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Mr. Hogg: The word "cannot" is inappropriate. The Under-Secretary means that he has not got his tackle in order. He has had months in which to go fishing and get his tackle in order. I am not in the least sympathetic; the amendment should have been tabled. I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary has given us an undertaking to table such an amendment in another place. Am I right?

Mr. Tipping indicated assent.

Mr. Hogg: I note the undertaking. Of course, we reserve the right to consider it further in another place and when the Bill returns to the House.

Dr. Godman: As someone who does a bit of fly fishing, I hope that my tackle is in order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to parties that are democratic but fail to secure seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly. One such party is the Ulster Democratic party, which is led by Gary McMichael. It won a fair amount of votes, but no seats.

Mr. Hogg: I am not trying to distinguish between democratic parties. If parties are democratic, they should be able to benefit from clause 63, irrespective of whether they have elected representatives. To be fair to the Labour Front Bench, Ministers are now conceding that point, for which I am grateful.

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My last point was also made from the Liberal Democrat Benches. We are legislating for the future. Over time, the mainstream parties of Great Britain may choose to become represented in Northern Ireland. Ministers will bear in mind that the Conservative party--unofficially, I think, but no matter for these purposes--has promoted itself in Northern Ireland from time to time.

5.45 pm

The hon. Member for Battersea is correct that clause 63 might enable foreign donations to go to a wing of a Great Britain party operating in Northern Ireland. In the absence of a firebreak, that money could, perfectly properly, be filtered into Great Britain. Once one has accepted as the working assumption the proposition that foreign donations are a bad thing--I am agnostic and prepared to argue the issue--one must address the question of the firebreak. On that point, I agree with the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), who is no longer present, and the hon. Member for Battersea.

I do not like to be churlish and think that I have been given at least two undertakings. I pocket them both, although I regret that they were not in the Bill, and look forward to receiving lots more.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: Clause 63 enables a temporary exemption from the normal restrictions on donations and the reporting requirements established by the Bill to be made for Northern Ireland parties. The amendment would remove that provision. The issues raised by the clause were discussed at considerable length in Committee, and the Government acknowledge that it would of course be preferable if it were not necessary to create any such exemptions, but the Neill committee reviewed the question carefully and concluded that there was no alternative. The Government reluctantly agree.

In yesterday's debate, the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) said that we cannot pick and choose from the Neill committee report and sought to put himself firmly on that ground. He suggested that we were not there with him, but if he wants to make that point perhaps he ought to consider whether he should stick to it himself.

Mr. Robathan: Of course the Government are picking and choosing all the way down the line, particularly with regard to various points about referendums. However, the amendment does not address exactly what the Neill committee said. It would give the Government much wider scope for making an order and, in respect of permissible sources, could allow to happen things other than what the Neill committee set out in recommendation 29.

Mr. O'Brien: I understand that Lord Neill has said that he is happy with the Bill's drafting and that it achieves what he feels is fair and practical in all the circumstances, particularly in relation to these measures at least. I hope that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman on that.

It remains the case that some donors in Northern Ireland could be subject to discrimination or retaliation if publicly identified. That is the nub of the problem. We know that those who donate to certain political parties--let us be specific; perhaps to the Social Democratic and Labour party--may fear assault or worse. We should be aware of that concern, which might face anyone who

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considers donating to a parliamentary and constitutional party from the nationalist community in which there is some dissension.

The choice between risking such consequences and ceasing to make donations is not one that we would wish people in Northern Ireland to have to make. The nationalist community has clear links with the Irish Republic and there is no great secret about that, although the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) seemed to suggest that perhaps there is. The SDLP may receive substantial financial support from the Irish Republic--I am not sure that it has ever denied that--and may receive donations from other reputable European sources. I do not know whether it receives money from the United States, but it would not surprise me if it does.

Mr. William Ross: If the SDLP is receiving substantial support from the Irish Republic, why should that not be public knowledge when it would have to be public knowledge in respect of the Labour party?

