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"British political funding has been going the American way for years"
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Wednesday, 3 January, 2001, 10:56 GMT
'Labour blameless' in donor saga

The Labour party is not to blame for the delay in naming Paul Hamlyn as the source of a 2m donation, a friend of the millionaire publisher has insisted.

Lord Hamlyn came forward on Tuesday after growing pressure on Labour for details of the gift to be made public.

His business partner and fellow Labour donor Lord Gavron said the delay was only down to his friend's illness, not mishandling by the party.

Lord Hamlyn: 'Proud' to support Labour
Lord Hamlyn: 'Proud' to support Labour
"I think it's a one-off situation which was hugely unfortunate: the fact that he was extremely unwell," Lord Gavron told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said Lord Hamlyn was so badly affected by a bout of pneumonia over the weekend he could not be contacted when the story broke.

By Monday evening he was feeling better and informed Labour officials he would think about going public over the next 24 hours.

The two men met on Tuesday morning.

"We chatted and he agreed to release his name then but it couldn't really be released any earlier without his permission and they were correct, I think, in not releasing it without his permission," Lord Gavron said.

Labour defended

"So it wasn't really a screw up within the Labour party, it was due to the unfortunate thing which was that Lord Hamlyn was extremely ill."

Until then the "shy" publisher had asked Labour not publicise his donation, Lord Gavron said.

His comments add detail to Lord Hamlyn's statement, released soon after 1200GMT, which said he had stayed silent because he was "overseas recovering from serious illness".

Peer's pride

It said the 2m was one of several large donations he had made to political and other causes.

Lord Hamlyn declared: "I'm proud to be a long-standing supporter of the Labour party and the Labour government."

"Under the existing legislation I'm under no obligation to disclose the sum I have donated but I'm happy to do so."

Labour cannot be trusted not to give influence for large donations

Tory spokesman Andrew Lansley
Following the admission restaurateur and designer Sir Terence Conran, a friend of Lord Hamlyn for 30 years, said he has been "heroically" battling illness which had "gone on and on and on and on".

The statement followed days of media speculation, criticism from opposition parties and pressure from senior Labour figures.

It came shortly before a new law comes into effect, introduced by the government, that forces political parties to identify all donors giving more than 5,000.

Tories attacked Labour over the Hamlyn donation.

Shadow cabinet office minister Andrew Lansley said: "Labour cannot be trusted not to give influence for large donations."

Scrutiny demand

Malcolm Bruce, chairman of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party, said: "Lord Hamlyn's illness may explain his decision not to report his donation but future donors will not have the luxury of anonymity.

"Political donations must be open to scrutiny to avoid the suspicion of buying influence."

Mr Bruce's opposite number in the Labour Parliamentary Party, Clive Soley, defended the way the affair was handled.

Clive Soley
Clive Soley has defended Labour's actions
Before Lord Hamlyn came forward, he had joined former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle and MP Glenda Jackson in pressing their party to name the 2m donor.

Mr Soley told Today: "Lessons have been learned and I think will be but they were learned a long time ago."

He said donors of amounts above 5,000 were already named in the party's annual report and he stressed it was a Labour government which had introduced the new disclosure rules.

Lord Hamlyn's statement was "very, very good" and he was glad the peer had come forward, Mr Soley added.

The saga has also reopened the debate on state funding for political parties, with Mr Soley suggesting he had come round to the idea.

Earlier Lord Gavron said he - like the Liberal Democrats - fully supported state funding.

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See also:

03 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Labour MP calls for funding re-think
02 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Labour's mystery 2m donor named
02 Jan 01 | UK
Lord Hamlyn: Labour's donor
02 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Labour moves to end cash row
02 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Pressure over Labour's 2m gift
02 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Labour's 11 ennobled donors
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