David Cameron's warring ministers enjoyed a night at the opera as guests of a billionaire property developer and his wife, it emerged last night.
Michael Gove and Theresa May, expected to be among a handful of ministers to keep their jobs in this week's major reshuffle, were entertained separately in the Royal Box at Covent Garden with Gerald Ronson and his wife, Dame Gail Ronson.
Last night, a Labour MP questioned whether the ministers had been fully transparent as neither minister has recorded it in the MPs' register of interests. But aides to both the Education Secretary and the Home Secretary insisted they attended in their capacity as ministers not MPs, and that the value of the tickets did not exceed the £660 threshold needed for the MPs' register.
Individual tickets for the Royal Box can be bought for less than £200, but a spokesman for the Royal Opera House told The Independent on Sunday that the exclusive seating area costs £5,000 to hire out. Given that Dame Gail is an ambassador for Covent Garden and that the ministers also enjoyed dinner, it is questionable whether the true value of the hospitality was only £200 a head.
The ministerial code states that ministers should register hospitality if it is received in their capacity as ministers, while if it is in their role as an MP it must go on the Commons register within one month, providing it is worth more than 1 per cent of their salary, or £660.
Mrs May and her husband, Philip, were the guests of Dame Gail and Mr Ronson on 7 October last year, watching Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro from the Royal Box. The party had dinner in the interval. A three-course meal in the private dining rooms next to the Royal Box costs £55 a head, excluding wine. The Home Secretary recently registered the hospitality in the ministers' interests, but not in the MPs' register.
Mr Gove and his wife Sarah went to see Bizet's Carmen on 6 January with the Ronsons; they also had dinner. The Department for Education has not yet published its information for the first quarter of 2014. The Education Secretary has not registered the hospitality in the MPs' register.
The Labour MP Sheila Gilmore wrote letters to Mr Gove and Mrs May yesterday asking them why they had not been fully transparent about the hospitality. Ms Gilmore wrote to each MP: "Your night at the opera would have been of a higher value than the Register of Members' Interests' declarable threshold of 1 per cent of the annual parliamentary salary. It therefore appears that this should have appeared on your Register of Members' Interests." There is no suggestion the ministers have attempted to deliberately mislead.
A spokesman for Mr Gove rejected the suggestion that the hospitality would have crossed the £660 threshold because individual tickets for the Royal Box can be bought for less than £200, or £400 in total including his wife, and insisted that even a meal and wine in the interval would not have cost a further £260.
Mr Gove was at Covent Garden in his role as Education Secretary, his spokesman said. "Michael knows Gerald Ronson for his educational philanthropy – (a) he is president of the Jewish Community Secondary School, (b) he is the chairman of the Community Security Trust, and (c) he funded the renovation of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama which Michael recently visited," he said. "This hospitality was not worth enough to be declared in the Register of Members' Interests but will be declared in the quarterly ministerial returns in the normal way."
A Home Office spokesman said: "Gerald Ronson is the founding chairman of the Community Security Trust, which supports victims of anti-Semitism, and vice-president of the NSPCC, with which the Home Office is working on tackling forced marriage, child internet safety and trafficking and slavery.
"The Home Secretary accepted an invitation to the opera from him and declared it in accordance with the Ministerial Code of Conduct."
Dame Gail Ronson said last night: "As a trustee and ambassador for the Royal Opera House, I entertain people from all walks of life and political parties, something I have been doing for over 30 years. Gerald attends as my husband. It is up to the individuals concerned to make any disclosures required of them."
In his reshuffle on Tuesday, Mr Cameron is expected to address accusations that he has a "woman problem" by promoting many female MPs and ministers.Reuse content