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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1003-iii
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
Draft Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill
Wednesday 6 March 2013
SIR christopher kelly
Seamus Magee, Anna Carragher and Peter Horne
Niall Bakewell and Declan Allison
Evidence heard in Public Questions 381-507
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
on Wednesday 6 March 2013
Mr Laurence Robertson (Chair)
Mr Joe Benton
Mr Stephen Hepburn
Dr Alasdair McDonnell
Examination of Witness
Witness: Sir Christopher Kelly, Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, gave evidence.
Chair: Sir Christopher, thank you very much for joining us. As you know, we are conducting a brief inquiry into the present Bill that is before us-both what is in it and perhaps what is not in it as well. We are very grateful to you for coming to help us with our deliberations. We are not going to offer an opening statement, because there are many questions we would like to ask. In the interests of time, we will crack straight on if that is okay. Can we start by talking about dual mandates, Ian?
Q381 Ian Paisley: Thank you, Mr Chairman. I reiterate the welcome from the Chairman of the Committee. When you reported on dual mandates in 2009, 16 of the 18 Northern Ireland MPs also held seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Now just three Members of Parliament hold dual mandates between the Northern Ireland Assembly and this Parliament. Do you think primary legislation is now necessary to bring about an end to doublejobbing, given what has happened in the interim period?
Sir Christopher Kelly: It is not really for me to judge. The Committee clearly felt that doublejobbing ought to be ended and, at the time or subsequently, commitments were made by a number of parties that it should be ended, but my understanding, and I may be wrong, is that not all parties have committed themselves to bringing it to an end. The issue is bringing doublejobbing to an end. The mechanism for doing that depends upon what is effective.
Q382 Ian Paisley: In Scotland and Wales, legislation has not been a requirement. It has occurred; it has naturally evolved. Should Northern Ireland just not be allowed to allow this? Clearly it is going in the right trajectory.
Sir Christopher Kelly: If you think that will happen, then legislation is clearly unnecessary.
Q383 Ian Paisley: What is your opinion?
Sir Christopher Kelly: I don’t know enough about the position of the-am I right in thinking there is only one party that has not committed to doing it? I don’t know enough about whether they are likely to bring that-
Q384 Ian Paisley: With all respect, Sir Christopher, you are the commissioner of standards. You must know; you must have an opinion on this.
Sir Christopher Kelly: As I say, my opinion is that doublejobbing ought to come to an end. The mechanism for doing that is not a standards issue; the mechanism for doing it is an issue of what is practical. As I have said, if it is necessary to legislate to bring it to an end, then I personally, and my Committee, would be in favour of legislation.
Ian Paisley: You would be in favour.
Sir Christopher Kelly: If that is what is necessary to bring it to an end, yes.
Q385 Ian Paisley: Should that therefore then apply to all parts of the United Kingdom?
Sir Christopher Kelly: If it is necessary to bring it about in other parts of the United Kingdom, yes.
Q386 Ian Paisley: What I am worried about is the unintended consequences of that, which maybe other Members will come in on. I know Lady Hermon is a particular expert on this, with regards to how that might affect discrimination across the rest of the United Kingdom. I do have some concerns, if you were to just bring it in for one part of the United Kingdom. It may then therefore have other consequences, unintended but nonetheless consequences, in terms of discrimination legislation within Europe.
Sir Christopher Kelly: That is a technical question, which I am not competent to answer. If that is the case, then clearly the legislation ought to apply to all three legislatures.
Q387 Kate Hoey: Surely if there is not legislation, Scotland and Wales, which at the moment may not be doing it, could next year decide something and a particular MP could.
Sir Christopher Kelly: Indeed, they could. All I am saying is the principle-and our Committee is largely concerned with principle-is it ought to be brought to an end. If it is necessary to legislate to bring it to an end in any of the three devolved legislatures, then in my view legislation should be put in place.
Q388 David Simpson: You said that you understood that not all the parties had committed to end doublejobbing. Is that right? I understood that all the parties had. I am not sure about the SDLP, but I know the rest of the parties had committed that, by 2015, it would be phased out.
Sir Christopher Kelly: In that case, I stand corrected.
David Simpson: I said I do not know about the SDLP, but maybe you can inform the Committee what the situation is, because I understand all parties have.
Dr McDonnell: The SDLP is in favour of the end of doublejobbing.
Chair: We have established that.
Q389 Ian Paisley: Can I then come back and maybe give you a chance to reflect on your answer? Is it therefore necessary to have legislation, if all of the parties, as you have now heard confirmed, have either commenced or succeeded in ending doublejobbing or are committed to ending doublejobbing?
Sir Christopher Kelly: I have been around long enough to know that not everything that people commit themselves to do actually happens. I say that because the lastbutone report we did was on party funding, which I imagine we are also going to talk about, where there are manifesto commitments from the three main Westminster parties to do something about it and nothing yet has happened.
David Simpson: Good point.
Q390 Oliver Colvile: First of all, Sir Christopher, thank you very much indeed for coming to see us, and it is a pleasure to have you in front of us. We have all rather taken it as read that your Committee has agreed to look at it. Could you explain to us why and could you also explain to us whether or not any members of the Committee have ever been elected to anything?
Sir Christopher Kelly: Yes. We have three representatives nominated by the political parties-one Member of the House of Lords and two Members of the House of Commons.
Q391 Oliver Colvile: Okay, that is fine. Could you just explain to us why?
Sir Christopher Kelly: It came about because of the report we did on MPs’ expenses, and we were given a quite explicit remit from the then Prime Minister as to what we should cover, and that included the question of outside earnings. Our focus was not on the Assembly; our focus was on the House of Commons. He explicitly asked us to look at the question of outside earnings, which otherwise is not strictly speaking a standards issue. We took the view, and I hope you will agree rightly, that it was none of our business to express a view on how a Member of Parliament ought to go about their job, but we also took the view that, if the job was done properly, it was, to all intents and purposes, virtually a fulltime job. That did not rule out, in our view, external earnings of some kind but, as in so many of these things, it is a question of balance.
What I think we said in our report was that we saw no difficulty in limited external earnings, provided that they were transparent, so that the electorate was aware that their Member of Parliament was earning other income from journalism or from doing another professional job or whatever, and provided there was no conflict of interest. We went on to say that, because there was a question of balance, looking at it, it did not seem to us, as a Committee, that it was consistent with doing a proper job in both places, both to be a Member of the Westminster Parliament and a Member of a Westminster Assembly or any of the other devolved legislatures.
Q392 Oliver Colvile: It was driven very much by the financial implications.
Sir Christopher Kelly: No. I only mention the financial implications. That was why the Committee, which is a committee on standards of behaviour, got into this question of whether or not it was right for people to do both the job of a Member of Parliament and another job at the same time. The issue was a view, because we were asked to express a view. The view we expressed was, as I say, that occasional earnings were fine, but something that is akin to a fulltime job seemed to us to cause doubt as to whether or not the person concerned was able to give full value to their constituents in both places, so it was a view of that kind, which was a recommendation with which people are entitled to disagree.
Q393 Oliver Colvile: If they had been prohibited from earning two lots of money for doing both jobs, that is one thing, but the fact of the matter is that they can use a lot of the experience and the knowledge that they have by being both a Member of, let us say, the Northern Ireland Assembly and also a Member of Parliament.
Sir Christopher Kelly: As I tried to explain, it was not a question of money; it was a question of time. I have seen that, in the evidence to this Committee, people have talked about the advantages of dual membership. All I can say is, I think I am right in remembering, because it is now some time ago, that in the considerable discussions we had while we were preparing the report, including some in Northern Ireland, this point about the value of being able to network in the corridors here was not raised with us.
Q394 Ian Paisley: There is a question too, which I want to deal with, which again follows on from what my colleague has said. There is the little inconvenient matter of facts in all of this though, is there not? Dualmandated Members do not get dual salaries and, secondly, the measurements that organisations like TheyWorkForYou use actually demonstrate that dualmandated Members-and I am not a dualmandated Member-appear to be in the higher echelons of those who give a number of speeches, those who attend a number of votes and those who ask the most written questions. That is how they are measured by outside organisations. If they are giving that value for money, how do you reconcile what you have just said now to the Committee with your 2009 report, where you said that those with dual mandates do not do justice to either role, when the measurements that are used make it appear that actually many of them do?
Sir Christopher Kelly: On your first point, as I said, it is not about the money. On your second point, what you say is interesting. All I can say is that the people we spoke to a the time we did our report, including people in Northern Ireland and the focus groups we had, took the view that they expected their Member of Parliament-the focus is on the Member of Parliament, not on the Member of the legislative assembly-to be working fulltime.
Q395 Ian Paisley: That is really interesting. You say the public-"they expected". I measure the public by two things. Edmund Burke said that Members of Parliament are to exercise their industry and their judgment. One of the finest parliamentarians, Winston Churchill, said you have to trust the people. The public, you say, "expect". When someone stands before the public for election and they are dualmandated, the public is not blind to that fact. They know it; they see it; and they cast a judgment. Surely, at the end of the day, the final and best arbiter in all of this is actually the people you describe as "they". The public vote and they determine whether or not you have a dual mandate.
Sir Christopher Kelly: That is a strong argument, I accept.
Q396 Oliver Colvile: My understanding is that the draft Bill is talking about how it is that there will be doublejobbing that will stop for people being Members of the Assembly and also, at the same time, being Members of the House of Commons. It does not actually say the same thing about Members of the Assembly also being Members of the House of Lords. That seems to be rather strange, doesn’t it?
Sir Christopher Kelly: As I say, we were not preparing a report on doublejobbing. We were preparing a report on the House of Commons. Having been asked to look at this question by the Prime Minister, we only looked at it from the point of view of Members of Parliament. It is an entirely separate question, which we did not look at, because we were not focusing on the Assembly, as to whether or not it was consistent for people to be Members of the Assembly as well as Members of the House of Lords.
Oliver Colvile: The irony is that Members of the House of the Lords are also Members of the Parliament, in one form or another.
Q397 Chair: Why was the distinction made? MPs could be forgiven for thinking, at that time, there was a witch hunt against Members of Parliament. The House of Lords is a very important body. I voted against the Bill to abolish it recently, because that is what the Bill was for: abolition. It plays a very valuable role here, but it does demand time. Why was that distinction made?
Sir Christopher Kelly: The distinction was made because the issue did not arise. I keep on saying our focus was on Members of Parliament. Members of Parliament cannot be Members of the House of Lords, so the issue as to whether it was consistent to be both a Member of the House of Commons and a Member of the House of Lords did not arise, and we were only interested in Members of the legislative assembly in relation to the House of Commons, because that is where our focus was.
Q398 Chair: It goes back to Ian’s point that it is alright to be appointed to another body, but it is not alright to allow the electorate to decide whether to send you to two bodies.
Sir Christopher Kelly: No, that is not what I have said.
Chair: That is the implication, though. That is the implication.
Sir Christopher Kelly: The implication is that we were told, I think by all the parties to whom we spoke at the time, that they agree that doublejobbing was actually something that ought to be phased out. We were not presenting a recommendation against the grain of what we were told when we visited Belfast. I say the distinction is not about whether you are appointed or elected; the distinction is about whether it is possible to do justice to your constituents.
Chair: Yes, but if you are in the House of Lords on a Monday or Tuesday, you cannot sit in the Assembly.
Q399 Lady Hermon: It is very nice indeed to have you before us this afternoon, Sir Christopher. Could I just come back a little bit about the connections within the United Kingdom postdevolution? I am very mindful of something that in fact had been written and highlighted by a very senior, now retired, civil servant in Northern Ireland, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield. You may well know Sir Kenneth. It was something that in fact I think he highlighted in one of his several books, and that was when Stormont, the old Stormont, was sitting in Northern Ireland for such a long time, there was something of a disconnect with Westminster.
What I am concerned about with the Bill as presently drafted, on which we are taking evidence, is that a complete end to doublejobbing-and again, like Mr Paisley here, to my right, I have never been an Assembly Member and an MP-however, I think I have come full circle. I do think that there is a strong reason, postdevolution, so much to Northern Ireland, to maintain the links within the union with the Westminster Parliament. While, when you were doing your report, post the MPs’ expenses and all that fiasco, and there was the general anger, perfectly understandable anger and rage of the public towards MPs, now, with hindsight, and just looking at the implications of devolution, let us say in Scotland, do you not think there is a case to be had, perhaps-and I know we have a leader of a political party, the SDLP, on this Committee-for preserving the link that either the leaders of political parties who sit in the Assembly could also be represented in the House of Commons or, at the very least, my own preference would actually be that the finance Ministers, from Scotland, Wales and certainly Northern Ireland, are present in the House of Commons as elected MPs on the day the budget is delivered by the Chancellor and can look him in the eye? Is there an argument to be had for maintaining those bonds?
