Friday, 30 April 2010

Finished Project

I seem to prefer big projects for some reason, I'm guessing because I get more satisfaction when they are done. One such project that I've been working on for ages is knitting a bathmat from old towels. Insane, I know. I just needed a bathmat and I had too many towels, many that were past their best. Some came from my parents and grandparents' houses and so were decades old. A normal person would give them to a dog pound or into the textile recycling bin. However, some time ago I decided normal was boring and that 'rich, eccentric, old woman' sounded a lot more fun. Some parts of that goal are proceeding better than others, of course.

In any case, I thought I'd show you the finished product. I got the general idea from a craft book, only they used cotton shirts which probably would have been easier to work with. The squares are about 10 stitches by 10 rows and the finished mat is not quite 20 x 30 inches. It has a soft waffle-like texture underfoot which is pleasant. It's not perfect, but most of the stuff I make isn't, and I enjoyed making it.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Hard Work Rewarded

We did a tough 10k race the other day (aren't they all?). For information, 10K is 6.1 miles. It's one we'd not done before and I mainly entered to encourage Raquel to get some racing experience. I was near the end of the field, as usual. Several of the runners I'd worked hard to pass all passed me just in the last 1/10 of a mile, Raquel being one (good for her!).

We got cleaned up and went to the pub to have a traditional Sunday lunch, probably a reason I'm slower these days. I had just finished eating when a friend from our club, Mandy, brought me an envelope. The pub was very crowded and noisy and she said she couldn't get to me when they announced my name - I certainly never heard it - but she later managed to fetch it to bring to me, knowing I was still around. Bless her, she was really excited for me!

I was fairly excited, too, though I suspected it was because I was the only female in this age group, which turned out to be right. However, £10 is £10.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Josephine Baker

I’ve long known this name, that she was a black entertainer who made her career in France sometime before I was born. I thought all she did was take her kit off and wear exotic costumes. It turns out there was a little more to her story than that.

She was born in 1906 in St. Louis Missouri, Josephine Freda MacDonald, an illegitimate child of a black woman who also part Native American, Apalachee. Her parents were also entertainers. Josephine’s father drifted away and her mother, Carrie, married a man who was described as nice enough, but he had a mean temper and suffered from depression. They were poor, the kind of poor that involves hunger, cold and rats. Carrie was never very warm to Josephine perhaps because the child reminded her of the man who had rejected her. All her life, Josephine’s mother denied that she was attractive in any way, saying she was either too light- or dark-skinned, too thin, even too long-legged.

She entered show business at the age of 7, dancing in a contest that won her a dollar. Though she did short stints at housekeeping, dancing was her chosen profession and she managed to get a chorus girl job at the age of 13, by saying she was small for her 15 years. At 13 she was also married to husband #1, only a few years older than herself, for a very short while. They lived in her parent’s house and after a fight in which Josephine ably defended herself with a broken bottle the husband took himself off for medical attention and never came back. I wasn't clear that she was ever legally divorced (if an underage marriage was legal to begin with).

Husband #2 was where she got her stage name but their cohabitation was also very short, though the marriage – if it was even legal – was not dissolved for some while. She left Willie Baker to go to New York with her job. There she was making $125 a week and in New York she was discovered at the end of the chorus line ‘like an exclamation point!’ and invited to work in Paris at the Theatre des Champs Elysee for $250 a week. She was 19.

It wasn’t just the money or the excitement of travel that drew her to France. She had heard that black people were treated as equal there. I think it’s quite sad that she said when the ship taking her to France passed the Statue of Liberty, she knew she was free. She said that America was evil back then, and in that time from a black person’s perspective it was probably fair comment.

That she made a successful career in France is obvious. What I hadn’t realized was that her fame was truly world wide. Admittedly her initial success was about her beauty and her bared body, but she was by all accounts an amazing dancer and very athletic. One of her early trademark costumes was a skirt made of fake bananas. She later acquired a pet leopard named Chiquita. (This made me wonder about the Chiquita brand of bananas I grew up with.) Eventually she moved more into elaborate costumes and singing and became a famous personality, not just a naked dancer.

Like many people who started out very poor and became very wealthy she was profligate with her money and careless with her valuable possessions. She loved animals and let them run wild in her house. You can imagine that monkeys and silk draperies might not be a good combination. She wasn’t able to have children and so she adopted with yet another husband -- 3 or 4, I lost count -- a Rainbow Tribe. If her children wrote books and perhaps they did, I don't know, they would surely tell of a strange childhood. Josephine spent a lot of money helping poor people stay warm and fed and of course supported her family back in the US. She was a difficult personality who was both insecure and knew her power. She got involved in political issues and sometimes it worked very well; being very outspoken and often undiplomatic, she sometimes made a mess of it. In short she was pretty much how you would expect someone with her background to be given the amazing life she found herself living. However, she was also far more.

During World War II she played a role in the French resistance; Josephine’s position as an American born and famous entertainer gave her access to a wide range of powerful people. After the war she was involved in the Civil Rights movement in the US, though she declined to be given an official position. She gave up her American citizenship and became French which, given her experiences of living and even returning to the US, is understandable; naturally she still felt in some ways that America was ‘home’. A song about ‘two loves’, referring to these two countries, was another of her trademarks.

Even people who initially dismissed her work as tawdry came around to amazed admiration at how she developed and what an artist she eventually became. She was widely recognised as an icon of her time. She was the first black woman to make a full length movie and was once listed as the wealthiest black woman in the world. I would ask how they defined wealth, perhaps the highest paid is what they meant. The last figure I recall was $10,000 per week. It’s difficult to imagine the breadth of her influence. She had access to heads of state in many parts of the world, airlines held up their flights for her, Grace Kelly gave her a house on the French Riviera. Josephine worked hard, always having several shows, a restaurant or cafĂ© and several causes on the go at one time. Her spendthrift lifestyle meant that she could not retire and she worked right up until her death from a stroke in 1975, aged 68. She is buried in Monaco.

I really enjoyed this book, not just because I learned about Josephine Baker, but also because of the insights into black culture, the history of blacks in entertainment, the grand background of Europe and other parts of the world during the 20s, 30s and 40s and the continuing struggle of black people for equal rights. The book about her life took me on a long and fascinating journey.

There were also interesting little tidbits. Did you realize that the woman who played Glinda the good witch in The Wizard of Oz, Billie Burke, was married to Florenz Ziegfeld? I made a note to look up a Parisian designer I’d not heard of, Jean Desses. I’m going to look for any of Josephine’s movies that might be around for purchase.

I tagged many pages that I would love to share but, really, you need to get your hands on a copy of The Josephine Baker Story by Ean Wood. I will only re-type this excerpt, which provides great motivation for improving one’s posture! It is a quote from an American writer and sculptor Barbara Chase Ribaud who went backstage to meet Josephine in 1970:

I thought, ‘Anybody’s aunt from St. Louis. What is all the fuss about?’ The bright but melancholy eyes, the extravagant eyelashes behind bifocals, the aging jowls, the slight dowager’s hump, the small, rather dumpy figure looked ridiculous in the chorus-girl costume cut high on the hip. Yet in the midst of a rather grandmotherly conversation La Josephine, then 64, received her cue to go onstage. And before my unbelieving eyes, the superstar emerged from the frump and folds of age.

She appeared to shed pounds. The line of her back straightened, her upper thighs tensed and lengthened, her stomach flattened, her jowls disappeared. Her eyeglasses were hurriedly exchanged for a rhinestone microphone, her chin lifted, the head went back, and the Josephine of Parisian dreams suddenly appeared as if by magic onstage. A huge and collective sexual sign seemed to rise from the audience upon her entrance, the smooth siren voice slid out over the audience. I turned to Geoffrey in amazement. He just shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘I told you she was something else.’

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Dropping a 'Few' Names...

