Ministers did party work on trips to colony: Parliamentary answers show that Tory business was carried out during official Hong Kong visits as controversy over links with Asil Nadir grows

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Indy Politics
Ministers engaged in party political activities in Hong Kong on more than a dozen occasions in the last Parliament, during official visits financed by the taxpayer.

A trawl of written answers to parliamentary questions tabled by Frank Dobson, Labour's employment spokesman, reveals that 11 ministers visiting the colony in their official capacity were involved in party business on 13 occasions up to the 1992 general election.

A number of the trips were clustered around the one made by John Major to the colony in September 1991, when the Tory begging bowl was out in earnest.

To the humiliation of the Hong Kong establishment, Mr Major broke off from his official engagements to dine with Li Ka- Shing, one of the world's richest men, who later gave the Tory party a substantial donation, reportedly pounds 1m - the scale of donation then desperately being sought for the impending general election.

A series of answers appearing to play down ministerial involvement in political actitivies and fund-raising includes Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, who visited in April and September 1991, saying: 'I saw fellow Conservatives briefly.'

An unnamed Minister of State at the Foreign Office, likely to be the Earl of Caithness, visited in January, July and December 1991.

Mark Lennox-Boyd, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, replied that the minister 'saw fellow Conservatives briefly' in January.

John (now Lord) Wakeham, the then Secretary of State for Energy, went in November 1991. He also said that he 'saw fellow Conservatives briefly'.

The then Minister of State for the department, Sir Peter Morrison, made an earlier trip in September 1988 and met 'fellow Conservatives in the margins of official duties'.

Peter Lloyd, the Home Office Minister of State, went in March 1990, and had a 'private engagement' with representatives from Conservatives Abroad, the well- financed organisation with more than 50 branches that specialises in maximising the expatriate vote.

The former Foreign Office Ministers of State, Lord Glenarthur and Francis Maude, 'saw fellow Conservatives' in June 1988 and September 1990, and in April and July 1990, respectively.

Mr Dobson said that the questions raised by the replies went far wider than Hong Kong. 'Ministers go to an awful lot of other places as well, and presumably between half and one-third of all visits result in time being given to the Tory party.'

John Gummer, then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, visited the colony in October 1991.

Replying on his behalf, David Curry, Parliamentary Private Secretary, said: 'My Rt Hon Friend does from time to time meet fellow Conservatives in the margins of public duties. He also often meets opposition leaders of all political persuasions both in the United Kingdom and abroad.'

An answer in similar vein was received on behalf of the then Secretary of State for Defence, Tom King, who visited in September 1991.

The former Chancellor, Sir Geoffrey Howe, had also 'seen fellow Conservatives briefly' in May 1988. Lord Young, the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, is said to have had 'early evening drinks' with Conservatives Abroad in June 1988.

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