My Lords, the Government have no requirement for a royal yacht and are therefore giving no consideration at the current time to the commissioning of one.
My Lords, that is a very disappointing Answer. When I was Secretary of State, I hosted a dinner on the royal yacht in Toronto to which we invited the top industrialists, who flew thousands of miles to be there. I did not think they were coming to see me. Given that more than 100 Back- Bench Conservative MPs, the present Foreign Secretary and a former Foreign Secretary have all expressed support for a privately funded royal yacht, will my noble friend not at least agree to spend the money raised by the Daily Telegraph on a privately funded cost-benefit analysis? What possible objection could there be to the Government giving their full support to that?
My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend underestimates his pulling power. If private enterprise, however defined, believed that there was a business case for a new royal yacht, we would of course look at it, 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 is hard to see how any public funding could be justified.
My Lords, do the Government agree that it would be totally wrong to adopt such a measure, given that the Royal Navy has no ships, and those that we have keep breaking down? Would that not give the wrong message to the country?
My Lords, I do not accept the noble Lord’s premise. The Royal Navy has a fleet of ships that bears comparison with any in the world for cutting-edge technology, and we can be proud of that. However, to come back to the noble Lord’s central point, I believe that there are other ways of marketing the UK abroad.
My Lords, has the noble Lord considered crowdfunding for this ship? There are a great many people interested in having a new “Britannia”, and they would all feel a bit of ownership, even if only of a rivet.
My Lords, I do not want to give the impression that the Government’s mind is ever closed to good ideas. If a proposal comes forward for a royal yacht, from whatever quarter, and the business case is made, we will look at that constructively.
My Lords, the Ministry of Defence is clear that it cannot commit funding to a royal yacht, so any consideration would need to take account of how the financial outlay of the Royal Navy in providing a ship’s company could be recovered. That is a difficult issue.
My Lords, my noble friend said that we have no requirement for a ship. That may technically be correct, but it sends a somewhat negative message. Like my noble friend Lord Forsyth, I had the privilege of entertaining on the royal yacht European businessmen who were attracted to the prospect of doing business with this country as a consequence of being there. That this country is “open for business” is one of the very strong and very welcome stories that the Government are putting out. Should not the Government at least take a more open view on this given that no one is suggesting that any primary funding should come from the public purse?
My Lords, I suggest to my noble friend that times have changed in the past 20 years. There is a variety of ways in which we can promote UK business around the world: we do it through members of the Royal Family, our many excellent embassies and high commissions, the Red Arrows, by using our Royal Navy warships as a backdrop for events and via the GREAT Britain campaign, which is very successful. We surely need to ask ourselves in that context whether, in the 21st century, a royal yacht would add significant value.
My Lords, the proposal seems to be that if a royal yacht were to be commissioned, it would come from private funding. However, I note that the Question has gone to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, as Minister for Defence. I wonder whether it could be thrown back at the Department for International Trade, because it seems wholly inappropriate that something intended for trade promotion should take away from the resources of the Royal Navy.
My Lords, we need to be clear that a new royal yacht would have to fly the White Ensign and would therefore have to be state owned and manned by Royal Navy personnel. I do not see a way out of the issue that the noble Baroness flags up.
My Lords, I am sure there are many who see merit in commissioning a new royal yacht—for my part, I do not care one way or the other. However, I do care about the morale of our Armed Forces. The latest attitude survey revealed that 61% of all ranks serving in the Royal Navy say morale is low. Is it any wonder? We have no aircraft carriers; our Type 45 destroyers are plagued by technical difficulties and spend much of the time in port; we have almost twice as many admirals as we have warships; we are selling “RFA Diligence”, our only at-sea repair vessel; and the Royal Navy is short of recruits. Given this state of affairs, will the Minister reassure the House that if in the future there is some change of view on the Government’s part on this matter, there will be no question of the defence budget being used to fund the yacht, as it is a rather peripheral matter to defence?
I am sorry that the noble Lord feels it appropriate to talk down the armed services, but I can give him the assurance that he needs.
My Lords, given that the Royal Navy is already short of manpower, it is quite likely that any royal yacht would have to be manned by people recruited from abroad. Does the Minister consider that we would do better to recruit them from within the European Union, or given that this is a more traditionally imperial matter, from Calcutta and Hong Kong?
My Lords, there are strict criteria for personnel joining the Royal Navy and I am sure that the noble Lord knows what they are.