulling power.’

He added: ‘If private enterprise believes that there is a business case for a new royal yacht we would of course look at that, but we would still be left with the question of who would pay for the vessel, given that no government department has a need for a royal yacht it’s hard to see how any public funding could be justified.’

Labour former MP Lord Watts argued such a move would be ‘totally wrong’ given’“the Royal Navy has got no ships and those ships that we have keep on breaking down’.

But Lord Howe rejected this and said the Royal Navy had a fleet of ships that ‘which bear comparison with any in the world for cutting edge technology and we can be proud of that’.

Independent crossbencher, the Countess of Mar questioned if the government had considered ‘crowd funding’ a new vessel.

Lord Howe said: ‘I do not want to give the impression that the government’s mind is ever closed to good ideas.

‘If there is a proposal coming forward from whatever quarter for a royal yacht and a business case is made, we will of course look at that constructively.’

Former Tory party chairman Lord Mawhinney said: ‘The answer he gave saying we had no requirement for a ship may technically be correct, but it does send a message which is somewhat negative.’

Pointing out the government was seeking to send out the message that the UK was open for business, the Conservative peer urged it to take a ‘more open view given that no one is suggesting any primary funding should come from the public purse’.

But Lord Howe said: ‘I would suggest that times have changed in the last 20 years.

‘There are a whole variety of ways in which we can promote UK business around then world.’

This included through the royal family, Britain’s overseas embassies, the Red Arrows and Royal Navy ships.

‘We surely need to ask ourselves in that context whether in the 21st century a royal yacht would add significant value,’ he added.

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