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Records of ministers’ iffy businesses could vanish

by Luke James
Parliamentary Reporter
PUBLIC records detailing the past business interests of Tory ministers could be wiped clean under proposals being considered by Companies House, Labour warned yesterday.
The agency, which registers details of all businesses based in Britain, currently holds records about dissolved companies for 20 years.
But it is considering reducing that to just six years after receiving more than 2,000 complaints from former business owners, reportedly including MPs, since the information was made public online for free last year.
With the change, records relating to 48 dissolved companies linked to 24 serving government ministers would be erased immediately or over the course of this parliament, according an analysis by Labour.
Among those listed are Chancellor Philip Hammond, a former director of six now-dissolved companies that include property development firms and one in the oil and gas sector.
Information about the business interests of Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt before they entered government would also be deleted.
Another eight top Tory donors, who between them have given more than £27 million to the Tories, would also benefit from the change.
They include Andrew Fraser, who was included in David Cameron’s resignation peerages and who has given the party more than £2.5 million. 
Michael Spencer, whose peerage was reportedly blocked by Whitehall and whose firm was fined for Libor-rate fixing, would also benefit.
Campaigns such as the Tax Justice Network have warned the switch would be a major setback to steps taken to increase corporate transparency following the release of the Panama Papers.
Labour has now called on the Prime Minister to keep the pledge in the Tory 2015 general election manifesto to put transparency “at the heart of our approach to government.”
Deputy leader Tom Watson said: “The proposals currently under consideration by Companies House are extremely worrying and would be a backward 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.
“It’s now up to Theresa May to ensure that this proposal will never see the light of day.”
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