Fink accused of breaking rules on hospitality

 

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The Independent Online

The treasurer of the Conservative Party was accused last night of breaking parliamentary anti-sleaze rules after arranging to host a private dinner in the House of Lords for paying American Express card-holders.

Lord Fink arranged the event, which was part of a $10,000-per-head "Wimbledon Championships" package available to AmEx Platinum and Centurion card-holders, an investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and i has found.

Advertised on the AmEx website as a "one-of-a kind opportunity to advance your lifestyle", the $9,391 (£6,000) package offered two days of tennis, accommodation in the Dorchester, a drinks reception with John McEnroe – and the House of Lords dinner.

Yesterday, after being contacted, Lord Fink – who is David Cameron's chief fundraiser – said he had cancelled the booking after being made aware it could break the rules. He said he had no financial interest in AmEx and had received no benefit from the booking.

Lord Fink is one of a number of senior peers who have used their membership of the Lords to arrange events for private companies.

The former Met Police Commissioner Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, hosted a "customer event" for LGC, a private forensic science firm of which he is a non-executive director and shareholder. The Tory peer Lord Sheikh booked the House of Lords Terrace for the launch of his insurance broking firm.

House of Lords rules state that banqueting facilities "are not to be used for the purposes of direct or indirect financial or material gain by a sponsor ... or any other person or outside organisation".

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat President, said: "This is further evidence of the urgent need for radical reform of the Lords.It has become as much a House of Lobbyists as a House of Lords."

After being contacted, both Lord Fink and American Express said the event had been booked in good faith. Lord Fink added: "This event has been held in the Lords on several occasions and I agreed to sponsor it in return for a charitable donation to a major hospital.

"I have no commercial interest in AmEx and there was never any question of me profiting from sponsoring it."

A Conservative Party spokesman said: "Lord Fink cancelled his sponsorship of the event at the beginning of last week as soon as he received advice that there might be an issue with it."

American Express said it would still donate £3,000 to St Thomas' Hospital.

Asked about Lord Stevens' sponsorship of the LGC reception, a spokesman said: "This was not a promotional event. Those attending would have no responsibilities for procuring our services."

Lord Sheikh said the launch of Macmillan Sheikh at the Lords was a social gathering which was "in no way intended as a source of business development".

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