Mr. O'Brien: As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the concern of those who may have donated to the SDLP about their safety might still be present in the Irish Republic. Those who might wish them ill may not be excluded by a border. That is a concern of which we must be aware.

The hon. Member for North Dorset advanced some arguments with which I must deal. First, he argued that the clause might exacerbate the peace process. Our view is that it would not. Removal of the clause would disproportionately disadvantage nationalist parties as against other parties because nationalist parties tend to have links with the Republic, which will be precluded by the Conservative amendment. That does not sit easily with at least the spirit of the peace process, which aims to be inclusive rather than reinforcing the position of one community, perhaps to the disadvantage of political parties that seek to represent the other community.

Mr. Robathan: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman for the last time. I have been generous to him.

Mr. Robathan: The Minister has been generous, but I have been generous to him in not hanging around and making another speech, which I could do.

We are dealing with an important clause and I have been listening carefully to the Minister. This is not a party political provision. The Minister's logic is completely flawed. He has said that decent law-abiding people in the Irish Republic who may wish to contribute to a Northern Ireland nationalist party, namely the SDLP, must not be identified. However, he has said that we must allow people to donate from whatever source to nationalist parties--republican parties--in the north of Ireland. The only people feared by those whom he wishes not to be identified in the Irish Republic are members of Sinn Fein, with its inextricable links with the IRA. That logic seems to have escaped the hon. Gentleman. Sinn Fein is being helped by the clause--as I have said, it is inextricably linked with the IRA--and that is the purpose of the second part of the clause.

Mr. O'Brien: If the hon. Gentleman had been present throughout the debate, he would perhaps realise that one

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of the concerns is about parties such as the SDLP, and not so much Sinn Fein, which might well be caused some difficulties if we did not at least have a provision such as the clause. I do not think that anyone on the Opposition Benches seeks to cause the SDLP effectively to be unable to function. I have had representations from the SDLP to the effect that there is a need to bear in mind the particular difficulties that it faces in finding funds in a very difficult situation within the nationalist community in Northern Ireland. We need at least to be aware of that, and that is the basis on which we put the clause before the House.

The hon. Member for North Dorset argued that it would be wrong to turn a blind eye to the way in which Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. I believe that it would be wrong to turn a blind eye to the realities and to the differences that are self-evident in Northern Ireland. The histories of the communities and the politics of Northern Ireland are in many ways different from those in the rest of the United Kingdom because of recent and longer-term events, and to ignore that is unreasonable. It is not only Sinn Fein that is different, but the SDLP and the entire way in which Northern Ireland politics functions.

The peace process is going on in Northern Ireland--or not, depending on Members' points of view. However, we need to be aware of the differences in Northern Ireland. On that basis, I would disagree with the hon. Gentleman's arguments.

We should be aware that in Northern Ireland there is a party that is organised on an all-Ireland basis. If we were to insist that the normal provisions of the Bill be applied in full, we would in effect be saying that parties that organise on other than a merely northern Irish basis would need to change their entire party organisation. The SDLP has always been a constitutional party with a strong commitment to peace, but it has close links to the south. Some people would argue that such parties should change their organisation, including Sinn Fein and perhaps the SDLP, but I think that we are honouring the Good Friday agreement in principle and the peace process if we maintain the Bill's provisions as we have put them forward. We would not be doing that if we sought to erect certain barriers against nationalist parties.

Some amendments in the group are concerned with the definition of a Northern Ireland party. The Bill defines such parties in terms of whether they are represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly, or have one or more Members of the House elected for Northern Ireland constituencies. The Neill committee commented that the definition is too narrow and unfair, both to those parties which have yet to achieve electoral success and to those which have but may not continue to do so. Against that background, we cannot support a narrowing of the definition of a Northern Ireland party. The Government intend to bring forward amendments in another place that will extend the definition so that it covers all parties that contest elections in Northern Ireland and are included in a separate register of Northern Ireland parties.

Since we discussed these matters in Committee, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland--

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