Tory 'scam' raises millions, says MP

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THE Conservative Party has made at least pounds 7.5m - and perhaps double that - from 'gross abuse of Parliamentary facilities' over the past 15 years, a Labour MP claimed yesterday.

The money came from fund-raising dinners in the Palace of Westminster, where Tory MPs virtually monopolise banqueting rooms, and should be repaid, said Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield.

According to the last official figures, compiled before the identity of MPs using the rooms became confidential, Conservative members booked 1,399 times in a year compared with 167 by Labour.

'Use of the entertainment facilities by Tory MPs nets Conservative Central Office a minimum of pounds 500,000 a year,' Mr Sheerman said. 'I first became aware of this scam when I saw a mass mail-out of the Tory party Team 1000 fund-raising leaflets pitched at wealthy business people, which implied that entertainment at the Palace of Westminster was clearly one of the perks.'

He demanded an investigation, but Colin Shepherd, Tory MP for Hereford and chairman of the Commons Catering Committee, refused, saying that the leaflet 'did not refer specifically to the private dining facilities of the House'.

The issue is certain to resurface at Westminster after MPs return from their long summer break tomorrow. The Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, may be asked to make a ruling.

Mr Sheerman said: 'I am going to raise it on the floor of the House. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the ordinary members are stopped from doing their job of legitimately entertaining constituents because the facilities are dominated by a Tory fund-raising machine which raises at least pounds 500,000 a year - and probably nearer a million.'