(with apologies for all the accent marks omitted)

Here is a puzzle for you. Can you guess, who:

Worked with: Vincente Minnelli, Fanny Brice, Eve Arden, George Balanchine, Bob Hope, Rudy Vallee, Florenz Ziegfeld, Perry Como, Edgar Bergen, Ethel Waters, the French Resistance…

Wore clothes by: Jean Patou, Cristobel Balenciaga, Pierre Balmain, Christian Dior, Madame Vionnet, Paul Poiret…

Featured in the art of: Pablo Picasso, Le Corbusier, Alice B. Toklas, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Madame Vionnet, Man Ray, Ira Gershwin...

Had friends including: Colette, Grace Kelly, Bridget Bardot, Farah Dibah Empress of Iran, Marcel Marceau, Maurice Chevalier, Hasaan II King of Morocco, Gypsy Rose Lee…

Had lovers including: Le Corbusier, George Simenon, Pasha of Marrakesh El Glaoui Si Thami, Maharajah of Kapurthala, and (possibly) Gustav Crown Prince of Sweden…

Was awarded: the Croix de Lorraine; the Medaille De La Resistance, Avec Rosette; the Legion D’Honneur, lifetime membership in NAACP…

Had an audience with: Pope Pius XII...

Protested with: Joan Baez, Peter Paul & Mary, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Bobby Darin, Dr Martin Luther King...

Had fans including: Mick Jagger, Marc Bohan, The Aga Khan, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Albert King of Belgium, Lily Pons, Charlie Chaplin, Barbara Hutton, Alain Delon, Giscard D’Estaing, Jean Paul Sartre, Jean Moreau, Fidel Castro, Gary Cooper, General Charles de Gaulle, Jean Cocteau, Catherine Deneuve, ee cummings, Eva & Juan Peron, Nancy Cunard, Benito Mussolini, Duke Ellington, Ernest Hemingway, Paulette Goddard, Debbie Reynolds, Fiorello LaGuardia, Simone de Beauvoir, Golda Meir, Andy Warhol, Marshal Tito, the Sultan of Morocco…

Other names mentioned in the biography I just read include: Louis Armstrong, Tallulah Bankhead, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Dwight David Eisenhower, Cecil Beaton, Marc Chagall, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Winston Churchill, Delores Del Rio, Sergei Diaghilev, Marlene Dietrich, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Isadora Duncan, Diana Ross, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Edward Prince of Wales, Josef Goebbels, Hermann Goering, Adolf Hitler, Albert Einstein, Farouk King of Egypt, Jose Ferrer, W. C. Fields, Will Rogers, Judy Garland, Benny Goodman, Peggy Guggenheim, Haile Selassie Emporer of Ethiopia, Helen Hayes, Ranier III Prince of Monaco, Buster Keaton, Rosalind Russell, Wallis Simpson, Edward the Duke of Windsor, Frank Sinatra, Jackie John & Robert Kennedy, Charles Lindburgh, Louis IX King of France, Edouard Manet, Mary Queen of Scots, Mata Hari, Bette Midler, Glen Miller, Rudolf Nureyev, Dorothy Parker, Anna Pavlova, Joe Louis, Edith Piaf, Cole Porter, Vaslav Nijinsky, Gertrude Stein, Elsa Schiaparelli, Sugar Ray Robinson, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Conde Nast, Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, Bessie Smith, Booker T. Washington.

These are just the names that I recognized. No doubt many other names could and should have been on these lists. I started to find links to some or all of these people, but figured I'd never get away from the computer if I did! I may go back and do that at some point (what else is retirement for?).

So, whose life was so sparkly?

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Wishful Thinking

It's definitely Phryne Fisher's clothes made from all those luxury fabrics that I wish were mine. I'd take the clothes and she could have the rest: the money and the parties, the sports car and the servants, her gun, her lovers and her dangerous career. I've no idea what to do with it but I'm thinking I may just dash out and buy a few yards of plum coloured silk velvet.

...a flowing, but restrained dark plum velvet sacque with matching hat and shoes. ...

a silver brocade dress fitted close to her slim body (I'll have one of those, too, please), a cap of the same material with wings at each side and on her small feet, silver kid boots with wings at the ankle. Over the dress she was draped in a flowing velvet coat with a yoke of brocade.

...draped in an ivory silk nightdress...

...the black skirt and the plum Russian top, the walking shoes, and a large coat...

...handmade black leather shoes...

...a perfectly simple, perfectly plain gown of draped black crepe, which had cost a corn princess's ransom. Her neat head was crowned with a fillet of twisted silver wire from which depended one black ostrich feather than curled down almost to her shoulder.

...a silk robe figured with dragons...

...a purple knitted dress and a black woollen jacket.

...a black suede cloche...

Phryne wears a sprinkle of 'Jicky'.

Friday, 23 April 2010

England's National Day

Happy St. George's Day to one and all. In looking to see what else to say about this, I learned about The Royal Society of St. George, who apparently send the Queen flowers on her actual (21 April) birthday.

Also, that there are events planned around the country for this day. Pity I'm not a jazz fan, as some band is playing in the North East on the day. I read in the local free paper that the village is having a 'pub crawl' in honour of the day. Back when I lived in the US that activity was called 'bar hopping' which sounds deceptively athletic. Pub crawl is unfortunately a more accurate description and I think we'll pass on this.

However, The Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers, down in London of course, are having a St. George's Day parade to re-claim the English flag for England. Excellent idea. The WCAB (my abbreviation) also have a very nice hall if you'd care to look at their Conference and Banqueting facilities.

Then again, there are very many Worshipful Companies even beyond the links on their website. I've not worked it all out, but I gather it is something to do with the old fashioned guilds of London, which are expanding to include such things as Information Technology (the 100th Livery Company). I always associated livery as something to with horses, but obviously my reading is inadequate. Looks like most all the Worshipful Companies have Halls for Hire. They also have an order of precedence, not to mention a hierarchy of membership status...

It's all very English, don't you know, and how appropriately so!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Stuck in a Rut?

Somewhere on one of the blogs I read they wrote about falling into the habit of cooking the same old things time after time. I can't find it now...

Then I was at the Lit Phil Library looking through Good Housekeeping and found this article about 'Stuck in a Rut Britain?'

Apparently women here tend to cook the same meals over and over, sometimes even on the same day of the week, which is rather Leave It To Beaver, don't you think? I was struck by what they cook:
  1. spaghetti bolognaise (that's meat sauce to Americans)
  2. roast dinner (I think this means beef or chicken with roasted vegetables, which are very nice)
  3. cottage or shepherd's pie (never made one in my life)
  4. pasta (I would have said number 1 was pasta, but what do I know?)
  5. meat and two veg (this is the UK version of 'meat and potatoes')
  6. pizza (I'm betting this is store bought or ordered in, not homemade)
  7. stew or casserole (this is potentially a fairly large variety...)
  8. sausage and mash / chips (not a usual combo in my growing up years)
  9. curry (ie, something with an Indian sauce poured over it, probably out of a tin or a jar)
Our set meals seem to be
  1. beans in the crockpot
  2. rice dish
  3. pasta and tuna in white sauce with peas
  4. veggie stir-fry
  5. veggie omelette
  6. salmon puff
  7. kedgeree
  8. chicken or turkey casserole
  9. snack night: crackers and smoked salmon, hummus, boursin, eat til we're stuffed...
what are your 'go to' meals?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Liz is 84 Today (but not Officially)

It took me a while to get used to living in a country with a monarch, even if it is just a 'constitutional monarchy'. When I think of it, I had to get used to living in Salt Lake City, surrounded by Mormons, too. It's not a problem, it's just different. I even got used to the idea that part of my taxes went to help keep the world's wealthiest woman on top of that list. I'm a guest here in Britain, so I don't figure it's my place to question how they do things.

I think the present Queen has lived in interesting times, as of course did many of her predecessors. The end of the empire pretty much happened during her reign. She started paying income tax in 1992, though at what rate I'm not certain. There may well have been come trade-offs. Her council tax (ie, property tax) isn't much if this source is accurate. The mess around Charles and Diana's troubles will have caused a fair amount of annoyance and she went through Tony Blair's 'modernisation programme.'

