What is the register of members’ financial interests?
The register of members’ financial interests is a record of anything that might be reasonably considered to influence an MP’s words, actions or votes in parliament. It includes outside earnings, gifts, visits and any other ‘registrable benefits’ that might be considered relevant to MPs’ behaviour. 49 UK Parliament, Register of Members’ Financial Interests, www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/standards-and-financial-interests/parliamentary-commissioner-for-standards/registers-of-interests/register-of…, retrieved 8 November 2022
The register has existed since 1974. Its requirements became more detailed in 1996, following the creation of the Committee for Standards in Public Life (CSPL). 50 BBC News, ‘Register of interests’, 24 October 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/a-z_of_parliament/r-s/82466.stm, retrieved 8 November 2022 It is maintained by the parliamentary standards commissioner – though MPs must submit their own information – and published on the parliament website.
What interests must MPs disclose?
MPs must disclose financial interests that fall into any of 10 categories. 51 UK Parliament, ‘Introduction to the Registers for the 2019 Parliament’, https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmregmem/ForewordJanuary2020.pdf, retrieved 8 November 2022
|Employment and earnings from outside parliament||Over £100, or over £300 from the same source in a single calendar year|
|Donations and other support for activities as an MP||Over £1,500, or multiple donations of over £500 totalling over £1,500 from the same source in a single calendar year|
|Gifts, benefits and hospitality from UK sources (related to activity as an MP)||Over £300, or multiple donations totalling over £300 in a single calendar year|
|Visits outside the UK (related to activity as an MP)||Over £300, or multiple visits paid for by the same source totalling over £300 in a single calendar year. This does not apply to visits wholly paid for by public funds.|
|Gifts and benefits from sources outside the UK (related to activity as an MP)||Over £300, or multiple benefits from same source totalling over £300 in a single calendar year|
|Land and property (excluding that used only for residential purposes by the MP or their close family)||Any part of a portfolio worth over £100,000, or any part of a portfolio which generates an annual income of over £10,000|
|Shareholdings||Over 15% of a company’s share capital, or over £70,000 in one company|
|Miscellaneous||Any interest or benefit that might be reasonably considered to influence the MP|
|Family members employed and paid through parliamentary expenses||Over £700 to any one family member in a single calendar year|
|Family members engaged in lobbying the public sector||Any relevant information|
How often must MPs disclose their interests?
MPs must register any interests within 28 days of the beginning of a new parliament. For newly elected MPs, any relevant interests (other than earnings) for the year prior to the election must be registered. Any changes or new additions must also be registered within 28 days.
The register is updated fortnightly when the Commons is sitting.
What happens if MPs fail to disclose their interests?
The requirements of the register of financial interests are strict, and MPs are frequently investigated by the parliamentary standards commissioner for failing to disclose their interests on time.
In 2022, the commissioner found that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had failed to record eight interests on time. 52 PA Media, ‘Keir Starmer found to have breached MPs’ code of conduct over register of interests’, The Guardian, 4 August 2022, www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/aug/04/keir-starmer-found-to-have-breached-mps-code-of-conduct-over-register-of-interests, retrieved 8 November 2022 He was reprimanded but not referred to the committee on standards, as may happen if MPs are deemed to have seriously failed to uphold the requirements of the register.
In 2018, Boris Johnson apologised to the Commons after being referred by the standards commissioner to the committee on standards for failing to declare over £50,000 in outside earnings. 53 Casalacchio E, ‘Boris Johnson offers “unreserved apology” in Commons after breaching expenses rules”, PoliticsHome, 6 December 2018, www.politicshome.com/news/article/boris-johnson-offers-unreserved-apology-in-commons-after-breaching-expenses-rules, retrieved 8 November 2022
Do the same rules apply to ministers?
