Sunday, December 31, 2006

Scale of Tory dodgy dinners revealed...

Tory Leader David Cameron has raised more than £100,000 from a private club which offers fundraising lunches at the House of Commons, according to today's Sunday Times.

The club is one of a number of so-called Patron's Clubs now being officially investigated after complaints that they breach a strict rule which prevents Parliamentary dining rooms being used for party fundraising purposes.

In my last post on this subject, I credited the Sunday Times with uncovering this story - and I'm happy to point out that it was in fact an article in The Guardian many months ago that kicked it off.

Today's ST says Oxfordshire residents are charged £480 a year for membership of which entitles subsrcibers to two private lunches in the parliamentary dining rooms.

Earlier this month The Sunday Times revealed that Tory constituencies — including Cameron’s — were effectively selling invitations to parliamentary dinners with shadow ministers for hundreds of pounds each.

Last week Sir Philip Mawer, the parliamentary standards commissioner launched a formal investigation into the Conservative dining clubs.

It is against parliamentary rules to use the dining rooms for fundraising.

Extract from today's Sunday Times follow-up:

This weekend the scale of the activities — revealed in the accounts filed by local constituencies — can be disclosed for the first time.

According to the accounts of Cameron’s Witney constituency party, his Principal Patrons club brought in £29,954 last year and £25,167 the year before. The outgoings for the club were just £3,226 last year, so it made a profit of £26,728.

The club is described as a “major income contributor” and is the largest source of funds for the constituency, even outstripping money raised from membership fees.

Other shadow cabinet members are also reliant on the thousands of pounds raised from their patrons’ clubs. Tatton, the Cheshire constituency of George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, has made more than £40,000 from his patrons’ club since he was elected in 2001.

The patrons’ club of Alan Duncan, the shadow trade and industry secretary, has raised more than £20,000 in the past two years for his Rutland and Melton constituency.

The party accounts for last year also refer to a Christmas lunch that was held at the Commons with Cameron as the guest speaker.

The Tory MPs are alleged to have broken parliament’s banqueting rules which state: “The private dining rooms are not to be used for direct financial or material gain by a sponsor, political party or any other person or outside organisation.”

The Conservatives have denied that the membership fees were a direct payment for the dinners. A spokesman said: “The rules state the rooms may be used for party political purposes and MPs can hire out the rooms for a charge. We have asked Sir Philip to clarify the rules. We believe we have broken no rules.”

Watch this space...

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