Tories to give details of overseas donations

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Foreign funding for the Conservative Party is to be exposed for the first time by the Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life. Anthony Bevins, Political Editor, reports on the first step towards ending the sleaze of party finances.

William Hague, the Tory party leader, was yesterday forced to agree to give the Neill Committee a breakdown of overseas donations to the party between 1992 and this year - the foreign finance for this year's election campaign.

While the Tories have previously accepted that they should not accept cash from foreign governments and rulers, it is believed that overseas donations have been substantial over the years - but always as a matter of speculation, rather than fact.

The secrecy surrounding the foreign fund-raising operation was exposed in The Independent last month after a Commons motion identified an Australian businessman, Ronald Walker, as an overseas treasurer of the Conservative Party.

It has been suggested that Mr Walker raised more than pounds 1m from overseas donors in the run-up to the last election, and an amendment to a Commons motion said that Mr Hague had nominated him for a knighthood for his services to the Conservative Party - while denying the fact that he had operated as the party's overseas treasurer.

During Commons exchanges yesterday, Mr Hague was challenged by the Prime Minister to say that he would comply with a request from Lord Neill QC, the new chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, to provide details of donations of more than pounds 5,000 from 1992, broken down between overseas and domestic donors. "We will provide the Neill committee with all the information that they have asked for," Mr Hague said.

All parties will be expected to provide a broad indication of the nature of the sources and the scale of the funding - without names. Party treasurers have been told: "For donations of pounds 5,000 or more, we would like to know how many donors of each type fall in the ranges pounds 5,000-pounds 10,000 ... and so on in pounds 10,000 bands." Individual donations in excess of pounds 1m, such as Bernie Ecclestone's January donation to Labour, would therefore be exposed.

A consultation paper issued by Lord Neill yesterday also opened up questions of state funding, which is highly unlikely, and a limit on election spending - strongly favoured by the Government.

But Lord Neill will also be considering the question of the sale of honours. "Abuses of the honours system are known at least as early as the reign of King James I," the paper said. "The promise of honours was a popular method of raising party funds

Following a Royal Commission, a Political Honours Scrutiny Committee was set up to vet honours, and their possible link with donations, but Lord Neill's paper said its remit was limited to an examination of recommendations for honours made by the Prime Minister on account of political services.

Public and other responses should be sent to the Secretary, Committee on Standards in Public Life, Horse Guards Road, London SW1P 3AL by Friday, 27 February 1998.