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That date was chosen largely because, when the 2006 Act was enacted, it was expected that the next Northern Ireland Assembly election would be in 2008, so Parliament’s intention was to allow these requirements to continue for a while but to end the disapplication before the next Assembly election. Under this Bill, the Northern Ireland Assembly election is moved forward to 7 March 2007, and proposed new subsection (4) in the amendment would move forward the end of the disapplication period so that the election on 7 March would be fought subject to the same requirements as for the 2008 election anticipated by Parliament. I hope that this aspect of the amendment will be quite uncontroversial. It is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the 2006 Act and it is right that this should be done.

Proposed new subsection (5) is slightly different. It seeks to attack a provision in the 2006 Act whereby new Section 71B was inserted into the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. This concerned the extension of categories of permissible donors in relation to Northern Ireland recipients to include, among others, Irish citizens. This destroys any form of regulation. The concept of Irish citizenship is such that it embraces not only all persons who are currently citizens of the Irish Republic but a large slice of the Irish diaspora worldwide. There are thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States who, under the Irish law, are Irish citizens and could therefore contribute. It would not be difficult for Sinn Fein fundraisers to find in the United States persons who would be exempt Irish citizens for the purposes of contribution.

The enactment acknowledged that there was a loophole but effectively it has not been closed. This definition of Irish citizenship means that in practical terms we are allowing foreign donations to political parties in Northern Ireland, which is banned for any other part of the United Kingdom.

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I hope that these two aspects of the amendment will commend themselves to the Minister. I beg to move.

Lord Glentoran: I support the amendment. I have spoken from this Dispatch Box on a number of occasions about the handling of political party funds for Northern Ireland and the fact that the position is not similar to that in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is vital that the flow of funds directly from the United States, the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere to Sinn Fein should be stopped. It is also vital, now that we are supposed to be in a peaceful situation, that the declaration is totally clear and that everybody knows exactly where the funds for political parties have come from, how much they are and how they are spent.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: When we passed the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006, we did not know that there would be an election before the end of the disapplication period provided for, as the emergency legislation that we had already passed contained an election date of May 2008. We therefore agree with the amendment to end the disapplication period earlier than provided in the 2006 Act. We support the amendment.

Lord Kilclooney: I support the amendment because the financing of political parties in Northern Ireland is different from that which applies in the rest of the United Kingdom. There was a further example only two weeks ago when the leader of Sinn Fein/IRA—and the IRA still exists, according to Gerry Adams—went to America, a country which is supposedly against terrorism but continues to provide funds for terrorist organisations, and came back last week with $300,000.

Lord Tebbit: I, too, take the view that it is improper for any separate arrangement to be made for the funding of political parties in one part of this kingdom from that which applies to the remainder. That is on principle. In practice, of course, it is even worse, because it is one party which is being funded, and I am not sure that all the funds are necessarily devoted to purely political aspects of activity.

Lord Rooker: Having listened to the voices, I accept that I am on a hiding to nothing. I fully understand and accept why the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, has revisited this issue. I do not think there is any disagreement between us on the point of principle about all political parties in the United Kingdom being subject to the same rules about funding. It will come down to timing.

While I was listening to the contributions, I thought back to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. It is true that when we passed it we did not know about St Andrews or about this Bill, but I do not think that the issue was linked to the fact that we had delayed the election date from 2007 to 2008. There were good reasons for doing that, but I do not think there was a direct connection with the change to the funding arrangements, so I was more than pleased to receive a note from the Box pointing that out. I will

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set out why I am asking the House not to approve the amendment; I want to explain the case so that there is no misunderstanding.

The Northern Ireland political parties, as Members of this Committee know better than me, have been exempt from the requirements of Part 4 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which regulates donations to political parties. They have been exempt because of the special circumstances in Northern Ireland as regards both the possibility of donor intimidation and the desirability of allowing Irish citizens to donate to Northern Ireland parties, which is consistent with the principles of the Good Friday agreement.

As we made clear during the passage of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, and as has been said elsewhere, it is our strong view that Northern Ireland political parties should eventually be subject to the same level of transparency in donations as exists in the rest of the UK. On that principle there is no difference of opinion between anybody who has spoken this evening and the Government.