One thing that didn't get modernised, however, was that she has more than one birthday, in fact she has handfuls! Today, however, is the actual day in which she came into the world in 1926. Apparently it all started because her great-grandfather, Edward VII (son of Queen Victoria) was born in November, but he moved his official birthday celebration to June, in hopes that the summer weather would be better for parades and such. I don't know if the Met office (that's the National Weather Service) decides the date the celebrations will be, but it ends up usually being the first or second or sometimes the third Saturday in June. So much for having a public holiday... However, her birthday is supposedly a public holiday in any number of commonwealth countries, but not the same date I gather.

In answering this question for myself, I discovered the official website of the British Monarchy and if you love history like I do, it's a great place to dig around in. I read that Queen Victoria was the longest reigning monarch ever in Britain, lasting 63 years. This year marks Elizabeth's 57th, so it's possible she might beat this record, and I hope she does. Though I don't care for the concept of a monarchy in any form, by all accounts the Queen works very hard to serve the interests of her country and to share her knowledge and experience with the leaders in the Commonwealth, so well done her. Looks like Charles had best stay in good health if he wants to enjoy his inheritance.

Sunday, 18 April 2010


I’ve been interested in the idea of 'ecofashion' for a long time. This term encompasses many ways in which the environmental impact of the manufacturing of clothes can be minimised. My interest is primarily involving the part that includes thrift, particularly to do with re-designing existing clothes.

Ecofashion is a topic that I encounter often, probably because I'm looking for it. It was discussed at length in the book Fashion Reader, which you might remember my discussing. I stumbled across this website, Wardrobe Refashion, some time ago and it is really quite good. She encouraged people to take 'The Pledge':

The Rules were

Unfortunately, many of the posted projects there are about cutting down adult sized items into children’s clothing. Also, it looks as though she is about to change the whole thing around to try to make more money for all the work she's puts in administering the site. I totally understand that, but I'm not likely to subscribe. If you interested, best get over there soon, before it's all gone!

I always meant to ‘Take the Pledge’, but it’s rather superfluous in my case. It’s been over 2 years since I bought anything new with no hardship at all. Oops! I forgot: when in foreign parts in December, I needed pajama bottoms I’d forgot to pack and so, for modesty’s sake, bought a cheap pair of baggy knit leggings for €5 at a cheap tourist tat shop across from our hotel. Good job I wasn’t on the wagon after all. The leggings have served well since as long underwear under jeans.

I mentioned some time ago, a programme with Twiggy, which introduced me to TRAIDremade. I found any number of other links back then but haven’t managed to keep hold of them. Then, not long ago, Second Cherry wrote about eco-fashion (but darned if I can find that post) and the same week the local Metro paper published a similar article, so I started looking for some of these things to show you. You might enjoy some of these if this is a topic that interests you. Some of these sites call it 'upcycling' (is that different to re-cycling or just a spin?).

The frustrating thing is that books like AlterNations, SewSubversive, ThreadBanger and Sweater Chop Shop have designs that aren’t really suitable for serious grown ups, never mind a petite woman over 50. Etsy is full of similar dress styles, not that I've looked at even half of them, but so far I like the Blue Kimono designs about the best and I hope she does well with her shop. Of course, re-fashioning doesn't have to be about sewing. It can be about dyeing clothes as well.

Some of the most useful ideas for me, however, are probably from the 1940s when government leaflets were published here in the UK, showing how to remake and re-fashion dresses, turn cuffs and collars, make jackets from blankets, etc. I have seen these occasionally, but haven't collected them; I plan to start. I grew up hearing about how my Mom used to make her own suits from second hand men’s suits. It doesn’t sound like it would be that hard, except that she was tiny and the proportions of the features on a man’s jacket would be all wrong, so she’d have had to work around removing those.

My interest in all this isn’t just about saving money. In that area it would be more akin to assuaging guilt for all the clothing mistakes I’ve bought and hoarded. Wouldn’t it be lovely if I managed to come out with a really great wardrobe through re-fashioning all those rags into something magic? Magic is the right word.

I’m also interested in this because some of my most satisfying creative efforts have come from limiting my resources. I figure any idiot can go out and buy a bunch of stuff to do a craft. If creativity is defined as finding a new way to solve a problem, mine is most sparked when making part of that problem that I have to use available resources. This particular idiot still needs to improve her very limited sewing skills, but part of what drives me is this strange idea of creating something from almost nothing. If I manage to figure that out, I’ll certainly show it to you and then I can add ‘environmentally friendly’ to my labels.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Is it strange to call your father 'Daddy' when you're 50-something? I refer to him as my father or my Dad, but until the I was 32 years old, when he died, I addressed him as 'Daddy'. I just never migrated into anything else.

Anyhow, it's his birthday again today, and I still love him. He wasn't perfect, but I'm still glad he was my Dad.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Dress Agencies

I recently learned that a gift shop in my area, Munero, has extended their wares to include pre-owned clothing. They specify that these items will be exclusive labels: DKNY, Karen Millen, Coast, Monsoon, etc.

I dropped in a couple of weeks ago and found a number of items that tempted me. As it turned out none of them fit properly, but I was encouraged to try again another time. When we retire, our clothing needs can change drastically. Even men are faced with this. When he retired a couple of years ago, a friend said he thought the government should give a grant to help with clothing replacement for the change in lifestyle. A little drastic perhaps, but perhaps not here in the UK...

In any case, I have extremely few pieces that would qualify for this Dress Agency. That's what they call these places here in the UK. In the US it would be a Consignment Shop (Sometimes I think English is my second language). The principle is the same: take your very nice clothes in and if they can sell them for you they get some of the money and you get some of the money.

I made a note to mention this option to a number of friends who have or are about to retire. I'm still working on breaking up suits and making more casual outfits from the separate pieces. It sometimes works...and sometimes not.

What are you going to do (have you done) with your business clothes when you don't wear them anymore?

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Driving Issues

On our recent visit to see Sarah in Edinburgh (which was now a few weeks ago, I've just been blogging about it for ages) we were talking about the fact that she is studying to take her driving test this summer. She's made it all the way through university and the first year or so of a job without a car! This reminded me how different things are here to in the US, where the car rules.

In the US, or in Oklahoma anyhow, one is allowed to drive as a learner, with a licensed person in the car with you, from the age of 15. It is possible to get a full driving license at the age of 16. In the UK you must have a provisional license which says you've passed a written theory test and you must be 17 to drive as a learner. Your car must have big red 'L' license plates on it to warn other drivers.

In Oklahoma, it is usual for Juniors or Seniors in High School (the last two years of secondary education) to have a spare study period in their weekly schedule and this is often used for a Driver's Education class. It always seemed that the Driver's Ed teachers were the football coaches, but that might be a coincidence. Learning to drive, when I was in high school, was considered a necessary part of one's education to get out and get a job.

I graduated two years early and only turned 16 a couple of weeks after graduating, so I never took part in this ritual, but I remember watching others do it. I think I got to ride in the car for one of the lessons or something. My Uncle Bernard was the one who got me through the practical driving test. To live in Oklahoma City without a driving license, like my Mom, is to be dependent and very stay-at home, as she was. In the US, the issuing of driving licenses is on a state by state level and rules differ.

Here in the UK, car ownership and driving licenses are a different matter. I used public transport to get to work for 4 1/2 years before getting involved with driving licenses and car ownership. It was very little hardship once I acquired the necessary warm and water proof clothing. In 2007, about 75% of UK households had access to the use of a car; 68% of adults (17+) in Scotland had a full driving license in 2008. Bill and I are a 2 car household, one of the only 26% in the UK. That all sounds rather strange until you consider the vast number of people who live in London where a car is positively a nuisance.

When I got around to getting a UK license, I sailed through the theory test, no problem. However, as the driving tests were not cheap and you had to book an appointment months in advance, I decided to have a few lessons before showing up for the test.

