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

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 560-579)


8 MAY 2008

  Q560  Mr Walker: For the record, I have nothing against what any of you do, but ultimately business is about selling things and influencing buying decisions. It is not the public sector; it is about profit and the generation of it.

  Mr Caborn: I accept that. There is no doubt that when you have been a minister a number of people come to you. I have been sports minister for a few years. I have now become president of the Amateur Boxing Association and the UK School Games and I advise the Prime Minister on the 2018 World Cup. I am also a member of the Football Foundation. None of that is paid work and I can assure you that I lobby very hard on those. As far as AMEC is concerned, it has a major constituency influence. If you look at the record, back in the mid-1990s I was very critical of government about how we had missed fantastic opportunities by standing down some of the best engineers and designers on the nuclear kit. I said at the time Michael Heseltine was president of the Board of Trade that we would rue the day we stood down some great engineers and teams. Out of the blue I got a call directly from AMEC asking whether I would advise them on some of the supply chain issues, which I did. Obviously, that has a big constituency interest. We could develop off the back of what I believe will be a nuclear and manufacturing renaissance, which is at the heart of my constituency and the company where I served my time. I was already in discussions with companies in my constituency about the supply chain when AMEC came along and asked whether I would advise them on wider social, regional and European issues. Obviously, being an engineer I agreed to that. I did not even know what they would pay me; it was only after that. I say that very genuinely. That was why I took the decision which was based more on my constituency and something in which I deeply believed. I am on the record as to that. I also say that having been in this place for 25 years and served on many committees it needs to open itself up. You are absolutely right that these types of inquiries should take place but they should not be predicated on trying to isolate this activity; they should be predicated on a set of rules on which the vast majority of people act, whether on the business side or our side, with integrity, honesty and openness. I entirely agree that you must have ground rules but the need for an interchange of ideas and views is absolutely essential. I have done that consistently for 25 years. When I took this job I did so for those motives.

  Q561  Mr Walker: This question needs to be asked. The crux of it is that in 1997 the Conservative Party was wiped out. Many secretaries of state lost their jobs; they were no longer Members of Parliament. Many people, even people who had been in the Cabinet, struggled to find employment. I ask this question of the two politicians: if there is a Conservative government after the next general election do you think your market value will go up or down?

  Mr Caborn: I shall not be here after the next election.

  Q562  Mr Walker: But your ability to influence may be changed?

  Lord Warner: It depends how quick it is. I think that my ability to influence will be determined largely by whether people think I still have something sensible to say on health and social care and whether or not I am sufficiently well informed about developments in the sector on which I am advising. They may say that my time is up: I am out of touch and I do not know. I think that will have more to do with the passage of time and age than with a change of government.

  Mr Caborn: I am in broad agreement with that. The fact I have been a minister is a minor consideration. Given the job I am doing now, it is much more to do with the background that I have been privileged to have outside as well as inside this place.

  Q563  Paul Flynn: Mr Caborn, we all do what you describe in constituencies. I bang the drum for EADS, Life Force and other companies there. If they came to me and said they were going to give me £70,000 for the work I was doing that would be rightly regarded as corruption. Explain the difference. You are getting £70,000 for doing a constituency job that you should be doing anyway as an MP.

  Mr Caborn: With all due respect, Mr Flynn, I said that I was already working on the supply chain, not the development of the new nuclear—

  Q564  Paul Flynn: But you made the case that you were doing it because of the constituency base?

  Mr Caborn: I was already doing that. I said that it was something about which I was deeply concerned in the 1990s as chairman of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry that the then government was standing down all the design engineers.

  Q565  Paul Flynn: We have had your work history a number of times now and we understand it.

  Mr Caborn: Obviously, it has not sunk in.

  Q566  Paul Flynn: Do you regard the job of a Member of Parliament as a full-time one?

  Mr Caborn: Yes, I do a full-time job.

  Q567  Paul Flynn: What would your constituents think of you as a retiring MP with expectations of going to the Lords taking an additional job that is worth £70,000 which is more than your parliamentary salary? Do you think your constituents would regard it as right that you should be doing this while you are their Member of Parliament?

  Mr Caborn: The answer to that is yes because the job I have taken is one that will massively enhance the wealth-creating base of Sheffield and my constituents. If you objectively evaluate it you will probably say it is a damn good thing for my constituents.

  Q568  Paul Flynn: The point is not coming through. Why is that different from any of the companies in our constituencies we are promoting paying us money to promote them when we should be doing it as part of our parliamentary work?

