Tory fund-raising dinner `tax-deductible'

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Lord Lawson, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, is due to be the guest of honour at a pounds 150-a-head Tory party fund-raising dinner which businessmen are being advised they can charge to their companies as a ``Budget seminar''.

Conservative Central Office is to be asked whether it sanctions what the Liberal Democrats described yesterday as a ``transparent device'' to permit the costs of such fund-raising dinners to be treated as a ``tax-deductible business expense''.

A letter sent to Leicestershire businessmen by Christine Sanderson, the agent and secretary of the Blaby Conservative Association, says that their companies will be billed for the dinner in the name of ``Blaby Industrial Council''. The invitation carries the name of the council on its letterhead.

A note in small print at the bottom of the letter explains that the industrial council ``is administered by the Blaby Conservative Association for the purpose of furthering links with Industry and Commerce''.

The letter says the dinner, at Shawell Manor, near Rugby, ``will be a very special occasion and a unique opportunity to meet fellow business people in a splendid setting, enjoy an excellent meal with fine wines and talk informally with Lord Lawson, Britain's longest-serving post-war Chancellor''. He was formerly MP for Blaby.

The letter adds that the local Conservative Party is ``financed by the efforts and generosity of our local supporters and for this unique occasion there will be a fully inclusive charge of pounds 125 per person or pounds 200 for yourself and your partner. An invoice will be submitted to your company in respect of a Budget Seminar in the name of Blaby Industrial Council. ``

Professor Robert Pritchard, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Leicestershire County Council, said last night that he would be writing to Conservative Central Office to ask how widespread this billing practice was. He added: ``In effect the taxpayer is contributing to the local Conservative Party.''

Ms Sanderson said yesterday that there was ``nothing covert'' about the letter, adding that it was a ``special interest'' dinner.

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