- By Joshua Nevitt
- BBC Politics
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is under investigation by Parliament’s standards watchdog over a possible failure to declare an interest.
Sunak is under investigation as to whether the declaration of interests was “open and candid”, under rules set by the Standards Commissioner.
The BBC understands that the investigation concerns a childcare company in which his wife is involved.
The Commissioner decides whether a Member of Parliament has broken the rules after an investigation.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “We are pleased to assist the Commissioner to explain how transparently this has been declared as a ministerial interest.”
Last month, Sunak faced questions about the shares his wife, Akshata Murti, owns in Koru Kids, a childcare agency that could benefit from a new policy unveiled in the spring budget.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has announced a pilot program of payments for new babysitters, with more for those who sign up through agencies.
Ms. Morty was listed as a contributor to one of those agencies, Koro Kids, as recently as March 6.
Mr Sunak did not mention Murthy’s links to the Kuro Kids when he was questioned by MPs about child welfare policy at a parliamentary committee hearing on March 28.
Labor MP Katherine McKinnell asked Mr Sunak if he had any interest in the statement, to which he replied: “No, all my disclosures are made in the normal way”.
In a letter to the committee, sent a few days after the hearing, Mr Sunak said his wife’s interest in the Cabinet Office had been made public and an updated statement of ministers’ interests would be issued soon.
Sunak said in his letter that the ministerial list of interests “ensures that steps are taken to avoid or mitigate any potential conflicts of interest”.
The list of ministerial interests is separate from the MPs’ interest register, which states that members “should always consider whether they have a conflict of interest”.
The list hasn’t been updated in nearly a year and was last compiled by Lord Geddet, who has resigned as Boris Johnson’s ethics adviser.
Labor deputy leader Angela Rayner said the failure to update the rules or publish a register of ministers’ interests “has left a black hole in transparency enabling the prime minister and those he appoints to avoid proper scrutiny of their affairs”.
She added, “If Rishi Sunak has nothing to hide, he should commit to publishing the record before the May elections so that the public can see for themselves.”
The Liberal Democrats said the investigation was another example of a Conservative prime minister allegedly “breaking the rules”.
Wendy Chamberlain, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said, “After months of Tory scandal and corruption, the public just wants a government focused on the state, rather than saving their own skin.”
The paragraph reads: “Members shall always be open and frank in declaring any relevant interest in any proceedings of the Council or its committees, and in any communications with Ministers, members, public officials or holders of public office.”
The Standards Commissioner is an independent officer investigating allegations of MPs breaching Parliament’s Code of Conduct.
After investigation, if the monitoring body believes the allegation is a breach of the Code, it can bring such cases to the members of the Standards Committee, who can decide on any penalties.
Penalties for breaking the law range from ordering an apology to suspension from parliament in the most serious cases.
The pilot bonus program for babysitters was announced in the budget on March 15 as part of the government’s childcare reform.
Mr Hunt said the government would “pilot incentive payments of £600 for babysitters who register with the profession, rising to £1,200 for those who join through an agency”.
The pilot could lead to more babysitters entering the profession and generate more business for companies like Koru Kids.
Koru Kids is listed as one of six childcare agencies on the government’s website.
On its website, Koru Kids welcomed the government’s reforms and said “the new incentives for babysitters are great”.
The site says new babysitters will be paid a £1,200 bonus if they “come through an agency like Koro Kids which offers community, training and ongoing support”.
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