Business dealings of Tory ministers & donors could be erased from public records

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond © Damir Sagolj
Cabinet ministers and Tory party donors could have their business dealings wiped from public records under a proposal being considered by a government agency, Labour has warned.

Companies House – the government agency responsible for keeping a publicly accessible database on every UK firm – currently holds information on account details, directors, and shareholders for 20 years.

However, this could be shortened to just six years if the proposal goes ahead, leading to the potential loss of 2.5 million records.

Those erased records would include 48 dissolved companies linked to 24 serving Tory ministers, according to analysis by Labour. The deletions would take place either immediately or over the course of the parliament.

Chancellor Philip Hammond, Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt are among the high-profile ministers who would be affected.

In addition, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s involvement in the now dissolved London Climate Change Agency would also be wiped, along with records relating to former Barings banker Andrew Fraser – who donated £2.5 million (US$3.25 million) to the Tory party during then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s leadership.

Records involving Michael Spencer, who donated £5 million to the party, and Lord Michael Farmer, who donated about £8.5 million, would also be cleared.

Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson called the proposal “extremely worrying” and a “backwards step.”

“If the Tory government was truly committed to transparency and openness then it would not allow this move – which would effectively wipe from public view the records of 2.5 million dissolved companies and the people associated with them – to go ahead,” he said in a statement.

“It’s now up to [Prime Minister] Theresa May to ensure that this proposal will never see the light of day,” Watson added.

Meanwhile, Companies House has confirmed it is considering changes to the period for which it keeps records.

“This issue is being considered following a number of complaints made by members of the public who believe that retaining, and making publicly available, information relating to long-dissolved companies is inconsistent with data protection law,” a spokesman said, as quoted by the Guardian.

Such complaints, many of which were filed with the Information Commissioner’s office, largely began after the public records were made available for free online last year.