ECONOMY

Former UK chancellor Philip Hammond cleared of breaching lobbying rules

Philip Hammond updates

The UK lobbying regulator has concluded that former chancellor Lord Philip Hammond did not breach the watchdog’s rules when he contacted a senior civil servant on behalf of a bank he advises.

The Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists (ORCL) accepted Hammond’s argument that his approach to Charles Roxburgh, Treasury second permanent secretary, fell within an exemption to its rules.

It transpired last month that the regulator was investigating Hammond after he emailed Roxburgh in July 2020 to promote software developed by OakNorth Bank.

Hammond, who joined OakNorth’s advisory board in early 2020 after stepping down as chancellor the previous year, pushed an offer from the bank to give the government free access to its “Covid stress-testing toolkit” for assessing corporate borrowers.

The ORCL aims to ensure transparency in the work of lobbyists dealing with the government, and the watchdog examined whether Hammond should have registered with it as a result of emailing Roxburgh.

Under 2014 legislation, people and organisations that lobby ministers or permanent secretaries on behalf of clients are required to register with the regulator.

But Hammond said the bulk of his work for OakNorth did not involve interacting with the government and therefore his email to Roxburgh fell under an exemption to the requirement to register with the watchdog for “incidental” or “minor” contacts.

Harry Rich, who heads the regulator, has closed his investigation, and a summary published on Friday said that “had the incidental exception not applied, Lord Hammond’s email to Charles Roxburgh would have been consultant lobbying”.

It comes after another Whitehall watchdog, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), this month rebuked Hammond for his conduct and called his email to Roxburgh “unwise” and “not acceptable”.

The committee gives advice to former ministers and civil servants when they take on private sector jobs, and typically imposes a two-year ban on lobbying the government.

Hammond’s contact with Roxburgh came one year into his two-year cooling-off period.

The summary of Rich’s investigation said he had drawn Hammond’s attention to the difference between the requirements of the 2014 legislation and those of Acoba.

Hammond has consistently rejected claims he did anything wrong and has said he acted within relevant rules at all times. He has emphasised that OakNorth’s software was being offered for free to the government. The government ultimately did not take up the offer.

A spokesperson for Hammond said he had no further comment.

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