Let me first say to the Minister for the Cabinet Office: It shouldn’t be him at the despatch box today. It should have been the Prime Minister coming to this House. The revelations this weekend concern the Prime Minister’s office, his policy unit, and his judgement. And it shows utter contempt for this House that the Prime Minister can make a statement to the media just three hours ago but refuses to come here to face Members of Parliament.
The reason he has come to the House today is not because of long-standing debates about party funding, but because of grave revelations this weekend. This is about the Prime Minister’s chief fundraiser seeking cash for access. What did he say, and I quote:
“The first thing we do…is get you at the Cameron and Osborne dinners, and in fact some of our bigger donors have been for dinner in Number 10 Downing Street”.
About seeking cash for influence:
“We get a chance to ask the Prime Minister questions …What do you think we are going to do about the top rate of tax…Everything is confidential…”
And seeking cash for policy:
“If you’re …unhappy about something…we’ll listen to you and we’ll put it into the policy committee at No10.”
These represent grave allegations about the way that access is gained and policy is made. They are about a breaking down of the lines between support for a political party and the way government policy is determined.
So first, will the Minister for the Cabinet Office accept that it is completely inadequate for the investigation into what happened to be conducted by the Conservative Party?
The Prime Minister today put forward a Conservative peer, Lord Gold, to carry out this inquiry. A Conservative peer appointed by him. So this is an inquiry into the Conservative Party; by the Conservative Party; for the Conservative Party.
Let’s call it what it is. It’s a whitewash. And everyone knows it. We need a proper independent inquiry appropriate to the gravity of what is at stake. So will the minister now agree to an inquiry conducted by the independent adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Alex Allan?
On cash for access, specifically the inquiry should cover: All the donors the Prime Minister has met in Downing Street or Chequers since May 2010, and whether any of those meetings were in response to promises of cash for access?
And whether other senior ministers, including the Chancellor, have held such meetings?
On cash for influence: Whether Conservative party donors were offered the chance to put forward policy ideas in exchange for donations – as the whole country now knows was suggested by Peter Cruddas?
Whether any of these ideas were forwarded to the No10 policy unit, and which of these ideas found their way into the Chancellor’s Budget?
And whether government departments have been asked by Downing Street to facilitate ministerial and official meetings with donors?
Above all the inquiry needs to investigate a clear breaking down of the boundary between the Prime Minister as leader of his party, and the Prime Minister as head of our government.
Yesterday we were told the only people who had been to dinner in Downing Street were a few “long-standing friends” invited to the private flat. Today, he reluctantly admits that some of them weren’t invited because they were long-standing friends at all.
And it wasn’t in his private flat. It was a thank you dinner for donors who donated to the Conservative Party, held inside Downing Street. In total, £18 million from 12 donors.
Not the premier league. But the Champions League of Tory donors. I bet they did alright out of last week’s Budget.
Even this is not a complete list, because the Prime Minister has refused to name donors he met on government property who donated less than £50,000. His excuse? That these were the only ‘significant’ donations. Only this Prime Minister would think a donation of £49,000, twice the average salary, is not significant.
Next, will the Minister for the Cabinet office agree with me that the rules on party political funding are clear: It is illegal to solicit donations through overseas companies and also illegal to attempt to disguise these donations.
Yet there are allegations that this was exactly what Mr Cruddas was suggesting. Will he now undertake to recommend to the Prime Minister that he refers the Conservative Party to the Electoral Commission to investigate this practice by Mr Cruddas and whether it is practised by any other Conservative Party donors?
Thirdly, on the issue of party funding, let me say to the Minister, I am somewhat surprised by him suddenly saying he now wants to restart talks. Let me provide the House some background. The Deputy Prime Minister wrote to me and the Prime Minister on February 8th seeking cross-party talks with heads of terms to be decided by Easter. I replied with my suggested nominees for those talks 12 days later. Such was their enthusiasm for reform that in the five weeks since then, I have heard precisely nothing about these talks. Neither have my nominees.
All of a sudden they have become an urgent priority. What are we to make of their new-found enthusiasm for reform? What a coincidence - the day after the Tory treasurer seeks cash for access. And now, who have they nominated for these talks?
Who is their great reformer?
The Conservative Party Chairman, Lord Feldman. The man who just last September fatally undermined the Kelly inquiry into party funding by saying at the eleventh hour that a £10,000 cap on individual donations would: “hugely inhibit the ability of political parties to engage with the electorate”. Perhaps he should have said hugely inhibit the power of rich individuals to influence policy in Downing Street.
We are happy to have proper talks about funding. But it is ridiculous for the Government to seek to use them as a smokescreen. The problem with these people, as we saw with last week’s Budget, is that they think they can get away with anything. And they’ve been found out.
Mr Speaker, the weekend’s revelations show this Government cannot deliver the change we need. They promised transparency, they promised to clean up politics. Now they won’t even agree to a proper inquiry. And the Prime Minister is too ashamed to come to this House and explain.
This scandal speaks to the conduct and character of this Prime Minister and his Government.
Anything short of an independent inquiry will leave a permanent stain on the reputation of this Government and this Prime Minister.