Committee to stage peerage inquiry
To Conservative fury, the Commons Public Administration Committee is to weigh in on the Ashcroft affair.
This morning, Labour's Gordon Prentice - who has long campaigned on the issue of Lord Ashcroft's tax status - managed to win a vote to hold a special one-off evidence session on "Propriety and Peerages".
Conservative members of the Committee were said to be "puce" with fury. But the committee will hear evidence on 18 March and Lord Ashcroft - and others - will be invited.
Labour's Dr Tony Wright, the chairman, explained that the session will "explore the process through which Michael Ashcroft's undertaking of 23 March 2000 to take up 'permanent residence' in the UK as a condition for his introduction into the House of Lords came to be interpreted in subsequent dialogue with the government as 'long-term residence', with likely consequent tax implications".
He added "the committee has no interest in the party dimension of this matter". So we can rest assured that no jot or scintilla of party politics will intrude on the committee's deliberations.
Meanwhile, an Electoral Commission report today cleared the Conservative Party and Lord Ashcroft of breaching electoral law in relation to £5.1m of donations from his company, Bearwood Corporate Services, after an 18-month investigation. The commission rejected allegations that Bearwood was not carrying on business in the UK and was therefore ineligible to make donations to political parties.
A statement from the Conservative Party said: "It has now been put beyond doubt that donations from Bearwood were entirely legitimate.
"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."