Du Cann will apply to have bankruptcy order lifted: Former chairman of Conservative Party faced petition for solicitors' bills

SIR EDWARD DU CANN, 68, the former chairman of Lonrho, and former chairman of the Conservative Party, said yesterday that he would be applying to have a bankruptcy order against him lifted.

The order was made in the London Bankruptcy Court on 12 March on a petition over unpaid bills by the solicitors Denton Hall Burgin & Warren, who used to act for him.

Because of that order, an Inland Revenue petition for unpaid taxes yesterday became a formality, and was automatically dismissed at a brief private hearing before Mr Registrar Pimm in London yesterday.

Both the Inland Revenue and the law firm had filed their petitions in January. Sir Edward, who resigned his pounds 410,000 a year Lonrho post in 1991, told the Independent yesterday that his solicitors would be applying to have the order lifted in the next few days. He declined to comment further: 'I do not discuss my financial affairs in public,' he said.

Sir Edward was Conservative MP for Taunton from 1956-1987. He appeared destined for high office as Economic Secretary to the Treasury and Minister of State at the Board of Trade in 1963-64 - when he complained that he was unable to live on his pounds 75-a-week pay.

He became chairman of the party in 1964 after the Labour election victory, but his career was becalmed after Edward Heath took over as leader from Sir Alec Douglas-Home the following year, and he spent the rest of his parliamentary career on the back benches.

Although he was chairman of the influential 1922 Committee for a record 12 years from 1972, and helped Margaret Thatcher to defeat Mr Heath in 1975, he was always overlooked. The suspicion was that his sometimes controversial business and financial affairs did not help his political career.

The Department of Trade and Industry's report into the affairs of Keyser Ullman, a failed merchant bank, found him to have been 'incompetent' while he was the bank's chairman between 1970 and 1975. In 1973, the bank lent pounds 17m to a 28-year- old entrepreneur, Christopher Selmes, secured on a valueless guarantee. Mr Selmes later fled the country, leaving debts of more than pounds 20m.

A Serious Fraud Office inquiry followed the collapse of a mortgage broker, Homes Assured, in September 1989. Sir Edward had resigned as its deputy chairman only a few days before it collapsed owing pounds 10m to 1,500 creditors. The Department of Trade and Industry has started proceedings, contested by Sir Edward, to have him disqualified from holding company drectorships.

Since 1980, there have been at least seven writs against Sir Edward for late payment of bills, including failure to pay water rates, to pay commission on the sale of a yacht, to keep up his mortgage payments and to clear a pounds 137,000 overdraft.

His London flat in Tufton Street, Westminster, central London, was repossessed this month by the Provincial Building Society.

In 1985-86, the Eagle Star insurance company began proceedings three times to repossess Cothay Manor in Somerset, Sir Edward's country home. The amount was paid each time and the mortgage later discharged.