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Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, he has made my case for me. My case is that on purely practical grounds it would be most unwise to accept donations from the Republic. Indeed, as a subsidiary--
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Viscount is part of a party which signed up to the Belfast agreement. Surely the spirit of that agreement would be blown apart by his proposition. We do not have an amendment before us today to give effect to the suggestion made by the noble Viscount.
For that reason, I would infinitely prefer to see no foreign donations put forward from the Republic of Ireland. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, stated and, indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, admitted, it would make control a great deal easier. It would not be foolproof but easier. That in itself would be intensely desirable.
I cannot help observing that during the course of the Disqualifications Bill, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, made a great virtue of consistency. He pointed out that, since we had such remarkably good relations with the Republic of Ireland, it should be treated, as regards membership of another place, in exactly the same way as Commonwealth countries. There is an inconsistency here as well, but I shall not pursue that particular matter.
My view is very simple. I believe that the highest aspiration that we can possibly aim for is the defeat of terrorism so that we can conduct our affairs throughout the United Kingdom according to the accepted rules to which all of us in this House cleave. For the reasons I have tried to explain, I regard any additional secrecy in the Province, which the rest of this Bill eschews--that is one of the things about it which I welcome--as an encouragement to terrorism rather than the reverse. I also believe that foreign donations from any quarter, including the Republic of Ireland, are in practical terms also an encouragement to terrorism for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has given. Rather than improving our prospects of defeating terrorism, the matters which this group of clauses addresses will make it worse rather than better.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not deny that this has been a very difficult debate. One thing that I wish to make patently clear is that I utterly reject the suggestion that the Government are craven in front of terrorism--that is not our approach at all--or that this exemption is in any shape or form a sop to Sinn Fein. It is not that, for reasons which I shall come to in due course.
A number of important questions have been raised. I shall try to work through the points in question that have been put during the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, asked why there was the need for the power to modify Part IV of the Bill. As I believe I have explained, we may wish to adopt the noble Lord's half-way house; namely, that parties may
The noble Lord also made a point about trusting the commission. That is a fair point. We trust it and that is one of the reasons why we set it up. We also want to see it working effectively. However much trust we place in the commission to be hermetically sealed against leakages, the noble Lord probably knows better than I from his experience in government that it is not impossible for leaks to occur. We have all been the victims of leakages of information. So that is a debating point and no more than that. We trust the commission to do a good job in all the circumstances.
Lord Mackay or Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for answering that point. Will he accept that most of the leaks in government come either from one's colleagues who are trying to torpedo a proposal that they do not like having failed to do so inside government, or the leaks comes from officials who do not like the idea either and equally want to torpedo it? One would hope that the electoral commission would not be in that kind of position.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, yes, we hope that the electoral commission will not be in that position. I do not know about leaks in government. They do not appear to have happened in my office as yet, but when they do I shall take a very dim view of them.
I return to the point under discussion. The problem that I have with the position taken by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is this. He has readily accepted the argument about disclosure. I believe that we now have a degree of commonality between us on that issue. But if there is not to be disclosure, then the case for exemption is stronger. It is made stronger still by the noble Lord's acceptance of the fact that it is entirely right, proper and realistic for political donations to be made from Southern Ireland into the Northern Ireland political situation for the political parties there. Once one accepts that, I believe the noble Lord's position becomes far less tenable.
I say that for these reasons. How, for instance, does one enforce the regime set out in Clause 68 when one cannot access the other jurisdiction? I think this goes to the heart of the matter. We would need agreement with the government of Southern Ireland if we were to try to give effect to a jurisdiction of that kind. We would need that government's full agreement. We would also need to see a situation develop in Southern Ireland where that country has a ban on foreign funding. In the current situation, and without all those measures, we could not expect to deliver a workable framework comparable with what we are seeking to put in place for the rest of Great Britain. I believe that the noble Lord understands that point.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, will the noble Lord address himself to three points? First, am I not right in believing that funding in the Republic of Ireland already has to be made public? I have seen a report that all major funding over a certain limit, which is not very high, is in the newspapers. Therefore, that will not be a novel thing for the republican government. Secondly, as my noble friend Lord Cranborne said, are we not supposedly in an era of great co-operation with Southern Ireland? Surely, if that is so, it would be no problem for that government to help the electoral commission to check. Thirdly, does not the noble Lord realise that I have gone a long way towards meeting the view of the noble Lord as regards my amendments on the anonymity of donors and my acceptance of the point in relation to the republic? That does not necessarily mean that I prefer that solution. I am trying to address the noble Lord's concerns by bringing forward intelligent amendments which will stop the main problem which is donations from the United States of America.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as I have said from the Dispatch Box, I do not believe we have reached a consensus, but there is agreement on the difficulties in this debate. I congratulate the noble Lord on recognising them. There is good co-operation between our Government and that of Southern Ireland, but it is not for us to dictate to another jurisdiction how its laws should be framed or what measures it should take. As regards the noble Lord's first point, he is right in saying that there is provision concerning disclosure. There is no question on that point.
However, given the situation in Northern Ireland and all the difficulties that I have very carefully explained during the course of these several debates, I believe that we have gone as far as we can. It is for that reason that we believe that, at this stage in the development of the peace process and normalisation of politics in Northern Ireland, the exemption is justified. It is justified for only four years in the first instance. We shall certainly have to review it after that period. If political developments in Northern Ireland move faster than is sometimes indicated, in those beneficial circumstances we may wish to take further steps towards normalisation and see the effect of our legislation there. But there are many difficulties to overcome before achieving that objective, as I believe most Members of this House would agree. For all those reasons I urge the House to accept my amendment and to reject those in the opposition groupings.
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