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Haves and have yachts - Clegg pours scorn on Queen jubilee gift call

LibDem leader Nick Clegg has rubbished Conservative calls for cash-strapped taxpayers to buy the Queen a new royal yacht to mark her diamond jubilee.

While voters see this year's milestone as a "wonderful occasion", a multimillion-pound vessel is not their priority at a time of cuts elsewhere, the Deputy Prime Minister said.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove suggested the gift - likely to cost in the region of £60 million - in a letter to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt which has been obtained by The Guardian.

Labour said the idea demonstrated Mr Gove was "out of touch" to think such expenditure was appropriate at a time when school budgets were being cut.

Asked about the idea during a question and answer session after a speech in London, Mr Clegg said he would not comment directly on the leaked letter.

But he told reporters: "Most people in the country would think the diamond jubilee is a wonderful occasion for us to celebrate together as a community and as a nation.

"But I suspect that most people in the country would think, given that there is very little money around, that this probably would not be the top of their list of priorities for the use of scarce public resources."

He joked that it was a case of "the haves and the have yachts" - before apologising for the poor quality of his quip.

In his letter, Mr Gove wrote: "In spite, and perhaps because of, the austere times, the celebration should go beyond those of previous jubilees and mark the greater achievement that the diamond anniversary represents."

The Queen's "highly significant contribution" to Britain and the Commonwealth should be recognised with a "lasting legacy".

"Events such as proms and the party at the palace organised for the diamond jubilee, and street parties, although excellent, are transient," he writes.

"It would be appropriate to do something that will mark the significance of this occasion with fitting ceremony.

"My suggestion would be a gift from the nation to her majesty; thinking about David Willetts's excellent suggestion of a royal yacht, and something tangible to commemorate this momentous occasion."

Mr Gove also argues that the diamond jubilee celebrations should not be secondary to the Olympics.

"The diamond jubilee must not be overshadowed by the Olympic Games, but form an integral part of this great year for our country," he writes.

Labour Party deputy chairman Tom Watson said: "We're all looking forward to the diamond jubilee. The significance of the occasion should be celebrated across the country.

"But Michael Gove has shown he is out of touch with this proposal.

"When school budgets are being slashed, parents will be wondering how Gove came even to suggest this idea. This is not the time to spend £60 million on a yacht."

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