Sir Christopher Kelly: You are pressing me on an issue on which I do not feel an expert. As I said, our Committee is a committee on standards of behaviour; it is not a committee on constitutional issues. I can give you a personal opinion, and my personal opinion is that of course there is value in the argument you have put but, to sustain it, you would need to demonstrate that the Welsh Assembly and now the Scottish Parliament have not suffered, because they have not had this connection. I do not know enough about what they would say there. You may know better than I, as to whether they feel there is this deficiency, which the Assembly would feel, if they were in the same situation as Edinburgh and Cardiff.
Lady Hermon: I think that perhaps the recent history and notsorecent history of Northern Ireland would indicate that, in fact, constitutionally, a closer link with Westminster is a benefit, as compared to Scotland and Wales.
Q400 Oliver Colvile: My understanding is that, on the other hand, they could be Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but they could also be Members, if they wanted to, of the Irish Parliament as well. I am asking you for your personal view. I recognise that your Committee has not thought about this and discussed it, but do you think that is right?
Sir Christopher Kelly: Only from reading evidence to this Committee, I thought that the Irish Parliament made that impossible.
Q401 Chair: We understand that they do, but it is curious that, specifically in the Bill, we do not. The majority of us found it odd.
Sir Christopher Kelly: If you press me, on the assumption that the time commitment necessary to do your job properly in the Dáil is equivalent to the time spent necessary to do your job in this House, then of course logically I would have to take the same view.
Oliver Colvile: I thoroughly agree that we should do as much as we possibly can to try to reduce the amount of legislation we end up producing, but I think that was one area that we need to look at.
Q402 Kate Hoey: Sir Christopher, could you just explain if you are the Chairman of the Standards Committee responsible for the whole of the United Kingdom public life, including Northern Ireland?
Sir Christopher Kelly: The Committee on Standards in Public Life is appointed by the Prime Minister with a remit that covers the whole of public life.
Q403 Kate Hoey: In the United Kingdom?
Sir Christopher Kelly: In the United Kingdom except, because we are appointed by the Prime Minister of the UK Government, I don’t think our remit, in theory, ought to cover matters that are devolved. It is almost certainly the case that, in the past, we have not always been as correct in respecting that as probably we ought to have been.
Q404 Kate Hoey: You treat Northern Ireland in the same way you would treat Scotland or Wales.
Sir Christopher Kelly: Where issues are reserved, then we regard that as a matter for us. Where things are devolved, we regard that as an issue on which, if the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly asked us to express a view, as has happened-I have given evidence to Committees of the Assembly in the past-then of course we respond to that. What we do find is, when we have done inquiries under my chairmanship, we have always made a point of taking public evidence in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, as well as in London. That is not just to show that we are evenhanded; it is actually because it is often the case that there is something to be learned, because some things are done differently in the different legislatures or in other forms of public life. There is often something to be learned by looking at what is done differently.
Q405 Kate Hoey: Is your Committee representative of the whole of the United Kingdom in membership?
Sir Christopher Kelly: There is a Member of the Committee appointed to represent the Liberal Democrats party. He is a Member of the House of Lords who comes from Northern Ireland.
Q406 Kate Hoey: On transparency, you talked in your report about transparency being a foundation block to building confidence in the political system. Do you want to just tell us, very simply, in practice, what you mean by transparency when it comes to donations and how this Bill, as devised at the moment, will deal with that?
Sir Christopher Kelly: I am puzzled by some aspects of the Bill, and perhaps I will come on to that.
Kate Hoey: That would be very helpful.
Sir Christopher Kelly: Openness, which is another word for transparency, is one of the seven principles of public life that there were originally formulated by Lord Nolan, in the very first report of my Committee. The view taken ever since 2001 is that, in the field of the financing of political parties, quite clearly in the past there was certainly the perception and, almost certainly, the reality that large donations were given or solicited in the hope of some favour being given in return. The belief in 2001, following recommendations by a predecessor Committee, was that the best way of regulating that was transparency of all donations over a certain amount, so that people could see and it would be fairly obvious that, if a particular individual, pressure group or representative body gave a large donation, and that same individual then appeared in the House of Lords or there was then some policy that happened clearly favouring that individual, then the connection would be made. Exposure to the media and so on would be sufficient, either to detect that after the event or, more importantly, to prevent inappropriate donations happening in the first place.
That almost certainly, in my view, has had some effect on stopping some of the excesses that have happened before, though evidence is very difficult to come by. In our report on this subject, we expressed the view that, actually, transparency was not enough. Some things you would not want to happen did still happen, although you could not demonstrate that conclusively, but whether or not that was the case, the public perception was very clearly that donations were given and solicited in the expectation of some favour. Therefore, we recommended as we did that there should be a limit placed on the amount that anyone could give.
The reason I am slightly puzzled by the Bill is because the argument is that everyone-and I use that term loosely-seems to have accepted in principle that the same arrangements as in the rest of Great Britain should apply to Northern Ireland. The issue is one of the right time, because of the fear, as I understand it from the evidence that you have already received, that if it became apparent who was donating, then either there would be intimidation or a boycott in a way that would have the effect of damaging the finances of Northern Ireland political parties.
I have two problems with that argument. One is the transparency arrangement is there for the public interest and a belief that this is in the public interest to do that. Although the argument about the effect on the finances of political parties is clearly a powerful one, because I firmly believe that it is in the interests of democracy that there should be properly funded political parties, nevertheless, it does not selfevidently trump the public interest one. There is an argument to be had. Is the impact on the finances of the Northern Ireland political parties so great that, actually, it overrides the public interest in transparency? A lot of the debate seems to be conducted as if it was obvious that that was the case. It seems to me that that is an issue.
Q407 Kate Hoey: What is actually wrong with the Bill?
Sir Christopher Kelly: Secondly, however, the arrangements in the rest of Great Britain are that the only donations that have to be declared are donations to a political party that are over £7,500 in any one year, or £1,500 to an accounting unit of a political party or £500 to an individual. What we were told in evidence when we did this report, and what you seem to have been told in the evidence that you have received so far, is that there are very few, if any, donations to Northern Ireland political parties that are more than £7,500. I believe that that is what the First Minister said to you. Sinn Fein, I read, although I have not checked this myself, says that they put their donations on their website, so it is possible to check that.
If there are no donations above £7,500, then bringing Northern Ireland into line with Great Britain would have no effect at all. Either someone is not being completely honest about the extent to which there are significant donations or it is an entirely academic issue and, if donations above £7,500 were published, the impact on individual parties would be very small.
Q408 Kate Hoey: If you had been writing the Bill, what would you have put in there?
Sir Christopher Kelly: The first step, and what we actually recommended, was that the Electoral Commission should actually disclose whether or not there are any donations above £7,500. In a sense that would deal with the issue. What the Bill does is to give the power, as I understand it, for the Electoral Commission to publish, effectively, anonymised data, so that you would be able to tell if there are any donations over £7,500 and, if so, how much they are. Then you could judge whether there would be an impact from making them transparent, rather than go through this whole convoluted procedure. If it is true that there are no donations or very few donations over £7,500, you might as well move to it straight away.
Q409 Kate Hoey: I know I could probably look it up, but just in the interests of transparency, how much do you get paid?
Sir Christopher Kelly: How much do I get paid as the Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life?
Kate Hoey: Yes.
Sir Christopher Kelly: I get paid £50,000 a year.
Q410 Kate Hoey: Is that a set number of days a week you have to work? How does it work?
Sir Christopher Kelly: No, it was calculated on the basis that I would spend two days a week doing it.
Q411 Kate Hoey: You are getting £12,000 less than we are getting for doing a fulltime job.
Sir Christopher Kelly: Yes.
Kate Hoey: Okay, I just wanted to have that on the record.
Sir Christopher Kelly: It is a matter of public record.
Kate Hoey: I know, but I had not looked it up, so thank you.
Q412 Lady Hermon: Sir Christopher, can I just take you back to when you were taking evidence in the runup to your report? I know that in fact you did take evidence when you were in Northern Ireland as well as taking evidence over here. Did any donor to a political party give you evidence, or give anyone in your Committee evidence, that they themselves were fearful for their lives, fearful of intimidation, or fearful of revenge through a boycott of their business? Did any single person make that submission to you?
Sir Christopher Kelly: Not that I recall-but am looking behind me. No is the answer. I should say, however, we did, as you might expect, take advice from the Northern Ireland Office, whose advice was, "This is a possibility, and please don’t upset the applecart."
Q413 Naomi Long: We are very pleased to have you with us giving evidence today. You mentioned that Sinn Fein publish on their website and we should be able to look up whether they have donors. We have tried, is the answer, and we have been unable to locate the information. I know that we publish voluntarily our information as a party, in the Alliance Party. We have had one donation over £7,500, a bequest I think, last year, in the time that we have been doing that on a voluntary basis. I would have to say, in our party, those kinds of donations would be few and far between. But surely it is possible to establish that. You have mentioned that the Bill will, if you like, allow them to publish the anonymised donations. Surely it would be possible to establish quickly, before legislating, whether or not there are significant donations that fall into that category and cast the legislation in light of that information, the factual information.
Sir Christopher Kelly: That was the point I was seeking to make. My understanding is you are seeing the Electoral Commission next, and you can ask them. I suspect they would say that they, legally, are not able to disclose that information, because we asked them that question when we were doing our report, and they said, "Sorry, the legislation says the information has to be given to the Electoral Commission, but they are not allowed to make it publicly available."
Q414 Naomi Long: The draft Bill provides the Secretary of State with a power to increase the political donations and loans transparency. In 2011, you recommended that it would be helpful if the Government were to publish a timetable for the introduction of full transparency on the same basis as the rest of the UK. Do you believe that the Bill represents a timetable, within which that will happen, or does it not meet the test of what you said was necessary?
Sir Christopher Kelly: We made that recommendation partly because, when we were having the discussions leading up to the report, everyone said in principle they were in favour of transparency but the time was not right. We slightly got the impression that the time would never be right, and it seemed to us that, actually, the right thing to do was therefore to put some discipline behind this. Clearly, it is possible to take a view, but it seemed to us the right position to be in, which is a bit where we are at present. The presumption should be that transparency should be introduced and you should have to demonstrate that, actually, there was a strong reason not to introduce it, rather than the other way round-having to prove that it would be alright to introduce transparency. If there is a problem, then I agree that you can deal with it in the Bill.
Q415 Naomi Long: Can I also just ask very briefly: in answer to the last question, you said that none of the donors who gave evidence said that they had concerns. How did you compile that group of people? How did you bring those together? Did they come and offer evidence to you or did you go out and seek donors through the political parties? I am just interested, because we have heard, in the evidence sessions that we had had, a contrary view from political parties that say that their donors would be concerned about their security. It is not something that would have been raised with us, with my own party, which is one of the reasons why obviously we have been able to move ahead and publish, but I am just wondering how you got that list.
Sir Christopher Kelly: We could not approach any donors, because we did not know who the donors were. What we did was, as is normal on these occasions, to invite evidence. All I am saying in response to Lady Hermon was that no one came forward and said that to us. It would have been good to have had a discussion of that kind, but unless you can identify the donors, you cannot have that discussion.
Q416 David Simpson: Some of these points Sir Christopher may have already dealt with, but I want to go over them again. The draft Bill that is before us would allow the publication of donation information that does not reveal the identity of the donors but, in your report of 2011, you recommended that the total volume of donations above the reported limit would be published, as well as the amount of donations being accepted from Irish citizens outside the United Kingdom. Why did you decide to recommend that?
Sir Christopher Kelly: For the same reason we have just been discussing. As I say, the impression we were being given was, firstly, that there were not many donations above £7,500 and, secondly, that there were not actually many donations coming from Irish citizens.
Q417 David Simpson: Are there any other categories that you would feel should be in the public domain in relation to donations?
Sir Christopher Kelly: Everything else above £7,500 is in the public domain. We made some recommendations in the report about donations from companies, which have almost entirely died out from quoted companies, since it was made a requirement some time ago for donations from quoted companies to receive the approval of their shareholders before they were made. That had the effect of killing that stonedead. As far as parties operating in the UK are concerned, there are still, in some cases, significant donations coming from private companies. We had some concerns as to whether or not they were being used, because the ownership of private companies is sometimes a bit obscure. There was some concern about whether or not they were being used to hide where the donations were coming from, as well as some technical difficulties associated with one particular donor to one party, as to whether actually the donations were coming from a company, all of whose earnings and activities were overseas rather than the UK, which is not supposed to be the case. I don’t think either of those applies in Northern Ireland.