A number of political parties have expressed concern to the Government that the risk of intimidation of donors in Northern Ireland is ongoing and remains real. We cannot ignore those concerns in the current circumstances. We decided, therefore, that the Northern Ireland exemptions, which were extended by a disapplication order due to expire in February 2007, should be extended until October 2007, at which point Northern Ireland political parties will be required to provide information to the Electoral Commission in line with parties in Great Britain. They will do so initially on a confidential basis; that was made clear at the time.

The extension of the disapplication period from February to October 2007 is necessary to allow us, in conjunction with the Electoral Commission, to determine the detail of how the arrangements will work. A connection has wrongly been made between the change in that date and the change in the date of the proposed election in the original Bill, from 2007 to 2008, which we are now reversing.

The extension was made to allow us to work out with the commission how those arrangements should work and the conditions which Irish donors will have to meet to be able to donate to Northern Ireland parties. The details must be prescribed by an order, which will have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. I fully accept that this will be after the proposed elections next March. However, the proposal to put Northern Ireland parties on the same footing as Great Britain parties will come to both Houses of Parliament for debate.

Following the end of the final disapplication period, the Northern Ireland parties and the regulated donees will continue to be able to accept donations from Irish citizens and other Irish bodies which can currently donate to parties in the Republic of Ireland, as well as from those who can donate in the UK. In the United Kingdom, donations can fly all over the place, between and to parties. I made clear during the debate on the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act that

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this is in line with our policy that the special place of the Republic of Ireland in the political life of Northern Ireland must continue to be respected. Concerns were expressed at that time about the detail of how the permissible donors clause would operate in practice, particularly in relation to the conditions which Irish citizens and bodies which can donate in Ireland would have to meet to be able to donate to Northern Ireland parties, and how those donations would be checked and verified by the Electoral Commission. We recognised those concerns and sought to address them when they were raised here and in another place. The detail of how the permissible donors clauses will work will be set out in UK secondary legislation, following consultation with the Electoral Commission. This detail will include the criteria which Irish donors will have to meet to be able to donate. How the donations will be checked will then be specified in an order, which will have to be approved by each House of Parliament.

There will be a full opportunity when the order is made—I accept that it will be after the election next March—to debate these issues publicly. All donations to Northern Ireland parties, including those from Irish donors, will be subject to regulation and verification by the Electoral Commission until the end of the transitional period, which we hope and believe will be in 2010. Impermissible donations will be required to be returned or forfeited. I think that I made it clear previously that there cannot be what we might call brass-nameplate companies as bodies for donations in the Republic. Part of the primary activity of the body has to take place in the Republic of Ireland, so this is not a way in for floods of money from those or other such bodies.

The one point of disappointment that I fully accept—I repeat it—is that the change cannot be made before the election proposed. However, making the change from February to October was never connected to the change in the date of the election. The reasons for that change still arise—to make arrangements with the Electoral Commission to do the job properly. It is true, unfortunately, that it will not be done before the proposed election in March, which I hope will come about, but it will be done for future elections.

Lord Trimble: I listened to the Minister’s explanation. I take issue with the basic premise that he stated: that the proposal on Irish donors was in some way justified through the Belfast agreement and its recognition of the special place of Ireland, et cetera. There was recognition of the special relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland—that was done through the creation of the North/South Ministerial Council and the provision for cross-border co-operation—but at no point in the Belfast agreement was there any warrant for amalgamating two different political systems; quite the contrary. It is hugely important that people remember that, in the Belfast agreement, nationalist parties and the Irish Government explicitly recognised that Northern Ireland was properly and legitimately part of the United Kingdom. Yes, it made special provision for whether people viewed themselves

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as Irish or British, but it recognised that there were different countries and consequently different political systems. The proposal that the Minister is talking about blurs that in a way that is fundamentally misconceived.

As to the question of the ending of the disapplication period, I am happy to say that the greater part of the parliamentary proceedings on the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill took place when I was resting from parliamentary activities, so I am not familiar with what happened at that stage. I caught only the tail-end of the legislation, so I cannot quarrel with what the Minister said. However, the effect of the Act, at the time of its enactment, was that the next Northern Ireland Assembly election would take place with the same reporting rules. That principle should continue to adhere, and we propose to haul forward from October to January the ending of the disapplication period. I would still like that to happen and, if I have the language right, this is a matter on which I would like to test the opinion of the Committee.

