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Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I am grateful to the noble Lord. Perhaps I may ask him whether he shares my anxiety that, even if we had, at a different time of day or at a different sitting, the time to go through thoroughly all the various--to my mind, conflicting--amendments, whether we would still find a great deal of overlap and contradiction, and whether we would find that a slab of the Committee stage of the Bill had been inadequately covered.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I believe that it will be inadequately covered--certainly so by the other place. We are experiencing difficulties with the way in which the Bill has been drafted and with the way in which these two quite separate issues have been woven together in a complex manner. That is not the best way in which to deal with these issues. I must say to the Government that I do not believe that they have served the House or the cause of clear legislation at all well. However, we shall be returning to the subject of the minor parties.
Therefore, I leave that matter and turn to the part of the Bill which refers to Northern Ireland, which the Minister did explain. I wish to make an interesting point which is probably out of order, or at least it is out of the order of the Bill, but which is totally relevant. If I heard the Minister rightly, the whole justification has regard to funding. I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, did not raise the question of whether that represents another little separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of Great Britain. There are two registers and, therefore, the idea somehow arises of two separate countries.
Of course, one could logically have solved the Scottish Green Party problem by having another register for Scotland, where there is a Scottish National Party and two or three other Scottish variations in the titles that parties take. Therefore, one could have a separate register for Scotland. However, a separate register is being chosen only for Northern Ireland. Like my noble friend, I have my suspicions that the issue goes a little further than the question of funding. However, the question of funding is complex.
Again, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, did the House a service by explaining clearly the problem experienced by the Neill committee. That was that one or perhaps two parties which operate in the North of Ireland operate also in the Republic. That is a difficulty from which one cannot escape. How does one resolve it? The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, pointed us in the direction of the 1949 Act which states that the Republic of Ireland is not a foreign country. Therefore, I wonder idly, if it is not a foreign country, why cannot its electors or nationals give donations to any British political party? That would be one way, at least, to make it all square so that it would not look odd. One would not then need two registers. After all, if citizens of the Republic can come to this country on
However, no one raised--and the Minister entirely ducked--the fact that the Neill committee said that the definition of permissible sources should include citizens of the Republic of Ireland resident in the Republic and subject to compliance with the Republic's Electoral Act 1997. That is perfectly clear. I understand the argument for doing that. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, and my noble friend Lord Glentoran also understand it. That is why I say that, although I would not necessarily approve of it, at least I understand the argument for saying, "Let us go back to the 1949 Act and allow a citizen of the Republic to donate to any British party". Then we do not need to make Northern Ireland look almost like a separate country.
However, the Government have gone further than that because Northern Ireland parties can take money from a donor anywhere in the world. One does not have to get up early in the morning--one does not even have to bother to get up in the morning!--to know exactly what is behind that. It is not for the benefit of the Ulster Unionist Party or any of the Unionist parties, and it is probably not for the benefit of the SDLP; it is intended entirely and completely to allow Sinn Fein/IRA to continue to source the very money that has created the mayhem in Northern Ireland. I think it is appeasement. I do not like it one little bit.
I am prepared to listen to the argument about the Republic because I understand that. I do not necessarily agree with it. I think there may be a more elegant solution if the Government chose to take it. But to say that Northern Ireland is different and that parties in Northern Ireland--and that really just means one party--can have donations from anywhere in the world they like is, frankly, appeasement, as my noble friend said.
But it is worse than that and the Neill committee had evidence about that too. I do not carry any brief for them, but in Scotland and Wales there are two nationalist parties which want to divide the United Kingdom. They do not want to belong to a different country; they want to create their own countries of Scotland and Wales.
I can do little better than quote Mr Magnus Linklater at paragraph 5.8 of the Neill committee report. Magnus Linklater is the husband of one of our colleagues in your Lordships' House. He is a journalist of considerable standing in Scotland. He is even allowed to write for The Times in London, which just shows his standing. In his evidence he said:
I could go on. Mr George Reid, the Vice-Convenor of the Scottish National Party--although I do not think he is that now because is the Deputy Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament--in his evidence reminded the committee that in North America the Scottish National Party has about 1,000 registered supporters. It is a valid question. Why should the Scottish and Welsh diaspora not be allowed to contribute to the political parties which they think best represent the interests of their native country--perhaps we can call it the old country? Why can they not do it if the IRA and Sinn Fein can do it?
Is it not just a little nauseating for a democracy to accept that distinction when SNP and Plaid Cymru have never, ever suggested that they might use any kind of violent means to achieve their ends. So it would appear that if you are a nationalist party which is quite happy with a bit of violence you can have special circumstances made for you, but if you are a nationalist party which pursues fully democratic, peaceful methods you have had it. I do not think that that is a good signal to send out. It may be convenient for the Government to send out that signal and it may make life easier for them, but I do not believe that it is honest. Therefore, I am profoundly unhappy.
I was profoundly unhappy about Clause 65 before I came to the Committee today. That is obvious because I have tabled a Motion that that clause should not stand part of the Bill. When we reach that point, it will not stand part of the Bill if I can persuade enough noble Lords to agree with me that it is illogical. But when I see a separate register being created, I become even more concerned.
This has not been a happy little debate. That is partly because of the way that two issues of some importance have been wrapped together but it is mostly because one of those issues seems to me to strike at the very heart of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I know which side I am on when it comes to that particular debate.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: We have had a wide-ranging discussion that has touched on three separate sets of issues. I shall start with the kind comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley,
I am grateful to your Lordships for having agreed that we should deal with the issue of minor parties at a later stage. I believe that they pose separate sets of issues, although I understand why the confusion crept in with regard to the grouping. I take on board the admonishments made in relation to that.
Turning to the comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Rogan, Lord Glentoran and Lord Mackay, I accept the sincerity and the integrity with which many of the observations were made. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, called for equal treatment. He asked why Northern Ireland should be treated differently. That is a proper question to pose in the context of the debate, although I do not necessarily agree with his conclusions.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is unduly suspicious in his assumption of what lies behind the amendments. In this legislation it is certainly not our intention to suggest in any shape or form that we see Northern Ireland as somewhat separate, as being floated off, or independent. I cannot sign up to the notion that in some way we are setting up a register to advance that position. That is not the intention of the Government at all.
In effect, in these amendments we give life to two of the recommendations that were carefully detailed by the Neill committee. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, clearly and helpfully explained why those recommendations had been made. Recommendation 20 of the Neill committee report says:
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