The Conservative MP Richard Drax has now added the plantation he has inherited in Barbados to the parliamentary register of members’ interests after the Observer revealed omissions and errors in his declaration.
Three weeks ago, the Observer revealed that Drax, the MP for South Dorset since 2010, had taken control of the 250-hectacre Drax Hall Plantation, where his ancestors had a slave workforce from 1640-1836. We also revealed that he is the wealthiest landowner in the House of Commons worth as much as £150m, although he and his family draw a tight veil over their finances.
Leading figures from the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Reparations Commission insist that Drax must acknowledge the wealth brought to his family from slavery and make reparations. Sir Hilary Beckles, the chair of the Reparations Commission and vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies, said: “If Richard Drax was in front of me now, I would say: ‘Mr Drax, the people of Barbados and Jamaica are entitled to reparatory justice.’
“Black life mattered only to make millionaires of English enslavers and the Drax family did it longer than any other elite family.”
David Comissiong, the Barbados ambassador to Caricom, said: “This was a crime against humanity and we impose upon him [Mr Drax] and his family a moral responsibility to contribute to the effort to repair the damage.”
Noted for his Downton Abbey lifestyle, Richard Drax was gifted the Drax Hall plantation by his father who died in July 2017. He told the Observer three weeks ago that he had not added it to the register because it was still in probate. Under the “miscellaneous” section of the register, the new entry refers to Drax Hall only as a “business property” and suggests it is still in probate.
In the new register released last week, Drax has added other assets we had identified as previously missing. These include agricultural land in North Yorkshire that he now admits he inherited on 8 April 2019. The guidelines say he should have registered the property within 28 days. He does not say whether this includes both Swaledale estates, the Ellerton Abbey farming estate of 2,200 acres and the Copperthwaite Allotment, a grouse moor of 520 acres.
Again remedying another long-term omission he refers to a “residential property in Dorset” – probably the £4.5m holiday let on Sandbanks he has owned personally since 2009 and lets out at £6,750 per week in peak season.
He has now declared that his trust in Surrey owns a commercial property which has never appeared in the register before. He also refers to the overarching family business by name for the first time. He says he is the “beneficiary of a family trust” that forms part “of the wider family property businesses known locally as the Charborough Estate”.
He has also now provided a first reference to the Drax Dorset property empire. “There are a significant number of properties in each category and some are in joint ownerships with family members and other trusts.”
Our research has shown that the Charborough estate has at least 5,600 hectares owned by five trusts. This includes “the R G Drax Accumulation and Maintenance Settlement” through which the MP is the beneficiary of income from the estate and some 125 properties in Dorset. The new detail provided is still the minimum required by the register and does not give a big picture of the wealth and holdings of Drax and his family.
Drax has also corrected the entry errors that he made under the shareholding section of the register including adding a company that should have been registered several years ago.
Drax told the Observer: “Following discussions with the registrar, which I initiated, I have updated my register entries to include the business property in Barbados, although that disclosure is not necessary until it has been legally transferred to me. In reviewing the entries I realised that an agricultural property in Yorkshire transferred from my mother to me after my father’s death had not been included on the register. My parents died in short succession and the administration of both estates is still ongoing. The process has been complicated which led to this accidental oversight.”
Vince Cable, the former leader of the Lib Dems, says Drax should consider paying reparations.
“I hope … Mr Drax pays some attention to the very polite representations from the Caribbean Community Reparations Commission. He could, after all, donate his inheritance to the island on which it stands and still have plenty of property – including a hefty chunk of British land – left over.”