The first guy I picked was a nightmare: he brought his car to my house and when I got in he reeked of beer and cigarettes. He also had a very annoying habit of tapping his pencil on my left knee. I had the distinct feeling it wouldn't be long before it would be his hand instead. He really gave me the creeps. I was so distraught by the end of the lesson that I left my learner's permit in his car. I made Bill take me over to fetch it and I had a long hot shower when we got back home. It was illegal for him to be under the influence while teaching as technically he was in control of the car, but so far as I know, he is still in business.

The next guy was very nice, though so very large I wasn't quite sure how we would both fit in his little car. It worked out OK, though. At £16 per hour I was keen to get through all this soon, but sadly I didn't pass my first driving test. All those close manouevers that we don't worry much about in Oklahoma, where you have the entire South 40 acres to park, they very much count in this tiny country where the streets are narrow and teeming with pedestrians. I was pretty upset about not passing, particularly as I failed with the first manoever: backing around a corner. I got around, just not very neatly. I did get through the second test, thankfully.

Not long after I was doing that, the laws changed and a person had to have at least 16 hours of driving instruction signed off by a certified instructor before they could take their practical driving test. The driving test people felt they were putting their lives at risk, not knowing what the person could or couldn't do before taking the test. I could understand their concerns.

Car ownership is quite expensive over here compared with in the US. Bill has exclaimed at the cost of new cars as advertised in American magazines compared with here. Last I did the calculations, petrol here cost about 5 times what it did in Oklahoma. There is also the usual cost of insurance and road tax, not to mention car maintenance, etc. I've yet to find a car mechanic that I'm happy with.

I'm thinking of selling my car as I drive less than 4,000 miles per year, if that. It is generally accepted here that you need to drive at least 6,000 miles per year to make car ownership cost effective. Last I calculated I spent about £60 per month for my car. The annual pass that I had last cost about £500 per year, but that is now up to £840, which doesn't work for me. Nevertheless, I could make about 20 journeys into Newcastle for that £60, far more than I would need. I must admit, it is hard to let go of the convenience...

Anyhow, in a later conversation, Simon remembered a couple of the sayings his instructor had given him to remember:

Use of handbrake (important with hilly streets and standard transmission cars to maintain absolute control):

"When a pause becomes a wait, use your handbrake!"

When approaching an intersection with poor visibility, before turning,

"Creep and peep"

Anyhow, on our last night in Edinburgh, we went out

to dinner near the Leith Docks, where the former industries are being replaced with shops and restaurants, as is happening with many water front areas in the UK.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Party's Over

Discussions about the future of Britannia go back at least as far as 1994 when the decision was taken not to re-furbish the ship at a cost of £17 million, given her age. Tories (the conservative party) were talking about a new royal yacht, costing about £60 million and funded out of the reserve budget. However, Labour won the 1997 election and the yachting party ended.

The upkeep of Britannia was funded from the UK's defense budget, with no other commonwealth country contributing to the cost. Some of the decision not to replace the royal yacht may have related to the Queen's advancing age and presumably lower propensity to travel by ship. That said, I'm told that cruises are the most popular amongst the aged population.

link supposedly shows the decommissioning of Britannia, but I watched it for ages without coming to that. It's more like a scrap book that covers Prince Charles' life, interesting in itself if you want to see how a Prince lives. Save it for when you have a lot of spare time...

By the way, if you are ever really struggling to get to sleep and need some somnalent reading, you could do worse than to delve into the goings on at Parliament.

Actually, if it's on a topic that interests you there are some amazing things to be found on their website. I searched for the discussions around the fate of the royal yacht Britannia and found these (and about 70 other) selections. Check out how they speak to one another.

July 1994

Mr. Nicholas Winterton : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to review the decision on the future of the Royal Yacht Britannia.

Mr. Hanley : We are currently considering the future of the royal yacht Britannia following her decommissioning in 1997.

Mr. Winterton : Although I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply, it adds little to what we know already. Does not he accept that the royal yacht Britannia is a floating trade ambassador for the United Kingdom ? It brings immense status to the UK wherever it goes and it brings great wealth to the economy of our country. Is not it important that the royal yacht Britannia is either completely refurbished and upgraded, or that a new royal yacht is produced for this country ? It is worth every penny that we spend on it.

Mr. Hanley : I agree with my hon. Friend's description of the royal yacht, but even he must recognise that it is now a very aged craft and that it would cost about £17 million to refit, which would extend its life by about only five years. I remind my hon. Friend that the royal yacht has a crew of 220 and that the crew even of a type 23 frigate is some 40 fewer. The costs involved, therefore, must be carefully considered. The royal yacht's trade promotion activities are a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry and they are without dispute. Her Majesty's foreign travel needs are a matter for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This is an important matter and must be carefully considered in the months ahead.

Mr. Mandelson : Does the Minister recall my letter to his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence suggesting that the royal yacht Britannia should receive a comfortable and dignified retirement as befits her age in the new maritime heritage centre and marina at Hartlepool ? Is he aware that I have discussed the matter personally with Her Majesty the Queen who has expressed her interest in that ? Will the Minister confirm

Madam Speaker : Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is proud, but he should not be divulging conversations that he has had with Her Majesty.

Mr. Mandelson : Is the Minister aware that Her Majesty's private secretary has graciously given me permission to disclose that information ? Will the Government, therefore, confirm that they will consider the option most positively ?

Mr. Hanley : If such are Her Majesty's instructions, I could do no less.

Madam Speaker : It is the Speaker of the House who rules here and not Her Majesty's private secretary.

Mr. Clifton-Brown : Bearing in mind the importance of the royal yacht Britannia to our trade promotion prospects, will my hon. Friend redouble his efforts in his discussion with his hon. Friends in the Department of Trade and Industry to see whether some private finance from firms that are likely to benefit from exports could be brought in so that a new royal yacht Britannia could be commissioned ?

Mr. Hanley : I can say to my hon. Friend only that that is one of the matters that will be considered. The trade promotion activities of the royal yacht Britannia have been second to none. She has earned billions of pounds of contracts in travelling around the world and we must not lose sight of that. Exactly what the relevance is, however, to Her Majesty's transport needs around the world is a different subject.

December 1997

5. Mr. Godman: What recent representations he has received aBout the future of the royal yachtBritannia.

9. Mr. Syms: If he will make a statement on the future of the royal yacht Britannia.

Mr. George Robertson: My Department has received a large number of approaches about Britannia's future. Seven substantive preservation proposals are being examined in detail. I should prefer the yacht to be preserved, providing that the use is fitting and that there can be adequate arrangements to ensure that her fine appearance can be maintained. I hope to be able to make an announcement shortly.

[Whispering: I'm sure you're asleep by now, but thought I'd leave the rest just in case you wake up and need more help.]

Mr. Godman: I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has decided to ignore the suggestion, or request, from Buckingham palace that the vessel be scuttled or scrapped. Does he agree that neither London nor Leith has a legitimate claim on her and that, in all fairness, she should go to the Clyde, to be berthed at the Govan dry dock close to the proposed science park? The ship should not finish up at the bottom of the Atlantic; she should be returned to the Clyde, where she was built.

Mr. Robertson: Buckingham palace has been kept closely informed of the options for the ship's future, and has made it clear that the decision should and will be taken by the Government. Britannia is regarded by most people as a national treasure. She has given 44 years of distinguished service to the Queen and the country. My preferred option is that the yacht should be preserved, but its use must be fitting and there must be adequate arrangements to maintain its appearance. All seven bids will be considered fairly and in detail, and we shall come to a conclusion in the near future.

Mr. Syms: May I press the Secretary of State further? When will he come to the House with a decision? The public are greatly concerned that the yacht's use should be appropriate. May I make a plea for the south coast--particularly for Portsmouth, which has a very good claim to have the yacht berthed there?

Mr. Robertson: It is critical that we look at each of the proposals in some detail. I am concerned to preserve Britannia, and to ensure that her dignity and long-term future are absolutely assured. I shall take no prior view of which option is best. They will all be considered on exactly the same basis, and I hope to be able to make a decision shortly.

