Tories given pounds 9m from abroad

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The Independent Online
THE CONSERVATIVE party accepted more than pounds 9m in foreign donations from multi-millionaire benefactors in the last Parliament, according to evidence submitted to the Neill Committee investigating the funding of political parties.

A document, to be published this week, reveals that the Tories received nine gifts of more than pounds 1m from people living abroad. These made up the majority of the 17 donations of this size made to the party between 1992 and 1997.

The extent of the Tories' reliance on large gifts from abroad, disclosed in the party's evidence to the investigation, surprised members of Lord Neill's Committee on Standards in Public Life. It will fuel controversy over the source of political funding.

The disclosure indicates that the Conservatives will encounter increasing financial difficulty in future since William Hague, their leader, has said that he will no longer accept foreign donations.

Lord Neill is also expected to recommend that the Government should outlaw all contributions from outside Britain.

The committee, which publishes its findings on Tuesday, is understood to have drawn up a narrower than expected definition of "foreign donations" that allows gifts from anyone who has a vote in this country, even if living abroad. Most of the gifts to the Tory party would be allowed under this rule.

However, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, seized on the disclosure as evidence of "Tory sleaze". He said: "This just proves the Tory party has been in hock to wealthy foreign interests."

The Tories are also under pressure over their decision to invite Haley Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican Party in the US, to speak at their annual "bonding session" in Eastbourne this week. Mr Barbour, who masterminded the right-wing capture of Congress in 1994, is under investigation by the Justice Department over allegations of improper fund-raising.

The Conservatives' annual accounts, to be published shortly, reveal their increasing difficulty in attracting donations. According to senior sources, they show the party is overdrawn by more than pounds 3m after spending around pounds 8m in the month before the general election. The accounts also indicate that it raised around pounds 13m in the last financial year.

In keeping with Mr Hague's new commitment to openness, the annual register lists just over 20 organisations and individuals which have given more than pounds 5,000 to the Conservatives in the last financial year - far fewer than the 97 disclosed by Labour earlier this year.

The major individual Tory donors are Sir Stanley Kalms, the chairman of Dixons; Lord Blythe, director and chief executive of Boots; Lord Stevens of Ludgate, former chairman of United News and Media which owns the Daily Express; and Michael Ashcroft, the Tory treasurer.

The list shows that the Conservatives are still heavily reliant on their traditional business supporters, in contrast to Labour which has attracted substantial gifts from celebrities, including Jeremy Irons, Lisa Stansfield and Mick Hucknall.

MAJOR DONORS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

STANLEY KALMS

SIR STANLEY KALMS, 66, is the chairman of Dixons, the high-street electronics retailer, where he has worked all his life. A loyal Tory donor, he chaired the recent fund-raising dinner

at the Savoy. He was given his knighthood by John Major in 1996. He is also a staunch Eurosceptic who bankrolls Business for Sterling.

JAMES BLYTH

LORD BLYTH, 58, has had a classic blue-chip career in business. Executive appointments with Plessey, Cadbury-Schweppes, British Aerospace and Mars led to the deputy chairmanship of Boots in 1994. John Major made him a government adviser on the Citizen's Charter and gave him a peerage three years ago.

MICHAEL ASHCROFT

MICHAEL ASHCROFT has a personal fortune which is estimated at pounds 500m, amassed mainly from buying up companies in trouble, from which he has poured around pounds 8m into underwriting Tory finances. There was a row when he was made party treasurer recently, despite having been a corporate tax exile for some years.

DAVID STEVENS

LORD STEVENS of Ludgate, 62, is a non-executive chairman of United News and Media, owners of the The Express. He has remained a loyal Conservative in spite of the newspaper's recent love affair with Tony Blair under the stewardship of chief executive Lord Hollick, a Labour peer.

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