HC Deb 14 March 2000 vol 346 cc182-209 4.29 pm
Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset)

I beg to move amendment No. 152, in page 40, line 15, leave out clause 63.

Madam Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendment No. 24.

Amendment No. 169, in page 40, line 18, after "party", insert— `with its Headquarters and/or registered office in Northern Ireland.'. Amendment No. 170, in page 40, line 19, leave out— `such period as is specified' and insert— 'a period of one year'. Amendment No. 171, in page 40, line 23, leave out— `such period as is specified' and insert— 'a period of one year'. Amendment No. 166, in page 40, line 25, at end add— '(1 A) The Secretary of State may by order further extend the periods laid down under subsections (1)(a)(ii) and (1)(b)(ii) above, but no further period of extension shall be for more than one year and there may be no more than two such further extensions.'. Amendment No. 167, in page 40, line 26, at end add 'a party which has its headquarters, UK headquarters or registered office in Northern Ireland which is.'. Amendment No. 168, in page 40, line 27, leave out "one" and insert "six".

Amendment No. 172, in page 40, line 29, leave out "one" and insert "four".

Amendment No. 173, in page 40, line 30, after "Commons" insert— `who have taken the oath or made the affirmation and are'. Amendment No. 164, in page 40, line 33, at end add—

'(4) The Secretary of State shall not make an order under subsection (1) (b) above unless the following conditions are satisfied—

  1. (a) a draft of the order has been submitted to the Electoral Commission; and
  2. (b) the Commission has stated that, in its opinion, the contents of the draft order are compatible with the effective enforcement in individual cases of the provisions of section 54 relating to evasion of restrictions on donations.'.
Amendment No. 174, in clause 144, page 92, line 13, at end add—`(aa) section 63 (1A)'.

Mr. Walter

Many hours have been spent in the House discussing the situation in Northern Ireland. The clause that we seek to delete gives the Secretary of State power to make special provision for Northern Ireland parties. I think that there is agreement on both sides of the House on the necessity of the peace process. I think also that there is agreement that we wish to see a normal economic and political climate return to Northern Ireland. While not wishing to labour another debate on Northern Ireland and the current state of the peace process, we are debating a clause that would exacerbate the current failure of the peace process. That is, the failure to deliver a return to democratic institutions in Northern Ireland. If clause 63 remains part of the Bill, that failure will be compounded.

It is an affront to the people of Northern Ireland to make special provision for supporters of and sympathisers with terrorism. It is an affront to the political parties of Northern Ireland represented in the House of Commons—those Members who have taken the Oath and taken their seat—to allow others, the friends of terror, special privileges denied to parties in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the affront is even greater than he describes? The clause confers a power to make orders that are subject to the negative procedure, not the affirmative procedure. In consequence, the Secretary of State can exercise his power to extend the range of permitted donors without obtaining an affirmative vote in the House.

Mr. Walter

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right: clause 63, like other clauses, gives the Secretary of State such powers. We shall discuss that issue later.

The basic premise behind the amendment is that there should not be special provisions for Northern Ireland. Lord Neill suggested that provisions should exist, because there were special circumstances in Northern Ireland. I do not entirely accept all his arguments in that respect. The Neill report reached us in October 1998, and the game has moved on since then. The report reached us after the signing of the Good Friday agreement, but before the election and creation of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive. In addition, the report reached us before Sinn Fein—to name but one Northern Ireland political party—became an effective part of the political process. The rest, as they say, is history.

If Great Britain is to be subject to the requirements for financial propriety and transparency enshrined in the Bill, it is unacceptable that a part of the United Kingdom with the most vivid history of political corruption should be excluded from the provisions of the Neill report. I do not want to go over Northern Ireland's political history, but I emphasise that it would be wrong effectively to turn a blind eye to practices that have been declared unacceptable in the rest of the United Kingdom.

I hope that, as a result of the events of the past year, there will be an end to the violence used to further political causes in Northern Ireland. Like other hon. Members, I hope and believe that the arms that have been used by terrorists will be handed in and decommissioned. I wonder when that will happen, although that is a subject to be debated another time. Over the years, intimidation has been used to a great extent in Northern Ireland. Therefore, we must not, by allowing the clause to remain part of the Bill, create an environment in which it is perpetuated.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Among other attributes, my hon. Friend has a fertile imagination. Why should the clause provide for a possible extension of the categories of permissible donors, given that six such categories are already provided for in clause 48(2)?

Mr. Walter

The Committee considered the issue of why, having introduced a regime in Great Britain in which foreign donors were precluded from funding our political parties, and having laid down specific categories of permissible donors, we should allow the Secretary of State to announce exclusions in respect of political parties whose financial and democratic propriety some of us might call into question.

Mr. Hogg

The effect of the proposal in clause 63(1)(b), if it stands as it is, is that a foreign donor could be brought within the class of those deemed to be permissible donors. Not only that, but a foreign donor could be excluded by the Secretary of State from the requirement to give specified information.

Mr. Walter

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. We discussed in Committee the possibility of permitting donors from the Irish Republic to make donations to political parties not only in Northern Ireland but throughout the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and I made it clear in Committee that we were not prepared to tolerate a situation in which donors in the United States or other foreign countries could continue to fund the activities of Northern Ireland political parties, as they have done in the past, and thus get away with funding the forces of terror, of which we have seen the effects in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

If permissible sources were to include citizens of the Irish Republic, the Neill committee makes it clear in paragraph 5.41 of its report that there would exist the possibility of overseas donations reaching the Republic, and thereby Northern Ireland. This clause would be a facilitator for Noraid and all its works.