Mrs. Gilroy: The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) has just issued a plea for the south coast. It will not surprise my right hon. Friend if I rise to make a plea, backed by the representations, which I know that he has received, for Plymouth. I ask not only that the vessel be preserved but that, by means of a private finance initiative, she is kept in use. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give serious consideration to that idea, along with the other representations that he has received.

Mr. Robertson: I am not certain whether my hon. Friend made a slip of the tongue when she said Plymouth--perhaps she meant Portsmouth, as Plymouth has not entered a bid for consideration. We need to take a dispassionate and objective view of the proposals, and to consider all representations. I appreciate that there are strong views in each of the localities involved in the decision. They serve to underline the fact that there are strong feelings in the country that Britannia should be preserved. It is my responsibility to ensure that, if she is preserved, that is done in a way most fitting for the ship and for the country.

Mr. Hancock: Most of my constituents will be delighted that the Secretary of State shares their opinion and not the opinion of the Princess Royal, which was that the ship should be scuttled. Indeed, they have made a strong case for Britannia to go to her natural home, in Portsmouth. However, if the ship is to be kept as a national treasure, I suggest that that can be done only if the Government keep some control over her by providing a dowry to ensure that the ship is restored in the way most people would expect her to be.

Mr. Robertson: It has been made clear that there will be no call on public funds, but we must ascertain that in connection with any of the seven bids that are being considered. The Britannia will not be replaced or rebuilt; that decision is final. All the private finance options would have been viable only with substantial amounts of public money. I appreciate that, inevitably, the hon. Gentleman will favour the Portsmouth option, and it will be carefully considered among all the other options.

I look forward to being in Portsmouth next Thursday for the decommissioning of HMY Britannia.

Oct 1997

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Portillo): With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the royal yacht.

Britannia has just left Portsmouth for her last voyage around the globe. Since the royal yacht was commissioned 43 years ago, she has travelled more than 1 million miles and undertaken almost 700 royal visits overseas--serving both as a royal residence and as a setting for official entertainment by Her Majesty. The royal yacht has also played an important part in national events, such as the silver jubilee and the anniversary of D-day and of VJ-day. She will be at the ceremonies marking the end of British sovereignty over Hong Kong.

Britannia has also lent her prestige to the promotion of British exports worldwide and the attraction of inward investment to Britain, and she has hosted numerous commercial events. The benefits that Britannia has brought to the British economy are invaluable.

It was therefore with great sadness that we announced, in 1994, that Britannia would be decommissioned this year. Although a beautifully maintained ship, she is old. She is increasingly difficult to maintain, and a major refit would be required to convert her to modern sea-going standards.

The decision stands to decommission Britannia. However, the Government have decided to commission a new purpose-built royal yacht, and have so informed Her Majesty the Queen. We have taken the decision because we believe that a royal yacht is an important national asset, which projects a prestigious image of Britain, adding powerfully to official occasions and assisting greatly in promoting British economic interests. Her Majesty the Queen has made it clear that she expects such a role to be the primary purpose of the new yacht. Moreover, the new yacht will at times provide Her Majesty with a suitable residence overseas, thus contributing to the impact of her visits and enabling her to represent our nation in an appropriate setting.

The vessel will be a symbol of the Crown, of the kingdom and of its maritime traditions. It will be designed to exhibit an enduring level of style, elegance and dignity appropriate to that role, and should act as a showcase for Britain's design and engineering skills. Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will be consulted on the design.

The Ministry of Defence will procure the new royal yacht. After a study to enable us to draw up a formal specification and a competition, a contract will be placed with a British shipyard. She will be crewed by the Royal Navy and fly the white ensign. The Queen will contribute to the furnishings and fittings of the state rooms and the royal apartments, drawing some items from Britannia. [NB; According to Wikipedia there is no current royal yacht.]

We have considered carefully what would be appropriate for Britannia after decommissioning. The Government do not believe that it is appropriate to sell her to a new owner for private use. She will not put to sea again, but we are interested in proposals for a suitably prestigious use for Britannia in the public interest in the United Kingdom. Such a scheme would need to take account of the plan to transfer royal fittings to the new yacht. Any proposals for Britannia would need to guarantee that the yacht would be kept in excellent condition. If that cannot be assured, it would be better to see her scrapped than to see her deteriorate.

That leaves the matter of paying for the new yacht. The running costs should not be much more than half those of Britannia. They will be accounted for by the Ministry of Defence. For the capital cost of about £60 million, we have received many interesting proposals for private funding. The Government are grateful for them all, but we believe that a new royal yacht--a symbol of the nation's pride--should be funded not by sponsorship or subscription, but by the nation. The capital cost will be met from public funds in the reserve.

Britain can look forward to a new royal yacht in the new century. I trust that she will enter service in time for Her Majesty's golden jubilee in 2002.

Dr. David Clark (South Shields): I thank the Secretary of State for bringing the House this news, but we are disappointed that there has been no discussion whatever with the Opposition on the matter. As you know, Madam Speaker, it has been the convention that policy regarding Her Majesty is an all-party matter. Why was the Secretary of State not prepared to discuss the issue with the Opposition?

We, too, appreciate how valuable the Royal Yacht Britannia has been over the past 43 years. We recognise that she epitomises all the best traditions and the excellence of the British maritime industry from shipbuilding to ship repairing and, indeed, the manning and crewing of the vessel. She has epitomised the excellence of British craftsmanship and we wish her well in her final voyage.

The Secretary of State said that Britannia is to be decommissioned when she comes back from Hong Kong. Could he perhaps give us some information about what will fill the gap between the end of this year and the commissioning of the new royal yacht that he envisages in about three years' time? Will he also give us an idea of when he hopes to issue the tender and when he anticipates the contracts being signed?

Why has the Secretary of State rejected in such a cavalier manner the injection of private capital--[Laughter.] I have been told over the past few years that the partnership of private and public capital is the most efficient way of conducting public business. I recall being told by the Secretary of State that the best way of providing accommodation for our service families was by the injection of private capital. If it was good enough for the accommodation of our service families, why has he not considered it for the royal yacht?

As I understand it, the Secretary of State has announced that the royal yacht will be financed from existing public expenditure. He has admitted that the project has been under consideration for more than two and a half years, so why were the figures not included in the Budget? Will he also confirm that the £60 million to come out of the reserve will not be available for emergencies in the years ahead?

Mr. Portillo: The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I miss a point or two. Part of his statement was drowned by laughter and I was not able to pick up every point, but I shall try to do my best.

After Britannia returns from Hong Kong, she will still have a programme running to the end of the year, probably within British territorial waters. After the end of 1997 and until the new ship enters service in 2001 or 2002, there will be a gap, with no royal yacht on the seas. That will not be as long a gap as the 14 or 15 years between the end of the Victoria and Albert and the commissioning of Britannia.

The hon. Gentleman asked why we had rejected out of hand the idea of using private capital. We did not reject it out of hand; we considered it carefully, but we did not believe it appropriate. [Hon. Members: "Why?"] If Labour Members had not learnt their capitalist lines like parrots, they would understand that some uses of private finance are appropriate and some are not. A royal yacht to support Her Majesty and this nation in our economic and export efforts is not an appropriate use of private money. I am very grateful to all those who stepped forward with suggestions for using private money, but it is not appropriate.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North): Why?

Mr. Portillo: If the hon. Gentleman does not realise why, he has simply learnt his lines and spouts them and no longer thinks--if he ever did. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. I shall be calling hon. Members to put questions. Wait for it.

Mr. Portillo: The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) asked how long it would take to build the yacht and when contracts would be let. I have told him that it should be in service in 2001 or 2002. It will take about two and a half years to build and the period up to the beginning of building will be taken up by deciding on the specification and by the competition.

