Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 200 - 219)



  200. You said that £50,000 was received for one commercial letting of the 12 outside of the security cordon.
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes.

  201. But for all seven properties within the Palaces on which the officers of the Royal Collection Trust pay rent, am I not right in saying that for all seven properties the rent that they achieve is less than £50,000?
  (Sir Michael Peat) None of those are within the Palaces, they are dotted around. They are cottages and small flats. If your point is that the flats within the Palaces could be rented out for considerably more money than the staff who occupy them pay, I agree entirely, and the report of this Committee, published in 1997, said exactly that.

  202. It also refused to provide the information, did it not, about the job descriptions of the private secretaries and officials in the Queen's Household who were in grace and favour accommodation, whether or not they were in full or part-time employment, why they each needed to be accommodated in a Palace and what accommodation each of those persons had?
  (Sir Michael Peat) No. We provided full details which were published in the 1997 Report with the number of bedrooms, the number of bathrooms. We said exactly why each of them needed to be accommodated, the 11 that were listed in your last report. For the employees who were Civil List employees and not grant-in-aid employees, Robin Young's predecessor was not in a position to provide the job descriptions because it should have been the Treasury that should have been asked for the job descriptions, not the department.

  203. You are in a position to provide that information?
  (Sir Michael Peat) No, I am not. That has to come through the department or the Treasury because they are the ultimate Accounting Officers. I am a sub-Accounting Officer. The only issue about the job descriptions, that much has been made of, was that the person who was asked for the job descriptions was the wrong person. It is as simple as that.

  204. Could we ask, if this has to come through the Treasury, that that information should be provided to this Committee[5] because I do think it is important that we should know what the job descriptions are of these people who are in grace and favour apartments and why they need to be accommodated within the Royal Palaces? I was stunned by Sir Michael's comment earlier that there are people, like the Queen's Private Secretary, and then he corrected himself and said he is not accommodated within the Royal Palace, it is the Assistant Private Secretary who is. I think it is important that we should have that information for transparency so that this Committee can see whether these people are worth what they are receiving or not.
  (Sir Michael Peat) I am sure if the Treasury were happy we would be delighted to do that. Can I refer you to the conclusions of this Committee set out in its report of 1997, that it appreciated that it was better to have the apartments occupied and to receive some rent from them than to leave them vacant and to earn no money at all for the taxpayer. So while we are very happy, I am sure, to provide job descriptions, the job descriptions are not entirely relevant to the matter, as the Committee appreciated last time and as it said in its conclusions. The fact is, if you do not put staff in there the apartments will be empty and the taxpayer will be worse off.

  Mr Gardiner: I am not suggesting that.


  205. Firstly, to the Treasury, can we please have the information that Mr Gardiner asked for, we will have a note on that[6]?
  (Mr Glicksman) I will take that question away and see what I can find.

  Chairman: And provide us with an answer. Mr Williams, do you have a comment to make?

Mr Williams

  206. Yes. You do not have to take our word for it, you only have to look at appendix two to the 1995 Report where the correspondence between myself and the Comptroller & Auditor General was published in full. I there asked for the job descriptions, to know whether they were full-time or part-time and why each needed to be accommodated in the Palace, just so I could see whether it justified the enormous subsidy they were getting in terms of accommodation and we now discover their 20 per cent non-contributory pension. The subsequent letters from the Comptroller & Auditor General on the following page make it clear that the decisions on who occupies accommodation in the various properties and on what terms are, however, for Her Majesty on the advice of her officials and the information was refused, not just to myself but to the Comptroller & Auditor General.
  (Sir Michael Peat) Could I refer you to page 34 where the job descriptions are printed. The job descriptions that the Accounting Officer was able to provide were provided. There is a job description, and there are other job descriptions there too. It is only that the question was put to the wrong Accounting Officer.

