UK Politics

Ed Miliband attacks David Cameron's judgement over Tory donations

Labour leader Ed Miliband has said the "cash for access" row poses question marks about David Cameron's judgement.

He said an internal Conservative inquiry into newspaper revelations that its former co-treasurer Peter Cruddas offered policy influence in return for donations was a "whitewash".

The allegations were "grave" and should be examined by the PM's adviser on ministerial interests, he told MPs.

But the Tories say Labour failed to deal with party funding while in power.

During stormy Commons exchanges, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said there had been plenty of funding scandals during Labour's years in power and they were "past masters" at "cash for policy".

The Conservatives have asked Lord Gold, a Tory peer and lawyer, to examine their procedures for party donations in light of Mr Cruddas's comments - which prompted his resignation.

'Grave accusations'

But Mr Miliband said this was insufficient and it would be a "permanent stain" on the government's reputation if there was no independent probe.

"The revelations this weekend concern the prime minister's office, his policy unit, and his judgement," he said. "This represents grave accusations about the way access is gained and policy is made."

He said the matter should be referred to Sir Alex Allan, the man responsible for policing compliance with the ministerial code.

"This government promised transparency and promised to clean up politics, now they won't even agree to a proper inquiry... this scandal speaks to the conduct and character of the prime minister and government."

Mr Cruddas was secretly filmed saying that a donation of £200,000 or £250,000 gave "premier league" access to party leaders, including private dinners with Mr Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne.

He also suggested that any such donor could have their feedback on political plans fed back to Downing Street policy-makers.

He was speaking to the reporters posing as staff from a fake wealth fund based in Liechtenstein who were interested in doing business in the UK.

'Need for change'

Mr Cameron has said the former treasurer's comments were "unacceptable" and "wrong" but that Mr Cruddas had not arranged for anybody to visit No 10 and there was no question of donors influencing policy.

The Conservatives were initially unwilling on Sunday to say which donors had been guests in David Cameron's flat for dinner, but by lunchtime on Monday published details of three dinners he held for "significant donors" in his private flat in Downing Street as well as a fourth post-election party in 2010.

None of the meetings were paid for by the taxpayer, he said, and many of those who attended he had known for "many years".

In future, Mr Cameron said, all meals between Conservatives and their donors will be published quarterly while there will be a register of all meetings between ministers and those giving money to the party.

No 10 has also provided a list of donors who have had lunch or dinner with the prime minister at Chequers, the PM's official residence in Buckinghamshire.

They include former Conservative vice-chairman Lord Ashcroft as well current co-chairman Andrew Feldman and businessmen David Rowland, Michael Spencer and Howard Leigh.

Aides to Mr Osborne said he had not entertained any major donors at his Downing Street residence.

Mr Miliband said the prime minister had shown "utter contempt" for Parliament by choosing not to make a Commons statement on the issue - saying this suggested "he's got something to hide".

Speaking for the government, Mr Maude said the "most of what he (Mr Cruddas) said was simply not true" and the government had been more open about ministerial meetings than any predecessor.

On reforms to party funding, he said the parties had come "agonisingly close" to an agreement in the last Parliament and accused Labour of standing in the way of a deal.

"For 13 years they had the chance to make government transparent, for 13 years they had the chance to reform party funding, for 13 years they did nothing and worse than nothing, they blocked reform," he said.

Mr Maude said cross-party talks needed to look at limiting the size of big donations, the role of affiliates such as trade unions and encouraging smaller donations.

'Mired in controversy'

The three main parties at Westminster are nominating representatives to take part in a new set of cross-party talks, with Mr Maude leading for the Conservatives.

The coalition agreement drawn up between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats after the 2010 election vowed to pursue an agreement to "remove big money from politics".

For the Lib Dems, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said the row over Ms Cruddas' comments meant that even greater urgency was required.

Speaking in South Korea - where he is on a trade mission - he said all political parties had been caught up in controversies over political donations.

"The system doesn't work, it is often mired in controversy and we need to fix it and fix it fast," he said.

A list released by Mr Clegg's office featured four dinners or lunches attended by major donors to his party at his official residence, Chevening.

In a report last year, the Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended a £10,000 cap on donations, more taxpayer funding of political parties, and trade union members being given the choice of whether or not to donate to Labour.

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