Conservatives' funding list reveals leading fox-hunter as key donor

ONE OF Britain's leading pro-hunting figures was revealed as a major donor to the Tories yesterday when the party published an expanded list of its backers.

David Samworth, chairman of the Quorn Hunt and millionaire food manufacturer, was named as one of 83 individuals or businesses who had donated more than pounds 5,000 in the past year.

The list, which was unveiled by the Conservatives in an attempt to prove it no longer depended on a small number of wealthy individuals, showed that the number of major backers had trebled since 1998.

Among the bigger names on the list are Tarmac plc, the former Express newspapers proprietor Lord Stevens and the spread-betting firm City Index Ltd. Robin Hodgson, deputy chairman of the Conservatives and head of its voluntary wing, is also named as a big backer, as are Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover, the former Tory minister, and Sir Stanley Kalms, the head of Dixons.

Michael Ashcroft, the Tory treasurer, whose pounds 3m-worth of donations has kept the Tories afloat in recent years, is still on the list. Mr Ashcroft, who faced allegations earlier this year about his financial affairs in Belize, is understood to have contributed up to a third of the party's funds as he helped it stave off bankruptcy in the wake of the general election.

Mr Samworth's donations are sure to trigger criticism from anti-hunt campaigners as the Quorn is the richest and most famous hunt in Britain. The Tories have repeatedly attacked Labour for receiving pounds 1m from an anti-hunt group, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, before the last election.

Listed recently as one of the 300 wealthiest men in the UK, the 57-year- old entrepreneur made his fortune from Melton Mowbray pork pies and Ginsters pie chain. Although not revealed as an individual donor, his family firm, Samworth Brothers (Holdings) Ltd, were on the list published yesterday.

Most of the individuals and companies on the list are unknowns and the party refused to give details beyond their initials or company names. Among the more well-known names is Henry Keswick, husband of Tessa Keswick, adviser to Kenneth Clarke when Chancellor.

Tory chairman Michael Ancram said that the names indicated the progress that had been made in meeting the Tory leader's pledge to expand the support and financial backing of the party.

"This new list of donors to the Conservative Party proves that we have succeeded in one of our key aims to broaden the base of party funding. We now have 83 donors over pounds 5,000 - that's almost three times as many big donors in the year to March 1999 than we had in the previous year," he said. "I am especially grateful to Michael Ashcroft for his efforts in finding many more people prepared to help finance the Conservative party."

But a Labour party spokesman said last night that the figures had failed to clear up the lack of transparency in Tory funding and claimed that Mr Ashcroft's influence may be greater than thought.

"The real story behind these figures is the Tories' reliance on one or two major donors. Without them, this historic party would be bankrupt. The way they declare their finances conceals the truth," he said. "We note that Mr Hague has still not picked up our challenge to begin straightaway declaring the exact amount of donations given. Why not? What have the Tories got to hide?"

However, Labour's attacks on the Tories and their millionaire backers have been blunted in recent weeks with the revelation that former Science Minister Lord Sainsbury had donated pounds 2m to its own coffers.