Q418 David Simpson: Subsequent to the question that Naomi put at the very last, as regards people who are donating and feel that they would be threatened in some way, we did take evidence at Stormont and one or two of the witnesses indicated that there was concern. Businesspeople had approached them. In fact, one of the witnesses indicated that there was a website that had been set up to boycott individuals who were members of cultural organisations or whatever, to boycott their businesses or whatever, because they would have been seen to be aligned or have allegiances to one political party or the other. We find that, of course Northern Ireland being what it is, there have been issues right down through the past number of 30 or 40 years. I think you did indicate that in the evidence that you took very little concern was raised on that point. Is that correct?
Sir Christopher Kelly: No.
Q419 David Simpson: Except for the Northern Ireland Office. They indicated something; is that right?
Sir Christopher Kelly: No. What I said was none of the donors-we had not had any donor who came to us and said, "If you did that, if this happened, we would stop the donation." A number of the parties, I believe I am right in saying, expressed concern to us that that would be the consequence. It was the parties that did that.
David Simpson: Just to clarify, it was the donors then.
Sir Christopher Kelly: As I say, the interesting question, it seems to me now, is whether this is an entirely academic point or not.
Q420 Dr McDonnell: Thank you very much for being here, and it is a privilege to hear your views on many of these issues. It is in the proper interests of democracy that political parties be properly funded. Do you have any views or have you expressed any views, in any of your reports, about better state funding?
Sir Christopher Kelly: Yes, and that was one of the reasons why the recommendations we made in this report have caused such a difficulty. We took the view, when we made our recommendations about partypolitical finance, that the only way to prevent the substance of inappropriate donations, and certainly the perception of inappropriate donations, was to put a limit, a cap, on the amount anyone could give. We suggested that that cap should be put at £10,000, and we did extensive financial modelling about what the impact of that would be on the main parties. Again, we were told it was almost irrelevant to the smaller parties or the parties only in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. We were told that this would leave a gap-a gap that could be filled partly by spending less. A number of witnesses said to us, "Wouldn’t it be good if parties didn’t have the money to spend on advertising hoardings at the time of elections?"
It could be filled partly by greater efforts by the parties to obtain smaller funds. Although every party told us that they tried very hard to do that, actually the marginal gain from adding an additional supporter, the marginal financial gain you get from targeting, is likely to be very close to the cost of acquiring an additional supporter. Therefore, we took the view that, although we did not want to recommend it, actually, if you felt sufficiently strongly about the importance of imposing a cap, in the short term at least it would probably be necessary to increase slightly the amount of public funding that was provided, and we estimated that that was equivalent to about 50p per elector, per year-a very small amount-although it is possible to make it appear larger by multiplying it up by the number of electors and then multiplying it by the number of years of a Parliament.
That proposition, of course, meant there was then a rush of people to say, "We cannot possibly ask the electorate for more money", without, it seemed to us, anybody sitting down sensibly and saying, "Actually, there is a choice here. There is a tradeoff. These are relatively small amounts. What do you think is worse for democracy and for the perception of the integrity of our political institutions: asking the electorate to provide an extra 50p a year each to finance the political parties; or continuing with the present arrangements, in which large numbers of people think that the way to get into the House of Lords is to donate £1 million to one party, or you can buy a policy by donating?" That is what we recommended, and the three main UK parties are still discussing what to do about that.
We also drew attention, and this may be relevant in Northern Ireland, to the fact that there was short money in this House and also the equivalent of short money certainly in Scotland and Wales. I am not sure about Northern Ireland. There was not the equivalent of political development grants, which is money that is available through the Electoral Commission, if I remember rightly, to help the development of policy, as a way of encouraging effective opposition. We recommended that, if the case for doing that existed in Westminster, then it also, on the face of it, existed in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Sorry; that is longwinded. Does that answer your question?
Q421 Dr McDonnell: It is getting towards the thing. The point is that, sitting where I am sitting with a byelection tomorrow in Mid Ulster, and without the necessary resources to basically communicate a message of sanity to the electorate, the philosophy of this is a thousand miles from the practicalities of surviving. Political parties cannot be expected to communicate effectively, in today’s modern age with all sorts of new media and all the rest, unless they are properly resourced. It is a rock and a hard place, in my opinion. I do not support, in any shape or form, or in any way, corruption, corrupt practices or corrupt donations, but I do feel that there has to be some method of funding political parties. I believe now that we are rapidly reaching a state where it becomes very difficult to survive financially.
One of the questions in that context I wanted to ask was that you talked about the few suggestions that anybody was uncomfortable with publishing donations over £7,500. Are there any suggestions that people who might have donated £8,000, £9,000 or £10,000 scaled it back to £4,000 or £5,000 to avoid the unnecessary exposure?
Sir Christopher Kelly: In response to the first bit of your remarks, I think we are in agreement. I think we are saying the same thing. In answer to your second question, you will have to ask the Electoral Commission but, since the only donations that have to be reported are those of £7,500 or more, there is no general information about the number of people who donate £7,499.99. There is anecdotal evidence that a number of people pitched their donations at that level. There is anecdotal evidence that, actually, if you want to donate £15,000 and you have a partner, then it is perfectly legitimate for both of you to donate £7,499.99.
You would think that there ought to be information available from the accounts of the political parties that demonstrates where their funding comes from but, actually, one of the things we found when we looked into this is that the accounts of most of the parties are actually fairly obscure on this issue of where their funds come from and, moreover, they are drawn up in a way that makes comparisons between the parties actually quite difficult. The Electoral Commission has been doing something about that. Again, you can ask them about it, but they now have agreement of a sort to do with the preparation of the accounts of political parties, which ought to make it a lot easier for people to be able to see how the parties are actually funded and also easier for people to make comparisons between the different parties.
Q422 Dr McDonnell: Chair, very quickly-I don’t want to drag the questions on-clause 1(2) of the draft Bill requires the Secretary of State to consult with the Electoral Commission before increasing transparency. In the light of the conflicting evidence around, in terms of security and otherwise, should he extend to the Chief Constable so that there could be a proper risk or a detailed risk of any security threat?
Sir Christopher Kelly: I don’t think that is a standards issue. Again, that is a personal opinion rather than anything else but, if this remains an issue, if it is the case that there needs to be such consultation because there are donations, then it would seem to me fairly logical that, if you needed to take a view as to whether or not the security situation allowed this to happen, you should ask the people best positioned to provide you with that advice. If that is the Chief Constable, then that would seem to me to be a reasonable thing to do.
Q423 Dr McDonnell: From the evidence that we have had, the two points that are emerging are that there is a continued risk from terrorism and generally from threats and intimidation. Also, there is a potential risk of boycott, threat or undermining a business, aside from the direct threat or the threat of violence. Would you accept, generally, that alienation of our customer base is legitimate enough a reason to stall or slow the shift to transparency?
Sir Christopher Kelly: As I tried to say at the beginning, without in any way downplaying the importance of the argument about the security situation, it does seem to me that it does not follow, as night follows day, that that argument automatically trumps the public interest in transparency. A judgment has to be made as to whether it does, and where that judgment falls would depend, I guess, on a number of factors, including how serious the security situation is, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, how serious the impact would be if the results that people feared happened on the finances of the political parties. On that latter point, you keep on coming back to needing to know whether or not there are any donations at present that would be affected.
Q424 Mr Hepburn: Talking particularly about Northern Ireland politics, where do you think the balance lies between having vibrantly funded political parties to stimulate debate and, on the other hand, protecting the anonymity of potential donors who might fear loss of customers or threat to life? Where do you think the balance lies?
Sir Christopher Kelly: Is that the choice?
Mr Hepburn: Yes. Where do you think the balance lies?
Sir Christopher Kelly: As I have tried to say, and as we say in the report, it is very important that there should be properly funded political parties. If they did not exist, you would have to invent them.
Q425 Chair: Are you sure about that?
Sir Christopher Kelly: Maybe not all of them, but political parties quite clearly provide a public good. Otherwise, what are voters-sorry; there is a whole PhD to write on that. The basic point is, I fully agree with you, if that is the basis of your question, that properly funded political parties are an important thing to have, which is why we made the recommendations we did in that. It is not obvious to me that that means that you cannot publish donations above £7,500 in Northern Ireland.
Q426 Naomi Long: On the issue of the legislation, we have had very mixed evidence in terms of what sort of information should be able to be published retrospectively, if the legislation were to go through, about donations that were made during the prescribed period. Some witnesses have argued that donor identities should be made public retrospectively, while others have suggested that this could undermine confidence in the regulatory regime, where people had donated with an expectation of anonymity to then have that removed. The draft Bill allows the Electoral Commission to publish donor identities retrospectively, but only where the donor actually consents to that being the case. Do you believe that that balances properly the public interest of which you have spoken and the need to, if you like, protect the donors in a way that they would have an expectation at the time of the donation to have been protected?
Sir Christopher Kelly: I said earlier that transparency or openness was one of the seven principles of public life. Honesty is another of the principles of public life, and honesty is almost the quality, when we talk in our focus groups to members of the public, that they put above everything else. There is an issue of honesty with this question. If people were given to understand that their donations would not be disclosed, as I understand was the case in practice, even if not legally-there was something about explanatory notes or whatever-if it is the case that people were given to understand, my personal view is that it would be monstrously unfair to publish their details now. Also, the principle is about going forward. The principle is about transparency going forward, and absolutely no purpose seems to me to be served by going backwards. That would be the wrong thing to focus on.
Q427 Naomi Long: Essentially the provision that they can publish that information with the permission of the donor seems to be entirely in line with what you have said around integrity and honesty, but also in terms of transparency.
Sir Christopher Kelly: Absolutely, yes.
Q428 Oliver Colvile: In a previous life, Sir Christopher, I was a Conservative Party agent, and I started doing that job in the 1980s. Believe you me, one of the things that we had to go and do was to go out and actually make the members, in order to be able to pay our salaries. One of the things that I think, in some ways, has been quite hampering is the invention of the computer, because all political parties were told, "You have computers. You can write to people, and people will end up then actually giving you lots of money. That will be a very easy way of doing it." What we have stopped doing is going out and physically knocking on doors and actually talking to people about membership, and how they can become members as well. It was not a vast amount of money. In those days, it was £5, maybe even £10. In those days, it was quite a large amount of money.
It seems, to my mind, that we have moved now into a culture where we are expecting the Government and the state to end up by funding political parties but, actually, political parties frankly should be out there knocking on doors, making members and all that kind of stuff too. I therefore find it quite difficult when I get told there should be more short money and there should be more state money, which is going to be given to it as well. I hope that is quite helpful.
Sir Christopher Kelly: Can I respond to that? I agree. I agree that the consummation devoutly to be wished is actually the political parties being able to survive on money they raise from their own supporters, with some quite difficult issues around when those supporters are-this is an entirely different issue-trade unions, and the nature of affiliation fees, on which we also wrote. I entirely agree with you.
Oliver Colvile: Don’t worry; I think people should have to opt in to political parties.
Sir Christopher Kelly: What we always try to be in our recommendations is practical. The view we took was, although that is where we would like to be and where, over a period of time, we would hope we could be, actually, in the short term, it was quite important to put a limit on donations. If the only way of doing that and still allowing political parties to have the means to do what they needed to do was some increase, then not as a principle, but as a matter of pragmatism, then that was what we thought should happen. I hope that it would be short term.
Q429 Oliver Colvile: I have to say, I suspect you end up not doing that and what we will end up doing is actually making sure that there is a short, sharp attack upon that. The two things that I just want to know are: do you think it would be right and proper to reduce the cap, from £7,500 maybe down to about £5,000, so that everybody has to declare? Secondly, do you also agree with me that, as I probably think, actually, if you are going to receive donations, individuals should be allowed to put that against their tax bill as well? That is very similar to what happens in the United States of America.
Sir Christopher Kelly: On your second point, yes; we made a recommendation to that effect. It would need to be limited. We made the recommendation quite deliberately, partly because of the point I made earlier, that actually you need to help people to do what they ought to be doing anyway, and by giving small tax relief, you create a situation that slightly alters the relationship between the cost of getting additional members and the return you might get from them. We thought that was important, because we thought that engagement was important. It is not just a matter of getting in the money; actually, engagement is an important part of the way to make-
Oliver Colvile: It is actually about making individuals play a part within the whole thing, rather than just expecting corporate governance to take place.
Sir Christopher Kelly: I am sorry; I have forgotten the other point you made.
Oliver Colvile: Whether or not you should reduce.
Sir Christopher Kelly: No, I don’t think you should. It would be untold bureaucracy and completely unnecessary to reduce the £7,500 to £5,000. There is no reason to do that. No one would seriously think that a donation of less than £7,500 to a national party would really buy you a favour. There is an issue as to whether £7,500 should be raised, not lowered. Indeed, there is an issue, although we don’t go into it, that if you did have a cap of £10,000, you might do away with transparency altogether and thereby save the cost of administration and bureaucracy.
