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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as someone said before me, "You may say that; I couldn't possibly comment".

Business of the House: Standing Order 40

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 40 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be suspended on Wednesday 29th November so far as is necessary to give the Government power to arrange the order of business.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill

3.7 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 36 [Assistance by Commission for existing registered parties]:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lord Chancellor's Department (Lord Bach) moved Amendment No. 1:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment fulfils a commitment that the Government gave on Report to increase, from £500,000 to £700,000, the funding available to assist registered parties to meet the start-up costs associated with the Bill. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, would have liked the funding to be paid over a period of five years, but I hope that he now accepts that it is preferable to distribute the funding available to

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qualifying political parties as soon as possible. This will enable parties to put in place quickly the necessary internal systems so that they can comply with the accounting requirements and the controls on donations set out in Parts III and IV of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for small mercies--that is, if one can call an increase of £200,000 a "small mercy". As the noble Lord said, it is not exactly what I sought to achieve. However, as long as the administration and distribution of this money is dealt with both sensitively and fairly, I realise that that will enable the smaller parties not only to do exactly what they need to do to set up these arrangements but also to "squirrel" a little bit by to deal with what happens immediately after, thereby ensuring that they have the necessary mechanisms in place.

I have only one question for the Minister at this point. Can he confirm that there is no terrible little snag somewhere at the back of all this; namely, that, if the money is given in the first year, all of it has to be spent in the first year? Can the noble Lord also confirm that it will be possible for parties which receive this money to spend it over a period of time?

Lord Bach: My Lords, my understanding is that it does not have to be spent in the first year. If I am wrong about that, I shall, of course, let the noble Lord know.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 52 [Payments, services etc. not to be regarded as donations]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 2:

    Page 41, line 27, leave out ("less") and insert ("not more").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving government Amendment No. 2 I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 3, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19, 20, 23, 36, 37, 38, 41, 42, 43, 45, 46, 47 and 48.

I remind noble Lords opposite that these comprise the group of government amendments that the Opposition have promised they will not criticise for being brought forward at this stage. They are the balance of those amendments moved last week on Report by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, amending the terms "not less than £5,000" and "more than £5,000" about which he felt so strongly. The amendments simply complete that process we started at Report stage of converting references to "not less than £5,000", or whatever the sum might be, to references to "more than £5,000". For consistency we also need to change references to, for example, "less than £200" in Clause 76(2) to read "not more than £200". I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 68 [Reporting of multiple small donations]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 3:

    Page 54, line 17, leave out ("less") and insert ("not more").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Clause 69 [Register of recordable donations]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 4:

    Page 54, line 42, at end insert--

("(6) The Secretary of State may by order make provision for exempting from inclusion in the register maintained by the Commission under this section any specified details in respect of donations to parties registered in the Northern Ireland register.
(7) An order under subsection (6) shall be so made as to--
(a) apply to the specified details in respect of donations to every Northern Ireland party, and
(b) make the same provision with respect to every such party.
(8) In this section--
"Northern Ireland party" means a party registered in the Northern Ireland register; "specified" means specified in an order under subsection (6).").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this group of amendments concerns the proposed exemption from the whole of Part IV of political parties in Northern Ireland. During the Committee and Report stages we had some enlightening but often, I regret to say, frustrating debates on these matters.

The Neill committee, on whose recommendations the Bill is based, did not recommend a complete exemption from the controls on donations which now comprise Part IV of the Bill. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has said on previous occasions, what the Government propose goes far beyond what the Neill committee thought necessary.

We now have the situation where, certainly until 2005 and possibly beyond, none of the provisions on donations in Part IV will apply to any registered political party in Northern Ireland. I should say, first, that a four-year renewal period is unacceptable. In Committee in another place, the Minister, Mr Tipping, gave some support to the idea of a 12-month renewal. That is what my Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are intended to achieve. However, the main point is the substance of the exemption from Part IV. During a previous debate the Minister said that politics in Northern Ireland are not yet conducted on the same basis as in the rest of the United Kingdom. I wonder what he meant by that. Surely, he did not refer to the activities of Sinn Fein, for example, now regarded by the Government as legitimate enough to take its place and have Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive. What are the "special factors" relating to Northern Ireland to which the Minister has repeatedly referred? In what circumstances does the Minister envisage that Part IV will be applied to Northern Ireland only partially? We never had any explanation of what was meant by that.