Mr. Walter

Not only that, but the clause specifically does not mention the Republic of Ireland. It allows exemptions to be made regarding the list of permissible donors that would enable Noraid and any other organisation, whether in the United States or elsewhere, to fund Northern Ireland political parties. It is within the Secretary of State's power to specify which political parties he wishes to exempt from the rule. As the Bill is drafted, he could specify just one party to be exempted, so he might feel it politically expedient to specify a party that has traditionally received most of its funding from the United States, and perpetuate a situation that the rest of us in the House would regard as completely unacceptable.

Mr. Hogg

I am sorry to press my hon. Friend, and I am grateful to him for giving way so generously. Is there not another risk? I am not accusing the Government of having this in mind, but we must face the consequences. Any Government at some time in the future could use these exempting powers to assist the funding of a particular party with which that Government—not this one—had friendly relations. The exempting powers can be used in a partisan manner.

Mr. Walter

My right hon. and learned Friend is correct. These powers can be used not only for political expediency, but in a partisan way by a political party that wants to aid and abet its friends in the north of Ireland.

Mr. Bercow

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) has just raised a serious point. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is incumbent on the House to have serious regard to the possibility not only of a future abuse occurring under a future Secretary of State, but of an abuse by the present incumbent of the office, who, for all his distinctive talents, is a distinctly manipulative specimen?

Mr. Walter

We can only presume from the fact that the Government have included clause 63 that, when drafting the Bill, they speculated about the possibility that they would want to use it and to make an exemption for a particular Northern Ireland party—or, possibly, a number of Northern Ireland parties—allowing that party, or those parties, to receive funds from foreign sources that are denied to the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Walter

I will give way for the last time to the Minister.

Mr. O'Brien

In fact, the hon. Gentleman has not given way before this occasion, but I am grateful to him for doing so.

Our amendment No. 24 will ensure that any order under clause 63 applies to all Northern Ireland parties. It will not be possible to specify particular parties.

Mr. Hogg

That is not in the Bill.

Mr. O'Brien

We tabled the amendment in response to concerns expressed in Committee.

I hope that what I have said reassures the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) that such mendacious thoughts are not in our minds.

Mr. Walter

I am cognisant of the amendment, but as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham pointed out, the provision is not yet in the Bill. Moreover, I fear that if the clause were altered to refer to "each" rather than "a" Northern Ireland party, as the amendment suggests, another can of worms would be opened in connection with political parties engaging in activities not only in Northern Ireland but in other parts of the United Kingdom. We shall, in the context of other parts of the Bill, discuss problems that could arise in regard to parties that might have sister organisations in different parts of the United Kingdom. I think that deleting clause 63, as amendment No. 152 suggests, is the simplest and most straightforward way of dealing with the matter.

Let me return to the Neill report, and the White Paper that constitutes the Government's response to it. I want—without prejudging anything that Northern Ireland Members may say later—to quote the Unionist parties' response to the White Paper. They adopted a more or less unanimous view: It is not acceptable to argue that Northern Ireland must be treated differently because Sinn Fein are organised on an all-island basis. The same law should apply to all parties which stand for election in the United Kingdom. This should not be dismissed as a political point. The fact that it is difficult to police donations to the Republican Movement is no excuse for not trying. It is donations to the republican movement with which we are concerned here, and cutting off the flow of funds to that movement should be at the forefront of our minds when we consider clause 63.

I wholeheartedly agree with the Unionist parties' view that there is no excuse for not trying to police political donations, as we shall do in the rest of the United Kingdom—although it will be difficult, partly because some donations to Northern Ireland parties, and to nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales, come from foreign sources. If contributions from the Scottish and Welsh diasporas are from impermissible sources, they will be rejected by the treasurers of those parties. There is no reason why the treasurer of a Northern Ireland party should not similarly reject donations from people who are not permissible donors within the meaning of the Bill. If Northern Ireland is to be regarded, as we believe it should be, as an integral part of the United Kingdom, it should be subject to the rules that apply to the rest of the UK, including those relating to donations to political parties.

4.45 pm

We do not want the Secretary of State to have the power to make orders that relate only to Northern Ireland, to one Northern Ireland party, to several Northern Ireland parties, or to all the Northern Ireland parties. It might have been politically expedient for the Government to suggest that Sinn Fein—the party that immediately comes to mind—should be exempt from various provisions or regulations that apply to other parties: but it should not. We cannot have one rule for one party, or group of parties, because it is politically expedient, and another rule for other parties. The basic premise behind the amendment is that the same rules must apply to all parties in Northern Ireland as apply to all parties in the rest of the UK.

Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea)

I look forward to hearing what Ministers can report about the discussions that have been going on with parties in Northern Ireland. As they know, my amendment, No. 164, is concerned not so much with the Republic of Ireland as with the possibility that the clause could be used to enable donations from other countries to find their way to this country.

My concern lies not so much with clause 63 as with clause 54, which makes it an offence to give false information; indeed, it is punishable by a year in jail. However, it is only an offence for a UK citizen. Even if it is committed by a UK citizen, it can be investigated only if it is committed in this country.

A London banker who gives, shall we say, £5 million to a Euro-federalist party could be investigated under clause 54 to see whether the money had really come from him, but a Dublin banker who gives £5 million to Sinn Fein, or, indeed, to the Ulster Unionist Council would not be breaking an Irish law and would not be subject to British law. Because, presumably, those offences would not be covered by Interpol, people will not be extraditable for party funding fraud.