The hon. Gentleman also asked why we did not discuss the matter with the Opposition. I do not regard today's statement as a constitutional one. I regard the yacht as an important aid to Her Majesty and to this country's economic interests, but not as a constitutional matter. I have come to the House and made a clear statement at the earliest opportunity. I should like to contrast that with the announcement of the previous royal yacht, when a Labour Government, during the 1951 general election campaign, issued a press notice from the Admiralty announcing that there would be a new royal yacht. In comparison, I have made a clean breast of my proposals to the House. The hon. Gentleman ought to study his history better before making such imputations against the Government.

Mr. Douglas Hurd (Witney): Is it not characteristic that new Labour should have announced its conversion to private finance on the wrong occasion? May I congratulate the Secretary of State on the Government's decision, including the decision on finance, which seems to me entirely right? I accept entirely what my right hon. Friend says about the usefulness to British finance and industry of Britannia and her successor, but at the heart of the issue, is there not the deeper point that a royal yacht is the best way of enabling the sovereign of our country to remind us--and, indeed, the world--of the links between these islands and the sea, which are fundamental to our past and our present?

Mr. Portillo: Indeed. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are a maritime nation, a nation of traders, global thinkers and global doers. The royal yacht will help to emphasise all that and enable us to extend the hand of friendship and connection to our many allies and friends around the world. I am so pleased to have my right hon. Friend's support--not least for the funding, which is wholly appropriate to the dignity of the monarchy and the vessel that will support them in it.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East): I fear that the Secretary of State might be embarrassed by the amount of congratulation on his conversion to the virtues of public funding for such a matter. Does he share my disappointment that the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), for whom I have the greatest respect, did not seem able to match his commitment? Is not the virtue of what the Secretary of State has proposed the fact that the vessel can assist Britain's economic and trade interests and provide dignified and often secure accommodation for the royal family while they fulfil their duties abroad? In view of the fact that the yacht's running costs are to be met from the defence budget, is it envisaged that the vessel should have any role in time of war?

Mr. Portillo: On the last point, it is not envisaged that the vessel should have any role in time of war. I cannot of course predict the future, but it is not expected that she will double as a hospital ship, for example, as was the plan with Britannia. The hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right that the vessel is secure accommodation for Her Majesty. She will be escorted and protected by the Royal Navy. It is an admirable way in which to protect our economic interests and to underline our ties with the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth values the vessel as well as our own country.

Given all those advantages and the vessel's versatility, it is indeed disappointing that Her Majesty's loyal Opposition were not able to say today that they support it and would continue the project were they elected.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight): May I thank my right hon. Friend for today's decision? It will mean much rejoicing in the Isle of Wight. Will he forgive me for mentioning pounds, shillings and pence? As the new royal yacht will play a bigger role in promoting Great Britain plc than Britannia, may I remind my right hon. Friend that the arrival of Britannia in Cowes week every year makes a substantial contribution to the Isle of Wight's economy? I would hope that I could hang on his words and that, perhaps, Britannia will sail on in UK waters beyond 1997. That would make a big difference to us on the island. Her arrival is very much treasured every year by my constituents.

Mr. Portillo: My hon. Friend has been a notable and strong advocate of the replacement of the royal yacht and I can understand its impact on the Isle of Wight, as on all of us. However, I want this statement to be entirely straightforward and without ambiguity. We do not intend that Britannia should run on beyond the end of 1997. I do not want to mislead my hon. Friend on that; I want to make it perfectly clear that there will be a new royal yacht in 2001 or 2002.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West): It is hard to conceive of who has been more ill advised, the Government in offering the matter to the palace in an attempt to bring it into the political game, or the palace in making the mistake of accepting it.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster): Unworthy!

Mr. Williams: I am allowed to make my point. Is it not a fact that, over the next three years, there will be unprecedented cuts in social services? I cannot understand a sense of priority that diverts £60 million more away from such services. Halving the running costs will still cost £10,000 a day. If the royal yacht is a symbol, it is one of extravagance and irrelevance.

Mr. Portillo: I found the right hon. Gentleman's comments ungenerous, inaccurate and wrong. It is entirely the Government's decision as to whether there is a royal yacht, and although we have informed Her Majesty, Her Majesty did not request this. Her Majesty's assent is not required in that sense. Her Majesty is pleased with the decision, but it is not a matter for her. Any blame to be attached should be attached to the Government only. The right hon. Gentleman is not right to bring Her Majesty's name into the matter, as he sought to do.

This is public expenditure and we are entitled to talk the language of priorities and proportion. The social security budget is £90,000 million a year. We are talking about spending £60 million for a yacht that will last about 30 years--a capital cost of £2 million a year. I am sure that one after another, hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies will rise in the Chamber to pay tribute to the many ways in which this vessel will contribute to our nation economically, but also to the way in which it will contribute to our prestige, status and pride. I know that I have lost the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) now, because he does not understand those three words.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): Nowhere will my right hon. Friend's statement be more welcome than in Gosport, with its Navy connections and loyal traditions. May I ask further about the future of Britannia? Her home port has been Portsmouth and she has been berthed in Portsmouth harbour for many years. Nowhere would her future be more secure and more applauded than in Portsmouth harbour, as a centrepiece of the exciting millennium project there. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that suggestion will be given full consideration?

Mr. Portillo: Certainly it would be given consideration. I was in Portsmouth recently on HMS Victory, and I am aware of the marvellous heritage of the city and of the ships berthed there, which represent some of the maritime history of this nation. However, I must repeat the conditions that I made clear during my statement. The proposal must take account of the fact that at least some of the fittings will have been stripped out from Britannia. The yacht must have a prestigious use; it must be in the public interest; it must be in the United Kingdom; and we need a sponsor who can guarantee the excellence of her condition. I stress again that it would be distressing for all of us to see Britannia deteriorate--we would rather see her scrapped than deteriorate.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney): The present Britannia has made a valuable contribution to Britain's presence overseas, both diplomatically and commercially, and I have no doubt that the Government have made a good decision in ensuring that we have a worthy successor. May I particularly congratulate the Government on their conversion to the use of selective public sector purchase? May I ask the Secretary of State to give the assurance that the yacht will be built in a British shipyard? Will he make it absolutely clear that on no account will he allow the European Commission to insist upon open competition among European shipyards? Will he give a pledge that, even if Mr. van Miert refers him to the European Court of Justice, he will not allow the Commission to interfere and to get away with it?

Mr. Portillo: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the generous way in which he welcomed the statement. The yacht will be built in a British shipyard--for security reasons, the yacht should be built here. In any case, this will be a royal yacht and it is appropriate that it should be built in a British shipyard. If there were any challenge to that decision, I would defend it every inch of the way.

Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement about the existing royal yacht and its replacement, and I particularly welcome the fact that the yacht will continue to be crewed by the Royal Navy. Will he confirm that I will have his personal support for the proposal that the new royal yacht should be home based at Portsmouth, as the existing yacht has been for so many years?

Mr. Portillo: My hon. Friend has been generous in his welcome for the statement, and he has been a great advocate for today's decision--as many others who have spoken today have been. I ask him by all means to open his campaign today, but not to press me for a final decision on that--although I understand perfectly the strength of his claim.

Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): I certainly welcome a statement that will bring work to Britain's hard-pressed shipyards, which have suffered so severely from the cuts in the Government's defence expenditure. I should welcome the return of the Royal Yacht Britannia to the Clyde, where she was constructed so skilfully and ably many years ago. However, the Secretary of State should give the House more details on why it was decided to use public money for the capital costs of Britannia.

Mr. Portillo: On the last point, I repeat that it was because we thought that it was appropriate to the dignity of the monarchy. On the earlier points, if the hon. Lady is concerned about our hard-pressed shipyards, I would remind her that those at Barrow would not be building a fourth Trident boat if it were not for the fact that there was a Conservative victory at the previous general election.

