PRIME Minister David Cameron is at the centre of a cash-for-peerages row following the appointment of two wealthy Tory backers to the House of Lords.
Financier and party co-treasurer Michael Farmer and businessman Ranbir Suri are among 12 new Conservative working peers announced yesterday.
Other appointments include the high-profile businesswoman and West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady and former Marks & Spencer chief Sir Stuart Rose
Two former Liberal Democrat council leaders from Yorkshire have also been appointed, in the shape of Paul Scriven, the ex-Sheffield Council leader, and Kath Pinnock, who led Kirklees Council.
Mr Scriven said: “I am delighted but have a real sense of responsibility. I am the son of a binman and I don’t suppose many son of binmen go on to sit in the House of Lords.”
He said he would work for a more tolerant and liberal country and would be proud to represent his adopted home city of Sheffield. Mr Scriven lost his seat to Labour at local elections two years ago.
The cash-for-peerages row arose as analysis by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), which campaigns for an elected upper chamber, revealed Mr Farmer has donated more than £6.5m to the Conservatives.
Mr Singh, a former general secretary of the Board of British Sikhs, has contributed a further £312,435 – either personally or through his company Oceanic Jewellers, the ERS said.
Its chief executive, Katie Ghose, said such appointments meant wealthy political donors were effectively able to buy a place in the legislature.
“These appointments further cement the impression that to get into the House of Lords all you have to do is write a fat cheque to a political party or be a party hack,” she said.
“The second chamber is a crucial part of our political system, with real legislative power. It cannot be right that people are effectively able to buy a seat at the highest level of politics.”
The Tories strongly defended the appointment of Mr Farmer, describing him as a “worthy recipient” of a peerage.
“He has been involved in numerous charities and is co-founding sponsor of a successful academy chain school in south London,” a Tory source said.
The party also pointed out that in the past, wealthy Labour donors had been made peers including Lord Sugar and Lord Sainsbury.
The ERS said that of the 21 new working peers appointed by the three main political parties, six had made donations to them – either directly to the party or to individual candidates – while 16 had held some form of previous political position.
It said that of the new Lib Dem peers, Barbara Janke, former leader of Bristol City Council, had donated £5,498, while Mr Scriven had given £2,000.
Mr Scriven said: “This is open. It’s in the public domain and it’s over a period of about 10 years and it includes my party membership, I believe.
“The Liberal Democrats cannot rely on being bankrolled by trade unions or big business. I am a supporter of the party and it relies on people like me finding £100 now and then to help them.
“People might like to reflect on the fact that the majority of the new Liberal Democrat peers are not people from big business but people like myself and Kath Pinnock who have come up from the grassroots.”
On the Labour side, former EastEnders actor Michael Cashman has donated £2,500 to the party while the publisher and chair of Penguin Random House, Dame Gail Rebuck, has given £2,000.
The ERS pointed out that Dame Gail’s late husband, Labour peer Lord Gould, had also previously made donations to the party totalling £31,250.