Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Prince's Trust

Prince Charles’s charity and a £10k 'illegal donation' to Tory women

By Jason Lewis
08th March 2009

Prince Charles's charity The Prince’s Trust is facing an investigation into a potentially illegal donation to the Conservative Party.

The £10,050 was channelled through the group Women2Win, which is backed by David Cameron and campaigns to get more women Tory candidates.

Last night, Women2Win said it was prepared to repay the money to the trust - as the Charity Commission said it was examining what appears to be a clear contravention of the law banning charities from funding political parties.

Bernard Jenkin
David Cameron and Anne Jenkin

Fundraiser: Anne Jenkin with husband and MP Bernard and, right, as a 'rock chick' at a party with Tory leader David Cameron

Women2Win is a members’ association of the Tory Party with its official address at Conservative Central Office.

At the centre of the inquiry is a joint fundraising lunch arranged by The Prince’s Trust with Women2Win at the Commons nearly two years ago, with Lady Thatcher as guest of honour.

Twelve people paid a total of £20,100 to meet her. The money was collected by The Prince’s Trust, which then paid half the proceeds to Women2Win.

The women’s group, headed by Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Theresa May, then registered the payment as a political donation with the Electoral Commission.

Prince Charles

Prince Charles's charity The Prince's Trust faces an investigation into whether £10,050 was donated illegally to the Conservative Party

There were further questions because Commons rules ban using its facilities for party fundraising. Selling tickets at £1,675 a head for lunch with Lady Thatcher seems a clear breach.

Months before the lunch in October 2007, David Cameron was censured by a Parliamentary standards inquiry for using the Commons to hold similar money-making dinners for donors.

Last night, The Prince’s Trust claimed that senior officials on its board, which is headed by Prince Charles, its founder and President, had not approved nor been involved in the decision to hold the event with Women2Win.

The trust said the lunch had been set up by a member of its fundraising staff, although it admitted that the head of its major donors unit, Annie Williams, had been one of those to attend the event.

Also heavily involved, the trust said, was Anne Jenkin, a member of its women’s leadership group and founder and treasurer of Women2Win.

She is a political and charity events consultant and married to Bernard Jenkin, MP for North Essex and a former Tory deputy chairman.

Last night it was revealed that Mr Jenkin had used his Parliamentary privileges to book a Commons dining room for the lunch.

Last year Women2Win disclosed that it had received more than £50,000 in donations, the biggest being £10,050 from The Prince’s Trust Trading Ltd. Women2Win also gave £28,500 to the Conservative Party in 2008.

Last night The Prince’s Trust acknowledged the arrangement with Women2Win may have breached charity law and said it would hold discussions with the Charity Commission.

A trust spokesman said: ‘The decision was taken by a member of our fundraising staff in good faith.’

He said lunch with Lady Thatcher was originally ‘gifted’ to the trust after it was auctioned off at an earlier fundraising event which raised £400,000 for the charity.

The trust decided to sell tickets for the lunch to try to raise more cash and invited Mrs Jenkin to sell further tickets via Women2Win.

The spokesman added: ‘We secured further seats through our networks. Additional seats were secured by Anne Jenkin, a supporter of the trust and Women2Win.

'The proceeds from these additional seats were split between the two organisations.’

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said it would investigate and has contacted the trust.

She said that last year the commission had taken action against a charity that donated £7,500 to the Labour Party. Labour had been forced to return the cash.

Last night a Women2Win spokeswoman said: ‘We will put the money aside and once talks have taken place with the trust, be prepared to give it back if necessary.’

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker said if the money was not returned, the Tories face a complaint to the Commons authorities.

Anne Jenkin was not available for comment.

The Women2Win spokeswoman added: ‘She agreed with the trust to secure further donors to attend a lunch on the basis of an agreed split of funds between the trust and Women2Win.

‘The subsequent payment from The Princes Trust Trading Ltd was declared with the Electoral Commission in the normal way.

‘At the time the event was being planned, there was confusion about the rules concerning use of Commons facilities and political fundraising.

'Bernard Jenkin, in whose name the room was booked, will be writing to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to ask him to investigate whether any rule has been broken.’