David Cameron’s fundraiser faces investigation

Answerable to Parliament. Lord Fink in the House of Lords

The Conservative Party treasurer was last night facing a Parliamentary standards investigation over his role in sponsoring a private dinner in the House of Lords for paying American Express card holders.

The shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said he had written to House of Lords Commissioner for Standards, asking him to probe why Lord Fink sponsored the money-making dinner as part of its $9,000 ‘Wimbledon Championships’ package available to American Express Platinum and Centurion card holders.

Lords sources suggested it was likely that Commissioner Paul Kernaghan, a former chief constable, would investigate potential breaches of the code, along with other allegations revealed by the Bureau.

Related article: Conservative Treasurer accused of breaking House of Lords rules 

He will then report to the House of Lords Committee for Privileges and Conduct, which can censure members found to have broken the code. Penalties can include a formal reprimand or, in the most extreme cases, suspension from the House of Lords until the following election.

Lord Fink admitted that he had offered to sponsor the American Express dinner, which was part of a money-making package for the company.

Lords rules state that banqueting facilities ‘are not to be used for the purposes of direct or indirect financial or material gain by a sponsor … or any other person or outside organisation’.

However after being contacted by the investigation he decided to withdraw the invitation. He said there was never any intention from profiting from the sponsorship and he had agreed to do so because American Express was offering a ‘sizeable charitable donation to a major hospital’.

American Express said it was to donate £3,000 to St Thomas’ Hospital in return for the dinner. It added it would still make the donation even though the dinner was no longer going ahead.

Lawmakers cannot be lobbyists too. The representatives of the people cannot live in the pockets of big business

– Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat deputy leader

But Trickett said the whole affair needed to be properly investigated.

The Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes said: ‘These revelations shine a spotlight on the often murky world of business interests in the House of Lords.

‘This is an institution that is long past its sell-by date. It is an affront to a modern democracy to have unelected peers file in to claim their tax-free £300 every day but be unaccountable to the people they govern.

‘Lawmakers cannot be lobbyists too. The representatives of the people cannot live in the pockets of big business.

‘How much more scandal do we need to see before we reform our outdated and unelected House of Lords?’

Related article: Undeclared interests – Peers fail to register business roles

Oliver Wright is Whitehall editor for the Independent.