Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



  180. That applies to everyone then.
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes.

  181. The second from the bottom in the final line the reason for choice of option says "necessitated a very early start". You mentioned earlier that it was unreasonable for the Queen to be getting up at the crack of dawn at the age of 75 and we accepted that. But this argument about the necessity for an early start seems to be applied here to the Prince of Wales and his sons. What time was this?
  (Sir Michael Peat) It depends what time the briefing started but to get to the airport on that particular occasion, you would have had to have left an hour and a half, an hour and a half flight so three hours and then you would have had to have initial briefing so four hours, due at ten o'clock, so they would probably have had to leave around about five o'clock in the morning I suppose.

  182. Is there a cut-off time before which it is unreasonable to get the Royal Family up?
  (Sir Michael Peat) All these things are looked at in the context of the overall engagement and all the various factors.

  183. Is that a yes or a no? Is there a cut-off time?
  (Sir Michael Peat) No, there is no cut-off time. Sometimes the Queen has to get up very early in the morning and there is no way round it because that is how it has to be done. Obviously that is something to be avoided and all the various factors of the engagement are taken into account.

  184. Could I turn over to the second page and the scale of staff? In 1999 23 staff of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh went to Denmark for a reconnaissance.
  (Sir Michael Peat) No, it was Edinburgh. It was an inward state visit by the Queen of Denmark.

  185. They were coming here. I am not clear why exactly 23 people need to be sent to Denmark for an incoming visit.
  (Sir Michael Peat) What happened was that the Queen of Denmark was going to Edinburgh for one of the days on the state visit. She had a programme of engagements and it is not only the Royal Household who want to check out precisely what she is going to do, it is that the Foreign Office want to send people and the Danish Embassy want to send people as well. There is quite a big party which goes to do the reconnaissance visit, to check it all out, that it is right, that it will achieve the objectives that both UK and Denmark desire.

  186. Do we not have staff in Denmark in the Embassy who deal with these sorts of things? I should have thought you could have invaded Denmark with 23 staff on a reconnaissance. It does seem somewhat of a job creation programme, does it not?
  (Sir Michael Peat) This is a question you would have to put to the Foreign Office, not to me. They determine these state visits and they determine the objectives which they hope these state visits will achieve.

  187. So you are not paying for any of this then. The Royal Household did not pay for any of this. Is that right?
  (Sir Michael Peat) The grant-in-aid paid for it; it is charged to the grant-in-aid.

  188. If it is charged to your budget I would assume you would have some say about how many people went.
  (Sir Michael Peat) No, that is not actually right. The Royal Visits Committee determine all the overseas trips that members of the Royal Family make and we do not have any say in it. If we think the cost of travel is unreasonable we go back to them and we say "You're sending this member of the Royal Family on this visit. Did you realise it is going to cost this amount in travel? Is that still commensurate with your objectives?". Then they say yes or no.

  189. You can understand how somebody might have some anxiety that for an incoming trip sending 23 people does look like overmanning.
  (Sir Michael Peat) This flight was from London to Edinburgh. It was before the visit.

  190. So this was a reconnaissance in Edinburgh.
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes, it was in Edinburgh.

  191. So there was nobody who had ever been to Edinburgh before then.
  (Sir Michael Peat) No.

  192. Were they friendly in Edinburgh? Was there anything to do? What was the food like? Was the water safe in Edinburgh? Was that the sort of purpose of the visit?
  (Sir Michael Peat) You would have to ask the Foreign Office what the purpose of the visit was. The Foreign Office and indeed ourselves play a large part in ensuring that the programme for the whole day in Edinburgh met those objectives and the programme will have a large number of components to it and different people are responsible for different components. You are talking about a very small amount of money. It was actually cheaper to use the 32 Squadron than to send everyone by scheduled airline. If you feel that there were three or four too many people going on this, you are absolutely right, the taxpayer spent £300 or £400 too much. Those in charge—and it was not me—determined that 23 were necessary. It is quite a lot but it must have been quite a complicated day in Edinburgh.

  193. I wish I had somebody to plan my day; 23 people to plan my visits to Edinburgh.
  (Sir Michael Peat) If you speak to the Foreign Office, perhaps they will.

  194. May I move on to the royal train? I think you answered Mr Osborne on this point before. Where a single journey is taken by train, do the costs which appear cover the moving back of the train as well?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes.

  195. Fine; that is acceptable. May I clarify the bottom one here on the second page? Two of the staff of the Duke of York went on a reconnaissance for the visit to the Caribbean. They presumably went to the Caribbean this time, did they?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes, they did.

  196. That was just to check things which could not be checked from this end to make sure beaches were okay and stuff like that, that the natives were friendly and the water was safe.
  (Sir Michael Peat) Unfortunately going to the beach was not on the programme. They have to go to our local High Commissions or Embassies to see exactly what the Duke of York was going to do, what the programme is so that he knows what he is expected to do when he gets there.

  197. Do you not trust the staff there then to tell you by the electric telephone or anything like that? They actually have to go there and see it, do they?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes. If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing properly. If the taxpayer is going to spend a lot of money sending the Duke of York out to the Caribbean then it is very important that his visit goes well, goes smoothly, is a great success and reflects credit on our country when he gets there.

  198. But it reflects very, very badly, does it not, on the staff we already have there that you do not trust them to do this properly? You have to send people out from London to check that things are going to be fit and suitable for the Duke of York. They are not able to communicate in any way, by writing or telex or any of these modern gadgets.
  (Sir Michael Peat) They are very able to communicate in huge numbers of letters and telexes backwards and forward. I do not know whether you have found in your life, but I certainly find it in mine, that good pre-planning always pays dividends.

  199. I do indeed find that. Unfortunately I do not have two people whom I can normally send ahead of me to make sure that things are prepared. The difficulty is that it is just a question of cost and value for money. I am sure all our trips would be much more successful if we were able to spend somebody else's money to go in advance.
  (Sir Michael Peat) If any of us were representing our country in this way and the success of the trip was a matter of national prestige, personally I should think it would be a very good thing if someone were sent out before we visited, for what it is worth.

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