A former environment secretary has revealed he had shares worth more than £70,000 in Shell which he failed to disclose he needed for more than five years.
Theresa Villiers was the secretary for environment, food and rural affairs from July 2019 to February 2020, but only this week it was revealed that she had investments worth more than £70,000 each in Shell and the drinks company Diageo since February 2018. more than £70,000 in Experian, made since July 2019, and in an investment trust, RIT Capital Partners.
His disclosure follows revelations in the Guardian of several MPs holding shares that are, in fact, secret. House of Commons rules require MPs to disclose all shareholdings in a company worth more than £70,000.
A spokesman for Villiers said he deeply regrets his “failure to monitor the value of the shareholdings and offers his sincere apologies”, adding that the shares were managed professionally and he did not daily investment decisions.
The spokesperson added: “It never occurred to him that any shareholding would meet the threshold for declaration, but an inheritance received in 2018 caused that to happen. As soon as he realized this, he alerted the registrar of the interest of the members and the standards commissioner.
“He took full responsibility for the mistake. He accepted that it would never have happened, and he should have kept an eye on the additions to his investment portfolio. He took steps to make sure it never happened again. Nothing ‘ything he says or does as an MP is influenced by these shareholdings.”
Villiers’ late declaration of his interests could put him in breach of the House of Commons code of conduct, and raises questions about the £70,000 threshold for registering interests.
It also raises further questions about the methods used to determine whether ministers’ interests should be disclosed to the public.
Despite Villiers’ ministerial role, his interest in Shell was not disclosed in the list of ministerial interests, published by the Cabinet Office with the help of the prime minister’s independent adviser on ministerial interests.
During Villiers’ time in the post, he was contacted by the European Commission to complain about Shell’s plans, backed by the government, to leave parts of its decommissioned oil rigs in the North Sea.
A spokesman for Villiers said he disclosed to Defra that he had a portfolio of shares upon his appointment and offered to put the shares into a blind trust.
The spokesman said: “The prime minister’s ethics adviser said that this step was not necessary because the portfolio was managed on his behalf and he did not make investment decisions. Therefore the requirements of the ministerial code were followed. There was nothing which he did as Defra secretary influenced by any of these shareholdings.
Dr Susan Hawley, the executive director of Spotlight on Corruption, said: “It is good to see parliamentarians getting more serious about disclosing shareholdings, given the Guardian’s work on this. However, it is alarming that the independent adviser at the time does not think that the shareholdings of companies directly related to a ministerial remit should be declared.
“This should prompt a real rethink across the board about how important it is that MPs and ministers accurately report shareholdings in their declarations to prevent the potential for direct conflict of interest. We also need a proper debate on whether the threshold for shareholding declarations is currently set too high.”
Parliamentarians’ registration of their shareholdings faces further challenges, with plans being discussed in the House of Lords to double the threshold there for registration from £50,000 to £100,000.