Tory Scandal: Hague put a stop to foreign gifts

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The Commons outcry over Labour's receipt of a pounds 1m donation from Bernie Ecclestone, and the subsequent government retreat on tobacco sponsorship for Formula One racing, will now rebound with a vengeance on the Conservatives.

With the Government facing difficulties over welfare reform, and the strain in relations between Tony Blair and the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, Labour will jump at the chance of a legitimate diversion - a return to the sleaze territory that served them so well in the run-up to the election landslide.

Tory fundraising is now more controlled since the donation was made in 1994. William Hague promised, as soon as he became leader, that overseas donations to the party were to be stopped, pending legislation to outlaw them completely.

But Lord Neill's Committee on Standards in Public Life has given all parties until the end of this month to provide him with a breakdown - for publication - of all donations received since 1992. While Lord Neill has rejected Mr Blair's suggestion that the names of all post-1992 donors should be made available in confidence to the Neill committee, the parties have been asked to break donations down by source and size, with numbers of donors giving more than pounds 5,000; pounds 5,000 to pounds 10,000; and then in pounds 10,000 bands up to pounds 100,000; followed by bands of pounds 100,000 up to and beyond pounds 1m.

Lord Neill said last month: "I hope that the parties will be able to give us these sort of ball-park figures fairly quickly, without breaching any confidences which they may in the past have offered to donors." The Conservatives have yet to deliver.

A spokesman for the Neill committee said yesterday that when public hearings started in April, there would be no question of any party leader, chairman or treasurer being asked about detailed allegations. But the latest Hong Kong charge will add fuel to questions about the principle of foreign donations, and questions on inducements for policy action, or honours recommendations.

Among questions already put by Lord Neill, in a consultation paper published last month, were: "Is it the case that an individual or organisation can purchase ... access to decision-makers? Is this right? How should a `foreign' donation be defined? Is it improper for political parties to accept donations from foreign individuals domiciled here, or from the United Kingdom subsidiaries of foreign-owned companies?"