Prime Minister Rishi Sunak failed to declare his wife’s financial interest in a childminding agency correctly, the MPs watchdog has ruled. Daniel Greenberg, parliamentary commissioner for standards, said this arose out of “confusion” about the rules and was “inadvertent”. In a letter to Mr Greenberg, Mr Sunak said he accepted the ruling and apologised.
The inquiry is now closed and the PM will not face further action.
Labour have said Mr Sunak’s case is “further evidence” the process around declaring interests needs to be overhauled. A complaint was submitted to Mr Greenberg following Mr Sunak’s appearance before MPs on the Commons Liaison Committee in March.
During the session, the prime minister was questioned about his policy to provide payments to encourage people who became childminders. The cash would be doubled for those who signed up through six private childcare firms listed on the UK government’s website, with the money being used to cover the firms’ fees.
Mr Sunak’s wife Akshata Murty was a shareholder in one of those private firms, Koru Kids but when asked if he had any declarations to make Mr Sunak said “no, all my disclosures are declared in the normal way”.
Following an investigation, Mr Greenberg said he had concluded that Ms Murty’s shareholding was a relevant interest that should have been declared to MPs.
The commissioner said that, even if Mr Sunak had not been aware of the shareholding at the time of his appearance before the committee, he was aware of it when he later wrote a letter to the Committee chairman Sir Bernard Jenkin to clarify things and should, at that stage, have declared it.
Mr Sunak had recorded the shareholding under arrangements for ministers to declare their interests. That record is not publicly declared but held by civil servants.
Some of these interests are made public on the list of ministers’ interests. The independent adviser on ministers’ interests advises on which interests need to be included in this publicly-available list.
Mr Sunak said three different independent advisers had told him his wife’s shareholdings did not need to be added.
Mr Greenberg said he accepted Mr Sunak believed that, by registering the interest, he had complied with his obligations, and so did not declare it in his letter to Sir Bernard Jenkin.
He added that Mr Sunak “had confused the concept of registration with the concept of declaration” and so the “the failure to declare arose out of this confusion and was accordingly inadvertent on the part of Mr Sunak”.
Mr Greenberg said he was concluding his inquiry using what is called the “rectification procedure” – a process used to correct minor failures to declare interests.
It means the commissioner stops short of submitting a full report to MPs on the Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges for them to consider any possible further action.
Replying to Mr Greenberg, Mr Sunak said that during the Liaison Committee hearing he had “no idea” of the connection between Koru Kids and his government’s childcare policy.
“It was was only after the hearing that I became aware of the link, as set out in my subsequent letter to Sir Bernard, the Chair of the Liaison Committee.
“I now understand that my letter to Sir Bernard was not sufficiently expansive regarding declaration (as distinct from registration)… On reflection, I accept your opinion that I should have used the letter to declare the interest explicitly… I apologise for these inadvertent errors and confirm acceptance of your proposal for rectification.”
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “This is just further evidence that the system needs a full overhaul.”
Labour have promised to set up an Ethics and Integrity Commission with greater powers to launch investigations and determine where parliamentary rules have been broken, if they are elected.