I come back to the simple proposition: we can ban foreign funding, one of the fundamental purposes of the Bill, only from people who are subject to British law. As it stands, the Bill creates a new type of permissible donor, who is beyond its reach because he or she is an Irish citizen living in the Republic of Ireland. That opens the way to what has been described as re-routing, where money can go from, for example, an American citizen to an Irish citizen, from an Irish citizen to a Northern Ireland political party and, indeed, from a Northern Ireland political party to a British political party. Perhaps the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can prevail on the Taoiseach to introduce a Bill as part of the peace process banning Irish citizens from acting as conduits for donors to UK parties.

I understand that the talks with the Northern Ireland parties may touch on those possibilities, but there has to be some fire-break—I believe that discussions have taken place on the matter—between Belfast and London parties, so that money cannot pass between them. I look forward to hearing how those particular problems can be addressed.

What if the same party qualifies as both a Northern Ireland party and a British party? Conservative Members have not mentioned that possible self-interest in the clause. In recent years, the only party in the House that comes remotely close to being simultaneously a British and a Northern Ireland party has been the Conservative party.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

In view of our amendment No. 152, I fail entirely to see where in the clause self-interest lies for Conservative Members. We wish funding of the Conservative party in Northern Ireland to be subject to exactly the same stringencies as those faced by the Conservative party anywhere else. Nevertheless, I should be grateful for the hon. Gentleman's views on the matter. It does not seem to me right in principle that—should we choose to do so, and if it is done legitimately and in accordance with the rules that the hon. Gentleman himself wants to be implemented—money should not pass between the Conservative party in Northern Ireland and the Conservative party in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Linton

I do not suggest that Conservative Members have a self-interest in amendment No. 152, but only that their interest as a party could be affected by the Bill's current provisions. Like Conservative Members, I am trying to ensure that, in creating special exemptions for citizens of the Republic of Ireland—whatever they may think of that—we do not inadvertently affect the efficacy of the rules against overseas funding and of the enforcement of those rules as provided for in the Bill. If a Northern Ireland party gives money to a person who subsequently gives it to a British political party, it might not be in breach of the legislation.

I hope that we shall eventually hear the outcome of the talks. My simple principle is that, in the Bill, a permissible source must be an investigatable source. Regrettably, therefore, all permissible donors would have to be residents of the United Kingdom, unless there is some way in which residents of the Republic also could be investigated.

The Neill committee applied that principle to Irish donors, and said that Irish donors should not only be registered to vote in Ireland, but resident in Ireland. The committee's intention, although it is not specifically reiterated in the Bill, was to limit the exemption to residents—not only citizens—of the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Hogg

I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument, for which I have much sympathy. Does he accept—reverting to the Disqualifications Bill, which the House debated some time ago; I think that he may have spoken in that debate—that one cannot both argue the position that he is advancing now and support the Government's position on the Disqualifications Bill? I therefore hope that he will give consideration to his position on the latter matter.

Mr. Linton

I neither spoke—to the best of my recollection—in the debate on the Disqualifications Bill, nor understand where the alleged contradiction lies.

Mr. Hogg

The Bill proposes excluding—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. We cannot have the debate conducted from a sedentary position.

Mr. Hogg

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I accept the right hon. and learned Gentleman's apology.

Mr. Linton

I am sure that the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) will enlighten me in due course.

The Neill committee's concern was to allow residents and citizens of the Republic of Ireland to contribute to Irish parties. I well understand the argument for that, as an integral part of the peace process is the principle that all people in Ireland should be able to participate in the political process in all parts of Ireland. It is an unfortunate truth that, to accomplish that, we may undermine the Bill's efficacy.

I appreciate the difficulties involved in the matter, and I do not have a solution. I tabled amendment No. 164 simply to ensure that the warning is heard loud and clear. For almost 50 years, we have had an election law that has been rendered ineffective by a very simple loophole. A finding by the courts, in 1952, in the so-called Tronoh Mines case, rendered totally ineffective limits on candidates' spending by allowing spending on national campaigns to escape the ban provided that they did not mention a candidate's name. Although it is a simple matter to put right, it has taken almost 50 years to plug that simple loophole. However good our motives, therefore, it is essential that we do not create another loophole.

Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry)

I have tabled several amendments in this group and I have also added my name to the Conservative amendment No. 152.

I listened to the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) with interest. Like most others who talk about Northern Ireland, he referred to the peace process. I concluded long ago that it was not a peace process, but simply an appeasement process, which has gone on apace for far too long. I was also interested that he was against special provisions being made for Northern Ireland.

The reason for such special provisions is evident: it is to make Northern Ireland different and then use that difference as an excuse for further separate provisions. It becomes a vicious circle. We do not want Northern Ireland to be different—we want it to be as much like the rest of the United Kingdom as possible. It has become clear over the years that only when the Province is fully integrated in every way into the United Kingdom can the violence and the horrors that we have seen be contained. Those who try to tell us that they can be contained in an all-Ireland ambit miss the point. There are 1 million people in Northern Ireland who do not want to be part of an all-Ireland republic. They have steadily voted against it and no doubt they will go on doing so. The proportions of those who are nationalist and Unionist in Northern Ireland have not changed much in the past 80 years, and I see no prospect of them changing. When differences are created, the Unionist population see them not as an attempt to address a real problem, but as an attempt by the Government to push them in a direction in which they do not want to go. Pushing majorities in a direction in which they do not want to go is dangerous and is not a course of action that should commend itself to anyone.

My first amendment is No. 169. The aim is to ensure that each of the parties covered by the clause has a point of authority within Northern Ireland that exercises oversight of the party there. It is essential to ring-fence expenditure on elections in Northern Ireland to those who stand within the boundaries of Northern Ireland. The Government should accept that principle and apply it as swiftly as possible.

