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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, this has been a good debate on an important order. I think all of us would agree that the principles of openness, transparency and accountability in the funding of political parties are principles for which we would all strive--none more so than the members of the Neill committee, who, in the course of taking evidence for their reports on the funding of political parties, went to Belfast and took evidence on the issue from a large number of people who wished to give it. The evidence that they received led them to propose the exception that forms the first basis of the exemption in the proposals before the House; namely, that sources within Northern Ireland would not need to be revealed.

The form and substance of that evidence was perhaps best summarised in a speech that was made in another place by the Member for South Down. He said:

It was not the Government in any concession to Sinn Fein who decided to accept that evidence; it was the Neill committee, in relation to the first exemption. The Government decided to act in relation to that.

Noble Lords opposite have suggested that this exemption is some kind of concession to Sinn Fein. This is not a provision for which Sinn Fein is asking. The democratic constitutional parties are asking for it. As to whether it will benefit Sinn Fein, perhaps it is worthwhile to quote again the words of the Member for South Down, who went on to say:

    "Hon. Members may be worried about the wrongdoers doing wrong, but they will continue to do wrong anyway. They will have the advantage of doing wrong and not being caught. If a paramilitary organisation wants to get funds from Timbuktu, it will get funds from Timbuktu irrespective of any legislation passed by this House. However, the democratic political parties, which form a bulwark against such activities, must be given the ability to sustain themselves until the day arrives when we have normal politics in Northern Ireland".--[Col. 886.]

15 Feb 2001 : Column 361

So the democratic constitutional parties do not agree with the proposition that has been put by noble Lords opposite. The parties believe that this order helps them, and that it makes little difference to what happens to the paramilitary parties. I note that that view is supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, and the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, who spent eight years in the Province. We believe that the proposition has considerable force. We do not want there to be exceptions for Northern Ireland, but we recognise the reality.

Perhaps I may deal with the points raised. In effect, they fall into four categories. First, the noble Lords, Lord Hodgson and Lord Cope, together with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, asked, "Why don't you record, if not publish, the donations that have been received?" With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, I must point out that this is not a provision which in any way seeks to criticise the Electoral Commission; rather, it simply recognises that people are more wary of giving donations if they are recorded, irrespective of the fact that promises of confidentiality are given.

The honourable Member for South Down quoted from a letter received by the SDLP from the Ulster Unionist Party, which says:

    "As you know, business people and individuals are already wary of making donations to political parties and are likely to be even more sensitive if their donations are to be recorded".

I stress the word "recorded", not publicised. The letter continues:

    "I am afraid that reassuring people and organisations that their donations will be recorded but not published will make no difference".

One can understand. It is a point about perception, not a point about the reliability, or otherwise, of the Electoral Commission. No one would seek for a moment to suggest that the commission was unreliable.

Secondly, it is said that there is no need for an exemption in respect of all foreign donations and that surely it would be enough to deal with the Republic of Ireland alone. The problem in relation to the Republic of Ireland, is that, as the Neill committee recommended, such a provision would almost certainly be unenforceable for two reasons. First, the Electoral Commission has no power in the Republic of Ireland to require information that would be necessary to enforce such a ban; and, secondly, if one accepts the principle that there should be no recording of donations, there would be no basis whatever for seeking to enforce it because one would not have the basic information. Therefore, once one accepts the principle that the Republic of Ireland should be an exception, there would be no meaningful way to give effect to that without there being some sort of world-wide exemption.

The third point related to the referendum. This would allow political parties to obtain funding in relation to referendum campaigns. As long as the money is given to a political party, it is true to say that

15 Feb 2001 : Column 362

those referendum campaigns could both be in respect of a Northern Ireland-only issue and in relation to a United Kingdom issue. But, as noble Lords will know, the Act makes provision for the fact that there should be a limit on expenditure in referendum campaigns. So there will be restrictions on the amount that can be obtained from abroad. That limit will apply right across the United Kingdom in the event of a UK campaign, and it will apply in Northern Ireland if it is a Northern Ireland campaign.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, asked whether the Government would be willing to undertake to review the working of the order after a two-year period. I can tell the noble Lord that we most certainly would be willing to do so. I hereby give that undertaking to the noble Lord. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked why we should not record the total amount that would be obtained from abroad. We do not believe that that would be a wise provision because such a declaration could not be validated in any meaningful way: there would neither be the recording of individual donations, nor the recording of their source. Therefore, political parties would be able to say anything they liked in that respect. It would not be appropriate to have a provision that allowed such a situation when there could be no real validation of it. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, asked whether there was vires for such an order. Yes, there is. It is to be found under Section 70(1)(b) of the Act.

