Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 179)



  160. Would they charter a large plane of the kind that the Queen took to South Korea or the Prince of Wales took to the Caribbean?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I do not know; it is not my responsibility. I am not accountable for that. The Cabinet Office would be accountable for that.

  161. Sir Michael, have you looked at all at that? I am trying to think of an equivalent and I imagine that the Prime Minister flying around is a bit like the Queen flying around. Would the Prime Minister charter large planes?
  (Sir Michael Peat) I do not know.

  Mr Osborne: I remember he took Concorde to a meeting a few years ago. I do not know whether he would pay full cost for a Concorde flight . . .

  Chairman: They are not going to be able to answer this.

  162. On the chartering of flights, you mentioned that the Queen was going to take a scheduled flight to Australia but that was cancelled because the meeting was cancelled. She did indeed fly First Class to Australia a couple of years ago. When do you take a decision to use a charter plane and when do you take a decision to go on a scheduled flight. You took a big charter plane to South Korea; Australia you flew on a scheduled flight. Why?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Because when the Queen is going to Australia and New Zealand, which are realms, generally the party is smaller because she is going there as Queen of Australia, Queen of New Zealand or for Commonwealth work, as she was on this occasion. So there is not normally the same size party as for an overseas state visit and there are appropriate carriers and also for longer flights it is easier because disruption caused to other travellers is more proportionate. With all the security and other issues when the Queen flies on a scheduled flight and everything that has to be done in the airport, it is not really worth it for short-haul flights is the view which has always been taken. For longer ones it may well be.

  163. I am thinking really in terms of your own budget. For example, on the trip to South Korea where it cost £0.25 million to charter the plane was it really not worth buying her a section of the First Class cabin, putting officials in the back and making the journalists make their own way there?
  (Sir Michael Peat) The issue is that they do not fit in and very often the aircraft is used in theatre when you get there. If you go to Canada or Australia or New Zealand their Air Force might well provide a plane to use at the other end. All these issues are quite complicated but you can see from the figures that we really do take cost into account and we do choose the most cost effective option.

  164. When you use scheduled flights, what class do the staff of the Royal Household fly?
  (Sir Michael Peat) If a member of the Royal Family is there and is flying First Class the private secretary can accompany in First Class and the rest go behind is how it works.

  165. In Business Class?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes; Business Class. If the journey is less than three hours it is economy class. If the journey is more than three hours, the Foreign Office rules which we follow are that you can go Business Class.

  166. We have gone over the ground quite a lot on the royal train. There does seem to be a slight contradiction in what you are saying which is that the train is a very useful piece of equipment in that it gets you there on time, you can do early morning engagements, you can turn up in the middle of the town, yet you do not use it. Either it is useful or it is not useful. From the evidence of use, you do not find many occasions when you want to use the train.
  (Sir Michael Peat) It is not correct to say we do not use it: we used it on 17 occasions. We only use it when we feel comfortable that the not negligible cost is justified.

  167. Sometimes you take the train out and you fly back.
  (Sir Michael Peat) You generally have to do that because the train can normally only run overnight. It cannot go fast enough to keep up with the normal services on the main lines.

  168. For example when the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh went to the opening of the National Assembly for Wales, which would have been a very exciting occasion for them, they turned up in the royal train and then they flew back.
  (Sir Michael Peat) And the Prince of Wales.

  169. Would you count the cost of the overall journey with the royal train?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes.

  170. The cost of bringing it back to London.
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes, all our options. Because there were three of them flying, it would have been difficult then anyhow.

  171. You have been very non-committal, and I appreciate that, about the future of the royal train. You said you wanted to have a look at it after the Jubilee. If you were a gambling man, do you think the train will be here in three years' time?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes, I very much hope so, because we have been through the train's advantages on a number of occasions this afternoon and it does have considerable advantages. I am sure that no-one would want the royal train to disappear because it has those advantages. Our job, which we have been doing for the last four years, is to try to provide the service as economically as we can for the taxpayer.

  Mr Osborne: As someone who travels to Cheshire every week, I would have thought most people who had a choice of a helicopter flight or a train journey would take the helicopter flight. Sadly I do not have the choice.

Mr Davidson

  172. May I start by mentioning that on the first page we see that the expenditure has gone down from £17-odd million in1997-98 to £5.4 million last year? Notwithstanding any creative accountancy, that does nonetheless seem quite a substantial reduction and can encourage us to continue pursuing the sorts of arguments for further savings, would you not say?
  (Sir Michael Peat) I am baffled because the saving was achieved before we had any argument or discussion.

  173. Yes, that is right, but not since Mr Williams and others started probing this and related areas. It has really been as a result of the investigations instigated by this Committee that these savings have been brought about.
  (Sir Michael Peat) It has not at all. I have done it and I can assure you that I am flattered that Mr Williams should want to take credit for what the Household have done, but we have done it ourselves and we have done it on our own initiative because it is the Queen's clear wish that we should be as economical and as effective as we can be.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) The key to this change was actually the decision which was taken to put the Household in charge of this money. That was the key to it, the decision was really taken in 1996-97.
  (Sir Michael Peat) I wrote to the Treasury on 10 October 1995 to put forward this proposal, basically in the form that it was adopted. I have to say that at that stage I did not know that Mr Williams had any interest in this area at all.

  174. It is very gratifying to hear that these steps were being taken anyway. You would be astonished how many times we find that when organisations have been invited to meet the National Audit Office and ourselves they had actually already been thinking of making substantial savings and then lo and behold by the time they come to see us the savings have been made. We are just glad that you had thought of this anyway and should obviously get the credit for it. May I turn to Appendix 2 and ask some questions? Some of my colleagues have asked about the size of parties attending. Looking at the first example which gives total party size and then reason for choice of option which is cost and suitability for long-haul flight for 50+ passengers and luggage, I am not clear how 38 becomes 50+. Are there people who are not covered in the total party size who are however covered in some other way?
  (Sir Michael Peat) The British Airways staff for example. An aircraft has to have a crew.

  175. Indeed. It is somewhat unorthodox though to talk about a party size as including the crew of the vehicle. Even in the bottom one on that page where the Princess Royal with a party of three takes a charter flight that presumably does not include the pilot.
  (Sir Michael Peat) No. Party size is the royal party size. Very often you have to have a larger aircraft than the royal party size because you have to take the crew and all the rest of it.

  176. If anybody has every hired a bus, you normally take the fact that there is going to be a driver into account rather than drawing lots in some way. Could you possibly give us a list in a note at a subsequent time of the 38 and who they were and what they did and so on? We have discussed some of it but I am still not entirely clear. Is that possible?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes. Which one are we on?

  177. The first one, the visit to the Republic of Korea.
  (Sir Michael Peat) Certainly, we can do that.[3]

  178. Further down that page is Staff (The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh), ten, and it says the cheapest option was chosen. What class is that?
  (Sir Michael Peat) We follow the Foreign Office guidelines and Household staff are allowed to go Business Class if the flight is more than three hours.

  179. What class do they go if the flight is less than three hours?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Normal economy.

3   Ev 23, Appendix 1. Back

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