The amendment could mean that a United Kingdom or Great Britain party would need such an office. Reference has already been made to the position of the Conservative party in Northern Ireland. However, in practice it would bear only on Sinn Fein, which, as we all know, is one of the public political faces of terrorism. No one seriously questions that proposition. It is a fact that the leading members of Sinn Fein are also members of the IRA and are known to be its leaders. It may not be possible to prove that in court, but if Ministers get a full-blown security briefing, they will find that the intelligence on the people concerned would convince even the most doubtful.

Clause 63(l)(a)(i) refers to "a Northern Ireland party". Government amendment No. 24 would change that to "each Northern Ireland party". That needs closer examination. By referring to Northern Ireland parties, the Government appear to have excluded Sinn Fein—which is an all-Ireland party—from the scope of the Bill. If the Minister's officials have not yet addressed that matter, no doubt they will before he replies. In any case, I am not certain that using "each" instead of "a" improves the Bill.

5 pm

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that his amendment No. 169 would not discriminate against the Women's Coalition or the Progressive Unionist party, but that amendment No. 168 would because of the numbers of Members that each party has in the now-suspended Northern Ireland Assembly? Also, would not amendment No. 172 discriminate against my hon. Friends who are members of the Social Democratic and Labour party?

Mr. Ross

The intention is to make it difficult for the terrorist parties. All the parties that the hon. Gentleman has named are not involved in terrorism, as far as I know. The Women's Coalition and the SDLP are perfectly legitimate parties. They would not be affected because they are not getting money from across the border. If they were, that would be interesting information.

Dr. Godman

Am I right that each of the two parties to which I referred has just two members in the legislative Assembly? I ask the hon. Gentleman again—would not his amendment No. 168 discriminate against the Women's Coalition and the Progressive Unionist party? What kind of message does that send to the smaller parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly?

Mr. Ross

I am not really concerned about those parties. The number of votes that those parties get is so small that it is doubtful whether they would gain election in a normal election. When everything settles down, those parties will almost certainly disappear. I am aiming at the one party that is the terrorist front.

Dr. Godman

The hon. Gentleman should try to answer the question.

Mr. Ross

I think that I have answered it. I am not all that concerned about the tiny parties, but I am concerned with the terrorist front and the IRA. The amendments are aimed at the IRA, and the hon. Gentleman is raising red herrings because he knows perfectly well what my amendments intend to do.

Mr. Hogg

I acknowledge the democratic credentials of my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross). As I understand the Bill, the definition of a Northern Ireland party includes the requirement for representation in this place or in the Northern Ireland Assembly. If a democratic party has not achieved representation in one or the other, it cannot benefit from the provisions of clause 63, as it now stands. That sounds to me to be extremely discriminatory.

Mr. Ross

I recognise what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says. If the Northern Ireland Assembly were to disappear, the parties about which the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) is concerned would not be caught by the Bill's provisions in any case. If he wanted to protect them, he should have tabled his own amendments to prevent them from being swept away from the political scene in those circumstances.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

I would appreciate clarification from the hon. Gentleman of amendments Nos. 168 and 172. It seems to me that the amendments would bite not on Sinn Fein, but on a number of other parties, such as the Northern Ireland Unionist party, the United Unionist Assembly party, the Progressive Unionist party and the United Kingdom Unionist party which have four, three, two and one representatives respectively in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr. Ross

The Minister knows that I have said that I am not all that concerned about those tiny parties. If an election were held tomorrow, they would have no representative in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I am trying to get at the terrorists' face, and I believe that my amendments would bear heavily upon that.

The plain truth is that the Minister has not explained to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who is a well-known barrister, how a Northern Ireland party is defined by membership of the bodies named in the Bill. Suppose that the Northern Ireland Assembly disappears—we would then be left with a situation in which several parties could no longer be defined as Northern Ireland parties.

Can Sinn Fein be defined as a Northern Ireland party? In one sense it is, but in another it is not because it is an all-Ireland party, which is totally different. The courts might take a dim view of the definition, which will almost certainly be challenged as it stands. The Unionist party might find itself in some difficulty if it decided to fight elections in Great Britain. Could it then get away without declaring the source of its donations? The party might find support in some areas of Great Britain, and the SDLP or Sinn Fein might find support in other areas.

The provision is not so much a loophole as a gaping barn door. If it is left open, it could admit all sorts of as yet unforeseen evils. We never really know what will happen or what will be the consequences of leaving such a concession in the Bill with the clear intention of benefiting one party. If the Bill did hammer Sinn Fein, I would be happy to withdraw all my amendments, but I am presently inclined to press them to a Division.

Recent speculation in the press has suggested that parties in the Irish Republic would like to forge ties with the SDLP. Indeed, it would appear that advances have already been made to the SDLP by the Irish Republic's Labour party and by Fianna Fail. The SDLP is, no doubt, considering those offers in the light of the effect that they might have, both in total and in the border areas.

The aim of my amendments is to create a ring fence, inside which the Northern Ireland section of any party would have to conduct its financial affairs. The parties would be so tightly ring-fenced that their accounts would be public, the sources of their income would be public, with everyone knowing exactly what was going on, and their behaviour and activities would fall within the jurisdiction of the UK courts so that this legislation could be enforced.

It was well demonstrated by the hon. Member for North Dorset that currently there is much scope for the movement of money, which either could not be traced or would be legal. However, if the same activity were carried out in Great Britain, it would be totally illegal and the perpetrators could go to prison for it. As drafted, the Bill simply means that Northern Ireland parties would be able to do things that would bring prosecution and retribution in the courts in Great Britain. That must be wrong, because we all operate in the same nation and under the same rod of electoral law, not least to get elected as Members of Parliament.

