A HAMPSHIRE MP is today at the centre of a political storm after linking three major housebuilders with political donations.

Eastleigh MP Chris Huhne questioned whether the county’s ruling Conservatives would be likely to block plans for thousands of new homes across south Hampshire because the party had accepted cash from senior figures at building firms.

The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman named Persimmon, Barratt Homes and Berkeley Homes during a parliamentary debate.

Using parliamentary privilege, he said: “It is a matter of public record that the Conservative party has received substantial political contributions from housebuilding companies that have been active in Hampshire, as well as from their owners.

“I am not saying that there is anything so simple or corrupt as a deal – cash for planning permissions – in any of these cases.

“I am merely stating that it is hardly likely that the leading movers and shakers in Britain’s greenfield housing industry would all donate to the Conservative Party if they thought it would block their proposals.

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“My constituents in Botley and Boorley Green had better be warned, and that gives added urgency to the need to review the plan now.”

His comments were condemned by senior Hampshire Tories and the firms he named.

Councillor Roy Perry, deputy leader of the county council, criticised Mr Huhne’s “innuendo” about the Conservative Party’s links with developers.

He said: “I personally have no knowledge of any contributions that any building companies may or may not have made to the Conservative Party and I am quite confident none have been made to Hampshire Conservative group and any member with an interest would have declared it.

“I very much regret Mr Huhne should try to introduce such innuendo which reflects very badly on him.”

Mr Huhne was speaking about controversial proposals for 6,000 new homes on green fields on the edge of Hedge End, which had attracted huge opposition from people living in nearby Botley and Boorley Green.

Much of the land is owned by the county council.

Communities Minister Shahid Malik, responding to Mr Huhne’s comments on Tory donations, said: “I would be extremely concerned if conflicts of interest over political donations had not been managed appropriately. I know that he is not suggesting that that is the case, but that he does not know.”

Donations made to the Conservatives nationally included £32,000 from Duncan H Davidson, founder of Persimmon Homes, and a further £10,000 from the company. Other donors included Lawrence A Barratt from Barratt Homes and Tony Pidgley, founder of Berkeley Homes.

A spokesman for Barratt Homes said: “Barratt does not make donations to political parties. The donation that Lawrence Barratt made was in a private capacity and he holds no executive position within the company.”

Lawrence Barratt himself founded Barratt Homes in 1958 and ceased to have any executive position within the company more than ten years ago.

A spokesman from Berkeley Homes said: “Berkeley Homes, and its parent company The Berkeley Group, can confirm that the company has not made any donations to the Conservative party.

“In addition, Berkeley can confirm that Mr Tony Pidgley made a private donation of £2,000 to the local constituency party of Adam Afriyie, MP for Windsor, which was registered on October 10, 2005 and is a matter of public record.

“All developments that the company undertakes are submitted through the planning process and any planning permissions are received entirely in accordance with planning authority procedures, which are a matter of full public record.”

No one from Persimmon Homes was available for comment.

Parliamentary privilege

PARLIAMENTARY privilege is a legal immunity enjoyed by members of the Houses of Parliament.

It allows MPs and peers to speak freely before those houses without fear of legal action on the grounds of slander or libel.

It also means that MPs cannot be arrested on civil matters within the grounds of the Houses of Parliament.

A consequence of the privilege of free speech is that MPs and peers are forbidden from uttering certain words, such as “liar”.