As the House of Commons paid tribute to His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh last Monday, North Wiltshire MP James Gray joined his parliamentary colleagues in sharing some cherished memories of the Duke. During his speech, Mr Gray particularly highlighted the Duke’s commitment to seafarers:

“For 42 years, the Duke was Master of Henry VIII’s great foundation, Trinity House, the true home of seafarers and shipping, lighthouses and pilotage, of which I am honoured to be a Younger Brother. The Duke was always a seafarer at heart. He understood the sea, and his commitment to all things maritime is absolutely legendary. He even helped to design the Royal Yacht Britannia, so a fitting legacy might be a new multi-purpose royal yacht, perhaps named “Philip, Duke of Edinburgh”. How fitting that would be”.

Mr Gray has now further put his name to a joint letter calling upon the Government to undertake a full cost benefit analysis of such a vessel to replace the previous Royal Yacht. The letter, published in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday, states that:

“There has long been a clear economic case for a replacement to the Royal Yacht Britannia in pure trade terms as an asset to unlock international trade deals post-Brexit, showcase the UK and provide an appropriate vessel for the Royal Family.

The sad loss of His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh gives added impetus as the nation looks for a lasting memorial to his life that encompasses his interests and legacy to the nation. We consider a replacement ship with a multi-faceted role as a training ship, trade platform, humanitarian vessel, mobile Embassy and Royal Yacht, proudly made in the UK and bearing his name, would be a fitting legacy.

Estimates of cost are in the region of £190m. Putting this into perspective this amounts to 1/2000th of the cost, to date, of the Covid pandemic. We appreciate that the public purse has huge demands upon it and so other innovative funding streams including the private sector and public subscription should also be considered, but let us first cross the rubicon and agree that such a flagship, to complement the new Aircraft Carriers, is a project of national worth and the funding can be considered later.

In the meantime we call upon the Government to undertake a full cost benefit analysis of such a vessel to replace that which should never have bee lost upon the demise of the previous Royal Yacht”.

The unspeakable beauty and simplicity of that magnificent and so fitting funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh will stay with me - and with many of us - for a long time to come.

The glorious mediaeval setting in the perfect Spring weather; the detailed perfection of the military guards of honour, and the massed bands; the little carriage with its two black horses and the Duke’s personal gloves and whip in the driver’s seat; the Landrover hearse; the King’s Troop firing the minute salute; the sailors piping their Admiral into the Chapel; the fine words and superb music of the service itself; that moment when the piper playing the Lament marched away into the distance; even just the members of the Royal Family walking back up in the sunshine to the main part of the castle, all of these things were great moments. It was the most superbly planned and executed and moving of ceremonies, in no way lessened by its smaller Covid-induced scale. Indeed it was more fitting in many ways than would have been a great panoply of State in central London had that been allowed.

Somehow the sheer simplicity yet grandeur of the event was just so appropriate to the great man about whom we have heard so much in the last week or so. It was in every way the most perfect memorial that anyone could possibly have wished for, and I hope that Her Majesty and the other members of the Royal family were as touched and as impressed by it all as was the whole Nation, and so much of the world able to witness it on television.

There seem to have been an awful lot of sad deaths just recently – or is it just my age and stage in life? My friends Chris Wannell and Enam Chowdhury leave a great hole in the life of Royal Wootton Bassett.  Tim Holderness-Roddam from West Kington was a well-known local figure involved in so many charities and voluntary organisations; Arthur Chapman from Cricklade served in the RAF as a navigator for 36 years, 11,000 hours flying in a Hercules. All truly served their communities and the nation. They came from the same mould as HRH Duke of Edinburgh. In a way so much that we saw in Windsor on Saturday could stand proxy, as a symbol, for so many people who have died, or been bereaved over the last dreadful twelve months. It was not just about the Duke. In a strange way it was about the nation and all that we have lost, and about remembering all that was so good about our dear departed.

I was lucky enough to be asked to the memorial service in Salisbury Cathedral the previous evening. Amongst many other wonderful bits (the choir was superb), I am always moved by the great old prayer from the Evensong Prayer Book, which my Father said every night in the months before his own death in 1984:

“Support us, O Lord, all the day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over and our work done. Then, O Lord, in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at last; through Christ our Lord, Amen.”

A safe lodging, a holy rest and peace at last for Prince Philip and for so many of our dear friends and relations.

£957,791 is being provided to help iconic cultural and heritage organisations in North Wiltshire reopen and recover. Across the country, more than 2,700 culture and heritage organisations and independent cinemas are being supported to survive and thrive with nearly £400 million. This is part of the unprecedented Culture Recovery Fund, worth almost £2 billion, the largest one-off investment in the arts in our history.

James Gray MP has welcomed the announcement that North Wiltshire will receive £957,791 to support iconic cultural and heritage organisations and independent cinemas as they reopen and recover from coronavirus.

This is part of the £400 million in grants and loans being delivered to over 2,700 organisations across England, to help cultural and heritage organisations reopen and thrive in the better times ahead.