In addition to declaring interests on the MPs’ register, which is published by parliament, ministers must record their interests on the list of ministers’ interests, published by the government. Though there is some overlap between the two, the ministers’ list typically covers long-term relationships and employment interests rather than gifts of a particular financial value. Government departments are also required to publish quarterly data on ministerial gifts, hospitality, travel and meetings. 54 GOV.UK guidance, ‘How to publish ministerial gifts, hospitality, travel and meetings’, 14 December 2017, www.gov.uk/guidance/how-to-publish-ministerial-gifts-hospitality-travel-and-meetings, retrieved 8 November 2022
Officially, the requirements for ministers to register their interests are stricter than those imposed on MPs: they must “scrupulously avoid any danger of an action or perceived conflict of interest” and must register the financial interests of their spouse or partner and of any close family. 55 Cabinet Office, Ministerial Code, 2010, www.gov.uk/government/publications/ministerial-code They must also discuss the handling of any relevant interests with the independent adviser on ministers’ interests.
However, unlike the MPs’ register the list of ministers’ interests does not require ministers to disclose the financial value of gifts or benefits. It is also published far less frequently – twice yearly – something that has been criticised by chair of the Commons standards committee Chris Bryant.
What are the criticisms of the members’ register of interests?
Some journalists and transparency researchers have complained that the register is not consistently presented. This means it is difficult to tell what MPs have received in total or over time, or to compile the total value of multiple MPs’ interests. 56 House of Commons Committee on Standards oral evidence, 25 January 2022, https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/3343/html/, retrieved 8 November 2022
Because the register of MPs’ financial interests has different requirements to those imposed on ministers, namely on the value of gifts and benefits, ministers may declare interests on the ministerial register that are not included on the MPs’ register. In 2021, Boris Johnson was criticised for not disclosing a free holiday on the register of MPs’ financial interests which was disclosed on the ministerial register. 57 Walker P, ‘Johnson will not declare Spanish holiday in MPs’ register, says No10’, The Guardian, 5 November 2021, www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/nov/05/boris-johnson-will-not-declare-spanish-holiday-in-mps-register-says-no-10, retrieved 8 November 2022
How are political donations and spending regulated?
In addition to recording political donations to individual MPs on the register, political parties must report donations to the Electoral Commission. MPs must also report campaign spending to the commission.
What other registers of interests are there?
Several other registers of interests have grown out of the register of members’ financial interests.
The register of all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs) is a list of all existing groups and the names of their members. It also records any benefits received by the group as a whole, though not usually gifts received by individual MPs by virtue of APPG membership. 58 UK Parliament, Register of All-Party Parliamentary Groups, www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/standards-and-financial-interests/parliamentary-commissioner-for-standards/registers-of-interests/register-of…, retrieved 8 November 2022
The register of interests of members’ secretaries and research assistants requires MPs’ staff to register any outside employment or benefits gained from their parliamentary pass. 59 UK Parliament, Register of Interests’ of Members’ Secretaries and Research Assistants, www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/standards-and-financial-interests/parliamentary-commissioner-for-standards/registers-of-interests/register-of…, retrieved 8 November 2022
The House of Lords also publishes a register of lords’ interests and of lords’ staff interests, both of which follow the same format as their Commons equivalent. 60 UK Parliament, Register of Lords’ Interests, www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/standards-and-financial-interests/register-of-lords-interests/, retrieved 8 November 2022
The register of journalists’ interests requires journalists accredited to the parliamentary lobby, press gallery, or for parliamentary broadcasting to register any other employment advantaged by their parliamentary pass. 61 UK Parliament, Register of Journalists’ Interests, www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/standards-and-financial-interests/parliamentary-commissioner-for-standards/registers-of-interests/register-of…, retrieved 8 November 2022 All three of these registers are published on the parliamentary website and updated approximately every six weeks.
How do registers of interests work in the devolved administrations?
The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland legislatures all compile registers of members’ interests. 62 Scottish Parliament, Register of Interests, www.parliament.scot/msps/register-of-interests, retrieved 8 November 2022 63 Northern Ireland Assembly, Register of Interests, http://aims.niassembly.gov.uk/mlas/registerofinterests.aspx, retrieved 8 November 2022 In addition to financial and similar benefits, the Welsh Senedd register requires that MSs declare time spent in certain activities and membership of certain societies. 64 Welsh Senedd, Register of Members’ Interests, https://senedd.wales/senedd-business/register-of-members-interests/, retrieved 8 November 2022