Donations to Tories slump 'by one-third'

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The Independent Online

Political Editor

Company donations to the Conservative Party have slumped by a third over the past five years according to a survey of company accounts by the trade union-funded organisation Labour Research.

The new figures emerged as a senior former Tory Cabinet minister called for a full-scale investigation into the party's funding. John Biffen said the inquiry was needed to dispel the "dark shadow" looming over democratic politics caused by large anonymous donations to the Conservatives.

The new figures on donations, to be broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live tomorrow night suggest that in the financial year beginning in March 1994, 172 companies gave a total of pounds 2.46m - compared with 300 which gave pounds 3.8m in 1990.

Labour Research says that household names which stopped donating to the Conservative Party during the last financial year included United Biscuits, Whitbread and the leisure firm, Rank. The 1994-5 figure reflects a fall from the previous year's pounds 2.8m given by 198 companies.

Since then, the organisation says, Inchcape and Lucas Industries have stopped giving donations. By contrast, however, Johnson Matthey gave pounds 27,000 for the first time and TI also gave a donation having stopped the previous year.

The Conservative Party says in its annual accounts that donations overall increased last year from pounds 9.3m to pounds 12.7m and that two-thirds of these were personal donations. But Labour Research, having surveyed more than 5,000 company reports, says this still leaves a discrepancy between the remaining third and the figure - pounds 1.8m less - for the company donations they have identified.

In the same programme, Special Assignment, John Biffen, a former Leader of the Commons, says that his party should "publish and be damned" by disclosing secret and anonymous donations. He also suggests that Lord Nolan's committee on Standards in Public Life should investigate party funding before the next election.

Mr Biffen, who last Monday voted for disclosure of income MPs earn from consultancies, said he thought an investigation would happen eventually but added: "I would sooner it happened now than for it to simmer and become part of the acrimony of the general election."