Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
WATSON MP, MR
MP AND MR
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
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
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
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
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
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
Q788 Mr Liddell-Grainger: None at
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
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
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