Q430 Naomi Long: Obviously you have emphasised that most of the Northern Ireland parties-and certainly it is the impression that has been given in the evidence that we have received-would claim that there are very few donations that exceed the £7,500 limit. They are much lower. Their incomes are also much lower than would be the case for a national party and, therefore, the point being made is the point at which influence could be exerted over policy in practice would be at a lower threshold. That is the case that has been made for reducing the threshold. Is there any argument for looking at this on a regional basis, or do you believe that the same standard should apply right across the UK, regardless of the size of the party and the size of the income? Should it be, for example, a percentage of the party’s income? I am just interested to know what you think about this.
Sir Christopher Kelly: As always, it is right to go back to the principle and the principle is that what you want is transparency above any amount that people think would be sufficient to buy some favour in return. If a serious case could be made that something less than £7,500 in particular circumstances, in Northern Ireland, achieved that, then you would certainly have to consider a different level; although that would then, I suspect, run into the sort of difficulties that Mr Paisley was talking about earlier in relation to doublejobbing. It is partly for that reason, I guess, that the limit on the transparency of donations to individuals is set at £500, on the basis that £7,500 during a constituency campaign might well be enough, for an MP short of cash, to affect their campaign in some way.
Chair: Thank you. We are way over time. It has been a very useful session, Sir Christopher. Thank you very much for joining us.
Sir Christopher Kelly: Thank you. As will be obvious, I felt much more comfortable talking about party funding, which I think really is a standards issue, than I did on the issue of doublejobbing, which we only got into because the Prime Minister asked us to.
Chair: Blame him. Thank you very much.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Seamus Magee, Head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, Anna Carragher, Northern Ireland Commissioner, and Peter Horne, Director of Party and Election Finance, gave evidence.
Q431 Chair: Thank you very much for joining us. Sorry to keep you waiting. The previous session ran over a little bit. One of our colleagues was going to ask the first question, but I think she has had to leave the room for a minute. I will ask it myself, if you don’t mind our going straight into questions. You have stated that, "It is clear that there has been a significant and worrying decline in both the accuracy and completeness of Northern Ireland’s electoral register". Is the Bill going to correct that?
Anna Carragher: The research we carried out at the end of last year did show that, in accuracy and completeness, the methods that the Chief Electoral Officer was using for datamatching were not adequate to the changes in population, particularly in population movement. We are confident that a combination of measures that the Electoral Officer has agreed to put in place, and the Northern Ireland Office has agreed to as well, will actually do two things. It will stop the immediate problem, in that, by the time we come to the next set of elections, the register will be complete and accurate and that, ongoing, measures will be put in place to ensure that the accuracy and completeness do not fall, because we will have remedied some of the deficiencies in the previous ways of updating the register.
Q432 Lady Hermon: It is very nice to see you all here this afternoon. I want to ask the question that the Chairman has directed me to ask, and then I want to follow on a subject that was actually raised by the previous witness. In your report of 2002, you made various recommendations. Could I just ask you to tell us frankly: regarding the Bill that we are taking evidence about, are there shortcomings? Are there things that you, as the Electoral Commission, would have wished to see in the Bill to improve the efficiency and efficacy of the Electoral Office in Northern Ireland? If there are, could you elaborate upon them for us, please?
Seamus Magee: In terms of one of the things that we would like to see in the Bill, it is performance standards extended to the Chief Electoral Officer in Northern Ireland.
Q433 Lady Hermon: Performance standards. Could you specify?
Seamus Magee: In 2006, performance standards were set for registration officers and returning officers in Great Britain. We think it would be very helpful if those performance standards were extended to the Chief Electoral Officer in Northern Ireland. That would cover registration as well as elections. For example, standards would be set that might be around, for example, planning elections, developing the risk register for elections. Overall, the Chief Electoral Officer would then be able to compare his performance with his colleagues’ across the rest of the UK. We think that would have the potential of raising standards in Northern Ireland. It would also mean that returning officers and registration officers in Great Britain could also look to Northern Ireland, because of very significant developments that have happened there, in terms of individual electoral registration. They would be able to learn lessons from there in addition.
Q434 Lady Hermon: There have been standards in the rest of the UK, but not in Northern Ireland, since 2005.
Seamus Magee: Yes. Standards were introduced in Great Britain in 2008, but were not extended to Northern Ireland.
Q435 Lady Hermon: Yes, so it is five years ago. For five years, Northern Ireland has fallen behind the standards that are applicable in the rest of the UK.
Anna Carragher: We don’t really know, because we cannot make the direct comparisons, because performance standards don’t apply in Northern Ireland. What we would like to do is have performance standards applied in Northern Ireland, so it is possible to look at comparisons across the whole of the UK and actually also to ensure that best practice is spread across the whole of the UK.
Q436 Lady Hermon: Why has Northern Ireland lagged behind for such a long time? What is the justification?
Seamus Magee: The legislation passed in the 2006 Electoral Administration Act did not include Northern Ireland in respect of performance standards, and that is something we would like to see the Bill address.
Q437 Lady Hermon: Have you made a submission to that effect to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland?
Seamus Magee: We have. We have made that in terms of a written submission and, indeed, since 2006, largely we have been arguing for the extension of performance standards to Northern Ireland.
Q438 Lady Hermon: Are you allowed to intimate to the Committee whether in fact there has been a positive response to your submission to the Secretary of State?
Seamus Magee: Yes, and indeed also with the Chief Electoral Officer in Northern Ireland. We are currently running a pilot with the Chief Electoral Officer, in terms of piloting registration standards, and he is working with us on those, but we do need those put on to a statutory footing.
Q439 Lady Hermon: Excellent. That is very good. This is the supplementary question I just want to follow up from the evidence given to us, just towards the end, by Christopher Kelly. He said to the effect-this is not verbatim-that the accounts of political parties that are presented and given to the Electoral Commission did not appear to be particularly clear to the general public. How could they show clearly where the funding comes from? Is there a degree of blurring in the funding and how we know where the funding comes from? Of course we have had evidence-we will come back to that-clearly from Sinn Fein that we could identify their political donations on their website. We would just like to know whether the Electoral Commission can identify where Sinn Fein get their individual donations from.
Peter Horne: If I can give some background to the differences between the level of transparency that there is in Great Britain and the level of transparency that there currently is in Northern Ireland, in Great Britain the level of transparency was set through PPERA in 2000, and then updated in 2006, for donations and then, subsequently, loans. The same legislation was applied in Northern Ireland for donations in 2007, and then loans in 2008. There is a requirement for political parties to report to the Electoral Commission the donations above a certain level. The Electoral Commission is then statutorily mandated to check those donations-that they are from permissible sources under PPERA.
There are two differences for Northern Ireland versus Great Britain, the first one of which is donations that come from individuals and organisations that are in Northern Ireland must remain confidential. That is the case under the legislation. The second is that sources for donations in Northern Ireland may include sources from the Republic of Ireland, so those sources mirror those of Great Britain’s political parties but, in addition, they include Irish citizens, provided they have the appropriate certification.
Now, going back to the question, which is what are the opportunities around increasing the level of transparency and making that visible to voters, as we have noted and stated publicly, we are keen to see increased transparency, and we welcome that the Bill is bringing that forward. We think there are two steps that could be taken, the first one of which is enabling the Electoral Commission to release data around the types of sources. Donors up until this point, be they individuals or organisations, have got a preexisting expectation of confidentiality. In our view, from a date in future, so perhaps from the beginning of July this year, the Government could indicate that future donations would be made public. Now, they do not necessarily need to be made public at that point in time, but they could be made public in future. Potentially, I believe, 30 September 2014 is the date suggested at the moment.
The second point is that the Electoral Commission would be able to give you more information than I can give at the moment. Although we hold the information, I cannot actually release whom the donations are from or anything more around that. We are, in addition, looking at standardising the statement of accounts that come from political parties.
Q440 Lady Hermon: Thank you. That was really the question I wanted you to address. That was something that in fact was raised towards the end of the evidence, just before you came in. When the accounts are submitted to the Electoral Commission by individual political parties in Northern Ireland, are they sufficiently transparent for you, as the Electoral Commission, which has a duty to keep lots of information confidential-and you have that legislative duty to do that-to understand where parties have got their funds from?
Peter Horne: We look at two things. Yes, parties submit their accounts to us, but they also submit their donations. It is our requirement to check where the donations come from. For example, if a party were to submit a donation from a company based in the Republic of Ireland, we would be required to check that that company based in the Republic of Ireland was undertaking business at that point, and meeting the requirements of the checks. Similarly, if an individual were to be donating to a party in Northern Ireland, we would be required to check that they were, for example, on the electoral roll. Statutorily, we are required to check 50% of individual donations and 100% of all other donations above the minimum levels. We actually check 100% of all donations that are reported to us.
Anna Carragher: Can I come in on that as well, and say that this requirement for the standardisation of accounts is going to happen from 2014? All parties across the UK will be required to present accounts in a way that will enable voters to make comparisons and look at accounts-direct comparisons between the different parties.
Q441 Ian Paisley: Can I just, before my question, say a huge thank you to the Electoral Commission and put that on record? It is important and you do a very good job. You should be commended and commended publicly. I know, as a member of a political party working with your organisation, how easily you communicate and work with political parties, and take us over difficult areas. I think it is important to place that on the record. Thank you to you and your staff, and your members.
Could I turn to the issue of registration and administration? How difficult is it now, in Northern Ireland, to steal a vote off someone?
Seamus Magee: The introduction of individual electoral registration in Northern Ireland under the Electoral Fraud Act in 2002 has meant that it is actually very difficult, because people are now required to register on an individual basis. They need to provide their date of birth and their National Insurance number. That information is then checked against the Department for Work and Pensions, but at polling stations people do need to provide photographic ID. Since 2003, in terms of all elections since 2003, there have been no complaints in respect of votestealing on polling day. That information has been confirmed. We do that at every election with the PSNI.
Q442 Ian Paisley: Is there anything else the Bill could do to ensure that that remains the case and that you remain confident that votes cannot be stolen and, secondly, that actually electors, and those electors who are not on the register and should be on the register, are encouraged to get on to it and encouraged to exercise their democratic right, which is the fundamental right to vote?
Anna Carragher: One of the things we are doing with the Chief Electoral Officer, in connection with the electoral registration work that is going ahead, is we are building a public awareness campaign, which will be telling people how to register to vote and encouraging them to register to vote. That is very much part of the plans going forward.
Q443 Lady Hermon: I have just a very short supplementary on the wonderful electoral identity cards-and they are; they are brilliant.
Ian Paisley: There is a lovely picture on that one.
Lady Hermon: I could not possibly comment-my eyesight is not good enough. They are valid for 10 years. We took some evidence earlier on about the Bill that indicated that there is a specific provision about the electoral identity cards. It was to do with making it a criminal offence to give false information in relation to a usual signature. At that stage, I must say, given my late husband’s condition and my awareness of other people who have dementia, but who do wish to exercise their franchise, and those with a learning difficulty who also want to exercise their franchise, there was an explanation given that some people, apparently, were trying to use the electoral ID card in order to build up a false identity. Is that information that the Electoral Commission has, that you have evidence or has it been reported to you that there are suspicions that the electoral identity card is being used to build up a false identity?
Seamus Magee: If there are any particular difficulties with the electoral identity card, that information would be communicated to the Chief Electoral Officer in Northern Ireland, who would do various checks around that. There has been no evidence coming to the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland about that particular concern.
Q444 Oliver Colvile: Mine is just a very quick question. Registration is one thing, but absent votes and the misuse of absent votes is another one as well. How easy is it for you to police to make sure that you do not have fraud on absent votes, because most certainly there are parts of the United Kingdom where I think that has happened?
Seamus Magee: As you know, absent voting is different in Northern Ireland, in that you cannot get an absent vote on demand, as you can in the rest of the UK. You do need to give a reason for an absent vote. The percentage of absent votes applied for in Northern Ireland is around 1% to 1.5% at every election. Elsewhere in the UK, I think it is 25% to 26%.
Oliver Colvile: I think we in England have an enormous amount to learn from Northern Ireland on this matter.
Anna Carragher: It is quite interesting; we have just been carrying out some preliminary research working on electoral fraud, in the Electoral Commission. Maybe some people in this room have been consulted on it. The very preliminary findings are showing that there is a sense that people in Northern Ireland have been much more confident about the integrity of the vote than is the case elsewhere in the United Kingdom, so I think there are lessons to be learned.
Q445 Dr McDonnell: You are all very welcome. It is a privilege. I would want to echo Ian’s point that you do work very hard and very comfortably with my political party. I commend you for that. I am sure your good will and kindness extends to all parties, as Ian has suggested. Thank you for that.