  207. I was also asking whether people were full-time or part-time, which is not made clear, and why they need to be accommodated in the Palace as opposed to living, as most members of staff do, out in the community. The report is absolutely clear, the Comptroller & Auditor General would hardly have sent me the replies he did if he felt that the information was already given and answered the questions I had asked. This information was refused to him.
  (Sir Michael Peat) The information that the Accounting Officer could give you was given because that was the person to whom the letter was sent.

  208. I am sorry, but the normal procedure, particularly with parliamentary questions, Sir Michael, is to ask the department and the department says "we consult with the Palace before we answer in relation to matters relating to the Palace". Now you are telling us that the Comptroller & Audit General was not told by the Accounting Officer, that means Mr Hayden Phillips, if I remember correctly, a hallowed name in my potential memoirs.
  (Sir Michael Peat) I think you are being very unfair to him.

  209. He failed to communicate to Sir John, despite approaches from Sir John, that information would easily have been available if only Sir John, on behalf of this Committee, had asked someone else.
  (Sir Michael Peat) Here is the letter back and I am reading it: "Regarding your first question,........the Civil List Audit Act makes the audit of the Civil List the responsibility of HM Treasury and the Civil List is not funded from an appropriation account". The reply is absolutely crystal clear, the Accounting Officer to whom you wrote was not able to answer the question. I think you are being a bit unfair to Hayden Phillips.

  210. The reply also says "And I have no access under the National Audit Act to information relating to the Civil List". It says that at the foot of the page. Are you telling us that for all this time this information was readily available, but in any case it would solve the problem and you will now ensure that it is readily available?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes. As far as the Household is concerned, the information is always readily available.

  211. So we will have it in an annex to our next report?
  (Sir Michael Peat) It has to be put through the Treasury. I am not the Accounting Officer who can make that decision.

  Chairman: Sir Michael, we will have an interesting test of this seeing what information comes back to our request. I am sure you can talk to each other to make sure that the right officer is asked[7]

Mr Rendel

  212. If Mr Barry Gardiner was the chap who sweeps up the horse droppings in the cavalcade, I am not sure where that leaves me. There are one or two things that have come up in previous responses. I was a little bit concerned, Sir Michael, when you said that you thought there were currently 12 flats commercially rented outside the security cordon and you hoped that would soon be 17. My understanding is these flats become free when people die for the most part.
  (Sir Michael Peat) We do not employ Dr Shipman. No, as people retire, so we can see a retirement date.

  213. You have retirements coming up?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes.

  214. The second thing you said, and I am not quite sure where it fits in, was you were building a new gallery in Edinburgh?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes.

  215. Is that in one of the Palaces in Edinburgh?
  (Sir Michael Peat) Yes, the Palace of Holyrood House.

  216. So that is not one of the Palaces that you are looking after?
  (Sir Michael Peat) No. The English occupied Royal Palaces are dealt with by this grant-in-aid.

  217. That is still paid for by the Royal Collection Trust?
  (Sir Michael Peat) The Palace of Holyrood House is maintained by Historic Scotland, who pay for the basic maintenance in the same way that DCMS pay for the basic maintenance of the English occupied Palaces, but just as the Royal Collection Trust is paying for the new gallery at Buckingham Palace, it is paying for the new gallery at Holyrood.

  218. And that is in some way reducing the grant-in-aid through some Scottish funding?
  (Sir Michael Peat) I suppose it is. Because it is paying for the new gallery, it is relieving the Scottish Office, now the Scottish Parliament, from having to pay for it.

  219. Thank you. Can you perhaps give us an example, Mr Young, of a nationally owned property into which visitors are coming and paying charges?
  (Mr Young) English Heritage properties or the unoccupied palaces managed by Historic Royal Palaces. They would be the two most obvious.

5   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 5, p.44-46 for the memorandum. However, the job descriptions have not yet been received. Back

6   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 5, p.44-46 for the memorandum. However, the job descriptions have not yet been received. Back

7   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 5, p.44-46. Back

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