The Government claim that they are trying to get rid of even the faintest trace of fraud and corruption from the electoral process. However, they are deliberately leaving this great barn door gaping open in Northern Ireland. I think that that barn door should be closed.

We need not ask why the Government have left the concession in the Bill. The Government know that Sinn Fein-IRA would simply break the law anyway, but they are running away from that confrontation and intend to allow in Northern Ireland what would be illegal in Great Britain. That should not be acceptable to any Member of Parliament, never mind only Opposition Members.

The Government are also refusing to take on the one organised and mass corruption of the electoral process anywhere in the United Kingdom. It is because that corruption, backed up with violence, has been so successful that the Government have failed to live up to their moral and political obligations. Evil can neither be beaten nor contained within reasonably narrow limits if we do not face up to it. We must divide it first, as a prelude to its elimination. The amendments are the first line of defence and should be accepted.

Amendments Nos. 171 and 170 would limit to one year the period of freedom to corrupt. Amendment No. 166, with amendment No. 174, would ensure that the maximum period of grace for Sinn Fein-IRA would be limited to three years. At present there is no limit to the free hand given to that murderous organisation in this matter, but a maximum limit should be set. All the amendments would close down the freedom of Sinn Fein-IRA to corrupt the electoral process.

Amendments Nos. 167 and 173 would require a registered party to abide by the rules accepted by the other parties. Amendment No. 167 would ring-fence a party's financial structure. Amendment No. 168 would mean that a party would have to boast six Assembly Members before it could benefit from the Government's concession to terrorist violence. The tiny parties will not be taking advantage of the concession, so in practice it will have no effect on them. They would escape the problems that I am trying to inflict on Sinn Fein-IRA.

Amendment No. 173 would ensure that only those who take the oath or make the affirmation after election to this House could benefit from the concession. All parties elected to this House or to the Northern Ireland Assembly should accept the standards of democracy accepted by the rest of us. If they are not required to do that, the signal to the terrorist organisations would be clear.

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.

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 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 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: Clause 63 is unsatisfactory, but, as I said earlier, we are dealing with that. 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 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.

5.30 pm

That is my main concern. I do not share the concerns of the hon. Member for East Londonderry. I do not want terrorist parties on either side of the argument in Northern Ireland to flourish, but I recognise that a significant amount of the funding of some of those parties, on both sides of the divide, comes not from foreign sources but from rampant protection rackets in the Province. There are other sources of money flowing into the political body of Northern Ireland, and they ought to be of concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House.

What concerns me and leads me to support the deletion of clause 63 is the fact that the clause may create a loophole that could lead to a complete bypassing of all the good work in the rest of the Bill.

In Committee, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) expressed his concern about single interest parties, which might prosper in Northern Ireland and Glasgow. He could see no way in which special interest parties—he had in mind pro-life parties—could be prevented from using Northern Ireland as a stepping stone to funding their activities in the United Kingdom, using money from overseas sources, and the Minister could offer him no reassurance on that point.

I do not associate myself with the arguments of the hon. Member for East Londonderry.

Mr. William Ross

The hon. Gentleman seems to think that all the amendments in my name relate to the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman), but most of them relate to restricting the time for which the legislation can be permitted to run to one year or to a maximum of three years.

Mr. Stunell

I accept that the wording of the hon. Gentleman's amendments would, as the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) indicated, have apparently unintended effects, but my point is that I do not identify with the arguments that the hon. Member for East Londonderry used to support those amendments.

The Government should accept the point made in Committee that the clause is unsatisfactory. Their amendment does not correct that point.

Mr. Tipping

The hon. Gentleman took the time of the House last night to ask for a solution on federal parties. We discussed that, and he knows that the Government are minded to try to find a way forward. I also indicated in Committee and in the House last night that we could not introduce amendments to construct a fire wall between Northern Ireland and the mainland until the federal issue had been resolved. There is no lack of initiative or desire for progress on our part; there is a fundamental difficulty that prevents that progress.

Mr. Stunell

I appreciate the Minister's remarks, and I thank him for recalling what he said last night, which was appreciated and understood. However, the Government amendment leads my colleagues and I to support the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for North Dorset.

Mr. Hogg

In rising to support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) in speaking to his amendment, I shall address five matters, albeit fairly briefly.

The first point is one that I have made many times in the House, but I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I repeat myself. It concerns the order-making powers. The powers that we are giving to the Secretary of State are substantial. They enable the Secretary of State to enlarge the category of permissible donors so as to extend it, for example, to foreign donors, if that is what is decided. That is a large power to give to the Secretary of Secretary.

We are also enabling the Secretary of State to disapply the information-supplying requirements in the Bill. That, too, is a wide power. The Bill provides for the powers to be exercisable not under the affirmative procedure, but under the negative procedure. In other words, no action will be taken on the orders unless they are prayed against and debated.

I regard the use of secondary legislation on a matter of such importance as being profoundly unsatisfactory. On any view of the matter, the powers that we are giving to the Secretary of State are extensive. They change the ordinary requirements of law. Although I am not arguing that the affirmative procedure is a perfect instrument—I think it is a very blunt instrument because, for example, it is not amendable—it is at least better than the negative procedure.

On a matter of such importance, I hope that those on the Treasury Bench will consider using the affirmative procedure, rather than the negative procedure.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

indicated assent.

Mr. Hogg

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary is nodding. I take that as encouragement, and I hope that he will address the matter that I put to him.