You mentioned earlier the question of standards for the Chief Electoral Officer that applied in Britain but not in Northern Ireland. We understood that you had agreed a set of draft standards. Is that correct?
Anna Carragher: Yes.
Q446 Dr McDonnell: They are currently being piloted. Do you have any indication of the early findings that you might be prepared to share with us? On the back of those, should those be implemented? Do you think the Chief Electoral Officer will require any additional support from the Northern Ireland Office or the Secretary of State? If that support is required, will it lead to or would primary legislation be necessary?
Seamus Magee: A pilot has been ongoing since October last year, with the Chief Electoral Officer. The performance standards that we have agreed with him cover 26 areas in total. The plan is that he is currently working through those. Come March this year, at the end of this month, we expect to hear a report back from the Chief Electoral Officer in terms of how he has worked with those, how easy it is for him to gather the information, whether or not it has taken additional staff resource, etc. All of that will come back in terms of the pilot exercise that we are conducting with him. We then plan to tweak those standards and run them forward for a year, whereby he will report in his annual report to the Secretary of State how well he has met those standards.
We are not trying to create another tier of reporting. We feel that the Chief Electoral Officer currently reports, given the statutory registration standards, to the Secretary of State, but what we are looking at are management standards to improve the overall management of elections and the overall management of registration. There are 27 areas, as I said. We will do an analysis of how well those have been met and how he has worked with those. We will change those if necessary. He is very much in favour of performance standards himself and we have worked very closely with him in terms of developing those. As I said earlier, it is very important that they are put on a statutory footing. I think the Bill has the opportunity to do that.
Q447 Dr McDonnell: You are aware of the high level of nonregistration currently in Northern Ireland, I am sure. It is very worrying and very distressing. Having knocked on a few doors in Mid Ulster over the last few weeks, I am finding that every fifth house is without a vote in some areas, and I do believe I would urge you to get those standards into place as quickly as possible.
Seamus Magee: What we currently have in Northern Ireland are a lot of people registered, but unfortunately quite a proportion of those people are not registered at the correct address. What we want to do, from autumn onwards, is to work with the Chief Electoral Officer in terms of conducting a canvass across Northern Ireland, in terms of where he contacts all households, gathers registration information and creates a new register in time for the European and possibly local elections in 2014. We know that the Northern Ireland Office is working through secondary legislation, which will address the concerns that we have had, which were addressed in the registration report that we published at the end of last year.
Q448 Naomi Long: It is good to have you with us. On the issue of donations and loans, there was an issue just raised in Sir Christopher Kelly’s evidence, which I want to just quickly address with you. We are clear that you are unable to disclose donors and donations above the £7,500 schedule. Is it also the case-can you confirm this for us?-that you cannot indicate whether there are such donations in existence or not, as well as not being able to give any detail on those?
Peter Horne: That is correct.
Q449 Naomi Long: That is helpful, because that is one of the issues that I wanted to explore. In your written submission to the Committee, you made a series of recommendations to improve the clauses on political donations and loans, and mentioned that the new Order power could be used to allow the Electoral Commission to publish anonymised details of all individual donations and loans made since 2007. That amendment would allow the Electoral Commission to publish donor information between when the Bill is published and the end of the prescribed period, and that would then move us to full transparency potentially by September 2014. Have you made those recommendations to the Secretary of State and, if so, have you been advised as to why they were not included in the draft Bill? That is the first question.
Peter Horne: I would like to preface this by pointing out that I joined the Commission in February, so I was not fully involved in those discussions. I understand that representations were made and my understanding was that the Government view was that it was difficult to balance the protection of the confidentiality of individuals before that point, but I don’t understand exactly their reasons.
Q450 Naomi Long: Can you advise how you think the draft Bill could be amended to improve voter confidence in the political institutions in Northern Ireland? Do you have any views on that?
Peter Horne: If it is a specific question around donations and loans, my view is voters have said to us, and we put in our evidence, that they are keen to see increased transparency. Consistently, six out of 10 voters say they wish to understand more about how political parties are funded and how they spend their money. In our view, the steps that you can take towards that are, first of all, the ability for us to publish anonymised information of the period to date; but, secondly, an additional phase that is looking at the period, say for example from July of this year, the ability for people to lose the expectation that their donation would be, in perpetuity, anonymised. Actually, at that point there, once the legislation comes through allowing the Electoral Commission to publish the information that has been reported to it, it would not merely be publication from 30 September 2014, but we would actually be able to retrospectively publish the details of donations and loans from July of this year.
Q451 Naomi Long: In terms of the discussion we had with Sir Christopher Kelly, there were two issues. The first was he challenged the premise that actually asking people to publish all donations over £7,500 would expose donors to risk, in that his contention was, and indeed the evidence that has been presented by parties is, that there are very few donations of that scale in Northern Ireland. I am not trying to draw you into commenting on whether there are or not, but one of the phases that he suggested would be helpful was the anonymised donations publication. Do you think that there is logic in that argument, that if the donations can be anonymised and published in terms that the public can understand-how many donations of that kind are received-that would be a good first step in terms of actually moving forward?
Peter Horne: The question around the security risk to individuals or organisations is not one for the Electoral Commission to decide, at that point. The question around whether we think that it is a sensible step to take to allow us to published anonymised data-absolutely that is the case.
Q452 Naomi Long: The other point that he made was in relation to retrospective publication and the issue of honesty and integrity. If people have been donating with the expectation that their donations would not be disclosed and their names would not be disclosed, it would not increase confidence certainly from them in the public process and so on, if that were later to be undertaken. Do you agree with the provisions that are suggested that we should publish only those donors retrospectively who give consent? Do you believe that that strikes a balance, in terms of integrity of the process?
Anna Carragher: I think that the Commission would feel that, when people have donated on the understanding that that donation would be anonymous, that was an undertaking that was given in good faith and taken in good faith. It is right and proper that that should remain the case, very much so. One of the problems, when the Secretary of State in the past has been extending the prescribed period, that was not in the legislation, so any end to the prescribed period would have meant that those donations would have become public. What this Bill now does is remove that particular bar, and therefore it removes the consideration the Secretary of State will have to take into account when he or she is making their deliberation, which was there in the past, and that is helpful.
Q453 David Simpson: It is good to see you again, Seamus, and your team with you. I don’t want to blow your heads up too much, but I echo the comments. In 2011, the Committee on Standards recommended that the total volume of donations and the amount received by Irish citizens overseas should be published. If the draft Bill comes into effect as it is currently drafted, what categories of information would you expect to be made public about donors in cases where you would not be permitted to reveal their identity? Is there anything else?
Peter Horne: In my view, given our views around transparency, we need to be balancing people’s preexisting views on their anonymity, be they organisations or individuals, but we should be able to be publishing the data that allows voters to understand the sources of funding for political parties. Provided it did not identify the individual or organisation-
David Simpson: Sources. Is there anything else? That would be the top of your list, would it? Thank you.
Q454 Ian Paisley: Just talk us through that a wee bit more. Say, for example, I go out and fundraise on behalf of my party in Australia, Canada or the United States of America. Money is brought back. How would you deal with that and register that? That is a donation to a political party. What would happen? What would the public then see?
Peter Horne: Are we talking post the Bill becoming an Act?
Ian Paisley: Say I go out next month and raise £100,000 and bring it back to our party.
Peter Horne: If I look at our role as the regulator of party and election finance, there are certain rules that are set out. First of all, for the treasurer of your party, under PPERA, as it was amended for Northern Ireland, there is an expectation that all donations above £500 should be PPERAcompliant. What that means in practice, so for a party in Northern Ireland, is that either it can come from-and you will forgive me if I use a slightly long and probably slightly incomplete list-a Great Britain political party; it can come from individuals on the UK electoral roll; it can come from companies based in the UK; and it can come from another range of organisations. It can additionally come from an equivalent mirror source of organisations that are based in the Republic of Ireland or, alternatively, from Irish citizens.
The requirement for visibility for us, under the legislation that is set out, is that political parties should be reporting to us, if they are a central unit, donations over £7,500. In your example, a donation would need to be seen to be reported to us. At that point there, there would be the appropriate certification that would need to be provided. Say, for example, it was from a company, we would check that that company was doing business. If it was an Irish company, we would be checking the appropriate Irish register and checking that they were taking part in business. Alternatively, if it was from an individual, we would be checking their certification for Irish citizenship. That is the approach that we take at the moment.
Q455 Ian Paisley: Would I be right in saying that I could come back and say, "I’m a company. I’m donating that money to my party," and therefore I get around some of those mechanisms? Secondly, could I say, "This is a whole lot of individual donations of less than £500 each from this number of people"?
Peter Horne: The legislation currently sets out a set of rules around agency-an individual who acts on behalf of another group-and, in those cases, it should be treated in the same way. The agent cannot claim to be the individual who is donating. Doing so, I understand, is an offence. Secondly, on misrepresenting a donation and saying that it is a whole series of donations under £500, actually the requirement for the treasurer is that multiple donations that come from the same single source are treated as a cumulative donation, i.e. if you as an individual happen to donate £500 15 times, at that point your donation would become a reportable donation.
Q456 Ian Paisley: There is a wee bit of flexibility there, though, isn’t there?
Peter Horne: The flexibility that you describe is a description of the legislation that was prescribed to us by Parliament. We have to apply it.
Ian Paisley: I appreciate you have to work with what you are given.
Q457 Lady Hermon: Are there many political parties in Northern Ireland that are aware of the flexibility that you have just indicated to the Committee? In fact, are there any political parties, or how many political parties in Northern Ireland are aware of the flexibility that you have just explained to the Committee?
Peter Horne: I am not sure I understand the question.
Q458 Lady Hermon: You have responded to my colleague here, Mr Paisley, by saying that in fact there is some flexibility, but you are operating within the legislation that was given to you, which of course you are doing. I am really interested to know whether in fact there are political parties with, I am sure, very clever legal advice and maybe their own inhouse advice for all I know, that are able to take advantage of the flexibility that you have just discussed with the Committee. That is not asking you to disclose anonymity; it is not asking you to disclose donors. I just want to know if you can disclose to the Committee, please, whether there are political parties based in Northern Ireland that use the flexibility just explained to this Committee.
Peter Horne: I am not sure I can discuss what I would view as a hypothetical situation. The legislation exists. We as an organisation ensure that, when donations are reported to us, we will check and make sure that they are compliant with the legislation. We are absolutely keen to see increased transparency so that voters can see that too. My view is that, in the months that I have been in this role, as an organisation we have the appropriate checks in place to make sure that parties are complying with legislation. Where organisations or individuals have suspicions that there are any issues with that, they have the opportunity to report them to us and we will investigate them.
Over the years that we have been regulating donations and loans in Northern Ireland, we have over time received a number of allegations. We have over time undertaken investigations, and we have taken action. If you look upon our website since, I believe, January last year, we have publicly listed the actions that we have taken. One action has been taken against a political party in Northern Ireland, which I believe was for a late statement of accounts. I will correct that later, if that is wrong. I will be happy to provide you with some detail around the sorts of actions that we have taken in the past.
Q459 Ian Paisley: Could I ask the question the other way round? Are you an accountant?
Peter Horne: I am not an accountant.
Q460 Ian Paisley: As someone serving on the financial side of the House, would there be measures or are there measures that you feel could be introduced that would strengthen the regulatory impact to prevent someone being creative with their accounts?
Peter Horne: In our view, there are two routes on this. The existing PPERA, which has been in existence since 2000, can be improved. We undertook a project last year to look into the individual bits of the legislation. We came out with a series of recommendations on that, which we are due to be publishing this summer. In our view, there are certain aspects of that that are more significant than others, but there is some tweaking that can be done to make sure that there is more clarity. There are some areas there, and I appreciated earlier the comments made around us supporting parties complying with the legislation.
In addition to that, the major step here, in and around helping voters have confidence in the system and confidence in the funds going into the system, is transparency. This Bill itself, bringing through voters’ ability to see where the funds are coming from and which organisations and individuals the funds are coming from, will actually be the key step.
Q461 Oliver Colvile: First of all, thank you very much to you for coming. My understanding is that the Secretary of State has to consult with you about various aspects of the legislation, should this become the case. We have had a number of people who have come to see us who have explained that they think that more transparency, potentially, could end up by creating problems for those organisations, those businesses and those individuals who may want to make donations to political parties. They feel that they would open themselves up to intimidation and things like that. Have you any views on that and have you had a considered thought about how that might be managed, so we can make sure that people can end up making donations, or individuals or businesses can make donations, without running the threat of being intimidated and being potentially beaten up and harassed?
