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

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 780-799)


19 JUNE 2008

  Q780  Chairman: You are talking about a handful of people in each department. You are not talking about the people down the line who may be actually the target of lobbyist activity.

  Mr Watson: First of all let us identify if there is a problem with that. I do not know who you refer to or if there is a particular case you are trying to refer to. I would say that senior civil servants are going to be the ones who actually make decisions and give advice to ministers and they are the ones we are opening up to a greater degree of public scrutiny.

  Q781  Chairman: I was puzzled why the restriction is to board members of departments.

  Mr Watson: If you think we should go further down the line then let us look at it in the report. I am fairly confident that we are covering the Senior Civil Service in the way we are doing it.

  Q782  Mr Walker: How could you make an informed decision without meeting interested parties who will be, by definition, lobbying you? You cannot make decisions in a vacuum. Everything you do has causes and consequences and without meeting interested parties, and occasionally breaking bread with them at some grotty restaurant, or a nice restaurant, how on earth can you make decisions?

  Mr Watson: You cannot. The key thing is, as a minister, you would have to justify you are giving a broad access to a range of views and not just meeting a narrow group of interested parties and the Ministerial Code ensures that happens.

  Q783  Mr Walker: I am sure you have very experienced skilled civil servants who can separate the wheat from the chaff as well.

  Mr Watson: Pretty much.

  Q784  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Can I ask Tom, you were a spin doctor before, were you not?

  Mr Watson: No.

  Q785  Mr Liddell-Grainger: You worked for the Rover Task Force and it was a government appointed body to extend the life of the Longbridge plant so you were a spin doctor.

  Mr Watson: No, I was representative on the Rover Task Force which was an unpaid position.

  Q786  Mr Liddell-Grainger: You were a spin doctor.

  Mr Watson: No, I did not do any press.

  Q787  Mr Liddell-Grainger: You were trying to keep the plant open. You were determined to do it and you were going to spin it any way you could.

  Mr Watson: No, the Rover Task Force was the task force set up by the Government to deal with the closure of the plant or the job losses that came down from the downscaling. I did not do any press at all on the Rover Task Force.

  Q788  Mr Liddell-Grainger: None at all?

  Mr Watson: None whatsoever. I was not a press officer but I obviously spoke to the press as a member of the Committee.

  Q789  Mr Liddell-Grainger: You were also political adviser to Ken Jackson of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union.

  Mr Watson: That is right.

  Q790  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Were you a lobbyist then?

  Mr Watson: In the sense that I represented the interests of members of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, yes, I was.

  Q791  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Lobbying then, when you were looking at it from the other way as a lobbyist, to now being a minister. I do not know how long ago this is, 15 or 20 years?

  Mr Watson: I worked for the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union from 1998 to 2001.

  Q792  Mr Liddell-Grainger: What do you see that is different looking at it from both sides?

  Mr Watson: What I would say is when I worked for the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union I did not spend a great deal of time talking to government; there was a lot more to my job than that. I do not think I particularly influenced government policy in the direction the Union wanted to go in those years. I probably was not very good at what I did.

  Q793  Mr Liddell-Grainger: We still have unions. You have come from a position in two cases where you could have influenced government ministers for two very different reasons. Do you think lobbying has changed looking at it as objectively as possible from your two positions?

  Mr Watson: Here is a problem that the Committee have and that is definition. Lobbying takes on many different forms and has different intents and is ever changing. Yes, I think it has changed. What was absolutely clear to me in the times when I talked to government ministers from 1998 to 2001 was they were taking a broad range of views from across the industry, quite often to the frustration of the members of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union.

  Q794  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Following on from the Freedom of Information Act do you think you could get away with more influence regardless of the government of the day than now or vice versa? How do you define it?

  Mr Watson: It is difficult for me to tell but I thought I got fairness not favours, to use the slogan once coined by Tony Blair.

  Q795  Mr Liddell-Grainger: How do you define lobbying?

  Mr Watson: When preparing to come to this Committee the best definition I found was on the UK Parliament website which was the process of influencing and informing MPs and lords to make policy and legislation.

  Q796  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Do you agree with that?

  Mr Watson: Yes, I do.

  Mr Harris: I have no problems with that.

  Mr Wright: Yes.

  Q797  Mr Liddell-Grainger: You were also a lobbyist, or you were an accountant.

  Mr Wright: I have never heard an accountant being called a lobbyist.

  Q798  Mr Liddell-Grainger: I read here that you were a season ticket holder of Hartlepool United, which I agree is not lobbying but is actually sad! You were actually with One NorthEast. I remember One NorthEast as being a lobbying organisation. It wanted to lobby to do the best for the North East. That is right, is it not?

  Mr Wright: It is the Regional Development Agency charged with improving the competitiveness of the region.

  Q799  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Were you involved in any way in lobbying? You were an accountant within the organisation.

  Mr Wright: What I was responsible for within the RDA was governance. There were a number of companies being set up as part of the RDA and making sure that they had appropriate financial and non-financial controls. There was no lobbying.

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