Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY 2002
MOTTRAM KCB, SIR
KCVO AND MR
120. It only takes three hours to get there.
You do not need an overnight stop. That is probably why Ministers
do not use it to travel up to the North East.
(Sir Michael Peat) Absolutely, but if you are travelling
up in the morning it is quite a long time to get to an engagement
at 9.30 in the morning.
121. The train leaves at six o'clock from King's
(Sir Michael Peat) Then you have to do various things
beforehand. If the Queen at the age of 75 is doing a long day's
engagement and meeting thousands of people in Newcastle or somewhere,
it is a bit unreasonable to expect her to leave at six o'clock
in the morning.
122. I was not suggesting that. I was suggesting
that when you said Ministers were not using it, it was quite acceptable
for a Minister to leave at six o'clock in the morning.
(Sir Michael Peat) Yes, I do not know why Ministers
do not use it. We wish they would.
(Sir Richard Mottram) Because they do not get up at
123. Nick seemed to think that this was a bit
of a waste of time and it may well be in terms of the amount of
money which we are looking at. Since we started in 1997 to look
at royal expenditure on the palaces and on travel, how much has
been saved in that time approximately?
(Sir John Bourn) I could not say. I can come back
with a figure for that. It covers a variety of activities. I would
say that the attention and focus which has come from the Committee's
interest in this subject has been very valuable.
(Mr Burr) Table 5 on page 14 of the report says £19.4
million in 1997-98 and £8.6 million in 1999-2000.
Mr Steinberg: So the fact is that the cost in
1997-98 was £17.2 million and it is now down to £5.4
million, so that is quite a considerable saving. I would not mind
that in my bank account.
Mr Gibb: If the same time had been devoted to
the billions we would have made substantial savings in the time
of this Committee.
124. We spend a lot of time on the billions.
Before my father died he used to say if you look after the halfpennies
the pounds look after themselves. I was interested in Figure 7
because it is talking again about chartered flights. I notice
that in 1999-2000 the cost of chartered flights was something
like £1.144 million and scheduled flights was £304,000
which is considerably less by using the scheduled flights. The
number of miles travelled by scheduled flights was actually more.
The obvious question to me seems to be why do you not use more
(Sir Michael Peat) We have been using more scheduled
125. The question is why you have not been using
(Sir Michael Peat) It just depends whether the scheduled
flight fits the particular requirements of the engagement. Before
every single journey we have what we call an options form and
we look at a variety of options and we choose the best option.
If scheduled flights are the best option that is the one we choose,
bearing in mind that value for money is needless to say one of
our primary criteria. As you kindly said, we reduced the cost
by 70 per cent.
126. If we look at paragraph 2.22 , we can see
why these flights are so expensive, can we not? We are told that
the specification required is exacting and includes a requirement
to reconfigure the passenger cabin and to provide a back-up aircraft
and standby crew. Could you explain that fully to us? What does
reconfigure the cabin mean?
(Sir Michael Peat) The standby crew only happens at
take-off. When the Queen is going, possibly with the Foreign Secretary,
on an important overseas state visit it is preferable for her
to turn up on time. So what happens is that if there is a mechanical
problem with the aircraft when it leaves Heathrowand these
mechanical problems generally come to light when the flight beginsthere
is another aircraft there on standby so everything can be switched
across to the other aircraft.
127. In other words there are always two aircraft.
(Sir Michael Peat) No, not for the flight. The other
aircraft only has to be there
128. There are physically two aircraft there
when she turns up.
(Sir Michael Peat) For a period of one and a half
hours. This is not a huge element of the cost. Once it is proven
that the actual aircraft works, the standby aircraft is released.
It is not as though the standby aircraft flies along behind or
129. I quite appreciate that. That still means
an aircraft is standing by with a full crew. I would have thought
that must be quite expensive even if it is just for an hour and
a half. What is meant by reconfiguring the cabin?
(Sir Michael Peat) If it is a long overnight flight,
a divan bed will be put in the aircraft just for the Queen, not
for anyone else. Everyone else sits in the normal seats. If it
is a long flight and the Queen is flying to Korea or South Africa
overnight and then she is being met by the other head of state,
the approach that has been taken is that she should be given a
chance to have a sleep overnight lying down. Again, it is not
a huge expense.
130. A camp bed is put in, is it?
(Sir Michael Peat) Yes, a camp bed.
131. How much does it usually cost to put a
camp bed in?
(Sir Michael Peat) As we said in the last annual report,
this is one of the issues we are looking at and we are going through
all these issues with the airlines at the moment. I do not think
it costs a huge amount to put a camp bed in.
132. Are these specifications only needed on
certain flights and not every charter flight?
(Sir Michael Peat) It is only when the Queen goes.
On most charter flights they do not have them at all; they just
walk on. The specification is only there and the standby aircraft
is only there if it is a major overseas state visit. The divan
bed is only put on the aircraft for the Queen if it is an overnight
flight. Most of them are not overnight flights and if it is not
an overnight flight Her Majesty sits in a normal seat like everyone
133. It is rather comfortable to travel First
Class on British Airways. I have very rarely done it.
(Sir Michael Peat) I have to take your word for it.
134. I have not done it very often.
(Sir Michael Peat) I have never done it, so I shall
take your word for it.
135. I think I have done it once. It was very
comfortable. I must say I did not really need a camp bed.
(Sir Michael Peat) And indeed that is what the Queen
does. She was due to go to Australia and New Zealand in the First
Class compartment of a scheduled aircraft, but it was cancelled.
136. May I go back to part of the argument you
had with Mr Williams when you were engaged in the debate in terms
of the variable costs and you were saying that if it was not a
variable cost you would go to the private sector? Are you saying
that if fixed cost travel was required, you would then get it
more cheaply in the private sector, bearing in mind that there
would have to be a standby aeroplane, bearing in mind that there
would have to be a reconfiguration of the cabin, etcetera.
(Sir Michael Peat) They are all private sector anyhow.
We cannot use 32 Squadron for large overseas flights. They are
all private sector. The private sector/public sector choice only
comes into play for shorter European/UK flights, not for the large
137. Without all the reconfiguration, etcetera,
are you still saying that for a short flight, where it could be
the RAF, to go to the private sector would be cheaper?
(Sir Michael Peat) Yes and you can look at the figures.
That is why the Royal Household used to take 759 hours from 32
Squadron. Before the change in the pricing we were due to buy
105 hours from 32 Squadron in the current year and a lot of that
flying has gone to the private sector.
138. I can see the advantages of travelling
in the royal train with this huge feasting which is done on it
and a whole carriage kept for the food.
(Sir Michael Peat) You might be a little disappointed,
I am afraid.
139. It seems very attractive to me. Have you
travelled on Virgin recently? It does appear to be an expensive
mode of travel. It is quite clear from the report that the costs
have been considerably reduced. It does seem that members have
cottoned onto the fact that it is very, very expensive. With the
introduction of what appears to be a very much improved helicopter
service, why do you need the royal train at all, apart from the
fact that you keep saying it needs to be there to have meetings
and to arrive early in the morning or late at night and they can
sleep and get to the middle of the town? I would have thought
a helicopter negates all that. You can fly up in a helicopter,
get there, land virtually where you want to.
(Sir Michael Peat) Not in the middle of a town. The
one you forgot which I mentioned was the disruption by weather
and helicopters are very prone to disruption by weather. They
are difficult to land at night in a number of places, which means
early in the morning as well, during a lot of the winter. You
kindly mentioned the rest of the train's advantages.