The HSBC row boiled over into insults and threats of legal action as Ed Miliband accused David Cameron of being a “dodgy Prime Minister surrounded by dodgy donors” – while the Labour leader was accused of making “untrue and defamatory” claims the former Tory treasurer, Lord Fink, had avoided tax.
As tempers frayed with less than three months to go until the general election, the Labour leader clashed repeatedly with Mr Cameron following the disclosure that the Conservatives had collected donations worth more than £5m from HSBC clients with Swiss accounts.
The Prime Minister, who faces questions over the Government’s failure to act over evidence of widespread tax evasion involving HSBC’s private Swiss bank, later complained his opponent had been “personally horrid” during their encounter.
In fractious scenes, Mr Miliband confronted him over donations to Tory funds totalling more than £5m from HSBC clients reported as having Swiss accounts, including the Richmond Park MP Zac Goldsmith. He said there had been a “revolving door between Tory Party HQ and the Swiss branch of HSBC” and singled out Lord Fink, who has given £3m to the party. Mr Cameron retorted that Lord Paul, a former Labour donor, was among the political donors on the list.
The Labour leader said: “None of these people has given a penny on my watch.”
Mr Goldsmith denied having ever had a Swiss account or receiving tax minimisation advice from HSBC, saying he was merely a beneficiary of a trust set up by his late father Sir James Goldsmith, which is administered by a family office in Geneva.
Lord Paul said that he had a Swiss bank account because he had a house in the country. “I use it when I go to Switzerland,” he told Channel 4 News.
Mr Miliband later came under more pressure when he was challenged by Lord Fink to repeat claims that the peer had used a Swiss bank account to avoid tax.
The Labour leader told the Commons, where he is protected from libel laws by parliamentary privilege, that Lord Fink had undertaken “tax-avoidance activities” in Switzerland.
In a letter to Mr Miliband, Lord Fink dismissed the accusation, saying he had needed a Swiss account when he worked for four years in the country. “I challenge you to repeat your allegation outside the House of Commons – or to withdraw it publicly,” he wrote.
Labour said Mr Miliband stood by his remarks and was prepared to repeat them outside the Commons.