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House of Lords

Wednesday, 11th June 1997.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.

Lord Steel of Aikwood

The Right Honourable Sir David Martin Scott Steel, KBE, having been created Baron Steel of Aikwood, of Ettrick Forest in the Scottish Borders, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Mackie of Benshie and the Lord Jenkins of Hillhead.

Lord Shore of Stepney

The Right Honourable Peter David Shore, having been created Baron Shore of Stepney, of Stepney in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos and the Lord Clinton-Davis.

Several Lords--Took the Oath or Affirmed.

"Britannia": Promotion of Exports

2.58 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    By how much British exports have increased as a result of sea days and export conferences held on board HMY "Britannia", since sailing from Portsmouth in January.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): My Lords, since leaving Portsmouth on 20th January, Her Majesty's Yacht "Britannia" has visited 23 ports in 15 different countries. All but two of those visits have included significant commercial and diplomatic receptions. Regrettably, I am unable precisely to quantify the value of these events, but I can confirm that they have all been well attended and well received by representatives of industry in the ports of call. Contract signing ceremonies were held on board "Britannia" in India, Thailand and Japan.

Lord Ashbourne: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Will he accept that I am a little disappointed that he was unable to quantify the exports which the Royal Yacht will have generated since sailing in January? Particularly observing that the President of the Board of Trade was on board the Royal Yacht in Tokyo within the last few days, so that she personally will have witnessed the Royal Yacht in action, one might say, I wonder whether the noble Lord could tell the House what are the Government's plans for a replacement for Her Majesty's Yacht "Britannia".

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, first of all, I pay tribute to the noble Lord for the persistence and eloquence with

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which he has pursued this enthusiasm of his. Perhaps I may just explain that one of the difficulties about quantifying the benefits of "Britannia" or any other type of sales promotion is that very often the benefits accrue many months, if not years, after an event has taken place. That is why it is quite impractical to try to assess these matters.

So far as concerns a replacement for "Britannia", we have had four or five very interesting proposals. They are currently being studied by officials and will, I believe, be sent to Ministers before very long.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, would the Minister like to tell the House why there should be any problem about getting a replacement for the Royal Yacht "Britannia"? If the enormous success in commercial contracts claimed for "Britannia" is true, should not private industry be queuing up to pay for a new one? Can the noble Lord say whether the department is undertaking any research in order to discover why countries as diverse as Germany and Japan or the United States and Taiwan manage to have enormous commercial success without a royal yacht? If we could find the secret, would not it mean, by definition, that we should be world beaters every time?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I listened closely to the noble Lord and am still not sure whether or not he would like us to have a successor. However, there is no question but that "Britannia" has been enormously valuable to this country in export promotion terms and we all recognise that.

Lord Mottistone: My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that it is only right that the Government should provide a royal yacht for Her Majesty the Queen, quite apart from the commercial aspects? Is that not the most important point? Is it not something that generations of governments have done over the past 200 or 300 years? Surely this is not the right moment to stop.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord recognises that it is not a question of Her Majesty's Government providing the yacht; it is a question of Her Majesty's taxpayers providing the yacht. We must assess the priorities of whether we would rather have a yacht with the high running costs of "Britannia" or her successor against other provisions in the public service.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that in Scotland we would be happy to have a royal yacht, provided it was built on the Clyde?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am always open to commercials from my noble friend.

Lord Charteris of Amisfield: My Lords, I had the privilege of seeing "Britannia" operate with the Queen on board over many years. Does the Minister agree that I am right in my recollection that HMY "Britannia" was built under the socialist government of Mr. Attlee? Does he agree also that they were extremely sensible in doing that?

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Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am delighted to have the noble Lord's endorsement of all decisions taken by previous Labour Governments. I have no doubt that he will have no difficulty in endorsing those taken by this one.

Earl Howe: My Lords, despite what the Minister says about spending priorities, is he aware that there is a widely held feeling in the country at large that not only should there be a replacement for the current royal yacht, but that that replacement should be publicly funded in order best to be a focus for national pride and to uphold fully the dignity of the sovereign? Will the Government undertake to think again about this matter?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am not at all sure that there is widespread public support for the proposition that a successor be publicly funded. That is why Her Majesty's Government are at the moment considering the many alternative options being put forward, none of which involves recourse to public funds.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, in dealing with the question of proper priorities, does my noble friend agree that the priority of this specific expenditure is more beneficial to the United Kingdom than the waste of money on the tobacco regime in Europe, which costs twice the amount per annum?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, my noble friend is tempting me along paths down which I would be tempted to follow him. But now is not the time nor the place.

Lord Elton: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the interest he attributed to my noble friend Lord Ashbourne is shared widely both in this House and outside it? It was stimulated in myself on a recent visit to Oslo to see the royal yacht of Norway--a country the population of which is less than that of London--riding proudly at anchor. Does the Minister realise what an enormous commercial and political benefit to this country a replacement would be?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, as I hope I made clear to your Lordships, there is no doubt about the value which "Britannia" has produced for the country over the past 40 or so years. The only question is whether there should be a successor, what form it should take and how it should be financed.

Unemployment and the Minimum Wage

3.5 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they anticipate that the numbers of unemployed will continue to decline, and, if so, what contribution to this decline will be made by the proposed minimum wage.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): My Lords, there are still far too many people without jobs and skills and

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Her Majesty's Government are committed to tackling this blight on the lives of so many and getting young people and the long-term unemployed back to work. The national minimum wage will be introduced at a sensible level taking into account the economic circumstances of the time and with the advice of the independent Low Pay Commission. It will help by removing the worst excesses of low pay, by improving our competitiveness and encouraging companies to compete on quality rather than low wages.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Though I do not agree with the benefits of the proposal he enunciated, can he say when he expects the new low wage arrangement to be brought into force and when we shall hear what the minimum wage is to be?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the chairman of the Low Pay Commission has been appointed--Professor Bain. We are hoping that it will be able to start work round about the summer. That work, after due diligence in ascertaining the facts, will be brought before Parliament in due course.

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