Labour yesterday brought forward the publication of the names of big donors to the party in order to head off charges of secrecy over its own funding, as it pursued its attack on Conservative "ministers for sale".
Labour officials said they would publish an "interim" list of big donors in September - contradicting earlier indications that the party would not disclose the identities of individuals and companies donating more than pounds 5,000 until after the election.
Despite much-repeated claims that the party would be completely open about the sources of its funding, it emerged that Labour would not disclose the amounts contributed to the party. It will simply publish a list of names of those giving more than pounds 5,000 in any one year.
Normally, the accounts, to be approved by this year's party conference would cover January to December1995. This meant that donors to Labour since January this year, when the party's policy of open disclosure was agreed, would not be disclosed until September 1997 -after the last possible date for a general election.
Labour has publicised a number of donations, including pounds 500,000 from the publisher Paul Hamlyn, who will pay for newspaper adverts exhorting party members and trades unionists to vote in the ballot on the party's pre-manifesto, New Labour, New Life for Britain.
At a pounds 450-a-head fundraising dinner at the Savoy hotel in London earlier this month, the animal rights pressure group Political Animal Lobby donated pounds 17,500 to party funds to buy Eric Cantona's FA Cup Final shirt in a celebrity auction.
Labour officials were unable to say yet how the party would declare the income from such events. Several companies which bought tickets said they did not regard the payments as political donations and would not declare them in their accounts.
A spokesman for Hanson, the Anglo-American conglomerate which donates money to the Conservative party but which also paid for two tickets to the Savoy dinner, said it was regarded as part of its "parliamentary liaison" work.
"It has always been part of our policy to have a dialogue with the main political parties," he said.
In the Commons yesterday, the Prime Minister was forced to reject a claim that he was "hired out" by a club created to raise funds for the Conservative party."No one can buy access to ministers, no one is promised favours," he said.
John Major was challenged by Peter Hain (Lab, Neath) about a report that for pounds 10,000 members of the Premier Club were offered dinner with Cabinet ministers, and that for pounds 100,000 donors could dine twice a year with the Prime Minister.
Harriet Harman profile: page 13
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