The situation in the Bill as at present drafted has a number of serious implications. First, there is the question of foreign funding. The Neill committee recommended a very limited exemption to the general ban on foreign funding. One of the central points of the Bill is that political parties in the United Kingdom should no longer be allowed to receive funding from anyone abroad. That is one of the central points of the Bill and of the Neill report.

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The Neill committee stated, however, that as regards Northern Ireland there may be a case for exempting citizens of the Republic of Ireland, resident in the Republic and subject to compliance with that country's electoral law; that is, they should be allowed to donate to Northern Ireland parties. My Amendment No. 6 reflects that point. But that is not what the Government intend to allow in the Bill. They intend to allow anyone living anywhere in the world, be it America, Australia or wherever, to give money to political parties in Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, admitted that on 11th May, after rather an effort on my part to get him to do so. He said,

    "The question that has been asked is whether a person in the USA can give money to a Northern Ireland party. Fairly and honestly, I believe that, yes, he probably can".--[Official Report, 11/5/00; col. 1823.]

The Minister could have missed out the word "probably"; the fact is that such a person can do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, said on 18th October that it was believed that the fund-raiser, Mr Galvin, had now transferred his allegiance to the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA and that those organisations intended to field candidates who would be backed by the foreign money that the Government were perfectly content to allow to flow to Northern Ireland parties.

I shall not speak in detail about the anomalies the provision creates. The most obvious example from my point of view is that the Irish diaspora, predominantly that in America, will be allowed to donate to Sinn Fein but the Scottish and Welsh diaspora will not be allowed to donate to the SNP or to Plaid Cymru. In that respect at least, violence has paid.

We also discovered a further issue in debate. Despite the Minister's initially strong assertion that it was not the case he eventually had to admit that Northern Ireland parties can use foreign money to campaign both in Northern Ireland in a referendum on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and in the United Kingdom on a GB-wide referendum, for example, on the euro or on proportional representation. I have no doubt that even now some are considering the loopholes the Government have created to see how they can be exploited in any future referendum. What really worries me is that a referendum on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland could be seriously affected by foreign money.

On 18th October the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said:

    "I like to be straight with your Lordships' House. The information I have from officials is that Northern Ireland parties can use the fruits of money raised abroad in a UK referendum".--[Official Report, 18/10/00; col. 1038.]

But no one else can, not the Labour Party, not the Conservative Party, not the Liberal Democrats nor the Scottish nationalists. No political party in Great Britain would be allowed to do that. The Minister concluded at col. 1038:

    "That may well present difficulties".

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Later that day he spoke of the need to ban foreign funding of referendums in the whole of the United Kingdom. Therefore he seemed to be aware of the dangers we had highlighted. However, those difficulties vanished into thin air, along with the need to ban the foreign funding of referendums. By 24th October the Minister said that he was,

    "not persuaded of the case for preventing a Northern Ireland party using the proceeds of a foreign donation to meet its own referendum expenses".--[Official Report, 24/10/00, col. 191.].

Not only will Northern Ireland parties be allowed to take foreign money for ordinary elections, they will also, unlike all other UK parties, be allowed to take foreign money for referendums. That seems an amazing exemption.

We have dragged the Minister and his officials, kicking and screaming, to admit that the situation I have described exists. The Bill's ban on foreign participation in referendum campaigns is a sham for a number of other reasons, but here we have the Government explicitly and consciously allowing foreign funding to be used in referendums in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. That is plainly wrong. My Amendment No. 11 would go some way, although, I admit, not all the way, to address the point.

We have tried to approach the Bill in a spirit of compromise. The amendments the Government moved a few moments ago were the result of agreement between us. I have tried to envisage how we can find a way to help the Government obey the recommendations of the Neill committee and yet stop the foreign funding. I have conceded the issue of public reporting of donations over £5,000 on security grounds. As I said on Report, the Government have repeatedly justified all they are doing on the basis of donations needing to be kept confidential for the reason that someone in Northern Ireland who was known to give a large donation to a political party might be in danger from some of the men of violence.

