5, 6 and 7.
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (1) how much has been spent on refits of the Royal Yacht "Britannia" during the last five years;
The total amount spent on refits of the Royal Yacht "Britannia" so far is about £270,000, excluding the recent refit. The cost of her recent refit, which is her first major refit, is expected to be about £160,000. Repairs to the propeller are estimated to cost about £2,000.
When the Government are wielding the economy axe so viciously in respect of many essential and desirable social services, how is it that this costly toy—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—completely escapes? How is it that a ship which is operational for an average of only three months of the year should need refits so frequently? Furthermore, can the hon. Gentleman say how the damage to the propellor occurred? Was it a case of negligent navigation? If so, will any charge be preferred?
The hon. Member has asked a number of supplementary questions. I do not resent that, but merely hope that I shall remember them. In the first place, I think that the Navy and the country largely would resent the implication that this is a costly toy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Secondly, the hon. Member said that the "Britannia" was used for only three months in the year. During the last twelve months immediately preceding this major refit—
I said "an average".
—she was used for over nine months in the year. The hon. Member spoke about the number of refits. This major refit, which was the "Britannia's" first major refit, was necessary because she is built and maintained according to Lloyd's specification and, consequently, a complete survey has to be carried out at the end of each fourth year. This was the end of her first four-year period. The "Britannia" has had only two other refits and they were smaller.
Would not it be right to say that it is quite impossible to measure in terms of money the prestige value and the pride which the Royal Navy has in the "Britannia"? May I ask, further, whether my hon. Friend has heard the expression,
on several occasions whilst in command of H.M. ships in regard to that part of the supplementary question which relates to propellors?"There, but for the grace of God, could I have gone"
My hon. and learned Friend is perfectly right. The answer is emphatically "Yes". Concerning the second part of his question and the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough), to which I forgot to reply in the first instance, while manœuvring in Portsmouth Harbour the yacht was caught by an unexpectedly strong gust of wind and she touched a buoy.
While in no way seeking to deprive the Royal Family of any relaxation, which they thoroughly deserve from time to time, I should like to ask whether it is desirable, in time of financial stringency, that we should be burdened with excessive costs for this vessel. Could not a little prudence be employed in the matter?
A great deal of prudence is employed in the matter. It is not right to refer to the use of the Royal Yacht in terms of relaxation only. In fact, she carries the Royal Family on official occasions all the time. For instance, next month she is to take the Queen on her State visit to Holland, and in each of the subsequent months she is taking the Royal Family on official visits.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that this very unpleasant Question has been put by a Tyneside Member, would not it be in order to call another Tyneside Member to ask a supplementary question?
The hon. Lady may have what opinions she likes about the Question. It is a matter for the House. But, if the Question falls into the category she describes, the sooner we pass from it, the better.
Further to that point of order. It was not my question which was going to be unpleasant. I wanted to ask whether it would be in order for me to say how much the Tyne wishes it could have had the "Britannia" to build.
I did not mean to accuse the hon. Lady of any unpleasantness.