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Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I understand my hon. Friend's argument, but does he agree that recognition of a party as bona fide could depend on its having one elected member or receiving a specific number of votes?

Mr. Ross: I do not care particularly how we separate evil people from democrats, I just want it done. If my amendments do not accomplish that, the Government still have time, even so late in the Bill's process through the House, to table amendments to that end.

Amendment No. 152 is the best solution of all. However, hon. Members might care to study starred amendment No. 183, which would take care of the element in schedule 6 that bears on this section of the Bill. It would be a great advantage if the IRA and its political face had to abide by United Kingdom law.

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It should have to keep within the law, rather than be allowed to do what it wants and bring in huge sums of money. I understand that as taxation is global, the money going to the violent Republican movement is also global in terms of how it is spent. We have a right to try and tie these people down as much as we can.

5.15 pm

There is no benefit to democrats in including these concessions to terror in the electoral law of this kingdom. Rather, they will only damage the democratic parties, and the SDLP more than most. They will be of great benefit to those who believe in the philosophy of the armalite in one hand and the ballot paper in the other.

The past behaviour of Sinn Fein-IRA makes it plain that fear of the bullet--fear of violence--can determine a ballot's outcome. I recall an incident of which I became aware after an election. A certain gentleman who had served very many years in prison discovered that the turnout from a local estate was not all that he wished. He and a few of his friends started to visit it. There was no threatening behaviour--their mere presence was sufficient. The rush in the last hour of voting was quite remarkable. Members of the House who have not seen such behaviour in action do not know the fear that these people can inspire in the community--the sheer terror that someone might some day find out exactly how a ballot was cast is sufficient to undermine and corrupt the electoral process. Giving them these concessions increases their capacity to do that. The House should not allow that to happen.

The provisions do not defend democracy, they betray them at the behest of those who occupy their current political positions by a policy of murder, mutilation and craven appeasement. I hope that the House will accept the amendments, or, if not, the Government will come up with something that accomplishes the same end.

Dr. Godman: I support the Government, and do not have much sympathy for the arguments expressed by the hon. Members for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) and for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross). I point out to the hon. Gentleman that I share his hatred of the terrorists on both sides of the divide and their political apologists, wherever they are found. Just yesterday, I visited a Royal Ulster Constabulary station in the Markets area and met the young RUC sergeant who recently won a community policeman award. I also had a meeting with General de Chastelain, so I have some knowledge of these matters.

I am concerned about the discrimination inherent in amendment No. 168. That is why I asked the hon. Member for East Londonderry whether it discriminated against the Women's Coalition, which has two Members in the legislative assembly, and the Progressive Unionist party, which also has two Members. The hon. Gentleman swept that to one side. He argued, as part of his case, that they are likely to disappear at the next election. That prediction weakens and dismantles his case. After all, some of his hon. Friends might disappear at the next election and so might some of mine. However, we cannot discriminate against the members of small parties who have secured their seats under what the hon. Gentleman called our broad electoral law. Those Members of the

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legislative Assembly won their seats fair and square, according to the electoral system. The same is true of the Scottish Parliament. Its electoral system may be different from ours, but it is utterly legal and its Members won fair and square.

As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department pointed out from the Dispatch Box, the amendment would affect not only members of the Women's Coalition or the PUP, but fellow Unionists in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr. Ross: May I turn the hon. Gentleman's argument around? If it is unfair to discriminate against small parties, is it fair to pass legislation that can only be described as discriminating in favour of a terrorist organisation?

Dr. Godman: The anomaly is that Sinn Fein--normally referred to by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues as Sinn Fein-IRA--Members of the Assembly would not be discriminated against if the hon. Gentleman's amendment were to be accepted. However, small parties that represent the voices and views of segments of the Northern Ireland electorate would be harshly discriminated against. The hon. Gentleman shows no concern for them.

The week before last, I met representatives of the Women's Coalition and elected Members of the PUP. They are just as hard working as Members of other parties in the Assembly--which I hope will soon be reinstituted.

I asked the hon. Gentleman whether amendment No. 172 would discriminate against the three SDLP Members who sit on the Labour Benches of this House. It was interesting that his hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) asked a similar question. We cannot discriminate against small parties on the basis that they may disappear at the next election; they might increase their numbers.