If the Government had really believed that there were serious security considerations, they would have done exactly what I suggested doing. But they have gone much further. I am perfectly content to have donations to Northern Ireland parties kept secure and not made public. I think that that is quite reasonable. Amendment No. 4 does just that: no public disclosure of donors' names; and leaving out Clause 70 would achieve that objective. So the Government cannot complain that I have not taken on board their security argument.

The Minister admitted that Amendment No. 4 was something the Government had considered. He gave the impression that they were still considering it. But he said that it should be in addition to, and not in place of, the wider powers in Clause 70 which would allow them to exempt Northern Ireland parties from other parts of the Bill. He claimed--I thought that it stretched credulity somewhat--that one could not give the list of donations to the electoral commission and not make it public because the electoral commission

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might leak donors' names. What a condemnation of the Government's view of the electoral commission they are about to set up. What confidence can parties on this side of the Irish Sea have in giving confidential information to an electoral commission that the Government themselves say cannot be made leak-proof?

As I said on Report, the continuation of foreign funding from North America, or any other foreign country, for Sinn Fein/IRA and other republican groups cannot be justified on any grounds whatsoever. The Government cannot logically make the leap from wanting to ensure donors' anonymity to a complex exemption from the ban on foreign funds.

I accepted that the Neill committee suggested that there is a problem with the Republic. Largely at the prompting of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, I lifted from the Government of Ireland legislation of 1947 the idea that Ireland was not a foreign country and, therefore, accepted that people who had votes and were resident in the Republic could give money to Northern Ireland parties. Initially I thought that the easy way out would be to allow them to give money to any British political party, but the Government did not like that so I have narrowed the issue further.

The three provisions I put forward are hardly options because one builds on another, but I refer to them as the three options before your Lordships. First--I do not disguise the fact that it is my preferred solution-- Amendment No. 12 on its own would remove entirely any special provision for Northern Ireland parties and make Northern Ireland parties subject to the same rules and regulations as parties in Great Britain. However, I have listened to the Government's case and I know that they will not accept that. I am aware of what the Neil committee said.

The combination of Amendment No. 4 with Amendment No. 12 would stop donors' names being made public. That is what the Government have said they want for security reasons. But it would also mean that there would be no foreign funding. The electoral commission would know where the money was coming from and the parties would have to observe the rule on not accepting impermissible donations.

My third building block, the third option--it is not my preferred one, but it is a good deal better than the provisions in the Bill--brings in Amendments Nos. 6 and 8. It would allow the foreign funding of Northern Ireland parties to come from the Republic of Ireland only. Only Northern Ireland parties could be so funded and foreign donations could come only from the Republic of Ireland which, according to the Government of Ireland measure, is not a foreign country. It would also mean that the names of large donors would not be made public so they would still be secure. That would mean that in Northern Ireland parties would have to observe the rules on donations; the commission would be able to ensure that they were not accepting money from abroad; but they would be able to receive funding from the Republic of Ireland.

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As I have indicated, Amendments Nos. 9 to 11 are ancillary to the main question. They are about the renewal period. Amendment No. 11 refers to referendums.

Noble Lords have had before the House over the past few weeks a number of measures which many of us believe amount to a massive concession to the men of terror. As well as the provisions in the Bill which allow for foreign funding, we have had the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill which, as we predicted, has undermined morale in the RUC and risks undermining the fight against terrorism. Over the weekend a senior officer has indicated that he no longer wishes to serve in the RUC. Then we have the sinister Disqualifications Bill which has never been properly justified.

It seems to me that in this Bill there is another huge concession without anything given in return, as usual. We oppose what the Government are doing. We believe that it sends out dangerous signals. I have gone a long way to take on board what the Neil committee recommended. I have gone a long way to take on board the problems the Government put before your Lordships' House in defence of what they sought to do. I believe that my amendments together represent the taking on board of the Neill committee's report and represent a sensible way forward which would bring the Government and Opposition together. However, if not, I shall seek the opinion of the House. I hope that noble Lords will consider the issue in a dispassionate way, will see how far my amendments accommodate the objections and, if necessary, will join me. I remind the Liberal Democrats that in another place they voted against the clause standing part of the Bill. I look forward to their transferring that support to your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

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