Truss 2, Kwarteng 164: wide variance in ministers’ declared meetings

Analysis also finds Priti Patel was only minister to register receiving hospitality at Tory party conference

Liz Truss declared just two meetings as foreign secretary in a three-month period in the government’s transparency register, compared with 51 by the Welsh secretary, according to an analysis showing wide discrepancies in declarations.

Just one cabinet minister, Priti Patel, declared receiving hospitality at the Conservative party conference, where ministers are routinely entertained for lunches or receptions.

The analysis by the Labour MP Chris Bryant found that Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, recorded the most meetings, 164, which was more than three times the number declared by Rishi Sunak as chancellor.

When details are given about meetings, they are often opaque. The Treasury’s permanent secretary, Tom Scholar, recorded five meetings as “meeting”, without any further detail.

“It beggars belief that the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland secretaries, on 51, 26 and 22 respectively, held many more meetings than the foreign secretary, the [work and pensions] secretary, the defence secretary or the transport secretary,” Bryant wrote. “I find it difficult to believe that these represent a full and comprehensive list of meetings held by these ministers.”

He said it was “extremely unlikely to be accurate” that some ministers had recorded no meetings.

The gulf between the numbers submitted by various cabinet ministers will raise questions about whether meetings are being properly declared.

In a letter to the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, Bryant said government departments were “regularly failing to meet the specified criteria for publication” and that there was a “wide divergence in practice”, meaning there was now a “consequent lack of transparency at the heart of government”.

In their latest returns, Patel as home secretary held less than half as many meetings (20) as the then justice minister, Kit Malthouse (46).

Truss as foreign secretary recorded just two meetings, the same number as the work and pensions secretary, Thérèse Coffey. Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, recorded just three, and Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, eight.

Bryant said he also had concerns about delays to the publication of transparency data. Advice to departments on the publication of data on gifts, hospitality, travel and meetings is that it should be quarterly.

Not a single department has met that requirement this year. The Department for Education’s data is now more than a year out of date and Defra and the Foreign Office are 132 days late.

Ministers are required on appointment to each new office to provide a full list of interests that might be thought to give rise to a conflict. Bryant’s analysis found that there was “often not even an accurate list of ministers”. The most recent list, published in May 2022, includes many who are no longer in office.

Descriptions of meetings also raise questions about a lack of consistency and transparency. While some departments, such as Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, gave details of meetings with companies such as Google and the BBC, others were described by Bryant as “curt in the extreme.”

John Glen, a former financial services minister, described 39 meetings as “financial services”.

Bryant said he was particularly struck by the lack of transparency around conference hospitality, where only Patel registered attending three meals. “It seems unlikely that no other ministers were entertained to meals or receptions at that conference,” he wrote.

A government spokesperson said: “This government remains fully committed to its transparency agenda, routinely disclosing information beyond its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act, as well as regular transparency returns on ministers, special advisors and senior officials.”

Contributor

Jessica Elgot Chief political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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