Mr. Hogg: I follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. If he is right about that point, why does the Bill provide that political parties that have representation neither in this House nor the Assembly will not benefit under clause 63?

Dr. Godman: I need to be careful in my reply, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that the Government will introduce an amendment to deal with the point made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

I am deeply concerned about the disregard shown to parties that have a small number of Members in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I am also concerned about my hon. Friends who are SDLP Members of this House. Incidentally, if they are to join with any parties south of the border, I hope that they sign up with the Labour party rather than--

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): Fianna Fail.

Dr. Godman: The Labour party would be my preference, although I know many members of both parties.

I am sorry if I have been harsh with the hon. Member for East Londonderry, but I cannot stand such discrimination against small parties. Members of small parties in the Scottish Parliament represent their

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constituents reasonably. We should not discriminate against people such as Monica McWilliams and others who represent small parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr. Ross: Does the hon. Gentleman allege that the SDLP, for instance, receives money from the Irish Republic? Does he allege that any of the other small parties that he named are receiving money from America, the Irish Republic or anywhere else? Surely, they all raise their money in Northern Ireland, so the provision would be no great hardship to them.

Dr. Godman: I shall ask Monica McWilliams about that the next time I speak to her. I do not know whether the Women's Coalition has received a bob or two--or a punt or two--from south of the border to help with election expenses. I do not imagine that David Ervine would have received much from south of the border. That is a question that needs to be asked of the small parties.

The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that Members representing those small parties share our abhorrence of the terrorists and their political apologists. However, I will vote against his amendments if he presses them to a Division because of the blatant discrimination that they show to the small parties and their representatives--albeit few in number--who grace an Assembly that is unfortunately suspended at the moment.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): I support the amendment moved by the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter), but with some diffidence, partly because of what I heard from the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross). I dissociate myself from several of the arguments that he advanced.

I refer back to the debate in Committee on the clause. At that time, the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office was far from satisfied with its wording. He said:

The issue is whether any of the amendments deal with the problem. He added:

    the provisions in clause 63 are temporary . . . I hope and believe that the provisions in clause 63 will eventually become unnecessary.--[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 1 February 2000; c. 197.]

He was clearly not persuaded that the Government had got the form and shape of clause 63 in good order. However, I do not believe that this amendment has got to the heart of the difficulties.

I repeat a point that I made in Committee. The situation in Northern Ireland has long required special rules so that democracy can be maintained. Provisions in the Representation of the People Act 2000 are designed essentially to ensure that democratic elections can be held in Northern Ireland. They appear in the Act in such a form that they could be applied in the rest of the United Kingdom if one wished to do so, but their essential aim is to make the democratic system a functioning proposition in Northern Ireland. That is surely the way that we should approach the matter.

If we have a special difficulty, it is not the normal form for the United Kingdom legislature to run away from it and to say, "Let them get on with it". The normal form is for us to think of ways of regulating and controlling the problem. The Bill itself acknowledges that fact. For a long

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time, action on the funding of political parties was delayed on the grounds of, perhaps, self-interest and of the perceived difficulty of introducing a regime that could effectively regulate the matter.

The Government have finally bitten the bullet and, through this Bill, have introduced provisions that will control national expenditure on elections. It is perverse therefore that we should say that there is one part of the United Kingdom where we cannot find a way of getting on top of the problem and that we need clause 63 to run away from it. This clause is based on the wrong underlying philosophy and the wrong legislative theory.

As the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) said, the essence of the problem lies with the concept of permissible donors. One must study the Bill deeply to grasp entirely all the language in it, but, under these provisions, anyone in the world--never mind southern Ireland--can make a contribution to a United Kingdom political party with complete impunity. As has been hinted at, there does not appear to be an effective way of preventing that money from coming into mainstream, mainland political funding as well.

That process may not be very likely. If the working example is Sinn Fein, it is improbable that it will channel money to the Conservative party, the Labour party or the Liberal Democrats. However, we have to consider the consequences of the structure that is being put in place. One of the consequences is that money can come from anywhere in the world to a party in Northern Ireland without let or hindrance. It is only one short step, which is not prohibited by the Bill, to that money flowing from a Northern Ireland party into mainstream politics on the mainland.

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