Jack Straw MP has written to the Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission today in response to reports on the Tory donor scandal. The letter can be read below:
The Electoral Commission
3 Bunhill Row
Dear Mr Wardle,
Donations to the Conservative Party and the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000
I write to you following reports by The Sunday Times on 25 March, 2012 regarding donations to the Conservative Party alleged to have been solicited by the Party’s then co-treasurer Mr Peter Cruddas, and by a Ms Sarah Southern, a long-serving former Conservative Party staffer.
According to reports, undercover reporters told Mr Cruddas and Ms Southern that they were interested in making a donation on behalf of Middle Eastern donors. The reporters were allegedly told that money from foreign investors could be channelled through a company established by the reporters as they were on the UK electoral roll (See the accompanying Annex, note A, for the relevant quote from the Sunday Times report).
The Sunday Times has published a series of video recordings of both Mr Cruddas and Ms Southern. In one of these clips, Ms Southern says that she had spoken to the Conservative Party about the situation and that they said that money would have to come via “an individual, or individuals who are on the electoral roll”. Pressed by the reporters as to whether the Conservative Party would need to clarify this situation, Ms Southern said, “The Party, the Party won’t ask.” (A full transcript of this recording is attached in the Annex to this letter, note B).
The law is clear on the permissibility of donations to political parties. The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) stipulates that donations are only permissible if they come from individuals registered on the UK electoral roll, or from companies registered in the UK.
(2) For the purposes of this Part the following are permissible donors—
(a) an individual registered in an electoral register;
(b) a company—
(i) registered under the Companies Act 1985 or the 1985 c. 6.Companies (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, and S.I. 1986/1032
(ii) incorporated within the United Kingdom or another (N.I. 6).member State, which carries on business in the United Kingdom;
Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (page 42-43)
PPERA also stipulates that where a donation is received by way of another person, the party must be given details in respect of the original donor.
(5) In relation to each such separate donation, the principal donor must ensure that, at the time when the principal donation is received by the party, the party is given—
(a) (except in the case of a donation which the principal donor is treated as making) all such details in respect of the person treated as making the donation as are required by virtue of paragraph 2 of Schedule 6 to be given in respect of the donor of a recordable donation; and (b) (in any case) all such details in respect of the donation as are required by virtue of paragraph 4 of Schedule 6 to be given in respect of a recordable donation.
(a) any person (“the agent”) causes an amount to be received by a registered party by way of a donation on behalf of another person (“the donor”), and
(b) the amount of that donation is more than £200, the agent must ensure that, at the time when the donation is received by the party, the party is given all such details in respect of the donor as are required by virtue of paragraph 2 of Schedule 6 to be given in respect of the donor of a recordable donation.
(7) A person commits an offence if, without reasonable excuse, he fails to comply with subsection (5) or (6).
Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (page 43-44)
These reports raise serious questions as to how the Conservative Party is soliciting donations, potentially in contravention of PPERA. A number of questions are worthy of further investigation:
- In soliciting donations which they believed to come from an overseas source, were Mr Cruddas and/or Ms Southern, or others committing a criminal offence?
- Is the reported method of soliciting donations from an overseas source as outlined by Mr Cruddas/Ms Southern standard practice within the Conservative Party?
- Why did Mr Cruddas, and Ms Southern, evidently believe that this practice was legitimate?
- Who at the Conservative Party advised Southern how the undercover reporters could get around electoral law?
- Do other donations to the Conservative Party ultimately come from overseas?
It would also be helpful to know whether your Commission has been aware of the procedures which the Conservative Party have in place for ensuring full disclosure; and what if any precautions have they taken to ensure that sufficient disclosure is made to ensure that the donor is not acting for a third party.
As the body tasked with enforcement of PPERA, under the 2000 Act, I would be grateful if you would investigate this matter. I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.
Given the public interest in this matter I am releasing a copy of this letter to the media. I am also sending a copy to the Prime Minister, and to Francis Maude.