Jessica Elgot Deputy political editor
Mon, 13 March 2023 at 6:54 pm GMT
A Tory MP is facing questions over issues he raised in the House of Commons about a constituent’s business interests after his local Conservative association received thousands in donations.
Labour has said David Simmonds should justify the comments after it was revealed he received a £1,500 ticket to a Tory fundraiser from a local businessman whose hotel supplies firm he had asked a parliamentary question about.
Puneet Bhalla, the founder of the luxury hospitality products supplier Maxim World, had earlier given £10,000 to Simmonds’ local association.
Simmonds’ Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner Conservative association in west London received the sum in two donations of £5,000 each, both accepted on 16 August 2022.
In November 2022, Simmonds mentioned his constituent’s business by name in the Commons and asked about post-Brexit changes to EU law.
“I recently met my constituent, Puneet Bhalla, who is the founder and chief executive of Maxim World, a very successful small exporter of hotel goods across the world. He told me of some of the challenges that small and medium-sized exporters are facing with post-Brexit trade arrangements,” Simmonds said in the debate.
Simmonds asked the minister involved in the debate to inform him of plans to involve small and medium-sized businesses in a review of EU retained law.
Three months later, Bhalla was named as a donor in Simmonds’ register of interests for February 2023. He made a £1,500 donation to cover Simmonds’ ticket to the Conservative winter ball, a major party fundraising event.
Simmonds told the Guardian that all rules had been followed. “I regularly raise issues on behalf of named constituents in parliament, in written and oral questions, without fear or favour. All declaration of interest requirements have been complied with,” he said.
Maxim World did not respond to requests for comment.
The Labour party chair, Anneliese Dodds, said: “The suggestion that Conservative party donors have this sort of access, including questions being asked in parliament, blows apart Rishi Sunak’s promise of professionalism, integrity and accountability.
“David Simmonds must justify why he thinks it is appropriate to ask questions on behalf of a personal donor, and why he never got around to declaring it in the Commons.”
Simmonds was elected to the safe seat in 2019 after the retirement of the long-serving MP Nick Hurd, and he sits on the executive of the backbench 1922 Committee.
Under current rules, MPs are not allowed to lobby for any person or organisation within six months of receiving any money from them as a donation, though the personal donation to Simmonds in this case was made after he asked the question in parliament.
In 2020, another Tory MP, David Morris, apologised to the house after raising a question about the energy cable company Aquind, and asking the government to lobby Ofgem to make regulations that would benefit the company. Morris had accepted a donation of £10,000 from Aquind, which was declared on his register of interests.
Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary standards commissioner who looked into the matter, said Morris had broken the rules, which she said was “regrettable and disrespectful of the house’s system of standards”.