I remind the hon. Lady that it is the pledge of her Government --[Hon. Members: "Aha."]-- of her party if it were in government, to have a defence review. The hon. Member for South Shields has said clearly that it would be a review with painful consequences. If her party were to win the general election, she would discover soon enough what those painful consequences were, because they would be visited on her constituents by the cuts that would be made by a Labour party in power. When the shadow Chancellor was asked directly by Jim Naughtie on the "Today" programme yesterday whether he would have to cut defence in order to fund everything else within unchanged public spending ceilings, he simply refused to answer. He dare not answer the question, because it is clear that defence is the place from which any other spending increases would be funded. Defence under Labour would be a soft touch for any Chancellor.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): May I thank and congratulate my right hon. Friend most warmly? Does he, however, accept that Britannia is part of this country's maritime heritage and that it would be as appropriate to maintain it at public expense, either as part of the complex at Portsmouth or at Greenwich, as to pay for the new yacht? Will he think carefully about that and about keeping Britannia in service until the new yacht is ready?

Mr. Portillo: I am glad that the statement pleased my hon. Friend, but it is a statement with firm edges. We do not intend to keep Britannia in service beyond the end of 1997, and we do not believe that it would be a suitable use of public funds overall to keep it as some kind of museum. Others may wish to make proposals for a public interest use of the yacht, and I dare say that those people could apply for funding in the usual way--to the national lottery, for example--but we do not intend to launch a Government initiative to keep Britannia in any particular form. The challenge to those who would come forward is clear: suggest a use that is prestigious and suitable and by all means apply for the funding that is available; but any proposal must keep Britannia in excellent condition.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Why did the Secretary of State, in responding to my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), have to turn to insolence, pomposity and arrogance, knowing that out there in Britain, probably 30 or 40 per cent. of the people--it may be more--do not agree with the monarchy? Those views should be expressed in the House. The Prime Minister, on being elected, talked about a classless society.

Is it not right that some of us should say that £60 million should not be spent on a yacht for the royal family when it could be spent on kids who are being lined up in hospital and kicked out; on people who are waiting in corridors on trolleys; on schoolchildren who do not have pencils or even classrooms, in some cases; on pensioners, who are being robbed blind; or on the 4 million people who do not have a job? Surely there is a case to be made that the yacht should not be built. There is a language of priorities that says that we should not spend any more money on this aristocracy, which has been pushing its own self-destruct button for the past decade.

Mr. Portillo: There is a language of priorities and there is a language of proportion. The hon. Gentleman has no sense of proportion. He equates the billions of pounds that we put into the health service and social security with a few million pounds that will be spent on this project over several years and which is, in any case, economically justified. There is more to it than economics. There is national esteem and pride, which he does not share or even understand. Some might think that he was arrogant in pontificating with such self-satisfaction and certainty about the views of 30 or 40 per cent. of the population. I criticised the right hon. Member for Swansea, West not for his views but because he blamed Her Majesty for a decision that was not hers.

Sir Keith Speed (Ashford): Does my right hon. Friend accept that the all-party maritime group, which I chair, welcomes this decision, for which we have campaigned for more than two years? The new yacht should not only be built in Britain, but contain the finest British marine technology, to show the rest of the world that we still lead in maritime affairs.

Mr. Portillo: Speaking from his position and with his background, my hon. Friend's approval is especially welcome. I emphasised in my statement that the ship will provide a showcase for British skills, engineering and design. That, too, will be of great benefit to our nation.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East): May I assure the right hon. Gentleman that most people throughout the country will warmly welcome this statement? Does he accept from me that most people throughout this country very much appreciate the services rendered by Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Charles to Britain? Does he not agree with me that the Carlton TV programme was a load of unutterable rubbish and totally unrepresentative of British public feeling? [Interruption.] I will be heard. Does he not finally agree that very few people in this country want to see a series of political presidents?

Mr. Portillo: If I may add to that, very few people in this country want to see a brave Labour Member who speaks up for the monarchy being barracked by his colleagues in the way that the hon. Gentleman was. I appreciate his remarks. Apart from their feelings about the monarchy, many people will look forward to the 400 or 500 jobs that I estimate will be created by the contract. As was said by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire), who has left the Chamber, the shipyards will welcome the work.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries): Does my right hon. Friend accept that, with the exception of a few Opposition Members, the nation will warmly applaud the Government's decision? Her Majesty the Queen and other members of the royal family will be able to visit the Commonwealth and other nations in a royal yacht that is fit to show the fine maritime heritage of this country. Could he say a little more about the design of the yacht? May I hazard the thought that, after free competition, and bearing it in mind that Britannia was built on the Clyde, the new royal yacht might also be built there?

Mr. Portillo: Certainly, the Clyde would be a candidate, but there must be a competition and a specification. In welcoming my right hon. Friend's remarks, I must make it clear that the new yacht's specification will be different from that of Britannia. In those days, the designers envisaged that the royal family would travel long distances on board. Today, they travel by air and use the yacht as a residence. Modern technology will allow lower running costs and a smaller crew. There will be substantial differences, but some important things will stay the same. The yacht must be prestigious. It must carry status. It must have royal apartments and state rooms that are suitable. It must create a great impression when people visit it, as something special, something remarkable, and something uniquely British.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): May I, on behalf of not only my party but well over 1 million people in Northern Ireland, warmly welcome the statement? Even 77 years after the Republic separated from the kingdom, there are those in the Republic who still have royal yacht clubs and other titles because they, too, are royalists. May I express the hope that when the time comes for the competition, Harland will be one of the bidders, maintaining a tremendous tradition? As a Belfast Member, I hope that there will be those with the vision to bring Britannia to the new Lagan waterfront, which is making Belfast boom. Amidst all the cringing, it is encouraging to realise, when people think that we are bankrupt, that the £90 million is coming from the reserve.

Mr. Portillo: It is £60 million. I welcome what the hon. Gentleman says. I know that the decision will be welcome to his constituents and to, I think, the vast majority in the Province. He rightly points out that it will be welcome north and south of the border in the island of Ireland. I am pleased that he reminded us of that. I thank him for the two bids, one in respect of Britannia and the other in respect of the new yacht. They have been carefully noted. Again, I recognise that those claims could be very strong.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside): Does my right hon. Friend agree that many of our people, including some living in the constituencies of Opposition Members who poured scorn on the decision, owe their jobs in part to the £2 billion of trade that the royal yacht has won overseas during the time that she has been operating as our national flagship? Does he further agree that in future the Britannia replacement should be called our national flagship, because that is what she is, rather than a yacht, which conjures up visions of junketing around the Mediterranean? If my right hon. Friend is thinking in terms of berthing her, she should be berthed in London as our national flagship, where most people can see her, rather than being tucked away in Portsmouth.

As my right hon. Friend is canvassing opinion on laying up the old Britannia, rather than confining his market to the United Kingdom, will he bear in mind the dependent territories? The rundown of his Department's expenditure in Gibraltar has led to that dependent territory having to switch its emphasis to creating an offshore finance centre, which is precisely the sort of economy that the royal yacht has hitherto been used to promote. Perhaps if he is looking for a fitting final resting place for Britannia, Gibraltar should be the place for her to berth. That would be welcome and it would give just the right message to Spain.

Mr. Portillo: I am tempted to call, "Any more bids?" I heard very well what my hon. Friend said, but I reiterate what I said in the statement--that we shall be looking for a use of public interest in the United Kingdom, and that stands. I cannot accept that anything that was inPortsmouth would be tucked away. I understand the promotion of the case for London. It is not within my authority by any means to propose that the royal yacht should be called anything other than the royal yacht. That is a contentious suggestion.

My hon. Friend is right to recall how much the royal yacht does for the promotion of trade and how much good it can do for the dependent territories. However, I do not want the yacht to be seen simply as a commercial transaction, simply in pounds and pence. It also involves questions of our feeling about ourselves as a nation, and that matters, too.

Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall): I warmly welcome the announcement to replace Britannia. Anyone who has seen the thousands of people who flock to see Britannia anywhere in the world--I particularly look back to the pictures from South Africa last year--must know the importance not only to the economy but to the whole image. Given the announcement last week of £500 million--a large amount--to be spent from the millennium fund in Greenwich, which is a project that we can support, although there are certainly some queries about the amount, why has the Secretary of State not considered taking £60 million from that fund, so that the money comes from public money, but money that has been paid for by people through the national lottery?