I am glad to see the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) in his place. My second point goes to the Disqualifications Bill, which the House debated some time ago. I address the point now because I regretted that he was not aware of the significance of what he was saying, in the context of that Bill. He argued eloquently against foreign donations, but the Disqualifications Bill, which I am pretty sure he supported, although I spoke and voted against it, enables Members of the Dail to serve in this House. A Member of the Dail who happened to be serving in this House would be bound to be supported by foreign donations. That is absolutely certain.

If the hon. Gentleman is against foreign donations—a case that he argued extremely eloquently—he surely could not in all good conscience support the idea of Members of the Irish Dail sitting in this place. One proposition follows the other, inevitably.

The third point is, admittedly, somewhat technical, but this is the occasion for technical debates. It relates to the partisan point that I made. In clause 63(1)(a) at line 18, the reference is to "a Northern Ireland party". I am well aware that Government amendment No. 24 uses the word "each". That is a step forward, and I do not for a moment dissent from that proposition.

I am not accusing the Government of being partisan in this sense, but as the Bill is drafted, there is no doubt that the legislation would enable a partisan order to be made. I am glad that the word "each" is used.

I sympathised with my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) when he queried whether the word "each" is sufficient to meet the intended purpose. I am not sure about that. I hope that further consideration will be given to the matter, although I welcome the step.

I am sorry to press the point a little further. Line 24 refers again to "a Northern Ireland party". That is in the context of the power given to the Secretary of State to lift the requirement with regard to the provision of information.

If it is right to substitute the word "each" for "a" in line 18, for the self-same reasons it must be right to substitute the word "each" for "a" in line 24. I know better than most people how difficult it is to read the amendment paper, and I may have missed an amendment making that substitution in line 24. However, the Under-Secretary will forgive me if I cannot find it. Clearly, I should be able to find it because, according to his logic, it ought to be there. If I am wrong, I apologise; if I am right, perhaps he will undertake to make the necessary substitution in another place.

My penultimate point is about discrimination. To mix metaphors, if I interpreted the Under-Secretary's body language correctly, I am pushing at an open door. I made the point earlier in an intervention on the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman), and to my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry. The definition of a Northern Ireland party is critical to clause 63. The provision defines a Northern Ireland party as one that has representatives in this House or in the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, that discriminates against democratic organisations that have no elected representatives in this House or the Assembly but are represented in, for example, the European Parliament or in local government. Some even have the bad fortune not to be represented in an elected body, but are none the less democratic.

Why should clause 63 discriminate in principle between parties that have elected representatives and those that do not? I was not sure what the nods and winks across the Chamber from the Treasury Bench were telling me. Perhaps there is an amendment on the amendment paper—

Mr. Tipping

Perhaps I can clarify the matter. There is no amendment on the amendment paper, but we intend to table an amendment that will have the scope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman desires and that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) advocated.

Mr. Hogg

It would be churlish not to welcome that intervention. However, I am sorry that the amendment has not been tabled already because the Bill has been before the House for some time. [Interruption.] Ministers should not shake their heads; the Bill has indeed been before the House for some time.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out in an intervention on the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), we cannot table the amendment now because we need to resolve issues that relate to federal parties such as the Liberal Democrats. When we have done that, we hope to table an amendment in another place.

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.

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 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 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—

Mr. Ross

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien

I will give way once more to the hon. Gentleman, but I am anxious to make progress.

Mr. Ross

The Minister is saying that it is possible to have regional legislation bearing on the registration of Northern Ireland parties. Will he withhold that benefit from parties that are regional in the sense that they contest elections only in Wales or Scotland?

Mr. O'Brien

There is a situation in Northern Ireland of which the hon. Gentleman, perhaps more than anyone else, is well aware. By seeking to muddy the water, he does himself no good. In his earlier intervention, he did not deal with my argument that the effect of his amendments would be to narrow the scope of the definition of Northern Ireland parties so as to include only those with six or more Members, rather than one, of the Northern Ireland Assembly, or four or more rather than one Member of this place who have been elected for Northern Ireland constituencies. It seems that his amendments would not bite on Sinn Fein, and he did not explain how they would. However, they would appear to bite on a few Unionist parties, including the Northern Ireland Unionist party, the United Unionist Assembly party, the Progressive Unionist party and the United Kingdom Unionist party, which have four, three, two and one Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly respectively.

The hon. Gentleman seemed to assert that his amendments would bite merely on Sinn Fein, and on our reading of them it seems that they cannot. He simply said that he did not believe that that mattered or that they would bite on the smaller Unionist parties, but he offered no explanation. It seems that there is no logic in his argument.

The Government's intention is to ensure that we create as much fairness as we can in a difficult situation. When we discussed these matters in Committee, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland had an opportunity to meet the main Northern Ireland parties, and he did so. The balance of opinion among them was that exemptions from the disclosure requirements of part IV are essential. Given that view, it remains the Government's intention to exercise the order-making power in clause 63 so as to disapply the provisions of part IV in respect of northern Irish parties.

We are minded to apply such an order initially for four years, and review it thereafter. We believe that if we are able to remove the disclosure exemptions, we would wish to do so as soon as is practicable. If the peace process were to succeed, we would hope that circumstances would present themselves to enable us to remove the exemptions in four years or even less. That depends on the circumstances that apply.

6 pm

Amendments Nos. 166, 170 and 171 are an attempt by the hon. Member for East Londonderry to try to put a more reasonable face on his proposals. The amendments would provide for a more restricted application of such an order—that is, for one year in the first instance, with a possibility of no more than two annual renewals. It might be that the hon. Gentleman hopes that the conditions that the Neill committee regarded as giving rise to the need for the exemptions for Northern Ireland will have eased within one year, and that he is confident that they will have disappeared within three years. Time will tell, but, for now, the Government consider that an initial period of four years is appropriate. We are not being dogmatic: if circumstances improve, the Government hope to be able to be more helpful.