6.28 pm

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 86; Not-Contents, 132.

Division No. 1


Addington, L.
Arran, E.
Attlee, E.
Ballyedmond, L.
Barker, B.
Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.
Bradshaw, L.
Bridgeman, V.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.
Brookeborough, V.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Browne of Belmont, L.
Burnett, L.
Buscombe, B.
Byford, B.
Chidgey, L.
Colwyn, L.
Cotter, L.
Courtown, E.
Craig of Radley, L.
Darcy de Knayth, B.
De Mauley, L.
Dundee, E.
Dykes, L.
Erroll, E.
Fowler, L.
Glentoran, L.
Goodhart, L.
Hamilton of Epsom, L.
Harris of Richmond, B.
Henley, L.
Jones of Cheltenham, L.
Jopling, L.
Kilclooney, L.
Kimball, L.
Kingsland, L.
Kirkwood of Kirkhope, L.
Knight of Collingtree, B.
Laird, L. [Teller]
Lamont of Lerwick, L.
Lee of Trafford, L.
Linklater of Butterstone, B.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
Maginnis of Drumglass, L.
Marlesford, L.
Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Methuen, L.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Monson, L.
Morris of Bolton, B.
Morrow, L.
Neuberger, B.
Newby, L.
Northesk, E.
Norton of Louth, L.
O'Cathain, B.
Onslow, E.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Perry of Southwark, B.
Rennard, L.
Roberts of Llandudno, L.
Roper, L.
Rowe-Beddoe, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Seccombe, B.
Selsdon, L.
Shephard of Northwold, B.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Skelmersdale, L.
Slim, V.
Stewartby, L.

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Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Tebbit, L.
Teverson, L.
Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Thomas of Winchester, B.
Tordoff, L.
Trimble, L. [Teller]
Tyler, L.
Ullswater, V.
Verma, B.
Waddington, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Walmsley, B.
Walpole, L.
Watson of Richmond, L.


Adams of Craigielea, B.
Adonis, L.
Ahmed, L.
Amos, B. [Lord President.]
Anderson of Swansea, L.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L.
Bach, L.
Barnett, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L.
Bhattacharyya, L.
Billingham, B.
Bilston, L.
Blackstone, B.
Borrie, L.
Boston of Faversham, L.
Boyd of Duncansby, L.
Bradley, L.
Bragg, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brookman, L.
Burlison, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Carter of Coles, L.
Christopher, L.
Clark of Windermere, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L.
Corston, B.
Crawley, B.
David, B.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. [Teller]
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Desai, L.
Donoughue, L.
D'Souza, B.
Dubs, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Filkin, L.
Ford, B.
Foster of Bishop Auckland, L.
Foulkes of Cumnock, L.
Gale, B.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Golding, B.
Goldsmith, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Goudie, B.
Gould of Brookwood, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Griffiths of Burry Port, L.
Grocott, L. [Teller]
Harris of Haringey, L.
Harrison, L.
Hart of Chilton, L.
Haskel, L.
Haskins, L.
Haworth, L.
Henig, B.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howarth of Newport, L.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Joffe, L.
Jones, L.
Jones of Whitchurch, B.
Judd, L.
Kingsmill, B.
Kinnock, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Lipsey, L.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
McKenzie of Luton, L.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Maxton, L.
Mitchell, L.
Moonie, L.
Morgan of Huyton, B.
Morris of Aberavon, L.
Morris of Handsworth, L.
O'Neill of Clackmannan, L.
Patel, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Prosser, B.
Puttnam, L.
Quin, B.
Rea, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Richard, L.
Rooker, L.
Rosser, L.
Rowlands, L.
Royall of Blaisdon, B.
Sawyer, L.
Sewel, L.
Sheldon, L.
Simon, V.
Smith of Leigh, L.
Snape, L.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taylor of Bolton, B.
Temple-Morris, L.
Thornton, B.
Tomlinson, L.
Triesman, L.
Tunnicliffe, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Wall of New Barnet, B.
Warner, L.
Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Whitaker, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.
Young of Norwood Green, L.

