MEP 'used expenses to make donation to Tory party'

Ben Russell,James Macintyre
Tuesday 10 June 2008 00:00

A senior Tory MEP channelled more than £750,000 of parliamentary allowances into a family firm which then gave donations to the Conservative Party, The Independent has established.

Figures from the Electoral Commission show that MP Holdings, which is paid to give Den Dover secretarial and administrative support from European Parliament funds, gave the Chorley Conservative Party a donation of £1,200 in December last year. The firm, run by Mr Dover's wife Kathleen and daughter Amanda, also gave the North West Regional Conservative Party a donation in kind of printing worth £1,701 in 2004.

In company accounts up to April 2007, MP Holdings does not appear to have any other income except from the European Parliament.

Last night, Tory officials were trying to track down Mr Dover, 70, to establish whether he had been using European funds to bankroll his local party. "Clearly Den Dover needs to provide answers," said one Tory source.

Mr Dover, who has strenuously denied breaking any European Parliament rules, was dropped as Conservative Chief Whip in the European Parliament last week after details emerged of his £758,000 expenses payments to the firm during seven years.

Mr Dover has insisted that the arrangement is entirely within the spirit of European regulations, and Conservative officials insisted his departure as Chief Whip was unrelated to the row over his expenses.

The former backbench Tory MP is also a substantial personal donor to the party, handing the party cash gifts of more than £57,000 since 2001.

The veteran right-winger is a methodist and a former civil engineer from Warrington, Cheshire. He lists playing cricket, golf and hockey among his interests.

Mr Dover rose from local politics in the London borough of Barnet to become one of the most senior Conservatives in the European Parliament during his40-year political career.

Educated at Manchester Grammar School and Manchester University, from which he graduated with a first-class honours degree in civil engineering, he had a successful career in the building industry before becoming the Conservative MP for Chorley in 1979.

He is a former chief executive of the National Building Agency, worked for George Wimpey and John Laing, and was director of housing construction for the now defunct Greater London Council between 1977 and 1979. On his website, he says he was involved in building offices and shopping centres across Europe. At Westminster, Mr Dover defied the whips over issues such as Sunday trading. He won a seat in the European Parliament for the North- west in 1999, and was appointed Chief Whip.

Mr Dover lost his job the day after the former Conservative leader in Brussels, Giles Chichester, quit over his £445,000 expenses payments to a family firm of which he is a paid director. Last night, Mr Dover was unavailable for comment.

The developments came as David Cameron's chief anti-sleaze "enforcer" arrived in Brussels to shake up the party's expenses arrangements after the Conservative leader ordered MEPs to publish full details of their expenses claims every three months. Hugh Thomas, a former City high-flyer who has been head of compliance with a series of major banks, will hold talks with Conservative MEPs today.

Yesterday, Mr Cameron attempted to draw a line under the row, after days being buffeted by claims about the party's MEPs and his party chairman Caroline Spelman. He insisted that MEPs and MPs must only claim expenses that voters believe are "reasonable". He told GMTV: "We have got to recognise as MPs it is not enough just to meet the letter of the rules. We have to be happy that everything we put in place for funding our offices is something that reasonable and practical people would look at and say: 'That's OK.'"

The Westminster anti-sleaze watchdog said he was "considering carefully" whether to investigate whether Ms Spelman broke Commons rules by employing her children's nanny using parliamentary allowances. John Lyon, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, said it would be "exceptional" to investigate a complaint that went back more than seven years that had been referred to him by the MP concerned.

But he said he would consult the all-party Commons Standards and Privileges Committee before deciding whether he needs to launch an inquiry.

A spokesman for the party said: "David Cameron has been very clear on the need for transparency in both MPs' and MEPs' expenses and expects them to be forthcoming with the details of how they have spent taxpayers' money."

It has also emerged that four Liberal Democrat MEPs channel parliamentary allowances to pay their staff through the party's Cowley Street headquarters. The party confirmed that Andrew Duff, Fiona Hall, Bill Newton Dunn and Sarah Ludford paid the party a fee for payroll and other administrative services, but insisted that funds were kept entirely separate from party finances.

'UK's laziest MEP' made two speeches in 4 years

David Sumberg, one of the Conservative Party’s MEPs from the North West, has been branded “Britain’s laziest MEP” for asking only two questions and giving two speeches since the last European elections in 2004. It was revealed earlier this year that the MEP made payments to his wife, Carolyn, of up to £60,000 a year for her services as a secretary.

Mr Sumberg, who lives 200 miles from his constituency in a £2m house in London, says he now employs his wife, who is still described on the Conservative Party website as a freelance translator and mature student, as a fulltime assistant.

Chris Davies, the Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West, said: “It really cheeses me off when an MEP so ostentatiously ignores their duty of service. We all get tarnished.” A statement on Mr Sumberg’s website says he is standing down next year.

“Ten years in the European Parliament is long enough. This is particularly so for me as someone who is not a signed-up member of the European project,” it read. “It is no secret that, unlike most of my MEP colleagues, I do not support a more centralised and federal European Union.”

Mr Sumberg says he specialises in foreign affairs and has a particular interest in relations with the US. He began his political career on Manchester City Council and was MP for Bury South for 14 years, serving as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Attorney General, Sir Patrick Mayhew, from 1987 to 1990.

He has two children and lists one of his interests as travel.

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