POLITICS
25/03/2021 11:21 GMT | Updated 25/03/2021 11:33 GMT

Labour Demands Transparency On Ministers’ Potential ‘Conflicts Of Interest’

Rachel Reeves calls for the register of ministers' financial interests to be published and raises questions over Boris Johnson’s flat refurbishment.

Labour has raised concerns that the government could be covering up ministers’ potential “conflicts of interest”.

Rachel Reeves asked whether the government was “deliberately delaying” the publication of the ministers’ register of interests, amid questions over who paid for Boris Johnson’s flat refurbishment and winter holiday with partner Carrie Symonds last year.

The register is meant to be published twice yearly but was last released in July 2020, adding to concerns about the awarding of NHS pandemic contracts, and transparency about ministers’ financial situation, Reeves said.

She also demanded the government appoint a replacement for Sir Alex Allan, the independent adviser for ministers’ interests who quit last year after the prime minister overruled his advice that Priti Patel’s behaviour towards Home Office staff constituted bullying and breached the ministerial code.

Reees said the delay in updating the register of ministers’ interests, which was last published in July 2020 but is meant to be released twice yearly, could itself be a breach of the ministerial code. That would only be the case if an updated version were not made available before July this year.

In a letter to Michael Gove, Reeves highlighted nine other possible breaches of the ministerial code in 2020, which were identified by Transparency International UK.

They include:

  • Questions over who funded Johnson and Symonds’ £15,000 holiday to Mustique in the Caribbean;
  • Concerns about communications between health secretary Matt Hancock and a former pub landlord in his seat who was handed an NHS pandemic contract;
  • The revelation that chancellor Rishi Sunak failed to declare his wife’s multi-million-pound portfolio of shareholdings and directorships 

Reeves said the failure to publish the ministerial register of interests “adds to concerns relating to the source of funding for the refurbishment of the prime minister’s flat”, amid suggestions wealthy donors may have contributed to the £200,000 bill.

The Labour frontbencher raised the issue with Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, in the Commons.

UK Parliament/PA
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves

Reeves said: “The ministerial code makes it clear how important the independent adviser on ministers’ Interests is.

“Yet this post has remained unfilled since November last year, when Sir Alex Allan resigned [on] principle.

“Transparency International believe that last year alone there were a potential nine breaches of the ministerial code.

“So, can [you] advise the House when the unfilled post of independent adviser for ministerial interests will be filled?

“And what guarantee can he give the House that this time the prime minister will actually listen to their advice?”

Responding, Gove said the government was “seeking to find someone suitably independent, suitably experienced and suitably authoritative for what is a critically important role”, and promised MPs would get a chance to scrutinise any appointment.

Reeves hit back: “It’s been four months. A good way to find someone might be to advertise for the position and seek a candidate.

“Let me tell you why this is so important.

“This independent adviser is responsible for producing the list of ministers’ financial interests, including that of the prime minister.

“On page 16, paragraph 7.5 of the ministerial code, it says ‘a statement covering relevant ministers’ interests will be published twice yearly’ to avoid any conflicts of interests at the heart of government.

“That list was published only once last year in July, and nothing at all since then.

“So can [you] also advise the House on when that overdue list of ministers’ financial interests will be published?

“And if [you] can’t give us that date should we conclude that the government are deliberately delaying this to avoid much needed scrutiny?”

Gove responded: “No, not at all.

“It is the case, as I’m sure [you] will be aware, that every minister complies with all of the expectations placed on them, not just by the ministerial code but by the Nolan principles on standards in public life.

“And it is the case that ministers are transparent about the areas that [you] quite correctly identify as of public interest.”