I earnestly ask noble Lords to consider the evidence given to the Neill commission in Northern Ireland, and the views of the Northern Irish parties. This is not an order designed to help the paramilitaries, or those parties associated with them. It is an exemption order designed to help the constitutional and democratic parties in Northern Ireland upon which the future depends. I commend the order to the House.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I shall not add to the debate at this stage. I wish simply to press my amendment and test the opinion of the House.

5.5 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 112; Not-Contents, 154.

Division No. 1


Alexander of Weedon, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Ampthill, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B.
Arran, E.
Astor, V.
Astor of Hever, L.
Attlee, E.
Baker of Dorking, L.
Barber, L.
Biffen, L.
Blaker, L.
Blatch, B.
Boardman, L.
Bowness, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Bridgeman, V.
Brittan of Spennithorne, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Burnham, L. [Teller]
Buscombe, B.
Caithness, E.
Campbell of Alloway, L.
Campbell of Croy, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Colwyn, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L.
Courtown, E.
Cox, B.
Craig of Radley, L.
Craigavon, V.
Cranborne, V.
Crickhowell, L.
Eden of Winton, L.
Elles, B.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Elton, L.
Erroll, E.
Feldman, L.
Fitt, L.
Flather, B.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Geddes, L.
Goschen, V.
Hanham, B.
Harris of Peckham, L.
Hayhoe, L.
Henley, L. [Teller]
Higgins, L.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
Hogg, B.
Hooper, B.
Howe, E.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Hurd of Westwell, L.
Hylton, L.
Jellicoe, E.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Kelvedon, L.
Kingsland, L.
Laird, L.
Lamont of Lerwick, L.
Lawson of Blaby, L.
Listowel, E.
Lucas, L.
Lyell, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Marsh, L.
Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Monson, L.
Montrose, D.
Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Naseby, L.
Noakes, B.
Northesk, E.
Norton of Louth, L.
Oxfuird, V.
Palmer, L.
Palumbo, L.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Platt of Writtle, B.
Plumb, L.
Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Rawlings, B.
Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Reay, L.
Rees, L.
Renton, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L.
Rotherwick, L.
Ryder of Wensum, L.
St John of Fawsley, L.
Sandwich, E.
Seccombe, B.
Stevens of Ludgate, L.
Stewartby, L.
Strange, B.
Swinfen, L.
Tenby, V.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Trumpington, B.
Vivian, L.
Waddington, L.
Walker of Worcester, L.
Wilcox, B.
Williamson of Horton, L.
Wolfson, L.


Acton, L.
Addington, L.
Ahmed, L.
Alli, L.
Amos, B.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Avebury, L.
Bach, L.
Barker, B.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Berkeley, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L.
Billingham, B.
Blackstone, B.
Blood, B.
Boothroyd, B.
Borrie, L.
Bradshaw, L.
Bragg, L.
Brennan, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brookman, L.
Burlison, L.
Carter, L. [Teller]
Chandos, V.
Christopher, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Clement-Jones, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Crawley, B.
Currie of Marylebone, L.
Darcy de Knayth, B.
David, B.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Dholakia, L.
Donoughue, L.
Dubs, L.
Eatwell, L.
Elder, L.
Evans of Watford, L.
Ezra, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Falkland, V.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Filkin, L.
Gale, B.
Geraint, L.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Goldsmith, L.
Goodhart, L.
Goudie, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Greaves, L.
Grenfell, L.
Hardy of Wath, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Harrison, L.
Haskel, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howells of St. Davids, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Jacobs, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. (Lord Privy Seal)
Jeger, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Judd, L.
King of West Bromwich, L.
Kirkhill, L.
Layard, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Levy, L.
Lincoln, Bp.
Lipsey, L.
Lockwood, B.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]
McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
McNally, L.
Maddock, B.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Mishcon, L.
Mitchell, L.
Molloy, L.
Morris of Manchester, L.
Newby, L.
Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.
Paul, L.
Peston, L.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Puttnam, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Razzall, L.
Rea, L.
Redesdale, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Rennard, L.
Richard, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Rogers of Riverside, L.
Roper, L.
Russell, E.
Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Sandberg, L.
Sawyer, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Scott of Needham Market, B.
Serota, B.
Sharman, L.
Sharp of Guildford, B.
Shepherd, L.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Simon, V.
Smith of Clifton, L.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Southwark, Bp.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Taverne, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Thomas of Gresford, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Thornton, B.
Tomlinson, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Uddin, B.
Warner, L.
Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Whitaker, B.
Whitty, L.
Wigoder, L.
Wilkins, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Winston, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

15 Feb 2001 : Column 364

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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