22 Nov 2006 : Column 376

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.38 pm

On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness Harris of Richmond: Earlier this year when we were debating the Northern Ireland Act 2006, the Government persuaded Parliament that if the Assembly was to be up and running again on 24 November, the next set of elections to the Assembly due in May 2007 should be postponed to May 2008. At the time, the Secretary of State said:

The Government have yet again changed their mind. They are now not only reversing their position on postponing elections but they are bringing them forward to March 2007, before the Executive have been formed. A lot is being asked to be taken on faith. What adequate proof do the Government have that the parties in Northern Ireland are willing and able to share power, if they have not gone into an Executive before elections are called? What reassurances are there that parties with strengthened mandates from a March election will not seek further concessions or clarifications, prolonging the process even further? Will the Minister explain why it was decided to bring elections forward to March? Why was the decision taken to hold the elections before the parties had committed themselves to sharing power by electing an Executive? How will the DUP and Sinn Fein be able to ask voters to turn out when it is not for a clear purpose?

Although we agree that the current mandates of the political parties in Northern Ireland need to be restored in the near future, we are nevertheless deeply concerned at the continuous meddling that there has been in the normal democratic process by the Government. Elections, as we all know, are the bedrock of democracy. A very bad precedent was set in 2003, when the process of electoral interference by this Government began.

The Question whether Clause 17 shall stand part also relates to the Government’s interference in the normal electoral process. We understand why this clause has been included in the Bill. However, there is already in legislation a perfectly proper process to deal with the current situation. Under the 1998 Act, the Secretary of State was able to prescribe by order what would happen if there was a vacancy in the Assembly. The Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) Order 2001 places a duty on the presiding officer to inform the chief electoral officer that a vacancy has arisen. The chief electoral officer must then contact the first person in the list of substitutes

22 Nov 2006 : Column 377

to ask whether he or she is willing to be returned as a Member of the Assembly. If not, the chief electoral officer must repeat that procedure until he has contacted all those on the substitute list. If no one is willing to fill the vacancy, the chief electoral officer must set a date for a by-election to fill the vacancy. The procedure is there, and it is clear. By introducing this clause, the Government are yet again interfering in the normal democratic process.

Lord Trimble: I will speak to Amendments Nos. 26, 27 and 28. Actually, on second thoughts, I will speak to Amendment No. 28 alone and not to the other two, because it is the crucial amendment in my mind with regard to this Bill and to the Government’s proposals for the future. The amendment would add some words to Clause 27 on page 20, subsection (2) of which reads:

Clause 3(1) provides for the Assembly election to be held on 7 March. My amendment proposes that the crucial part of the Clause 27 would state that,

Clause 7(2) contains paragraph 6 of the St Andrews agreement, which was read to us by the Minister during his introductory speech, requiring people to endorse the essential elements of support for law that were set out in the agreement.

I do not want to get into an argument about the effectiveness of that paragraph, because it encapsulates the issue. One might quarrel here and there with the use of words, but that is not important; the crucial matter is that the paragraph in Clause 7(2) involves a pledge of support for policing and the institutions. My amendment, if it were carried, would ensure that that pledge would have to be given or that the parties would have to indicate publicly that they would comply forthwith with all aspects of that by 26 January.

That is not very different from what Mr Secretary Hain said yesterday—that, as regards the timetable, if there is no movement by republicans on this issue in January, the wheels will come off the wagon. It may be that in such a situation, the Secretary of State would use his discretionary power to stop the process. But doing so would be a huge act and there would be great pressure on the Secretary of State not to make an order to abort the process. I am quite sure that the tendency in that situation would be for republicans to make some encouraging noises and for the Government to grasp at straws to avoid doing something deeply controversial. I have seen it happen previously; we all have.

It would be much better for the legislation clearly to state that a declaration of intention to support the police would have to be made in January so that things could move smoothly. I would be delighted at that. There would be a much better chance of that happening if my amendment was included. Experience shows that if you want the republicans to

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move, you must make it absolutely clear to them that they have to move. If they do not have to move and if they think that they have internal problems, they will favour their own problems, rather than the public interest. They have done that again and again.

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