Mr. Portillo: The answer is simple. The legislation governing the national lottery does not allow us to use it as a substitute for proper public spending, and that is an important rule. This is a burden that properly falls on the nation and the taxpayer. While it would have been possible to think about private finance, it is not possible to use the national lottery for that purpose.

I very much welcome what the hon. Lady said and I am hoping that, given the pressure this afternoon from at least some Labour Members, by the end of the statement we might hear from the Labour Front-Bench team that it has decided that it wants to back the Government's action and to confirm that, in the unlikely event that Labour was elected, it would maintain the pledge that we have made today. Although it is clear that the Labour party is badly split on the issue and that the old republican guard is here in strength, none the less many hon. Members such as the hon. Lady would welcome such a commitment.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): In congratulating my right hon. Friend on his admirable decision, which was announced in the most felicitous language, may I be practical and ask that the specification include a helicopter deck? Secondly, could the ship's company of the Royal Navy, who take a great pride in fulfilling that most important role for the duration of their tour, from time to time include distinguished members of the Royal Naval Reserve, who would enormously appreciate the honour of serving on board?

Mr. Portillo: I can accept my hon. Friend's first suggestion straight away. Of course, a helicopter deck should be part of a modern ship. The possibility of arriving and leaving by helicopter and, indeed, of evacuating by helicopter in an emergency, should be part of the design. My hon. Friend's second suggestion is extremely important, and I should like to consider it. I mentioned state rooms and, of course, there must be provision for a band to play on board, because that is an important part of the image, prestige and projection associated with the royal yacht.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Given that the public are paying for the yacht, will they be able to visit it when the Queen is not in residence, which will be most of the time? Has the Secretary of State given any thought to a dual use--what about using it to take disadvantaged children from our inner cities to a foreign destination for a holiday?

Mr. Portillo: I must make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that we have never considered financing the yacht out of swaps, as I believe he used to do in his early days. The royal yacht attracts many people, all over the world. I would not propose making any great changes in the usage of recent years. No doubt the way in which the yacht is used will evolve over time, but it is important that it should be there principally for the promotion of Britain and of her economic interests abroad.

Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside): Does my right hon. Friend understand that the Scottish people will be delighted at the proposal to replace the Royal Yacht Britannia? They will hope that it will be based on the Clyde after it ceases to be operational. Secondly, they will hope that the Clyde will have the opportunity to build the new ship, just as we built Britannia. We should also like my right hon. Friend to note that the Scottish national party has called for a bicycling monarchy, and there would be no prospect of a new Britannia being built on the Clyde with such a monarchy.

Mr. Portillo: Let me assure my hon. Friend that no part of the specification will include room for bicycles. During my hon. Friend's remarks, I heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland say, "Hear, hear." I am sure that he was doing that clearly within the bounds of collective responsibility, but none the less my hon. Friend was well heard on the Front Bench.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian): I welcome the statement, although I have some suspicions about the motivation that may lie behind its timing. Will the Secretary of State say a little more about what he regards as being appropriate or not appropriate in respect of total or partial private financing? Why is it not appropriate to have any private financing for the royal yacht, given that he recently decided that it was entirely appropriate to sell all the married quarters of all our soldiers, sailors and airmen in England and Wales to Nomura, a Japanese bank?

Mr. Portillo: I do not think that it is the duty of the state to own houses, but I do think that it is the duty of the state to support the monarchy.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his personal commitment to this project over the past two and a half years and on winning the arguments that must have occurred in the Cabinet? Given that the new royal yacht can be built in only one location, can he give an undertaking that there will be a proper symbolism in its construction and fitting out of the fact that it represents the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Can he remind the House of any conventions that might exist on what the royal yacht should be called? Have the Government given any consideration to that matter and has Her Majesty expressed an opinion?

Mr. Portillo: We do not yet know the name of the yacht. Undoubtedly, that question will be considered and many suggestions will be made; Her Majesty will certainly be consulted. My hon. Friend, who also fought hard for this decision, makes an excellent point that the yacht must be representative of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Her Majesty the Queen is the Queen of the United Kingdom and her yacht should reflect that.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Was the Secretary of State in the House on Friday, when we witnessed another spending decision? A Bill on the wind chill factor, which was presented by one of my hon. Friends, sought to provide £60 million to give essential life-saving help to poor pensioners. The question that the country will ask about Government priorities is why the Government do not have £60 million to give to poor pensioners, but do have it to allow one family to travel in a billionaire life style.

Mr. Portillo: Yes, but the cold weather payments scheme was invented by the Conservative Government--it did not exist when the Labour party was last in office. Time and again, it has been improved in its generosity and extent. The Labour party did not make those payments. When the hon. Gentleman blathers on, as he has just done, let him admit all that the Government have done in providing a social security budget of £90,000 million. Let him then go away and talk the language of comparisons and proportion, about £60 million over 30 years for a royal yacht.

Sir Cyril Townsend (Bexleyheath): While regretting the lack of forward planning some years ago, despite prodding from Conservative Members, which means that inevitably there will be a delay, I warmly welcome this sensible decision. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the offers of financial support from commercial and City organisations that were put to the royal yacht parliamentary group and others are a signal of how much interest is felt in such sectors for the concept of a royal yacht? Does he further agree that having a royal yacht is a tried and tested formula and a good way of presenting the latest in British technology and expertise?

Mr. Portillo: First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent knighthood--this is my first opportunity to do so. He is right to say that tremendous interest was shown in the matter, and the interest expressed by the business community tells us a lot about what is happening in the general community and about the spirit in this nation. I entirely reject the remarks of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in that respect. The yacht is tried and tested; the nation has benefited from it; it has helped our sovereign in her work; and I believe that almost the whole House will warmly welcome today's announcement.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton): May I support the introduction of a vessel that will be unique to the United Kingdom as an aid for the royal family? It has been suggested in the past, however, that the royal vessel could be used as a training ship when Her Majesty was not using it. There is also the question of the royal family's future. We are told that the royal family will have to use passenger trains and that no extra provision will be made for special aircraft. The Secretary of State says that it is important that the royal family should have a vessel financed from public funds, but that it is not important for the royal family to have their own train. What is the difference?

The nation will be confused about why we are taking this stand today when, in the recent past, the royal family have been told that they should use public transport. Why could not the royal yacht be financed by private sector money, given that the Government say that the royal family want to be involved with the private sector and move away from dependency on the state? Why have the Government changed their stance on that issue?

Mr. Portillo: First, I remind the hon. Gentleman of what I have already said several times: this decision was for the Government, not the royal family. The Government believe that it is for the nation to finance something that so closely touches the monarchy's dignity. I can continue to repeat that all afternoon if the hon. Gentleman likes, but it remains our firm position.

The hon. Gentleman asked why we did not choose the training ship design, which was an imaginative idea. We took the view that the vessel's primary purpose is to combine use by the monarchy with promotion of Britain abroad and of our economic interests. To confuse that primary purpose with something quite different, which would be difficult to make compatible, seemed to make the matter too complicated and likely to fail in its primary purpose.

As Secretary of State for Defence, I am responsible for announcing this decision, which has been taken by the Cabinet. We have taken that decision because of all the reasons that I have given about how the yacht helps to project Britain and the monarchy abroad. Those reasons stand on their own legs and are self-explanatory.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster): May I assure my right hon. Friend that nowhere will the Government's decision to build another royal yacht be more happily received than in Lancaster, with its special relationship with Her Majesty in her style as Duke of Lancaster?

Mr. Portillo: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. The connection between Lancaster and Her Majesty is clear and well known. I am relieved that, to the best of my knowledge, Lancaster has no shipyard, so I do not have to chalk up another bid.

Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker: Thank you very much.

and so on and so forth...