Lobbying: Access and influence in Whitehall - Public Administration Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 380-399)


6 MARCH 2008

  Q380  Chairman: That was helpful. You advised McDonald's at the height of the BSE crisis, did you not?

  Mr Bingle: We did.

  Q381  Paul Flynn: Can I confirm you have in the past worked for General Pinochet, Thaksin Shinawatra, Mark Thatcher, BAE Systems, the South African National Party, Boris Berezovsky and the Governments of Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq? You say you do not want to sully your reputation. What reputation?

  Mr Bingle: We also advised Newport Council when it became a city, a good campaign that was successful.

  Q382  Paul Flynn: Against my advice, may I say.

  Mr Bingle: But it worked brilliantly.

  Q383  Paul Flynn: That is what your claim is. I will not be diverted into that. You mentioned the pro bono things you do, the nano-proportion of your work that that probably is, but your work is to further advantage the already advantaged.

  Mr Bingle: We are giving our skill; our objective is to give commercial advantage to our clients, yes, like lawyers, accountants and bankers.

  Q384  Paul Flynn: Mr Granatt, what attracted you to lobbying?

  Mr Granatt: I did not join the company, sir, to be a lobbyist. I joined it because my speciality is basically things like crisis management and strategic advice. I was not attracted to being a lobbyist and I did not join the company as a lobbyist.

  Q385  Paul Flynn: You have left the Civil Service, where you held very high office. When the final obituary is written to Mr Granatt, what would you like to see at the top? Your work as a lobbyist or your work as a public servant?

  Mr Granatt: I think my work as a public servant, sir.

  Q386  Paul Flynn: So why are you a lobbyist now? What was the attraction?

  Mr Granatt: Earning a living seemed to be a rather good idea.

  Q387  Paul Flynn: Is it a handsome living compared with the Civil Service? How would you compare it? I do not want you to give us your pay rate but just give us some idea. It is crucial to our work.

  Mr Granatt: I think it is essentially equivalent.

  Q388  Paul Flynn: So there was no major attraction, unlike some others who have come to lobby or which we know in America, where there are huge sums of money?

  Mr Granatt: It was not for the money, sir. I actually wanted to continue to earn a living. I am serious about that. Secondly, this is an organisation, a company, that offered me the chance to do much of what I had been doing before.

  Q389  Paul Flynn: If the Government brought in a law to make it obligatory for your firms to announce who their clients were, how would you react?

  Mr Bingle: If it is the law, it is the law.

  Q390  Paul Flynn: And you would co-operate with that?

  Mr Bingle: We disclose 99% of our clients. Most of our clients are on our website today. Occasionally, clients will ask us to sign a nondisclosure agreement if there is a commercial situation in terms of a potential bid where it would be unwise, but the crucial point over disclosure is that, even if we are working for a client whose name is not public, when my staff deal with government advisers, civil servants, ministers, they will say on whose behalf they are calling. The issue is simply whether or not we put their name on a public website. In terms of interaction with yourselves and government advisers, we will always say on whose behalf we are calling.

  Q391  Paul Flynn: Do you think you have a commercial advantage by not belonging to any of the three associations that have certain minimum standards for lobbyists?

  Mr Bingle: If it is the view that we are the largest company in this sector, it would seem not. We have had a consistent view. We agree with everything in the various codes apart from one thing: we are not prepared to join the APPC[3] and then break the rule by saying we will declare all clients when we cannot. I would rather be honest and upfront and say we support the code apart from one issue. We do not pay MPs, we do not pay peers. Everything in the codes we support. All of my staff are members of the CIPR.[4] That code is very stringent, quite Draconian, and that is a condition of employment. From my point of view, Mr Flynn, everything we need to do in terms of disclosure we do.

  Q392 Paul Flynn: Do you not think the public have a right to know ...

  Mr Bingle: No.

  Q393  Paul Flynn: ... who is lining the pockets of people who are advocating cases?

  Mr Bingle: I think the tone of the question suggests the answer. No, I do not. The public has no right to know who our clients are.

  Q394  Paul Flynn: You are arguing for large contracts and so on. They might have repercussions later on. You might have ministers or former ministers through the revolving door who might be working for you. Do you have former ministers or former special advisers working for you now?

  Mr Bingle: I have one former specialist adviser, Jonathan Caine, who was an adviser to Sir Patrick Mayhew in Northern Ireland.

  Q395  Paul Flynn: We have cases, if I can interrupt you there, where ministers have been involved in awarding contracts between companies A, B and C, and then, remarkably, within a year or so after stepping down as ministers, finding themselves working for those companies. There might be a doubt that those ministers might well have been influenced in their decisions by their future prospects of riches.

  Mr Bingle: You are describing a world I do not know. I have been doing this for 27 years and my view of advisers, politicians and ministers who I have dealt with—I have a high regard for them. I do not believe politicians act in that way.

  Q396  Paul Flynn: We have heard this before. I presume this is from your book of how to address a committee, by praising the Labour Government and praising the wonderful things that we are. You will tell us what a wonderful Committee this is in your next sentence. What is the attraction in employing special advisers? What do they bring to you? Is it contacts that is the main advantage?

  Mr Bingle: My earlier point is that the idea that public affairs people are required to pick up the phone and speak to a minister's office, anybody can do it. In the past there may have been the attempt to create a little black book, the black art of lobbying. The reality is to arrange a meeting between a client and a minister is one phone call, and on the basis of the company concerned, often they do it themselves. We may say who they should meet. Often they do it themselves. The advantage of employing people with knowledge of politics—in fact I actually employed John Grogan's former special adviser.

  Q397  Paul Flynn: Mr Granatt, you started work at Luther in March 2004 but you were banned from lobbying until 2005. What did you do for the company in that period?

  Mr Granatt: I did what I joined them to do, sir. I exercised my expertise as somebody who deals with strategic communication and things like crisis management.

  Q398  Paul Flynn: What miraculous thing happened in 2005 that made it possible for you to lobby when it was thought to be in the public interest that you could not lobby in the nine months before that?

  Mr Granatt: I am entirely unclear about what happened at that point.

  Q399  Paul Flynn: Was your memory washed out? Did you forget all your contacts? What was the purpose of that? Should it not be a lifetime ban? If people have information like that, should they not be told that they have had their careers in the civil service and high office and they should not go around and hawk the information and contacts they have to lobbying organisations?

  Mr Granatt: I think there are two points there, sir. One is that the rules are laid down by the people you had before you, the people who run the committee on business interests. It is there to prevent the fact that somebody can suddenly let contracts one day and then leave the civil service or the armed services and join the company that won the contract the next day. I think that is a perfectly understandable restriction. I do not see any reason why I should not be allowed to ply my trade as an individual outside the Civil Service when I have plied it inside the Civil Service, if I do it against certain standards. I did find the idea that I could not lobby until March 2005 slightly odd because I could not work out what it meant.

3   Association of Professional Political Consultants Back

4   Chartered Institute of Public Relations Back

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