In the 1991/92 Conservative Central Office accounts the party declared just over pounds 19m in donations. But in a trawl of annual reports of 3,000 of the biggest companies in the United Kingdom, and 2,000 private companies, researchers traced just pounds 3.7m in declared donations to the Tory party.
In its 1987 survey the Labour Research Department funded by the trade unions traced pounds 5.5m of the pounds 13.6m donations published in their accounts.
The party has rejected calls by party activists for the source of major donors to be named. Occasional revelations leak out, such as the pounds 1m from Asil Nadir, the Turkish Cypriot founder of Polly Peck who is facing charges of theft and false accounting involving more than pounds 30m. Sir Brian Wyldebore-Smith, former chairman of the Conservative Board of Finance, has said that pounds 7m of donations came from foreigners.
The Labour Research survey was due to be published next month but this was brought forward in time for today's hearing of evidence from Sir Norman Fowler, party chairman, before the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which is investigating the party's funding arrangements.
By law, companies must declare political donations of pounds 200 or more, but large donations to political funds can be routed through overseas associate companies without being declared to shareholders. The survey shows the top 11 companies gave donations ranging from pounds 70,000 to pounds 130,000. Most are regular contributors, including United Biscuits, Taylor Woodrow, Hanson, Glaxo and P & O.
Neal Moister, who conducted the Labour Research survey, said one of the explanations for the decline in declared company donations was the fall in the number of firms giving support, from 428 to 280. Some of the largest losses were from previously regular donors.
Robin Cook, Labour's trade and industry spokesman, was shocked at the pounds 15m discrepancy between the Tory party's declared donations and those traced by the Labour Research Department.
He said: 'This proves the case for Labour's demand that the source of donations should be declared by the party who gets them. The nation is entitled to know who are the big businessmen who bankroll their government.
'So long as it doesn't come out into the open there is nothing to deter the party from giving something in return.
'Michael Heseltine (President of the Board of Trade) is of course in a position to find out where the money comes from. He should get the Department of Trade and Industry investigating the companies that have failed to declare the missing donations under the Companies Act.'
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