Anna Carragher: First of all, the Commission is very aware that, in terms of the Secretary of State making a decision on this, it is a balance; there are a number of things to be taken into account. It would be a decision that would have to be taken at some point in the next few years. We believe it is in the voters’ interest to have transparency of party funding. We believe it will build trust and confidence in politics and the political system in Northern Ireland. We are aware that it is what voters do say, when we carry out research, that they want, and we are also aware, as I know my colleagues will be, that the fact that there is not transparency can lead to suspicions and misinformation. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as it were. That is the first point.
The second point would be that, in the past, one of the issues has been that people donated with the assurance of confidentiality. Had it been lifted in the past few years that would not have been the case. This Bill will fix that, so people who have donated in the past will be able to donate in the future. We are aware that there are other areas of political life in Northern Ireland where people’s names are in the public domain-for example people who are nominating for elections, people who are working for various parties-so there are areas where people who are politically involved and politically active are involved in public life.
We are also aware that, across the UK, there are other areas where there are potential security threats. Nonetheless, parties in the UK do have transparency of donations. That is not in any way to minimise the security risk. Certainly at the point when the Secretary of State comes to make this decision, he or she will certainly have to take account of the security situation. We would hope that that would be a robust assessment of it, but we are very conscious, as I said, that there are a number of issues to balance in making that decision.
Q462 Oliver Colvile: Do you think that the amount of money that people can donate-I think it is £7,500 at the moment-should come down? Some people have suggested it should come down to £500.
Peter Horne: The limit used to be £5,000. It was raised by Parliament to £7,500. In our view, the first step in Northern Ireland should realistically be transparency. At the moment, you don’t know who has donated or which organisations have donated, at whatever level. It is the case that there is a balance to be struck around the level. Political parties do need funding. There is a bureaucratic burden that is placed on political parties around requiring them to report. We recognise, as the Electoral Commission, that a significant proportion of treasurers of political parties are in fact volunteers, even in the larger parties, so there is a balance to be struck there. However, in my view, over time with the potential around technology to make steps easier, there can be an ongoing debate as to what that level should be. Transparency for voters and voters being able to see how their parties are funded is our goal. How we get to that is something we will come to over time.
Q463 Lady Hermon: Do you mind if I call you Anna or would you rather I called you Ms Carragher? I used to know Anna when she worked for the BBC. We follow your career. [Interruption.] No, I thought she did a very good job, actually.
Chair: Get on with it.
Lady Hermon: A quick question-stop interrupting me.
You mention, and I took the words down very quickly, that the Secretary of State would have to make "a robust assessment" whenever she comes to remove the anonymity of political donations. We have, as you probably are aware, been given evidence by various individuals that it may be helpful, useful or wise indeed to have some involvement written into this Bill, actually written into this Bill where it is not currently in black and white, that the PSNI invite the Chief Constables to make some assessment. Is that what you have in mind when you talk about a "robust assessment" that the Secretary of State to Northern Ireland has to make? Should there be involvement by a Chief Constable in the PSNI?
Anna Carragher: I am not sure that is really for the Commission to say. When I say a "robust assessment", we know the voter in Northern Ireland does view this as important. Nobody wants to jeopardise the security of individuals but, at the same time, we want assessments to be made that are realistic assessments. Maybe "realistic" is a better word than "robust" in this context. I do not think the Commission has a particular view as to whether or not the PSNI-to describe who is making that assessment. That is for the Secretary of State.
Q464 David Simpson: Very simple question: do you believe that the current term of the Assembly or the mandate should be extended for another year and, if so, should it be incorporated in the Bill?
Anna Carragher: I don’t think the Commission has a particular view on the length of Assembly term.
Q465 David Simpson: If you are having two elections on the one day, it makes it more difficult for you guys to administer. Is it better to have an extended time for this Assembly that they do not have two or three concurrent elections in the one day?
Seamus Magee: Maybe I could just comment in terms of two elections or three in the one day. As you know, in 2011 we had three elections in the one day. What we found after the election-we did quite a lot of surveying of voters-was that 89% of voters found that it was fine and there were three ballot papers. One of the difficulties that we did find, and that would help for future combined elections, was that if the name of the actual election was written clearly on the ballot paper. We understand that the Northern Ireland Office is addressing that in secondary legislation.
Certainly in terms of having two elections in the one day, we have recently surveyed voters in Northern Ireland about having the Assembly election and the UK parliamentary election on the same day in May 2015. 44% of voters of Northern Ireland feel that there is no issue with them being on the same day, 30% had no view one way or the other, and the rest felt that they should be held separately. Largely the majority of people don’t have a particular issue.
The key thing is that those elections, if they are combined, have good planning and the combined legislation is in place six months in advance of any election taking place. That allows the Chief Electoral Officer to plan in a very systematic way for elections that are combined but, in terms of voters, voters are fairly sophisticated in terms of taking part in one or two elections in the same day.
David Simpson: Okay. That is interesting.
Q466 Lady Hermon: Your voice sometimes is very soft indeed, and I just want you to reiterate in response to the supplementary question to ensure that you have actually covered it. In light of the criticisms that we did have in Northern Ireland-very significant criticisms-of the triple elections in 2011, it has always been my view that voters are perfectly competent and well able to distinguish and to vote in two elections or three elections. If you just give us the figures again, just to confirm.
Seamus Magee: We were doing some public opinion survey just before Christmas last year. In terms of having combined elections in 2015, 44% of those surveyed had no issue about both elections being combined; 30% had no view one way or the other; and the rest felt they should be held on a separate day.
Q467 Lady Hermon: The Electoral Commission has already made suggestions to the Chief Electoral Officer that there could be improvements: for example the title of the election at the top of the individual ballot paper, and please not white ones and pale grey ones at the same time.
Seamus Magee: In the report that we did on the 2011 elections, we have made a total of 29 recommendations to the Chief Electoral Officer, and he is currently working through those. Just this week we have published a further update report on the 2011 polls and some of those recommendations, in terms of how he wants to take them forward, are outlined in the report.
Q468 Lady Hermon: There is no significant evidence to show that either voters do not want elections in the same year or at the same time. In fact, quite the opposite.
Seamus Magee: Providing there is effective planning in place and the legislation is in place six months in advance of the polls taking place, they are happy with that.
Q469 Chair: If we can take a supplementary just on the length of the term, the four or fiveyear term, from your own point of view, do you have a view on what is best?
Anna Carragher: From my own point of view, what is best is that the voter knows what is happening, that the planning is in place, that the voter is able to cast his or her vote effectively and efficiently, and that the electoral process is well carried through.
Q470 Nigel Mills: I think in your submission you said that, if we legislate to stop dual-mandating and doublehatting in Northern Ireland, that might have implications for Scotland and Wales. What are you envisaging for that? Are you envisaging that we should apply the legislation everywhere?
Anna Carragher: One of the things that the Commission tries to do is ensure that there is consistency across the UK, bearing in mind that, of course, different populations have different needs. Therefore, one would not want to be particularly adamant about this. There may well be an issue if a particular set of legislation applies to the devolved assembly in Northern Ireland, but not to Wales and Scotland. There may also be issues around why one particular set of dual occupation is forbidden and another, for example lawyer or farmer, is not forbidden in the legislation. There are issues to be thought about in there.
Q471 Nigel Mills: You think we should think about whether we should ban dualhatting with the House of Lords, the European Parliament or the Irish Parliament as well.
Anna Carragher: It should be thought of in the round, rather than just in the very specific issue about the Assembly in Northern Ireland.
Seamus Magee: In terms of our submission, we are talking really about having some consistency. The Law Commission is currently doing work across the UK in terms of electoral law. What we would like to see in future is consistency, where consistency can taken place, in terms of electoral law. In terms of Wales and Scotland not being covered, for example, if you are legislating in Northern Ireland, then it might be best to take the UK as a whole, in terms of legislating in certain electoral areas.
Q472 Lady Hermon: Again, is that a recommendation that you have given to the Secretary of State, in light of the Bill as it is presently drafted?
Seamus Magee: No, we have outlined that we feel that it would be important to do additional research. It is not a view that the Commission has had to date, but we think that some research around dual mandates would be helpful.
Q473 Lady Hermon: Sorry; I have misunderstood, then, what you had said a little bit earlier. I thought that it was indicated to the Committee that the Law Commission is actually looking at uniformity throughout the UK.
Seamus Magee: The Law Commission is doing a project in terms of electoral law across the UK.
Q474 Lady Hermon: We have the Law Commission busily working at uniformity and electoral law throughout the United Kingdom, and we are faced with a Bill that is only going to legislate in terms of Northern Ireland, not Scotland or Wales. We have the Welsh Assembly and we have the Scottish Parliament, and there would be no legislative ban on doublejobbing for MSPs or Assembly Members. The Electoral Commission, even though you are aware that the Law Commission is looking at uniformity, is not going to make a response to that particular clause in this Bill. That just seems to me odd.
Seamus Magee: We have not made a recommendation in relation to it, but what we have said is that we do not have a fixed view in relation to dual mandates. What we have said is, in terms of Scotland and Wales, it is important, if you change the legislation in Northern Ireland, to bear in mind what the position is in Scotland and Wales.
Anna Carragher: It is also something we have done no research on, so we don’t really know what the voters’ opinion of this is.
Q475 Lady Hermon: The Electoral Commission does not know what the voters’ opinion would be.
Anna Carragher: We have not done research on dual mandates.
Lady Hermon: On dual mandates?
Anna Carragher: No.
Q476 Lady Hermon: Despite the uproar that there has been in 2008, the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland has not done any research on them?
Anna Carragher: To the best of my knowledge, we have not.
Seamus Magee: It is not an area that we would be particularly involved in, in relation to dual mandates. It is an issue for the Parliaments and Assemblies across the UK, not for the Commission.
Lady Hermon: I am surprised. I am just surprised; that is all.
Chair: We will have to leave it there. We have run over; we started late as well. Thank you very much for your information. It has been very useful to us. Thank you for coming.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Niall Bakewell, Northern Ireland Activism Coordinator, and Declan Allison, Northern Ireland Campaigner, Friends of the Earth, gave evidence.
Chair: Thank you very much for joining us. Again, sorry to keep you waiting. We will go straight into questions, if we may.
Q477 Nigel Mills: Welcome. In your submission, you argued that "donor anonymity is antithetical to normalisation of democracy and society in Northern Ireland"-that is quite a mouthful-whereas actual transparency will improve the relationship between the electorate that is feeling pretty disengaged with politics. Could you just talk us through how you think greater transparency will improve the relationship between politicians and ordinary people?
Niall Bakewell: I don’t know so much that automatically this is the panacea to rapidly and worryingly dropping voter turnout. It is more that we feel that some gesture of good faith has to come from the political system in Northern Ireland to the people, and this is a powerful one that is long overdue. Overall, we believe that UK citizens have been denied a right. It was established in 2000 that UK citizens were going to be able to know who funds their political parties, but all UK citizens are living under the shadow of donor secrecy across one part of their country, which is Northern Ireland, so we feel that this is a very necessary step to beginning to reach out and improve relationships between people and politicians, which are disimproving in Northern Ireland.
Declan Allison: We conducted some research from Queen’s University in Belfast into the planning system, and what comes over very strongly in that is that people think there is a very close relationship between developers and politicians. The people who responded were often developers themselves; they were planners; they were politicians; they were interested members of the public. Across the board, there is a perception that the relationship is too close. Transparency is a way of overcoming that perception.
Q478 Nigel Mills: There is quite a strong perception of that in the rest of GB-that people on planning committees are being bribed by developers-even though it is probably entirely untrue and any donations are actually declared. Do you think this would really make that transformational difference or would people just believe it was still happening and still not being declared?
Niall Bakewell: If we could maybe explain why Friends of the Earth is sitting here talking about this, this is entirely about planning. This is only one aspect of a bigger planning campaign that we have now been running for two years. It is about the fact that planning powers are being devolved to local councils in 2015. If we have donor secrecy remaining at that point, the necessary good faith in the planning system that we think citizens need to have if it is going to be a healthy and happy planning system would be greatly undermined, and we would like political parties to have the ability to point to the donor register and say, "This applicant is not on there." It really does give great certainty to political parties that they can look their constituents in the eye and say, "We didn’t take any money from this person."
Q479 Ian Paisley: Mr Allison, Mr Bakewell, you are very welcome. Can I just say that is the most impressive moustache that has ever appeared in front of this Committee? Seriously, I have to say well done.
Declan Allison: It has taken me a while.
Niall Bakewell: I watched its progress from the beginning. It really has been amazing.
Ian Paisley: I hope it was not done for Movember.
Declan Allison: It was done for Movember, and I decided to keep it.
Ian Paisley: Well done.
Oliver Colvile: You will be able to read about this now in Hansard. You should take that and put that in your loo.
