Tories escape legal action over donations

The Electoral Commission report has been ongoing for 18 months
The Electoral Commission report has been ongoing for 18 months

By staff

An Electoral Commission report into donations to the Tory party from Michael Ashcroft's Bearwood Corporate Services company has ended the possibility of legal action.

The commission confirmed the business was a permissible donor, in that it was registered and trading in the UK.

"This means the Conservative party's clean bill of health with the Electoral Commission remains fully intact," a Tory party spokesman said.

A judgement against the company would have made the Ashcroft row far more serious for the opposition, presenting it with serious questions about how it would fund its election campaign.

But the report will not end concerns over Lord Ashcroft's tax status. The matter is still the main issue being discussed in the halls of Westminster and David Cameron is facing sustained questions about what he knew and when.

The Conservative spokesman added: "It is now clear that the continuing attacks on Michael Ashcroft are part of a politically motivated campaign orchestrated by the Labour Party in advance of the general election in order to distract attention from the real issues facing this country."

The Conservatives did not receive a completely clean bill of health from the commission, however.

The report said Tory officials had refused requests for interviews while it was conducting the investigation - a fact certain to fuel Labour accusations of Tory secrecy over Lord Ashcroft's role in the party.

"The commission's current powers are limited, notably that it does not currently have the power to require anyone to attend an interview, and only has the power to require the provision of documents from a party and its officers, but not from reported donors or others," the report said.

Jenny Watson, chair of the committee, added: "We have asked to meet party officials to ensure that they are clear about their responsibilities for complying with this aspect of the law."

The report was brought forward after pressure from Labour and the Lib Dems after the Ashcroft row broke out on Monday.


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