F1 boss snubs party funding inquiry

BERNIE Ecclestone, the Formula One motor racing boss who caused grave embarrassment with a pounds 1m donation to the Labour Party, has refused a request to give evidence to Lord Neill's official inquiry into party funding.

Labour was forced to disgorge the money after an alleged link was exposed between the donation and the Government's attempt to exempt Formula One from a European ban on the tobacco sponsorship of sport by tobacco companies.

After Labour had sought the advice of Lord Neill, who replaces Lord Nolan as chairman of the Committee on Standards in public life, he took the party completely by surprise - telling it to send the money back.

The party would have preferred the cash to have gone to charity, but Mr Ecclestone would have none of that. The cheque was sent to him, the cheque has been cashed and the affair is closed.

But Lord Neill wanted to re-open it to examine the motives behind such largescale donations.

He invited Mr Ecclestone to give evidence to the committee's latest sleaze- busting investigation, on the party funding question, which opens in London tomorrow. Mr Ecclestone has told Lord Neill that he will not appear.

Lord Neill said in a newspaper interview last night: "We have no power to make witnesses appear and he's not coming. But speaking for myself, I would have liked to have asked him about the generous donation. Why do people do it? Do the donors want something in return? Do they want doors to open for them?

"I think it is slightly intrusive to ask why they think the Labour Party or the Conservative Party is good news, but I think it is right to ask someone who has given a substantial sum of money to explain his motivation first hand."

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