The Tories and Liberal Democrats are giving up a £520,000 bequest from a former nurse amid confusion over whether she actually intended the money to go to the public purse.
The coalition parties moved to quell a wave of criticism after it emerged that Joan Edwards’s will left the money to “whichever government is in office at the date of my death”.
Officials insisted they had acted in good faith and stressed the executors, solicitors Davis Wood, had taken the decisions and merely notified them that they were beneficiaries of the estate.
In a further twist on Wednesday, the law firm insisted they had specifically checked with Miss Edwards, who died last September aged 90, what she wanted to happen.
“The will was drafted by a solicitor at Davis Wood in 2001,” a statement said.
“At the time of the instructions received from the late Miss Edwards, the solicitor specifically checked with Miss Edwards about the unusual nature of her proposed bequest and it was confirmed by Miss Edwards at the time of her instruction that her estate was to be left to whichever political party formed the government at the date of her death.”
When the bequest was disclosed along with other political donations, press officers briefed that it had been left to “whichever party was in government”. After some negotiation, the Tories received £420,000 and their junior partner £100,000.
However, doubt was cast on whether Miss Edwards’ wishes had been followed accurately when the Daily Mail obtained a copy of the will.
The revelation sparked demands from Labour and some of the Coalition parties’ own MPs for them to do the “decent thing” and hand the cash to the Treasury.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is understood to have been personally involved in the decision to give up the bequest.
“The Liberal Democrats have taken the decision to pass the donation granted to us by the executors of Ms Edwards’ will to the Treasury. Party officials have been instructed to contact the Treasury to make the necessary arrangements,” a party spokesman said.
“The decision to give the money to the political parties was taken solely by the executors of the will. The party accepted the donation in good faith on the advice of the executors and on the understanding that they had sought advice from the Treasury Solicitors and the Attorney General’s Office.”
Tory chairman Grant Shapps confirmed that his party would do the same - and could not resist a dig at Labour over a £1.65 million donation it received in shares from businessman John Mills.
“It’s right to give Edwards donation to Treasury,” Mr Shapps said. “Now will Labour pay tax avoided on Mills donation which should be funding NHS, etc?”
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan also took the opportunity to highlight other controversial funding episodes.
“It’s good that the Tories and Lib Dems have finally done the right thing on Joan Edwards’ donation,” he said.
“But now it’s time for the Tories to pay back the £440,000 of stolen money they accepted from Asil Nadir, and for the Lib Dems to pay back the £2.4 million they took from convicted fraudster Michael Brown.”
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