Rishi Sunak declares wife’s interest in childcare firm after standards watchdog launches investigation
A Downing Street source said the investigation relates to the shares Sunak’s wife Akshata Murthy holds in a childcare agency
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Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Daniel Greenberg opened the investigation into Rishi Sunak over rules requiring MPs to declare their interests, including outside earnings, donations, or other financial interests, including those of close family members.
An update to the parliamentary website shows the investigation, opened on Thursday, relates to paragraph six of the code.
“Members must always be open and frank in declaring any relevant interest in any proceeding of the House or its committees, and in any communications with ministers, members, public officials or public office holders,” the section reads.
A Downing Street source said the investigation relates to the shares Sunak’s wife Akshata Murthy holds in a childcare agency that will be boosted by the Budget.
The register of ministers interests, which was updated today (19 April) shows Murthy’s minority shareholding in the firm, as well as her ownership of a venture capital investment company, Catamaran Ventures UK Limited.
Following an announcement in the spring budget about funding for childcare agencies which favoured private firms, questions were raised about Murthy’s links to Koru Kids, a major childcare agency.
In the spring budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced a pilot of incentive payments of £600 for childminders joining the profession.
According to Companies House, Murthy was a shareholder in the firm as recently as March, but the PM failed to mention his wife’s links to the firm when questioned by MPs about the policy.
Appearing before the Liaison Committee, Sunak did not mention Murty’s shares in the firm. Questioning why the sum doubles to £1,200 if workers sign up through an agency, Labour MP Catherine McKinnell asked if Mr Sunak had any interests to declare.
“No, all my disclosures are declared in the normal way,” Sunak said.
At the time the possible conflict of interest emerged, Mr Sunak’s press secretary said the interest would be included in the updated statement of ministers’ interests, due out in May.
But it seems the commissioner’s investigation appears to centre on whether the Prime Minister should have declared the interest to MPs.
Sunak wrote to the Liaison Committee earlier this month to say he would like to “clarify for the Parliamentary record that this interest has rightly been declared to the Cabinet Office”. He said the new list of ministerial interests, which has not been updated for nearly a year, would be published “shortly”.
A No 10 spokeswoman responded: “We are happy to assist the commissioner to clarify how this has been transparently declared as a ministerial interest.”
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said that by failing to update and publish the register of ministers’ interests in almost a year, the government has “left a transparency black hole which is enabling the Prime Minister and those he has appointed to dodge proper scrutiny of their affairs.”
She said: “If Rishi Sunak has got nothing to hide, he should commit to publishing the register before May’s elections so the public can see for themselves.
“While this Prime Minister fails to deliver the integrity he promised and preserves the rotten standards regime he inherited as the Tories resist tighter rules, Labour has a plan to clean up politics with an Independent Ethics and Integrity Commission to restore standards in public life.”
More MPs under investigation
This comes after the commissioner opened investigations into three Conservative MPs last week.
Hancock is being investigated for allegedly “lobbying the Commissioner in a manner calculated or intended to influence his consideration of whether a breach of the Code of Conduct has occurred”. No further details about the potential breach have been published, and the launch of an investigation does not mean that the rule in question has been broken.
Since leaving office Hancock has registered significant outside earnings from media appearances and speeches. He was a runner up on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here last year, prompting dozens of complaints to the then Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone.
The commissioner also announced investigations into Henry Smith and Scott Benton. Both MPs are alleged to have used facilities provided by the public purse, stationery in Smith’s case and a parliamentary email by Benton.
After details of the investigation into Sunak were published on Monday (17 April) another investigation was added to the commissioner’s site on Tuesday (18 April). Former minister David Mundell is being investigated over use of stationery. His office said they would not comment while the investigation was ongoing.
NationalWorld understands that the commissioner is also considering launching an investigation into a sixth Conservative MP, over concerns relating to a ‘second job’.