  Mr Caborn: I am not saying that it is solely because of my constituents; I am saying it is the wider issue of the nuclear rebuild and it addresses climate change and security of supply. It is a major part of the energy mix that I argued back in the 1990s. The opportunity arose on a number of fronts. It is difficult to put all of these together, but I made statements in the middle of the 1990s and got the opportunities for my constituency and on the wider issue to become a consultant to AMEC. All of that came together. They were not little silos; the whole thing came together.

  Q569  Paul Flynn: But why do you take a salary for it?

  Mr Caborn: Because they want to pay me. What is wrong with that?

  Q570  Paul Flynn: Lots of people want to pay MPs. What is the point of people wanting to pay legislators in order to prostitute their office to their commercial advantage?

  Mr Caborn: I do not believe I am prostituting myself.

  Q571  Paul Flynn: I still cannot see the difference between doing your work as a Member of Parliament, as you still are, and working for an outside body that pays you money?

  Mr Caborn: With all due respect, if we debated that until kingdom come you would not accept it because you have a different view from mine.

  Q572  Paul Flynn: That is fine. Someone in your constituency, possibly a political opponent, might cynically suggest that what you are doing as a retiring MP with a short time to go and expectations of going to the Lords is feathering your nest in order to get a comfortable job after you stand down as an MP?

  Mr Caborn: If they want to make that judgment they will do so. They might be as cynical as you, Mr Flynn.

  Q573  Paul Flynn: Lord Warner, you have a very busy life. You work for Xansa, Apax Partners, Byotrol, Deloitte, DLA Piper and UK Healthgateway. Were these firms ones with which you were in contact when a minister? Did it involve any contact with them at all?

  Lord Warner: No, none whatsoever.

  Q574  Paul Flynn: You were a minister from 2003. Were those firms involved in some way in shaping the health service and its present condition for which I am sure you take responsibility?

  Lord Warner: I am sure that a number of those firms had contracts somewhere in the NHS and were doing some work for it, but since the health service spends £110 billion a year it is highly improbable that a minister will know what or who is involved in the NHS at any point in time.

  Q575  Paul Flynn: You still maintain that you had no contact whatsoever with any of those companies as a minister?

  Lord Warner: I am trying to remember. I am not being evasive. Given the number of people who come through a health minister's door, without consulting all of my diaries for those four years I cannot in all honesty say I am 100% certain that I never saw anybody from any of those companies.

  Q576  Paul Flynn: So, there was no expectation of future employment in your involvement as a minister?

  Lord Warner: To be clear, I did not know until the last minute when I decided to resign when I was going to cease being a minister. I did not spend four years as a minister thinking what my job opportunities would be after leaving the place. With all due respect, this is a fantasy view of the world.

  Q577  Paul Flynn: I am glad you are amused by it, but there are other ministers and former ministers who have been involved in very big contracts valued at billions of pounds and later they have found themselves employed by those companies. These cases exist.

  Lord Warner: I am talking about myself.

  Q578  Paul Flynn: I appreciate that. There are other ministers who are not before us today. Perhaps we should look at other former ministers and peers who are in the same position. Do you think there is a danger that if someone is in a position of great influence involving contracts somewhere in the back of their minds they might be thinking how they might enrich themselves in retirement by influencing those contracts? In order to avoid any possibility of that, do you not think it would be useful to have a rule that former ministers should not take employment in the areas of their departmental powers after they leave office? Would that not be a sensible precaution to ensure they are not influenced in awarding contracts as ministers?

  Lord Warner: To be clear, we have a process in which you sign a piece of paper where you state the job for which you ask approval. You have to indicate on that form whether you have had any previous contact with them. It is open to the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments to say to me that it believes my contact with this previous outfit makes it inappropriate for me to take up the appointment. I have been through that process. I have answered the questions honestly and have accepted the ministerial code and the rules of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments. Behind your question lies an inference that there is not a process that provides some sort of check.

  Q579  Paul Flynn: It is a process that everyone would suggest is imperfect. Why at the end of six months or two years should it become appropriate for you to lobby when it is not appropriate up to that point? What happens at the end of this period?

  Lord Warner: Clearly, I have failed to get across the point that I have not spent my time lobbying according to any general interpretation of that word. I can answer this only from my own point of view. If people choose to make a malign interpretation of what we do I cannot do anything about that. I agree with you that if I had gone straight out of the Department of Health and signed up with one of the big contractors, for example, for the national IT programme—

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