This brings the Conservative Government's total investment across grants, capital and repayable finance from the Culture Recovery Fund so far to more than £1.2 billion across over 5,000 individual cultural and heritage organisations and sites.

Nearly all of the original £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund has now been allocated, and the Chancellor announced a further £300 million boost for the Fund at last month’s Budget, taking direct government investment in the sector since the start of the pandemic to almost £2 billion.

The Conservative Government is protecting our most treasured arts and cultural institutions – organisations that are irreplaceable parts of our heritage – ensuring they can survive in the short-term and thrive in the future.

Commenting, James Gray said:

“The past year has had a devastating impact on cultural and heritage organisations in North Wiltshire, so it is fantastic news that £957,791 is being provided to support these most valued organisations. I am delighted that the following organisations are recipients of this funding: Ammonite Studios Limited, Adam King, Odin Events, Judgeday, Bowood Open Days, PCC of Sutton Benger, Abbey House Gardens and Grittleton House.            

“I’m really excited that as we set out on our cautious roadmap to reopening up this sector, we’ll soon be able to enjoy these extraordinary institutions once again, and I’m delighted that the support is being put in place to help them thrive in the future.”

Oliver Dowden, Culture Secretary, said:

“Our record-breaking Culture Recovery Fund has already helped thousands of culture and heritage organisations across the country survive the biggest crisis they've ever faced.

“Now we’re staying by their side as they prepare to welcome the public back through their doors - helping our cultural gems plan for reopening and thrive in the better times ahead.”

North Wiltshire MP, James Gray, was one of the many Members of Parliament to pay tribute to His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in the House of Commons Chamber yesterday.

It was no surprise that the vast majority of MPs wanted to share their experiences of Prince Philip and reminisce about his quick wit and life of dedication to his Queen and country.

Mr Gray paid tribute to the Duke’s maritime links, mentioning his time in the Royal Navy and his role as Master of Trinity House, the home of all seafarers, as well as recalling a couple of typically amusing anecdotes.

“I well remember attending a Buckingham Palace reception for MPs shortly after coming back from a long expedition to South Georgia and Antarctica. When I was presented to the Duke, he leaned over and said, “That’s a bloody awful beard you’ve got there”—he obviously had a thing about beards. But when I told him I had grown it in South Georgia, his face lit up. He reminisced about his trip there in 1957 and how much he loved the rugged landscape, the wildlife, Shackleton’s grave and the rest of South Georgia.”

Mr Gray spoke of the Duke’s many interests including one of his most enduring legacies, the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, before ending with a tale of the Duke’s visit to Malmesbury in 2001:

“After lunch, the Duke leaned over to me and said, “We’d better get going, or otherwise the Queen’ll stay here all afternoon gassing.” I had better take the Duke of Edinburgh’s advice and stop gassing, but I know that I represent the people of North Wiltshire, and indeed the whole county of Wiltshire, in paying tribute to a great life well lived, a great servant of the nation and a lifelong mainstay of Her Majesty the Queen.”

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Please find here a link to a short film of the Duke’s visit to the Antarctic and the South Atlantic Overseas Territories in 1957.  'Southward with Prince Philip'

North Wiltshire MP, James Gray, spoke during the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bills yesterday evening. This Bill is of particular importance to the MP following the tragic murder of Ellie Gould at her home in Calne in May 2019. Mr Gray has been fighting alongside Mr and Mrs Gould for a change in the sentencing of minors – featured in clauses 101 to 105 – as well as the issue of premeditation.

The North Wiltshire MP stated:

“Under clause 101, a 17-year-old who turns 18 during the course of the trial, as happened in this case, will now face a similar penalty to the one they would face if they had been 18 at the time of the crime. Until now, a 17-year-old was treated much the same as a 10-year-old, and of course, they are very different people. A sliding scale will now be introduced, so that a 17-year-old will be pretty much treated as an adult.”

Later in his speech, Mr Gray detailed his concerns for the issue of premeditation in the Bill:

“However, the Bill does not address the third anomaly, which is that had Griffiths brought the knife to the scene rather than pick it up in the kitchen, his sentence would have more than doubled—he would have got up to 27 years, rather than 12 and a half. Surely a frenzied attack of this kind, whether it is done with the knife that someone brings with them or a knife that they find in the kitchen, deserves the fullest possible sentence in the law.

There is an argument that women who are victims of domestic abuse may carry out a murder in self-defence using a knife at home. Surely the criminal law could find a way of saying that murder in self-defence under those conditions is quite different from a brutal murder such as that of Ellie Gould.”

After raising these points in the House of Commons Chamber last night, Mr Gray ended with the poignant observation that:

“Nothing can bring Ellie Gould back. Nothing can assuage the grief of her parents. Incidentally, nothing can assuage the grief of Thomas Griffiths’ parents, who are also my constituents; they have lost their son in a very real way too. But strengthening the sentencing regime, as the Bill does, will at least mean some lasting legacy. It is, indeed, Ellie’s law.”