Rule breach MP had 'no intent' to conceal interests

MP George Freeman. Picture: Matthew Usher.

MP George Freeman. Picture: Matthew Usher.

A Norfolk MP broke ministerial rules - but there was no intent to conceal it from the public, the Cabinet Office has said. 

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman was reported to the Cabinet Office for breaches of the ministerial code - after taking up four roles without first seeking advice. 

Mr Freeman, who previously served as a minister for life sciences and as transport minister, apologised but said he had "acted in good faith".

The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) had advised the Mid-Norfolk Conservative MP in December last year that he had breached government rules when he earned £5,000 for consultancy work at PPE firm Aerosol Shield Ltd. 

Coronavirus COVID-19 swabs from patients are kept in plastic sealed tubs as lab technicians carry ou

Aerosol Shield, the company Mr Freeman was working with, was developing a face shield for protection against the coronavirus - Credit: PA

In the course of discussions over that breach, Mr Freeman told the committee of other roles he held with Ryse Hydrogen, Resume Foundation, Reform for Resilience and Haemcro, which he had not sought advice for. 

Lord True, minister of state for the cabinet office, agreed with ACOBA that Mr Freeman had broken government rules but said aside from Aerosol Shield the roles were unpaid and were unrelated to the department for transport. 

He added: “I also note that Mr Freeman duly declared all reportable interests to the House of Commons Registrar, and such interests were published online on his Register of Interests; whilst he may not have registered these with ACOBA, there was clearly no intent to conceal such interests from the public.” 

The minister said the public and employers would be able to take the breach into account.

George Freeman MP has released a statement following last week's free school meal vote. Picture: Ian

Mr Freeman said the record has been put straight - Credit: Archant

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Lord True added that former ministers are personally responsible for conducting their behaviour in light of the ministerial code, including following the correct process for seeking advice from ACOBA. 

Responding to Lord True's letter, Mr Freeman said he had not realised not-for-profit projects needed to be cleared by ACOBA and apologised for the error.

He said: "I’m delighted this formal cabinet office letter makes clear that none of the projects breaches the ministerial code, that I have acted in good faith, disclosed everything properly in the Members Register, and that the cabinet office is looking at reforming the ACOBA rules so that charitable work like mine isn’t treated in the same way as commercial lobbying, which this wasn’t. 

"I’m delighted the record has been put straight.”

The Cabinet Office was approached but said it was unable to comment further.