Deidre Brock MP

Member of Parliament for Edinburgh North and Leith

Speech: opposing Tory proposals for a new Royal Yacht

... - Westminster Hall

Click link to watch my speech opposing the daft proposals to bring back Britannia. Full transcript below.

The sad and sorry Britannia plan sounds like the regrets of someone who has missed their chance drawing the tattered remnants of their dreams around them for whatever warmth they can offer while the world rushes by uncaringly.

Deidre Brock MP

Deidre Brock's speech (plus interventions, from Hansard 11/10/16 )

Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I declare an interest of sorts: Britannia is moored in my constituency. It is not going anywhere, partly because one of its propellers has been melted down and is now in the form of a statue of a yottie, or royal yachtsman, and partly because it is owned privately by a trust; it is not in public hands.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con)

The hon. Lady might show true respect to the royal yacht Britannia if she described it not as "it" but as "she".

Deidre Brock

That semantic point is appreciated.

The yacht is promoted as the museum piece that she is, harking back to a time that cannot be recaptured: a piece from the days of steamships, polished and gleaming from bow to stern, beautifully cared for as a floating curiosity, but not a working ship, so recommissioning is out of the question. I assume Members have had a look at the YouGov poll and seen that the building of a new royal yacht is not supported. In fact, only among Conservative voters, by 41% to 39%, are there more people in favour of building it than not, and when we ask about whether the money to build and run a new ship could be justified, even Conservative voters turn against it.

It is notable, too, that Scotland has a more solid opposition to the idea than anywhere else: 60% against recommissioning, 66% against buying a new one and 68% think the costs cannot be justified. The costs, which are important at a time when working families have joined benefit claimants in the queues at food banks, are simply unjustifiable. We have heard there are lots of ways in which the yacht could be funded, but we have heard no firm proposals. As usual, the burden would fall on the long-suffering taxpayer. Like PFI and PPP and every other cunning plan that Governments come up with, it would cost the public purse, not private finance.

As has been mentioned, the old yacht had a crew of 250 and 21 officers drawn from the Navy. On royal duty it had a platoon of marines on board and warships accompanying it. I am guessing the Navy's top brass do not have a new royal yacht as their dearest ambition, given the current state of their resources. Then we get to the capital costs. Are they to come from a defence budget already groaning under the pressure of carrying Trident, or are they to come from another part of the public purse? Given what we hear repeatedly about the shortages of equipment that armed forces personnel face, can anyone justify adding another capital spend to that burden

Jake Berry

I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution to the debate. I think she is arguing that the public should not pay for the royal yacht, but would she support a royal yacht if it was funded privately?

Deidre Brock

The public say they are not supportive of the recommissioning of the yacht. That does not take into the account the running costs, which it has been suggested will come from several Departments, including the Department for International Trade. If the intent is to take the capital spend and running costs from elsewhere in the public purse, where will that blow fall?

Given the austerity fetish that the former Chancellor inflicted on all of us and the reported comments of the current Chancellor that he intends to deliver on all of the already planned cuts, where exactly is the spare cash to come from?

And how exactly does anyone square the fact that benefit sanctions mean that the poorest, weakest and most disadvantaged people are left to go cold and hungry, but we will all be paying for what must seem to them a new pleasure cruiser for the royal family?

This is just a wistful throwback to the days of the Raj, a pleading with history to run backwards and ignore the dodgy bits on the way.

This is a rosy-tinted fiction of a ​time that never was, a fond imagining that empire was a good thing and that fine gentlemen rise to the occasion upon demand.

It is reminiscent of John Major's thoughts when he said,

"Fifty years from now Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and—as George Orwell said—'old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist' and if we get our way—Shakespeare still read even in school. Britain will survive unamendable in all essentials."

He was actually talking about why the UK should remain in the European Union. The current fantasy is a fairy story from the imagination of Brexiteers who imagine the UK has only to denounce the EU to rise again to great heights.

The sad and sorry Britannia plan sounds like the regrets of someone who has missed their chance drawing the tattered remnants of their dreams around them for whatever warmth they can offer while the world rushes by uncaringly.

Flash-boat democracy has no place in the modern world, which has changed utterly from the day in 1997 that Britannia was decommissioned.

We have emails, electronic trading, smartphones with more computing power than the moon landing craft, and entire businesses that exist only online. This is a different world from the world in which the yacht was decommissioned, never mind the world in which it was commissioned in the first place.

Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con)

The hon. Lady is obviously having a lot of fun with her caricature. She may have noticed that both Mr Letts and Mr Hope are scribbling down furiously everything she says. None the less, did she not hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) said about the possibilities of the new royal yacht for creating more business opportunities, more revenue, ultimately more tax revenue and therefore more money for the Government for nurses and teachers?

Deidre Brock

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I also heard that Blair Force One is still current. I cannot see why that is not being used, as apparently it should be, for trade throughout the world.

Several hon. Members rose—

Deidre Brock

I am almost finished. I do not see why we need to commission another yacht at a cost of £60 million in 1997, allegedly £100 million now, and then running costs unknown. The running costs were £66 million between 1990 and 1997. What are those costs today? We have no idea.

As I said, this is a different world. If Members want economic revival they should ask for austerity to be eased, and spending resumed. If they really want international trade to improve, they will petition for UK embassies to be retooled as permanent trade missions. If they want to get on their feet and build an economy they should dump the daft ideas and get on with the serious hard work that is needed. It is what their constituents deserve.

They can hang a new bauble on the jacket of the UK as it shuffles down the road, but that does ​nothing to feed a hungry child, support a struggling industry or boost a flagging economy.

Dump the bauble. Get wise about what we have to do now.

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Thursday, 18 July 2019


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