Tory made £180,000 donation weeks before peerage

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A wealthy Tory businessman gave £180,000 to the Conservative party only weeks before being awarded a peerage, records published yesterday show.

A wealthy Tory businessman gave £180,000 to the Conservative party only weeks before being awarded a peerage, records published yesterday show.

Irvine Laidlaw, a former tax exile, gave the money through his conferences company, The Institute for International Research, at the end of March. Four weeks later it was announced that he was one of only five Conservatives to be awarded peerages. There is no suggestion of impropriety by Mr Laidlaw, but yesterday questions were raised about whether the millionaire businessman told the House of Lords Appointments Commission about his latest donation.

Lord Oakeshott, a leading Liberal Democrat peer, said: "This raises the serious question about whether the Appointments Commission was aware of this large donation when he was awarded this peerage." Mr Laidlaw's nomination is believed to have been delayed announcement of new peers while the Lords Appointment Commission examined his tax status.

The businessman who has given an estimated £1.5m to the Tory party, is reported to have agreed to renounce his status as a tax exile and return from Monaco to assume his title.

The Conservative millionaire, to join the House of Lords next month, is believed to have been nominated for a peerage by Iain Duncan Smith while he was Tory leader. Several wealthy supporters have given cash to Michael Howard's party between January and March this year.

Donors who appeared to have put their chequebooks away during Mr Smith's leadership have reappeared, including the businessman Stuart Wheeler who in February gave the Tories £50,000. Others include Lady Victoria de Rothschild, former wife of the banking tycoon Sir Evelyn, who gave £50,000 and Frederick Forsyth, the author, who gave £6,000. Rupert Murdoch's company, News International, which owns TV channels and newspapers including The Sun and The Sunday Times, paid for travel worth almost £19,000 for Michael Howard to address a conference in Cancun, Mexico.

The figures, from the Electoral Commission, which records cash received by political parties, show that in the first quarter of this year the Tories received £2,645,283, and the Labour party £2,546,400.

The Labour receipts were dominated by cash from the trades unions. But they also included £50,000 from Patrick Stewart, the Star Trek actor. The United Kingdom Independence Party, which claims it has a £2m war chest to fight the June Euro elections, received only £251,750 in the first part of the year. But the Liberal Democrats pulled in nearly £1m. That includes £1,700 from Ms Julia Gash, who runs shops selling sex toys, and is an MEP candidate for the party.

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