Tories attack Ashcroft's peerage as 'an affront to dignity of Parliament'

Michael Ashcroft faced a series of attacks last night as senior political figures expressed distaste at the announcement of his ennoblement. Labour MPs also launched a fresh attack on the controversial Tory treasurer over the disclosure that his new London home is owned by an offshore company.

The Leader of the Lords, Baroness Jay of Paddington, described the nomination of Mr Ashcroft by William Hague, the Conservative Party leader, as "stinking". "What Mr Hague seems to have decided to do is to simply reward someone who has raised money," she said.

Viscount Cranborne, a former leader of the Conservatives in the Lords, said the decision to ennoble Mr Ashcroft was "an affront to the dignity and standing" of the Conservative Party and Parliament.

Referring to the conditions placed on Mr Ashcroft's peerage - that he would step down as UN ambassador for Belize and take up permanent residence in the UK - Lord Cranborne said: "As far as I know it is unprecedented for conditions to be set before anybody can become a peer."

The Labour MPs cast doubt on Mr Ashcroft's commitment to Britain after he was awarded a peerage on condition he returned to live in this country.

Mr Ashcroft has lived in Florida since the mid-1980s and his business interests are mainly in the United States and Belize, as well as the UK. Last year it was announced that the he had bought a large house in Westminster as a precursor to moving his affairs back to Britain. The house is not owned by Mr Ashcroft but by a company, Abstract Holdings Ltd. It ceased to be registered in Britain in 1991, though it was not clear last night in which country it was registered.

The Political Honours Scrutiny Committee agreed to Mr Ashcroft's ennoblement but only after he gave firm commitments to comply with the two conditions.

Last night Peter Bradley, Labour MP for The Wrekin, said the committee must police its decision. "This is just the latest in an extraordinarily complicated set of arrangements which Mr Ashcroft has to avoid UK taxes, and which speak volumes about his commitment to this country," he said.

Eric Chalker, deputy chairman of the Conservative Charter Movement, which campaigns for party democracy, said the appointment would damage the Tories' standing.

"Michael Ashcroft is the appointee of William Hague and it reinforces the impression that this is a private club from which party members are largely excluded," he said.

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