Amendment No. 174 would require that an order made under clause 63(1A), which amendment No. 166 would insert, should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. The Government do not propose to accept amendment No. 166 and therefore cannot accept amendment No. 174 as it stands. However, it is implicit in the amendment that an order under clause 63(1) as it stands should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. On reflection, the Government agree with that proposition and will table an amendment to that effect in another place. I hope that that reassures the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg).

My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) spoke to amendment No. 164. The Government are well aware of the concern that any exemptions for Northern Ireland parties will undermine the effectiveness of the ban on foreign funding of political parties in the rest of the United Kingdom. One possible consequence of an order made under clause 63 is to enable a party that organises on a UK-wide basis to escape the prohibition on foreign funding by channelling funding through branches in Northern Ireland. Clearly, we want to avoid that. Unfortunately, the amendment takes a rather heavy-handed approach to the problem. Its effect could be to prevent any order being made under subsection (1)(b) at all, thereby nullifying the whole provision. None the less, the issue is one of genuine concern and I hope to be able to reassure the House.

The Government will table amendments in another place that will prevent Northern Ireland parties from acting as conduits for the transfer of foreign donations to parties, or branches of parties, operating in Great Britain. All parties entered on the Northern Ireland register will benefit from the terms of any order made under clause 63. However, the quid pro quo is that a party registered in Northern Ireland will be prevented from making a donation to a party registered in Great Britain. As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) pointed out, that might have implications for the administration of parties that operate on a UK-wide basis, but it is only by establishing a fire wall between parties in Great Britain and parties in Northern Ireland that we can ensure that the ban on foreign funding is effectively enforced. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea is reassured by what I have said and will not press his amendment.

Mr. Ross

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien

I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not doing so. I am anxious to make progress.

Government amendment No. 24 responds to a drafting point picked up by the hon. Member for North Dorset in Committee. Clause 63(1) provides that an exemption made under that subsection may apply in relation to "a Northern Ireland party". The current wording is open to the unintended interpretation that the application of such an exemption order might be limited to only one Northern Ireland party, as opposed to the generality of Northern Ireland parties.

I shall reflect on the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham about the wording of the subsequent part of the clause. However, Government amendment No. 24 would ensure that any order made under clause 63 will apply to all Northern Ireland parties. It is not possible to specify individual parties. The reference to "a Northern Ireland party" in clause 63(1)(b) occurs in a different context to the reference in clause 63(1)(a). In our view, any order made under clause 63(1)(b) would apply to all Northern Ireland parties. However, I shall consider the issue and write to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Walter

I shall confine my remarks to the amendment standing in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends. It would strike out clause 63, which we consider unacceptable.

I was gratified that the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) alluded to the position of the Conservative party in Northern Ireland. I was more gratified by his stating the view, shared by the Conservatives, that a permissible source should be one that is investigable in the United Kingdom; a source must be within the United Kingdom, otherwise we shall not know whence the money comes.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) said that he did not want Northern Ireland to be different. That is exactly why we tabled the amendment to strike out the clause. The hon. Gentleman's amendments that would ring-fence Northern Ireland are not acceptable to us, nor do we believe that they would be workable, as they would still allow foreign donations to come to political parties in the United Kingdom. However, he is right to say that the Government are failing in their moral and political duty in this respect. Allowing the clause to remain part of the Bill would be an outrage to democracy.

We share the concerns of the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) about small parties. If our amendment is accepted, Northern Ireland will be treated in the same way as the rest of the United Kingdom, thereby allaying those concerns.

I am grateful for the support of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) and his colleagues. He reflected on the assurances given by the Minister in Committee, and I shall briefly quote the words of the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, who said: I hope that one day soon the situation will be normalised and the provisions of the Bill will apply to the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 1 February 2000; c. 190.] We see no reason why that should not happen right now.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department spoke of a "temporary restriction". He went on to suggest that if we tried to remove it, we would be cherry-picking from the Neill report. As I said, the Northern Ireland situation has moved on; we are not cherry-picking from Neill, but dealing with a set of circumstances that has changed.

The Under-Secretary says that the reason for the provisions is to ensure anonymity of donors to Northern Ireland political parties. If he wants them to get anonymity, why does the Bill not deal specifically with anonymity for United Kingdom citizens who would otherwise be permissible donors under clause 48? Instead, clause 63 would allow foreign donations—such as those made from the United States of America to Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland. The clause drives a coach and horses through the Bill, which is designed to ensure financial propriety in the way in which we in this country conduct our affairs.

We believe that the basic tenets of the Neill report are abused by clause 63. The clause allows exemptions for foreign donations. It is therefore unacceptable and we urge the House to support our amendment and so to reject the clause.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 177, Noes 295.