Q480 Ian Paisley: Next year, you will hopefully raise even more money for a very good cause.
In your submission, you argued that the confidentiality arrangements should not be made permanent by the provisions in the draft Bill. You claimed that "the prescribed period has been, and continues to be, an unnecessary infringement of rights enjoyed by almost every other European citizen, and this gross injustice must be stopped at the earliest available opportunity". Could you tell the Committee in what way does the prescribed period infringe the rights of Northern Ireland citizens?
Niall Bakewell: We also said we appreciated the need for the disapplication period. The prescribed period was passed at a time when we had just had 7/7. The aircraft plot was that year. The UK threat level in 2006 hit "critical" as a whole, and yet there was no talk of rolling back the right to know about who was funding the main political parties in the rest of the United Kingdom, so it just feels like an entirely different standard, an entirely different level of safety, is required to be proved in Northern Ireland, in order for the full rollout of PPERA across the whole of the UK to be established. In that sense, I think you could call it a "gross injustice" that such different standards are being applied to Great Britain and the rest of the UK and Northern Ireland.
Q481 Ian Paisley: You don’t think you overegged the pudding?
Niall Bakewell: I don’t think we overegged the pudding at all.
Declan Allison: I don’t think so. To add to what my colleague has said, we currently have a coalition government. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the next election could result in a hung parliament, in which case there will be lots of negotiations going on in order to form a government. It is conceivable that Northern Ireland politics could enter negotiations in order to form a government, in which case we have secretly funded MPs entering government. That is a gross injustice for the rest of the UK: that there are people who are secretly funded in government, making decisions, and we don’t know if their decisions are being influenced by their funders or whether they are acting in the public interest.
Q482 Ian Paisley: I have been elected now for-this will be my 17th year in the Northern Ireland Forum, the Assembly and now this Westminster Parliament. I have never once, apart from when I met you, Niall, at Queen’s University-
Niall Bakewell: It was our office volunteer.
Ian Paisley: I have never once been directly lobbied by any elector come to see me about this specific issue. My advice centre is open; it is advertised. People come to see me with all sorts of things about gross injustices elsewhere, but this "gross injustice" has never once been brought to my attention by any individual. Therefore, in terms of that as a priority, I am not saying it is not a gross injustice-in your eyes, if you think it is an injustice, it is therefore an injustice-but as a priority, as a gross injustice, it does not appear to be up there with the many other things that electors come to see us about.
Niall Bakewell: It is interesting. When you bring it up with the voters, as we have been doing all summer and autumn throughout Northern Ireland, on many occasions-I am not exaggerating-the clipboard was grabbed out of my hand before I finished the line, "Would you not like to see who is funding your political parties?" "Give me that," was what people would say, as they started scribbling down their names and addresses on the postcards we will eventually be presenting. Let us face it, there is a lot of clamour and noise going on in Northern Ireland politics. It is hard to focus on all the various issues going on, but once you inform people, and a lot of people are not aware of the discrepancy between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, they are very, very quick. I think I am very safe in saying the vast majority of people who stopped to talk to any of us, when we were out getting postcards signed-as you saw when we were at Queen’s-they had no equivocation in signing those postcards and wanting to know.
Q483 Ian Paisley: Do you not find that any campaign that you bring before the public in that way, whilst you are going to the public on a specific issue, they are exercised by that? It is really what they do beyond that. I don’t speak for everyone on this Committee, but I imagine my experience is something similar to colleagues around this table: that there is no clamour to my door about this issue. I am not saying that it is not an injustice; I am not saying that it is right or wrong. I am just saying that in the public perception this is way down the radar level in terms of interest and, therefore, if something is going to be done about it, it has to be further up the list.
Declan Allison: I would suggest that it is not so much down their list of priorities in terms of interest, but it may be in terms of knowledge. People simply don’t know about it but, when asked about it, they think transparency is important.
Niall Bakewell: I have done several of these petitiontype campaigns and, before that, I was a street fundraiser for years. I have witnessed all sorts of reactions to different issues from members of the public. I have never had clipboards ripped out of my hands before so often as I have on this campaign. People were stopping me midsentence saying, "You had me at ‘donations’." It really has been the most interestingly positive response to a campaign I have ever come across in my interactions with the general public.
Q484 Lady Hermon: Sorry, could you quantify the number of people who have snatched your clipboard from you?
Declan Allison: I think we stopped counting our postcards after about 4,500.
David Simpson: So 4,500 people ripped it out of your hand?
Niall Bakewell: No, no. If you are asking how many times it happened, I would say at least a dozen times to me personally. There was that level of "gimme".
Q485 Lady Hermon: Let us backtrack just a little bit here, so that we have an idea of how strong Friends of the Earth is in Northern Ireland. What is your membership like?
Declan Allison: That is a very good question and it is one we struggle to find the answer to ourselves.
Q486 Lady Hermon: Do you have a register of members?
Declan Allison: We don’t actually have members-it is a constitutional thing-but our supporter base is somewhere between 800 and 1,000. It kind of varies.
Niall Bakewell: That is not counting people on our mailing lists, people who are members of our local groups, people who would have a strong close affiliation with people who we offer advice to and people we work in partnership with. Our reach is greater than our finance and supporter list.
Q487 Lady Hermon: If you don’t actually have a register of your members, then the next question is going to be difficult to answer as well. I am always curious to know whether in fact there is an overlap between members of Friends of the Earth and other political parties, so that in fact the evidence that you are giving to this Committee could in fact be influenced by party political membership.
Niall Bakewell: As in that our policy formation is being influenced by our membership feeding up policy to us?
Lady Hermon: Yes.
Niall Bakewell: This policy was formulated in isolation by the members of staff of Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland.
Declan Allison: Our supporters-we would describe them as supporters, but other organisations may describe them as members-that is those people who pay their subs, whatever it is, £3 a month or £5 or whatever, they have no constitutional arrangement with Friends of the Earth. Our constitutional arrangement is with our local groups, who are autonomous campaigning groups. There is no mechanism for individual donors to influence policy.
Q488 Lady Hermon: Again, just so that I understand Friends of the Earth, would many of your supporters also be politically active?
Declan Allison: Quite possibly.
Lady Hermon: Which is fine; I am just curious.
Niall Bakewell: I am aware of members of local groups who belong to various political parties, so across the board, but they have no involvement at all in our policy formation. They are autonomous groups.
Q489 Lady Hermon: That is actually very helpful to the Committee. Could I just reflect on something that you have said about the complete transparency of donors? The impression that was created, and I am sure you did not mean to create this impression, was that in fact Northern Ireland really was not any different from anywhere else in the United Kingdom and we could have complete transparency. Surely you would accept, given our very, very, very troubled history-though the two of you are so young, you actually do not remember the appalling loss of life in Northern Ireland. 302 murdered police officers in 30 years is an awful lot of dead police officers in Northern Ireland, in a small jurisdiction of 1.8 million people. Do you not give any weight at all to people who want to donate to a political party, because they believe, for example, in the union or maintaining the union? They are not interested in a planning application. They are not interested in influencing anything else. They do not want a seat in the House of Commons, the House of Lords or anything else. They genuinely believe in the union and want to make a donation, but do genuinely fear that, if their name was published on a register, that at the dead of night, when they are parking their car, they get a bomb underneath their car or they get shot. Does Friends of the Earth cast aside perhaps the genuine fears that donors have?
Declan Allison: Absolutely not.
Q490 Lady Hermon: Thank you. I just wanted to put that on the record, because you came in and you gave the impression that you did not really care.
Declan Allison: I apologise if that was the impression we gave you. We in no way want to downplay the reality. You say we are too young: I was born in 1970; I lived through the worst of the Troubles. I am perfectly aware of it. It would be ludicrous to try to deny that reality. The issue for is that it is a reality of political life, not just in the rest of the UK, but across the world. You were up at Stormont hearing evidence. If you could just maybe reflect on your experience of entering Stormont, and compare that level of security with the level of security here, where there are armed police guards with submachine guns on every corridor, where there are armed police officers in committee rooms, with a ring of steel around. That simply does not exist in Stormont. I think it is wrong to overplay the level of risk that is experienced in Northern Ireland.
Niall Bakewell: I was just going to add something else, which is that we already have a great deal of willing partisan participants, who are doing things for parties. None of you could get elected without your nomination papers being signed. Those people who are signing those nomination papers, some of them own businesses, prominent businesses, and it is easy to find out where these businesses are. We are accepting that risk. We are accepting because, otherwise, we could not have politics. If we did not have openly named candidate sponsors, then we would not have politics, and yet still you, representatives from Northern Ireland, can find people willing to do that. As you say, there may be a risk in that. If we are happy with that, then we should be happy with this other choice of-let us face it-going above quite a high threshold in order to be publicly named. You can give quite a lot of money to a political party in Northern Ireland and never be named in the future transparency or not.
Q491 David Simpson: I cannot grasp your point on this issue about the threat level, because I think you have said, at one point here, that there is no special risk to Northern Ireland donors, in the evidence or the paperwork that you gave us. You are talking about people signing their name on nomination forms. That is a world of a difference compared to somebody who would supply 10, 15, 20 grand to a party, if that was the figure. Take someone living in South Armagh. You said you lived through the Troubles, Declan, in relation to it. Consider someone who is maybe in a very small minority of a unionist population, maybe one individual businessman, always gave money to a certain party that he wanted to support, because that was his allegiance; all around him was perceived to be a republican area, bandit country, all the rest of it. That guy’s name goes forward and he is exposed, for the want of better words, that he supports a unionist party, tradition or whatever. Surely there is a risk to that individual putting his name forward. You are saying that around these corridors you have armed police officers and people outside. You have armed officers both in the hallways and outside the Stormont Assembly as well.
Declan Allison: You do, yes.
David Simpson: What I am saying is, there is a world of a difference. I think you were at the last evidence sessions in Stormont that were taken with the Committee. Someone tried to align Northern Ireland’s troubles with international terrorism in England and all the rest of it. I think it was the Green Party. There is a world of a difference in the terrorism that we faced in Northern Ireland and the threat levels to individuals for the past 30, 40 years. Surely there is a difference there, in relation to that. That person living in a border area-his name has been exposed that he is a fundraiser or donator to a unionist party. There has to be.
Declan Allison: I would suggest that the example that you have given of a unionist Protestant businessman or whatever.
David Simpson: It does not matter. It could be the other way about.
Declan Allison: It is just the example you gave-I accept it is applicable the other way around. I would suggest that that individual is at risk, not because they have given money, or not just because they have given money to a particular party, but precisely because they are a unionist, a Protestant, living in an isolated area surrounded by republicans or whatever it happens to be.
Q492 David Simpson: What if he has been there, Declan, for 30 years in business? No one has bothered with him.
Declan Allison: I am not trying to suggest there is no danger there. I am merely suggesting that we live in a deeply divided society, highly sectarianised, and that person is at risk simply because of whom they are, not because of the party they made a donation to.
Q493 David Simpson: Absolutely, so why take the risk of exposing them?
Declan Allison: They are already exposed.
Q494 David Simpson: No, not to the same level. If you have a person who is in business for 30 years in a certain area and they are going on with their business, they have everyone from across the community going in to-whatever-fill up his car, buy groceries or whatever the case may be. He is perceived as Joe Bloggs; he has been there for a long time, the family has been associated with that, but all of a sudden, his name is put out there as supporting a particular party.
Niall Bakewell: Can I make a point here, Mr Simpson? I am from the country. I am from a reasonably divided community. I was born in 1975, so I also remember quite a lot of the Troubles. One thing I know about most people in Northern Ireland is they are not fools. If someone has got a business that good, in what you are describing as a very hostile environment, that they have got £10,000 or £15,000 spare to give to a party, I think that their clientele will probably eventually rally back to frequenting their business again, if there is a period of hostility from the community. It sounds like their business is awfully good and that they will be coming back there again.
Q495 David Simpson: Do you accept that there have been campaigns, as you heard in the evidence given, on websites, or whatever, to boycott businesses because they will have been perceived as being one side of the community or another?
Declan Allison: Yes, absolutely; these boycott campaigns do exist, without a doubt. We are not trying to deny that. But how effective are they? Is there any evidence that they have actually made a difference?
Q496 David Simpson: In the evidence that was given by one of the political parties, the businesspeople actually told them not to send out letters and letter heading for donations or whatever, because the very postman delivering it-
Declan Allison: That comes down to a perception. It is not an actual-
David Simpson: No, I stand to be corrected, but the evidence actually said he was approached by businesspeople who said their name could not be put forward.
Declan Allison: I understand that point. The point I am trying to make is that that request was made because there is a perception of boycotting, not because there is an actual boycott.
