Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200
WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY 2002
MOTTRAM KCB, SIR
KCVO AND MR
200. That is good because I am going to Japan
next month leading a delegation. I shall certainly speak to the
Foreign Office and indicate to them what you believe. I shall
have a word with them because we are meeting the Japanese Prime
Minister and others.
(Sir Michael Peat) They of course will form their
view as to whether your trip is an important matter of national
201. They have assured me it is. I shall tell
them what you said. May I turn to the third page of the list of
trips? The cost of positioning of the RAF flights. I am not quite
clear why you meet these in this way. Presumably you could fly
anywhere as a training mission. You could fly anywhere at all
and say you will not charge the cost of that but just put it down
to training. Is that not a scam as well?
(Mr McEwen) No, I do not think so. If the Royal Family
require an aircraft to be in a particular place, then there is
a cost to the Ministry of Defence in getting it to that particular
place, so why should it not be charged? It does not necessarily
represent training value.
202. Let me get this clear. If somebody in the
Royal Family wants to fly from A to B, you quote a cost for that,
for the sake of argument £10,000 for that flight, yet it
costs you £50,000 to get the plane there and then bring the
plane back at the end. Does it not seem reasonable that that £50,000
be included within the cost of the overall journey?
(Mr McEwen) It all depends. It depends on whether
the cost of positioning could be seen to provide a reasonable
training value or not. In this particular case which you have
mentioned, the visit of the Duke of York, part of the costs of
positioning were seen as providing good training value so we did
not charge him. It is not always
203. Is there anywhere in the world where flying
a plane would not provide some degree of training?
(Mr McEwen) Some degree of training.
204. So there is nowhere you could not justify
if you wanted to as having a training element in it. You will
understand why I may be a trifle suspicious that this is really
an outrageous example of creative accountancy.
(Mr McEwen) Are you trying to say that we should have
been charging because we did not?
205. Yes. It costs a huge amount of money to
fly a plane to pick somebody up and then fly then somewhere and
then you have to fly the plane back again and that you only charge
them for the bit in the middle does not seem to me to be a reasonable
system of accounting.
(Mr McEwen) Normally the Royal Household is charged
the positioning costs before and afterwards. It was not on this
occasion. I do not know the details of this particular flight
but on this occasion the positioning costs were clearly seen to
represent proper training value.
(Sir Richard Mottram) There are allocated hours for
air crew training. It may be that these were part of the allocated
hours for air crew training.
206. So if we can find somewhere where you are
going as part of the allocated training then that would not be
charged at all. I am the secretary of the parliamentary rugby
team and we are hoping to go out to New Zealand next year. I think
flying to New Zealand would represent an incredibly valuable training
opportunity. If you have seats on that plane, then I would be
more than happy to provide people to go in it and that would provide
training opportunities for your stewards as well because they
would be able to serve us food and drink on the trip and in return
I think we could probably find a place for you in the team.
(Mr McEwen) The 146 would not exactly be ideal for
getting to New Zealand. It would take about four days.
207. We are not in a hurry. If you are taking
us there as a training opportunity and looking after us as we
land in the various places, that is another training opportunity.
(Mr McEwen) There are specific types of training which
have to be undertaken by the squadron each year in a specific
way and there is a budget for it. If some of that can be accomplished
within the positioning, then fine.
208. Let me get this clear. New Zealand does
not represent a training opportunity but you finished this journey
off in the Turks and Caicos Islands, is that right? Bringing the
plane back from there was a training opportunity but bringing
it back from New Zealand would not be. Can you clarify that bit
(Mr McEwen) In that year there was a requirement for
a certain amount of training and this particular visit at the
time it took place and its nature fell within the training hours
allocated, so we were able to do it. You would have to look at
the individual circumstances of a particular flight.
209. Indeed we would. Do I take it then that
all the time there are RAF planes flying all over the place representing
valuable training opportunities, if we were aware that these were
going we could come along and ask for a lift? If it is in the
interests of the government and so on you would be happy to do
that? Could I suggest to you that Japan certainly would be an
interesting one because we are possibly going to play football
there during the summer and the parliamentary team is also going
to Paris to play on the morning of the England/France game? The
royal train cannot go through the tunnel so we must have the royal
flight. We shall be going to Ireland next year as well. If you
cannot play, then we can find a place for one of your staff. I
think you can understand that I am somewhat cynical about the
creative accountancy of this. Can we just clarify whether or not
this service has ever to date operated at capacity? Is it right
that you have always had slack?
(Mr McEwen) No, the aircraft are normally used to
their full planned flying hours each year.
210. Yes, but you make some up because you have
valuable training opportunities.
(Mr McEwen) No, the training is defined.
(Sir Richard Mottram) The training is defined, it
is a defined requirement for air crews.
211. This is helpful. You said earlier on that
you have surplus capacity which you are able to let other people
(Mr McEwen) Yes.
212. In a crisis it would be used to full capacity.
I am asking whether it has ever actually been used at full capacity
in a crisis?
(Mr McEwen) Not in a crisis it has not been, because
we have not had a major crisis in that sense. We have not gone
(Sir Richard Mottram) We have not gone to war in that
213. Do you have surplus capacity in all bits
of the RAF?
(Mr McEwen) The RAF, like all the armed forces, is
configured to defend the United Kingdom and to be able to operate
in a crisis, in a war. In peacetime it is preparing for war.
Mr Davidson: I have a number of people I should
quite like bombed which would represent a valuable training opportunity
if that were suitable to you.
214. Thank you for that. There is an important
point which arose earlier from Mr Williams' questioning when he
was particularly pressing you on the private use. It is always
possible to justify the use of this squadron on the grounds that
it is there anyway and therefore you are offsetting some of the
cost if you use it. I am sure you would not say for a moment that
that justifies in itself the private use by members of the Royal
Family of this asset.
(Sir Michael Peat) Do you mean at all, or at a certain
215. You cannot use the argument that because
the planes are there anyway it is cheaper to use them rather than
go by scheduled flight, particularly when you are talking about
(Sir Michael Peat) No, it is not a question of it
being cheaper. The key issue on which we were focusing and which
Mr Williams raised was whether the taxpayer was subsidising private
use by members of the Royal Family. The answer to that is no.
The Ministry of Defence are charging the rates recommended in
paragraph 3.13 of the NAO's report and that is at no cost to the
taxpayer. The secondary question I think Mr Rendel raised is whether
it would be a good idea if the taxpayer made a profit out of the
Queen's very occasional use of 32 Squadron for private purposesthree
times this year, once last year. The taxpayer could well make
a profit of a few hundred pounds if the Ministry of Defence wanted
to do so. It is not the basis recommended by the NAO and I have
to say for me it is not a big issue. It is not used a lot for
private use. If it is too expensive, it will not be used, we shall
go to charter and it is really a pricing issue for the Ministry
of Defence. We are talking about hundreds of pounds.
216. Thank you very much Sir Michael, Sir Richard
and Mr McEwen. Despite the small sums of money involved there
is a great deal of public interest. May I thank you, Sir Michael,
if this is going to be your last visit?
(Sir Michael Peat) I think it happily is perhaps.
Chairman: Thank you for all you have done and
for answering our questions so fully and so courteously. We are
very grateful. The session is closed.