|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 131 in this group standing in my name. Because this matter was considered in some detail by the Neill committee, I am speaking in a personal capacity and not on behalf of my party.
The Neill committee was faced with two problems relating to Northern Ireland. The first and easier problem related to disclosure of donations. Most of the evidence that we received, which we found convincing, suggested that there was a serious risk that requiring the disclosure of donations would put at risk the economic well-being and, in some cases, even the lives of the donors. We therefore recognised that in this respect there was a strong case for an exemption. We did not specifically consider whether that exemption should be applied to the details published in the register or whether it should apply at an earlier stage and apply also to remove the requirement of disclosure to the electoral commission. I can certainly sympathise with the feeling that it should be disclosed to the commission. However, I have an uncomfortable feeling that, perhaps not in fact but probably in the perception of those who make the donations, it would be seen as presenting an element of risk. I therefore find myself unable to follow the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, on that issue.
The more difficult question concerned donations from what would otherwise not be permitted sources. For the reasons expressed in the report, the Neill committee came to the view that it would not be possible or desirable to exclude the possibility of donations from the Republic of Ireland to parties operating in the North of Ireland. We would not have wanted donations to be made from outside the Republic of Ireland. The problem was that we recognised that any such exclusion would be
The position in the United Kingdom is, of course, different. If there is a suspicion that money has been donated by a donor on the electoral register in the UK, but as an agent for a foreign source, that matter can be investigated by the electoral commission and by the police. That, of course, would not be possible in respect of donations from the Republic of Ireland.
The upshot was that we recommended a permanent exemption for donations from the Republic of Ireland. In doing so, we recognised that this provided a loophole that could not be stopped up. The Government, arguably more honestly than in our proposal, recommended that this should be dealt with, not by providing on the face of the Bill a right of donation from the Republic of Ireland but by allowing exemptions from the general rules governing foreign donations in regulations made under Clause 68. That certainly causes me a good deal of concern, and I find it difficult and painful to accept. Nevertheless, I am reluctant to say that it should be rejected altogether. However, it seems plain to me that it should be the subject of review at regular intervals, and that if such exemptions are to be provided, they should be reconsidered from time to time by the Government.
I have tabled an amendment seeking four-year reviews. I have a good deal of sympathy for the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that the renewal should be on an annual basis. I perhaps have even more sympathy for the view that not only the order but the clause itself should be reviewed at four-year intervals. Although it is clearly impracticable at the moment, the provision of a sunset clause, even if it is an infinitely deferrable sunset, is preferable. Because it gives an indication of hope that the situation may return to normal in Northern Ireland, it is preferable to simply allowing this provision to stand on the face of the Bill unless and until it is repealed by further primary legislation.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, all the speakers who have so far taken part in this debate have stated the obvious point that this Bill makes special provision in a number of ways for the province of Northern Ireland. All those ways are very remarkable in all sorts of aspects.
The first that seems to me particularly remarkable is the fact that a government who are dedicated to openness and understand clearly the importance of more openness, not only in government but in the way we conduct our electoral affairs, should feel that it would be helpful to the propagation of unarmed politics--the politics of the ballot box rather than the Armalite--for secrecy to continue; more helpful than that it should continue in the rest of the United Kingdom where, up until now, at any rate, Armalite and Semtex have not been in use.
However, if I were the Scottish National Party and really wanted independence, I suspect that the lessons of the past three years at least, and possibly longer, would lead me to believe that if I really wanted it, that would be the way to achieve it.
For those of us who have had anything to do with terrorism, whether in Northern Ireland or other parts of the world, on whatever side of the fence we have operated--I have operated in various ways on both sides of the fence--it is perfectly clear that the greatest aid to terrorism is secrecy. We all know that anybody who wants to fight terrorism and the culture of the bomb and the Armalite, and to pursue that fight in the interests of the ballot box alone, must show greater courage than any other political practitioner; than any of us who are happily resident in this country which still, on the whole, cleaves to the ballot box rather than the Armalite.
I suspect that those of us who watched with extraordinary admiration the courage of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, as he fought that fight at the front line will know that it is openness alone, and a realisation of that, which has protected him. If he is to follow the logic of his convictions, he has to show a courage which I suspect I for one, and most others, would not be able to show. The Minister, who has been extremely courteous and understanding, has listened hard to the debate. However, I am sorry to say that here the Government are making it more likely that terrorism will flourish by encouraging a culture of secrecy which has done an enormous amount to encourage terrorism on both sides of the sectoral divide.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for giving way. Perhaps I may ask him where in this debate we in government--and I in particular--are encouraging a culture of secrecy. The noble Viscount has been kind enough to pay me a compliment. However, I cannot see what it is that I am holding secret to this debate that colours the debate in one way or another.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is the case that the argument for withholding information about the disclosure of donations comes from a range of parties across the political divide in the context of Northern Ireland. That is for very good security reasons which I thought and hoped that the noble Viscount would understand.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am under no illusion that anybody who is courageous enough to take part in politics in the Province does so under circumstances which are extremely prejudicial to their personal safety. There is no doubt about that. However, my point still stands. If we wish to encourage the ballot box over the Armalite, the argument must apply that greater secrecy under those circumstances than applies over here will make it more
It is for that reason that I find the provisions under Clause 68, and subsection(1)(b) in particular, extremely difficult to accept. However, I am the first to admit that any government taking the hard line I advocate will immediately place a number of people in the Province in severe danger. That must be so if we accept the logic of my position. Nevertheless we all know, from examples not only in the Province but elsewhere, that the people who have defeated terrorism are the ones who have shown remarkable moral and physical courage.
The second aspect which seems to me remarkable is the whole question of foreign donations. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, was absolutely right when he said that it would be easier if we forbade donations from the Republic because we would at least be able to have an additional measure of control within our own borders. I hope I paraphrase correctly.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I said that in the context of the decision of the Neill committee that donations should be allowed from the Republic of Ireland a loophole was opened up which would not be available within the United Kingdom because there was no possibility in the Republic of Ireland of investigating the sources from which the money came.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, that is precisely what I understood the noble Lord to say. In practical terms, it would be easier to be able to have a greater degree of control if we forbade donations from the Republic and merely exerted consistency within the Bill and permitted donations only from within the United Kingdom.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is the case that noble Lords on the Opposition Benches have accepted that donations may come from the South of Ireland. That being the case, I argue that it would be virtually impossible to put an exclusive ban on foreign donations. Therein lies the weakness of that part of the noble Viscount's argument and of the arguments put by other noble Lords.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page