Friday 26 November 2021 / 12:16 PM Angela Rayner

Government ‘muzzled its own watchdog’ after Hammond let off for breaking lobbying rules

Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner has accused the Government of ‘muzzling its own watchdog’ after Ministers refused to sanction a former Tory Chancellor who was found to have broken rules by lobbying Treasury officials on behalf of a bank.

The long running scandal involving Lord Hammond, the ex-Chancellor who took a directorship of OakNorth bank alongside a seat in the Lords, led the Advisory Committee On Business Appointments, which enforces rules meant to prevent former Ministers using their knowledge and contacts for commercial gain after leaving office, to issue an unusually strong rebuke.

The Committee is chaired by former Tory Cabinet Minister Lord Pickles, also a sitting Conservative peer. After issuing the finding against Hammond, Pickles wrote to Michael Gove, then the Minister responsible, in August of this year, suggesting that he should take action over the rule breach given ACOBA’s lack of powers to do so itself.

In the letter, Pickles said that the Committee had concluded “there is a reasonable concern that direct engagement with the Second Permanent Secretary at HMT was only made available to OakNorth as a direct result of his time as Chancellor. I do not consider it was in keeping with the letter or the spirit of the government’s Rules for the former Chancellor to contact HMT on behalf of a bank which pays for its advice.”

The Government did not respond to the letter until Rayner tabled a Parliamentary Question earlier this week. The Government’s reply arrived on the day the Question was due for a ministerial answer, in which Paymaster General Michael Ellis told Rayner that “although we concur with the Committee’s conclusion, we do not believe further sanctions should be taken”.

In the accompanying letter to ACOBA, the Cabinet Office Minister Lord True, another Conservative peer, acknowledged that the actions of Hammond “were not in keeping with the Business Appointment Rules” which he said “play an essential part in protecting the integrity of government” but refused to take any further steps.

Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Deputy Leader and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said:

“By letting Hammond off the hook, the Government has muzzled its own watchdog. Even when their own hand-picked anti-corruption tsar, a former Tory Cabinet Minister, asks them to take action over a flagrant breach of the rules they have outright refused.

“This is just the latest evidence that Boris Johnson will not tackle the corruption that has engulfed his Government and the Conservative Party. Instead of enforcing the rules he breaks the rules himself, tries to change the rules and defends senior Conservatives who break the rules.

“The system is completely broken and this Government will not close the revolving door between public office and cushy lobbying gigs.”