Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, called on the Nolan Committee on standards in public life to investigate the bank's appointment of Lord Wakeham, who handled the privatisation of the regional electricity companies as Secretary of State for Energy. Rothschild was one of the Government's advisers on the electricity sell off.
The appointment put the Government back on the defensive with the Nolan committee inquiring into MPs' outside interests, and it enabled Labour to deflect from its own difficulties on Clause IV back to its allegations about Tory "sleaze."
It raised renewed concern about the conduct of ministers. Next week the Nolan committee will be studying the employment of ministers leaving office. It will call Sir Norman Fowler, former Conservative Party chairman, Lord Armstrong, the former Cabinet secretary, and Lord Younger, the former defence secretary.
Lord Wakeham may earn up to £50,000 a year for his part-time post with the merchant bank, which was also involved in coal privatisation.
Mr Brown said Cabinet ministers should be banned for up to five years from joining companies if there was a conflict of interest. He called on the Nolan committee to lay down as a minimum requirement on ministers "a decent interval - probably a whole Parliament" to ensure they did not benefit from decisions they had made in Cabinet.
"The public will be dismayed that some people who have been in the Cabinet making decisions about privatisation are now sitting on the boards of companies benefiting from these privatisations. That makes the case for changes and for new rules very strongindeed,'' Mr Brown said."It is wrong to be involved in the privatised industries one year and benefit from the privatisation the next."
But Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, chairman of the bank, said the appointment would "broaden and deepen the experience of the bank's board".
Lord Wakeham, recently appointed chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, last night did not answer questions when he left PCC headquarters in London.
He is the latest in a line of senior Tory politicians to leave the Cabinet for directorships, and joins ex-chancellor Norman Lamont on the Rothschild's board. Ex-Cabinet ministers who have joined boards of companies involved in the privatisation programmes include John MacGregor (merchant bankers Hill Samuel), Lord Tebbit (BT), Lord Walker (British Gas), Lord Young (Cable and Wireless) and Sir Norman Fowler (National Freight Consortium).
Powerful backing for Lord Wakeham, who left the Cabinet last July, came from Downing Street and Tory Party chairman Jeremy Hanley. He accused Labour of the politics of envy. Labour politicians, such as Lord Glenamara, formerly Ted Short, had left the last Labour government and become the chairman of Cable and Wireless, he said. "They did not complain then because ministers leaving office have a legitimate right to take up their business concerns.''
The Prime Minister's office said Lord Wakeham's chairmanship of the PCC was not a Government appointment and he had not breached "the letter or spirit'' of any rules governing the conduct of former ministers.
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