Niall Bakewell: Sorry, can I just add to that? There is every possibility that such a boycott campaign could be launched against party donors for various reasons over here. For instance, if we look at the recent controversy that Sadiq Khan faced for his support of gay marriage and people calling him an apostate on websites, if they found out a local Muslim businessman gave Mr Khan £10,000, that could easily lead to a similar sort of culturalbacklash boycott campaign against him.
Declan Allison: Not wishing to isolate you, but I suspect some of your colleagues in Scotland, for example, may also face some difficulties, in strong SNP or Labour areas. Similarly, there may be Labour MPs in the southeast of England, for example, who may be in strongly Conservative areas who would also face the threat of boycott. I don’t think this is unique to Northern Ireland.
Niall Bakewell: Can I add something, because Mr Simpson did say a lot? There was something that we really did feel we had to bring up. You kept using the words "international terrorism". We have heard it over a couple of days now. From the period of 1999 until 2010, we looked at the people who committed acts of extremism of various kinds, starting with David Copeland, the nail bomber in 2009, born in Isleworth. Three out of the four of the 7/7 bombers were British citizens born and bred. The mastermind behind the Glasgow Airport attack in 2007 was a British citizen, born and bred. All of the 2006 aircraft plotters were British citizens, born and bred. The woman who stabbed Stephen Timms because of his support for the Iraq War-I forget her name-was also a British citizen, born and bred. How international are these acts of terror if they are being committed by British citizens on British soil against other British citizens?
Q497 David Simpson: I would challenge you to look at the figures. What you have given us is minute, compared to the people who come to me, in my constituency, which is perceived to be a unionist constituency, Upper Bann, who have been threatened. The police have visited their homes on a regular basis because they are perceived to be one side of the community or the other. It is the same with security force members, prison officers or whatever. The bottom line is there is a higher risk, percentagewise, within Northern Ireland than there is here, on the mainland.
Niall Bakewell: And yet you ask people to sign your nomination papers.
David Simpson: That is entirely different.
Niall Bakewell: Put it this way: you could get elected with virtually no money. Now, it is very rare, but we did check back on the 2011 spending, and a couple of candidates did get through with very little of their allotted permitted spending. But you could not get elected without a sufficient number of nominating sponsors. In many ways, no, it is not the same. You could survive if people dropped their donations down below £7,500, but you could not if you could not get enough people mustered together to give you validation and credibility as a candidate.
Chair: Okay, we have made the points now. I think we are in danger of going around in circles.
Oliver Colvile: Can I just correct a point?
Chair: As long as we can move it on slightly.
Oliver Colvile: Mr Allison suggested, I think, that he may have misunderstood which political party I represent. I am a Conservative. We are somewhat isolated in Scotland, in that we only have one Conservative Member of Parliament.
Declan Allison: Exactly; that is the point I was making. In an area dominated by Labour or the SNP, a Conservative may feel-
Oliver Colvile: I would not want you to think I am a member of the SNP, because I certainly am not.
Declan Allison: No, I was making the opposite point.
Q498 Lady Hermon: Trying to respond to both points made very forcefully in the last five minutes, and that is Mr Simpson’s and your own point, you were present at Stormont when in fact a suggestion was made in evidence to us about one way of testing how serious the threat is to an individual. You very kindly have accepted that, in fact, in Northern Ireland there is still a significant terrorist threat, which is the point Mr Simpson was making. Would it be wise, useful and helpful, to address your point, where you want greater transparency, in fact complete transparency, and also getting the balance right, because we do not want to put people’s lives at risk-none of us wants to do that-that in fact we write into this Bill that the PSNI is involved, or the Chief Constable is involved, that the Secretary of State has a duty to take advice from the Chief Constable, in relation to donors who perceive themselves to be under threat?
Declan Allison: Can I ask a point of clarification? When you say that, do you mean the Chief Constable is obliged to make a general risk assessment about donor anonymity or is it on a caseby-case basis?
Q499 Lady Hermon: Case by case. The evidence has been given to us that individual donors would feel themselves under threat, in peril of their lives, if their anonymity was to be lifted. We have to get the balance right. We want to move towards transparency. I think we are agreed on that. Certainly that is the case that you are putting in front of us. Would it be helpful to put into the Bill a provision that is not in the Bill as it stands, because that is what we are busy doing-reviewing this Bill and improving its drafting-that the PSNI would give advice on individual donors, just in the way an individual might ask for personal protection? There is obviously a PSNI assessment in that. Again, for an individual who feels that their donation will be a significant donation-the limit is £7,500. That is a large amount of money that would oblige them to have-
Declan Allison: Can I ask one additional point of clarification?
Lady Hermon: I think actually the Committee is here to ask you the questions.
Declan Allison: I know, but before I answer the question, if the advice comes back to that individual that it is unsafe for them, does that mean that they remain anonymous?
Lady Hermon: I am not drafting that legislation. I would assume-
Declan Allison: I am just asking in that kind of-
Lady Hermon: I do not want anybody in danger if they are making a political donation to a political party.
Declan Allison: I would say we would have no difficulty with writing into the legislation a statutory duty or a statutory responsibility of the chief executive. I am not entirely sure that it is necessary, because I would imagine they would be asked their opinion as a matter of course anyway. If it helps, it could be written into the legislation to make it a statutory duty. That is fine. I would have difficulty if then the advice comes back that this individual is at risk; therefore, they should remain anonymous. I would have a difficulty with that. At that point, it then becomes the decision of that individual whether they want to donate or not.
Q500 Oliver Colvile: Just tell me what you want to have physically written down and what information you want required. Do you want absolutely everything?
Niall Bakewell: No. As we have said in our evidence, we grudgingly accept that, because the prescribed period was passed, there is now a duty on Parliament to protect the identities of prescribedperiod donors, whenever that prescribed period ends, which sounds like it might be sooner than we thought, from what we have just heard from the Electoral Commission. We believe there should be absolute donor transparency from a date named in the future, no later than 1 October 2014, but sooner if possible, and that donors can adjust to that information and make their choices as they want. On prescribedperiod donors, I think what we talked about was that, if you replaced the identifying names and addresses of donors on the electoral register with a code, everything else could be in there.
One thing that is very interesting for us is, if there are any of these donations and it sounds like there may not be but, if there are, are they crossfunding? Are two or three parties receiving a donation from the same donor and some sort of coding, so "Donor One gave £8,000 each to three of the five executive parties"? That is of interest to us. If they are doing that continually year on year that two, three, four or even five parties are receiving the same amount of money from the same donor, that is of more interest than the identity of the donor, when it comes to the prescribed period.
Declan Allison: Also, there is the nature of the business that they are involved in. Are housing developers giving lots of money or the roads-construction industry giving lots of money?
Q501 Oliver Colvile: It sounds to my mind that, first of all, what you are suggesting is that there may be some people who want to stuff everybody’s face with gold.
Niall Bakewell: We don’t know. We are only speculating, because we cannot see the donor register.
Q502 Oliver Colvile: It sounds to my mind that what you are talking about is that you have great concerns about things like planning applications, development and potential contracts as well. Is that right?
Niall Bakewell: We have great concerns about public perception being toxic to belief in the planning system and we want to get that straight.
Oliver Colvile: I should declare an interest in that, before I got elected to this place, I ran a communications company that gave advice to developers on how to get planning permission. Rest assured that one thing that we never ever ended up doing was any of that at all. I can assure you of that.
Q503 Mr Benton: Sorry if I am going back on your point. I just wanted clarification really over the comparable effects of the person who, to use your analogy, signs the nomination paper, as opposed to the person who is, say for example, in a highprofile business atmosphere donating £50,000, for example’s sake. In terms of publication, the person who has merely signed a nomination paper, that would go by the board without any sort of-certainly I would not imagine there would be much media interest in publishing somebody as described there, but there would be for a person in the business situation I am talking about, a donor of £50,000, say, who holds a prominent position in a business.
I also think that we cannot ignore the historic factor. I know we can make comparisons, such as the one that you made before, about indigenous British citizens being involved in terrorism and all that, and that is very true, but the point is that with the incidence and the amount of violence pro rata, comparatively, historically, these things take on another dimension against that background, if you take the point. I personally am of the opinion that there is a difference that has to be considered in terms of individuals’ own vulnerability. To that end, of course, I am having difficulty in understanding the comparisons you are effecting. I would invite you to comment on that, because I do not think that has been highlighted to us.
Niall Bakewell: Can we start with the £50,000 coming from a prominent businessperson? That is a lot of money. If you take the proportionality in Northern Ireland politics, that is a colossal amount of money. Now, you have to ask the question: their right to choose to give that money absolutely riskfree, appreciating the society we are still living in, versus the public interest in us needing to know if such a donation has gone into the public realm and who gave it. Sir Christopher Kelly did keep talking about this; the public interest does need to be weighed against this. I agree with him that I feel it has not been spoken about enough so far in these Committee hearings. When you are talking about that level of donation, it is enormously in the public interest that we find out. Otherwise, that is genuinely toxic.
Mr Benton: Perhaps I am posing an extreme example.
Niall Bakewell: I would say even £20,000 is a lot of money.
Mr Benton: The distinction I truly wanted to make was between signing a nomination paper and being actively a donor to a party.
Niall Bakewell: It is very active to sign a nomination paper.
Q504 Mr Benton: Let me put it this way to you: I would suggest that it happens here in all the elections. Sometimes you get it from a supporter, because he likes some particular thing that you say about a particular aspect of it or a particular theme that is current at the moment. All I am saying is that it is not quite a like-for-like situation. I honestly think that somebody who is making, let us say, a sizeable donation-and that will vary from community to community: £500 would be a hell of a lot in my community, quite honestly; it would be an awful lot of money for somebody to make an individual donation of £500. Perhaps, rightly or wrongly, it would maybe describe the level of the fervour for that political party or that particular thing. It is really against the background of what has happened historically. I can see an inherent danger in the greater publicity that they attracted, in terms of declaring openly and overtly their support. I could see them being in a more vulnerable and dangerous situation than I could see would happen in my constituency in Merseyside.
Declan Allison: No one is more overtly declaring an interest in a political party than someone who stands for election and they are all in the public domain. Why are they allowed to expose themselves to danger, but this other group, this subset of people, is protected? I can see no logical reason why one group is expected to expose themselves and another group is given special protection.
Niall Bakewell: Substantial donations are very rare. Most people cannot participate in public life in such an influential way. You have to start asking the question of party donors in Northern Ireland, "Why do you get special treatment, when everyone else involved in politics in Northern Ireland, including everyone on the electoral register, at some point exposes themselves to somebody’s knowledge of whom they are and where they live?"
Q505 Lady Hermon: Could I just ask for a quick response really? That is, as we know at the present time, the Alliance Party and the Green Party do actually publish their donations on their website. You will also know that we did take evidence last week, because you were present, from Sinn Fein, which claimed that, in fact, they too were very open and transparent about their donations online. Are we content with that level of publication and transparency by those three political parties?
Niall Bakewell: Do you mean voluntary as opposed to mandatory?
Lady Hermon: Yes.
Niall Bakewell: No, we want the rollout of PPERA to be completed. We want the UK to finally enjoy true donor transparency across the whole realm. We are not satisfied with this sort of selfregulation, no. We would like to see the full rollout. Really what we would be curious about is what would be the change in society, in England, Scotland and Wales, before you would roll back on this.
Lady Hermon: I actually was inviting you to comment upon how useful you found the information that has been put online, which is on the website.
Q506 Oliver Colvile: In fact, do you find all of the information that we have understood to be declared?
Declan Allison: From the Alliance Party and the Green Party, yes, but Sinn Fein, no.
Oliver Colvile: You have not been able to find that.
Declan Allison: No.
Niall Bakewell: We have tried.
Q507 Ian Paisley: What is the difficulty with obtaining it?
Declan Allison: I suspect it is possibly a misunderstanding, rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead. They say they publish their accounts on their website, and indeed they do. You can go and find their accounts. That is no problem. There is maybe an assumption that their accounts include the names of their donors, but they do not. Whether that is deliberately misleading or whether that is a misunderstanding, I do not know, but the names of their donors are not included in their accounts and they are not anywhere online that I can see.
Can I just make a followup to the point you were making at the end there about the Alliance Party? We of course have had a recent spell of elevated troubles in Northern Ireland and the Alliance Party has been the primary target of that. Their donors have not been targeted. There is proof positive that donors are not at a higher level of risk than other political activists.
Niall Bakewell: Having lived as long as Declan and I have, we have seen several periods of upsurge of violence, and I have never seen political parties so openly and aggressively targeted as has been the case since December, and yet, as Declan said, so far-and we hope this remains-there has been no trouble there.
Chair: Okay, that was a very useful session. Thank you very much for coming to see us.