Five questions for William Hague - The Rt. Hon. David Miliband MP's speech to Labour North Regional Conference 2010

David Miliband MPSpeaking to Labour's Northern Regional Conference, in Sunderland, Labour's Foreign Secretary, Rt Hon David Miliband MP said:
 

“The great myth being peddled in politics is that today is that the Tories have changed. The proof that they haven’t is the Ashcroft saga. The Tories talk about change but they haven’t changed their party – or who controls it.
 
Last month David Cameron attacked “money buying influence” – yet we now know that at the time he said those words his Deputy Chairman had not fulfilled a promise to pay ‘tens of a millions a year in tax’ and his Deputy Leader knew that he had not.
 
Last month David Cameron claimed the Tories were “a new generation, come of age in the modern world of openness and accountability.” But this week they showed they were the same old party – “evasive and obfuscatory”, as the Information Commissioner put it. So much for a changed Tory party.
 
Last month he said: “I believe it’s time we shone the light of transparency” on party funding. But far from shining the light of transparency, the Tories have spent the last ten years – and in particular the last few months – doing their best to keep it from us and, it seems, the British public.
 
Last month David Cameron said “buying power and influence” must stop. But - out of the public gaze - Ashcroft and his millions still hold sway. They’re not Cameron’s Conservatives – they’re Ashcroft’s Conservatives up and down the country today.
 
The culture of concealment goes to the top of the Tory party. David Cameron took hard cash without asking the hard questions. You’ll remember at the time of John Major it was ‘cash for questions’ – with David Cameron it’s ‘cash without questions’. Take the money, no questions asked. Pump the money into the marginal seats. And hope the public don’t ask where it comes from.
 
And as for William Hague, he seems to think the special relationship is between Britain and Belize. But this is no laughing matter. Since 2001 he’s tried to rebuild his reputation – out with the 14 pints and the baseball cap; in with talking the talk about responsible government. But all along he had mortgaged his credibility on permanent assurances that were not worth the paper they were written on.
 
Earlier this week William Hague suggested he didn’t know until at least a few months ago that Ashcroft had not satisfied the original assurance to become a permanent resident. But this morning, Sir Hayden Phillips made it clear that William Hague knew in 2000 that Ashcroft was no longer intending to satisfy the original promise that Hague had publicly made just months before.
 
No wonder Hague has gone to ground. A man famous for his way with words but now no one can find him to ask the tough questions.
 
1. Did Hague agree a deal ten years ago to change the promise he made in public that Ashcroft would become a 'permanent resident' and pay 'tens of millions a year in tax'?
 
2. If Hague did agree that change, as Sir Hayden Phillips says, then why did he do so, since it seemed to break his original promise for the benefit of no-one but Ashcroft?
 
3. If he did agree to that change, then did he know then that change could allow Ashcroft to avoid 'tens of millions a year in tax'? And if he didn't know then, then surely he now feels misled by Ashcroft?
 
 
4. If Hague knew ten years ago that the deal had changed, why does he now claim he didn't know until at least a few months ago?

 
 
5. Why has Hague concealed the truth from the public and, it seems, his own party about Ashcroft for ten years?"

 
 
Ends
 
Note to Editors:
 
Sir Hayden Phillips said on Radio 4 Today programme this morning: “Can I just make two points: first of all, the principle purpose of my involvement then, which was not as Permanent Secretary but a Parliamentary office which I also held, called Clerk of the Crown and the Chancery, was to be satisfied that the terms were such that he would be able to sit regularly in the House of Lords and would be living in the United Kingdom. My principle concern was not about any tax arrangement. But in order to make sure the commitments he had made were being satisfactorily met, I wanted to make sure that Political Honours Scrutiny Committee and the Conservative Party leadership were of one mind as to what he was agreeing to and that was agreed. Now I agree that the words that were then formulated were different from those that were originally announced but both the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee and the Conservative Leadership at the time agreed with those words.”
 
“I don’t know how the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee or the leadership of the Conservative Party were interpreting at that time. All I know was there was agreement between them in the form of words concerned.”