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Explainer

MPs' register of interests

All financial interests which might be reasonably regarded as influencing the actions, words or votes of MPs must be registered.

MPs in the chamber of the House of Commons
MPs must register their interests within 28 days of a new parliament beginning. Newly elected MPs must include any relevant interests (other than earnings) from the year prior to their election.

What interests do MPs have to register?

The register of members’ financial interests records all financial interests which might be reasonably regarded as influencing the actions, words or votes of MPs. These interests are grouped into 10 categories, including outside earnings, donations and shareholdings.

The register has existed since 1974 and was made more rigorous in 1996 following recommendations from the new Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL). undefined 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  The parliamentary commissioner for standards is responsible for maintaining the register, but MPs declare their interests through the office of the registrar, with details published on the parliamentary website.

How often must MPs disclose their interests?

MPs must register their interests within 28 days of a new parliament beginning. Newly elected MPs must include any relevant interests (other than earnings) from the year prior to their election.

Any changes or additions after this initial period must also be registered within 28 days. Updates to the register are usually published fortnightly when the Commons is sitting, and less frequently during recess.

In addition to registering, MPs must declare any relevant interests at certain times, including when speaking in debates, when tabling written questions or motions, or when applying for urgent questions, emergency debates or an adjournment debate. 40 House of Commons, Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members, 10 February 2023, HC 1083, chapter 2  The category of interests that must be declared is wider than those that must be registered and includes expected future interests, the interests of family members and financial interests that fall below the financial thresholds. 

What happens if MPs fail to disclose their interests?

The parliamentary commissioner for standards investigates alleged non-compliance by MPs. Registration investigations can form a significant proportion of the commissioner’s caseload: of the 41 inquiries completed in 2021–22, 29 were solely concerned with an alleged failure to register an interest. 41 Parliamentary Commission for Standards, Annual Report 2021–22, 13 July 2022, www.parliament.uk/globalassets/documents/pcfs/pcs-annual-report-2021-22.pdf, p. 12

In most cases where a breach is found, the case is closed through the rectification process rather than through a referral to the Committee on Standards. This usually involves the MP making an apology and correcting the register. In some instances, MPs are referred for remedial training on the requirement to register.

In 2022–23, 13.5% of registrations were submitted late. 42 Parliamentary Commission for Standards, Annual Report 2022–23, 12 July 2023, www.parliament.uk/globalassets/documents/pcfs/pcs-annual-report-2022-23.pdf, p. 31  The parliamentary commissioner for standards warned MPs that “a significant proportion of Members are habitually registering outside the 28-day time limits”. 43 Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, ‘Late Registration of Interests’, Advice note, 3 February 2023, PCS/AN/2023.03

Former prime minister Boris Johnson was referred to the Committee on Standards in 2018 and 2019 for failing to register his interests on time. 44 House of Commons Committee on Standards, Boris Johnson, 6 December 2018, HC 1797; House of Commons Committee on Standards, Boris Johnson: Further Report, 8 April 2019, HC 2113  He was required to make an apology to the Commons on the first occasion and to attend training with the Registrar on the second. He was referred to the committee for a third time in 2021 but on this occasion the committee disagreed with the findings of the commissioner. 45 House of Commons Committee on Standards, Boris Johnson, 8 July 2021, HC 549

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was also investigated by the commissioner in 2022. The commissioner found that he had failed to record eight interests on time but that these were not sufficiently serious to refer to the Committee on Standards. The breaches were dealt with through rectification instead, with Starmer required to apologise and correct the record. 46 Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Rt Hon. Sir Keir Starmer MP, 4 August 2022.

Do the same rules apply to ministers?

In addition to publishing on the MPs’ register, government ministers must record their interests on the list of ministers’ interests, which is produced by the Cabinet Office. This list includes financial interests, shareholdings and other ‘relevant interests’ and must be published twice yearly. It is drawn up with the advice of departmental permanent secretaries and the independent adviser on ministers’ interests.

Government departments are also required to publish quarterly data on gifts and hospitality received in a ministerial capacity, as well as details of ministerial travel and meetings.

The government has been criticised – including by the parliamentary commissioner for standards 47 House of Commons Committee on Standards, oral evidence, 6 February 2024, committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/14231/pdf/  and Chris Bryant, chair of the Committee on Standards – for updating this list far less frequently (and less consistently) than updates to the MPs’ register are published.

How has the members’ register of interests been criticised?

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. 48 House of Commons Committee on Standards, oral evidence, 25 January 2022, committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/3343/html/, retrieved 8 November 2022.  In response to this issue, the parliamentary commissioner for standards confirmed that a new digital register was being developed, to launch in 2024. 49 House of Commons Committee on Standards, oral evidence, 6 February 2024, committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/14231/pdf/

Others have criticised the lack of transparency in the information provided. Unlike in the register of Lords’ interests, MPs are not required to explain the purpose of companies or charities included in their declarations.

Different reporting requirements mean that ministers may occasionally make declarations on the list of ministers’ interests that are not then included in the MPs’ register, where – unlike on the ministerial list – the value of such gifts would have to be declared. Boris Johnson, for instance, recorded a free holiday on the ministerial list in 2021, but did not include the value of this on the MPs’ register, on the basis that MPs are not required to disclose gifts wholly unconnected to their parliamentary activities. 50 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.

Who else in Parliament must register their interests?

MPs’ staff must register any outside employment they hold, or gifts or benefits received as a result of their parliamentary work, on the register of interests of members’ secretaries and research assistants. 51 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…

Lords and their staff must record their interests on registers produced by the House of Lords. These follow similar (though not identical) formats to the Commons’ registers. 

All-party parliamentary groups (APPGs) have been required to register the names of their officers and any benefits received by the group since 1985. Benefits received by individual members should be recorded on either the MPs’ or Lords’ register.

Journalists accredited to the parliamentary lobby are required to register the sponsor of their pass and any other employment where they may benefit from access to parliament. 52 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…

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Institute for Government

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