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Sat, 15 August 2020

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EXCL Parliament watchdogs launch probe into Jeremy Hunt after money laundering rules breach

EXCL Parliament watchdogs launch probe into Jeremy Hunt after money laundering rules breach
3 min read

Parliamentary watchdogs have launched an investigation into Jeremy Hunt after he admitted to breaching money laundering rules, PoliticsHome can reveal.

Earlier this month the Health Secretary was forced to apologise for failing to declare a stake in a company which bought luxury flats on the south coast.

He did not notify Companies House or the parliamentary register of MPs' interests of his stake in Mare Pond Properties Limited – which hoovered up seven flats in Southampton’s luxury Ocean Village development.

Labour had demanded a formal parliamentary investigation into whether he broke the rules governing MPs' conduct, and today the Commissioner for Standards confirmed one had been launched.

“The Commissioner has begun an inquiry concerning an alleged breach of Paragraph 13 of the Code of Conduct,” a spokesperson told PoliticsHome.

Paragraph 13 relates to making clear if they hold any interests relevant to their work.

Laws introduced by the Conservatives in 2016 made it compulsory for anyone holding a share of 25% or more in a firm to declare their interest within 28 days.

Failure to comply is punishable by a fine or up to two years in prison.

According to The Daily Telegraph, Mr Hunt registered his stake in the company six months later after being alerted by a member of the public.

Mr Hunt said that he had rectified the issue before the revelations came to light, and the error was a result of an “honest administrative mistake”.

A spokesperson for Mr Hunt said last week: “Jeremy’s accountant made an error in the Companies House filing which was a genuine oversight. With respect to ministerial and parliamentary declarations, the Cabinet Office are clear that there has been no breach of the ministerial code.

“Jeremy declared the interest to them after the company was set up. They advised that as it was a shell company with no assets or value, it should only be registered when it became operational.

“As such, Jeremy presumed the same rules applied to parliamentary declarations. Although there was no personal gain involved, Jeremy accepts these mistakes are his responsibility and has apologised to the parliamentary authorities.”

But Sir Alistair Graham, former chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said that Mr Hunt should face a “political price” for the error.

“It is a very poor show when ministers, who you expect to take on leadership in standards and public life, do not meet the rules they are required to meet,” he said last week.

“If there has been a failure of leadership, there should be a political price for it. Either in terms of the damage to your reputation or to action by the Prime Minister in the case of the ministerial code, or by the Committee on Standards, which reports to the full House of Commons.”

A Downing Street spokesman said last week: “Jeremy has rightly apologised for an administrative oversight, and as the Cabinet Office have made clear there has been no breach of the ministerial code.

“We consider the matter closed.”

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