Storm over Hurd's post in the City

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Labour last night accused Douglas Hurd, the former Foreign Secretary, of demeaning his office after he announced he is to take up a directorship on the main board of the banking group NatWest.

Mr Hurd's appointment, coming days after Richard Needham, another minister, announced he was in line for three directorships, rekindled Labour demands for tougher rules on ministers taking posts in the private sector.

A Labour front bench spokesman said Mr Hurd should have been forced to wait two years before taking up his post, instead of three months, the limit recommended by Lord Nolan's committee on standards in public life.

Mr Hurd stepped down from his pounds 67,819 Cabinet post in July to become a backbencher drawing a Commons salary of pounds 33,189. He will join NatWest for an undisclosed sum and will also become deputy chairman of the group's investment bank NatWest Markets.

Defending his decision, Mr Hurd, 65, said he had been advised by Lord Carlisle, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments for civil servants, to wait three months before taking up the appointment. "Lord Carlisle has commented that my appointment appears to meet fully the likely criteria by which any application from ministers will be judged. He feels sure the committee would have advised me that it was quite proper to accept the appointment subject only to the three-month waiting period proposed by Lord Nolan," Mr Hurd said.

But Alistair Darling, the Labour's City spokesman, said Mr Hurd should have waited at least two years, the maximum recommended by Lord Nolan. "He has been involved in the highest level of decision making. He has been a senior member of the Cabinet for over a decade. The public want to see a decent gap between ministers leaving the Cabinet and entering the boardroom," Mr Darling said.

Accusing him of demeaning his former office, Brian Wilson, the Labour spokesman on trade said: "There is a shamelessness about the desperation of ex-ministers cashing in on their public office which the electorate finds highly offensive."

Mr Hurd's supporters said last night that it would be unfair to expect the former Foreign Secretary, a part-time novelist, to cool his heels for two years. "He is the most well- respected politician in the country. Accusing him of sleaze will prick the bubble of Labour's campaign," said a senior Tory source.

The NatWest Group chairman, Lord Alexander, said: "We are delighted to welcome an international statesman of Douglas's stature to our board."

Downing Street said the Prime Minister was "obviously aware" of the appointment. Labour MPs will seek to tighten the rules when a Commons select committee meets in October to thrash out how to implement the Nolan report..

Ministers who have taken City jobs

Norman Lamont, former Chancellor: non-executive director merchant bank NM Rothschild. Also of First Philippine Investment Trust, Taiwan Investment Trust.

Lord Lawson of Blaby, former Chancellor: non-executive director of Barclays Bank, chairman of Central European Trust.

Lord Parkinson, former Trade and Industry Secretary, Transport Secretary and party chairman: Dartford River Crossing, Midland Expressway, chairman Usborne, Jarvis Harpenden.

Sir Norman Fowler, former Transport Secretary, Employment Secretary and party chairman: non-executive director National Freight Corporation.

Lord Wakeham, former Energy Secretary: non-executive director of NM Rothschild.

George Younger, former Defence Secretary: chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Francis Maude, former Financial Secretary to the Treasury: joined US investment bank Salomon Brothers.

Kenneth Baker, former Education Secretary and Tory Party chairman: director Hanson, Torrey Investments, Videotron Holdings, Bell Cablemedia.

Lord Tebbit, former Trade and Industry Secretary and party chairman: director of BT, BET and Sears Holdings.

Lord Walker of Worcester, former Energy Secretary: non-executive director of British Gas.

Lord Howe of Aberavon, former Chancellor and Foreign Secretary: director Glaxo, BICC.

John MacGregor, former Transport Secretary: non-executive deputy chairman of merchant bank Hill Samuel.