Division No. 105] [6.9 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Foster, Don (Bath)
Amess, David Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Fox, Dr Liam
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Fraser, Christopher
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Gale, Roger
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Garnier, Edward
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) George, Andrew (St Ives)
Baker, Norman Gibb, Nick
Baldry, Tony Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Ballard, Jackie Gray, James
Beith, Rt Hon A J Green, Damian
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Greenway, John
Bercow, John Grieve, Dominic
Beresford, Sir Paul Gummer, Rt Hon John
Blunt, Crispin Hague, Rt Hon William
Body, Sir Richard Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Boswell, Tim Hammond, Philip
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Harris, Dr Evan
Brady, Graham Hawkins, Nick
Brake, Tom Heald, Oliver
Brand, Dr Peter Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Brazier, Julian Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon David
Breed, Colin Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Horam, John
Browning, Mrs Angela Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Burnett, John Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Burns, Simon Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Burstow, Paul Jenkin, Bernard
Butterfill, John Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)
Key, Robert
Cash, William King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Chope, Christopher Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Clappison, James Lansley, Andrew
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Letwin, Oliver
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lidington, David
Clifton—Brown, Geoffrey Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Collins, Tim Livsey, Richard
Cormack, Sir Patrick Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Cotter, Brian Llwyd, Elfyn
Cran, James Loughton, Tim
Curry, Rt Hon David Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Davey, Edward (Kingston) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) McIntosh, Miss Anne
Donaldson, Jeffrey MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Duncan, Alan Maclean, Rt Hon David
Duncan Smith, Iain Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Evans, Nigel McLoughlin, Patrick
Faber, David Madel, Sir David
Fabricant, Michael Malins, Humfrey
Fallon, Michael Maples, John
Feam, Ronnie Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Forsythe, Clifford Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Forth, Rt Hon Eric May, Mrs Theresa
Moore, Michael Steen, Anthony
Moss, Malcolm Streeter, Gary
Nicholls, Patrick Stunell, Andrew
Norman, Archie Swayne, Desmond
Oaten, Mark Syms, Robert
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Öpik, Lembit Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Ottaway, Richard Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Page, Richard Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Paice, James Taylor, Sir Teddy
Paterson, Owen Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Pickles, Eric Townend, John
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Tredinnick, David
Prior, David Trend, Michael
Randall, John Tyler, Paul
Redwood, Rt Hon John Tyrie, Andrew
Rendel, David Viggers, Peter
Robathan, Andrew Walter, Robert
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Wardle, Charles
Ross, William (E Lond'y) Waterson, Nigel
Ruffley, David Webb, Steve
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Wells, Bowen
St Aubyn, Nick Whitney, Sir Raymond
Sanders, Adrian Whittingdale, John
Sayeed, Jonathan Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Wilkinson, John
Shepherd, Richard Willetts, David
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Wilshire, David
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns) Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Soames, Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Tellers for the Ayes:
Spring, Richard Mr. Peter Luff and
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Mr. Stephen Day.
Abbott, Ms Diane Caplin, Ivor
Ainger, Nick Casale, Roger
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Caton, Martin
Alexander, Douglas Cawsey, Ian
Allen, Graham Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Chaytor, David
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Clapham, Michael
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Ashton, Joe
Atkins, Charlotte Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Austin, John Clwyd, Ann
Banks, Tony Coffey, Ms Ann
Barron, Kevin Cohen, Harry
Beard, Nigel Coleman, Iain
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Colman, Tony
Begg, Miss Anne Connarty, Michael
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Cooper, Yvette
Bennett, Andrew F Corbett, Robin
Bermingham, Gerald Corbyn, Jeremy
Berry, Roger Cousins, Jim
Best, Harold Cranston, Ross
Betts, Clive Crausby, David
Blackman, Liz Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Blears, Ms Hazel Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Blizzard, Bob Cummings, John
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)
Borrow, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Bradshaw, Ben Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Dalyell, Tam
Buck, Ms Karen Darvill, Keith
Burden, Richard Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Burgon, Colin Davidson, Ian
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Cann, Jamie Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet Kemp, Fraser
Dobbin, Jim Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Doran, Frank Khabra, Piara S
Dowd, Jim Kidney, David
Drew, David Kilfoyle, Peter
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Kumar, Dr Ashok
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Edwards, Huw Laxton, Bob
Ellman, Mrs Louise Lepper, David
Etherington, Bill Leslie, Christopher
Field, Rt Hon Frank Levitt, Tom
Fisher, Mark Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Fitzpatrick, Jim Linton, Martin
Flint, Caroline Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Lock, David
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Love, Andrew
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) McAvoy, Thomas
Foulkes, George McCabe, Steve
Fyfe, Maria McDonagh, Siobhain
Gapes, Mike McDonnell, John
Gardiner, Barry McFall, John
George, Bruce (Walsall S) McGuire, Mrs Anne
Gerrard, Neil McIsaac, Shona
Gibson, Dr Ian Mackinlay, Andrew
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McNulty, Tony
Godman, Dr Norman A MacShane, Denis
Goggins, Paul Mactaggart, Fiona
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McWalter, Tony
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths Nigel (Edinburgh S) McWilliam, John
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mallaber, Judy
Grocott, Bruce Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Grogan, John Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Gunnell, John Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Marshall—Andrews, Robert
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Martlew, Eric
Hanson, David Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Meale, Alan
Healey, John Merron, Gillian
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Mlller, Andrew
Hepburn, Stephen Mitchell, Austin
Heppell, John Moffatt, Laura
Hesford, Stephen Moonie. Dr Lewis
Hill, Keith Moran, Ms Margaret
Hinchliffe, David Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hoey, Kate Morley, Elliot
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin Mountford, Kali
Howells, Dr Kim Mullin, Chris
Hoyle, Lindsay Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Hurst, Alan O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Hutton, John O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Iddon, Dr Brian O'Hara, Eddie
Illsley, Eric Olner, Bill
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) O'Neill, Martin
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Organ, Mrs Diana
Jamieson, David Pearson, Ian
Jenkins, Brian Pendry, Tom
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Perham, Ms Linda
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Pickthall, Colin
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Pike, Peter L
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Plaskitt, James
Pond, Chris
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Pope, Greg
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Prosser, Gwyn
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Purchase, Ken
Keeble, Ms Sally Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Quinn, Lawrie
Kelly, Ms Ruth Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Rapson, Syd Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Raynsford, Nick
Roche, Mrs Barbara Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff Temple-Morris, Peter
Rooney, Terry Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Timms, Stephen
Rowlands, Ted Tipping, Paddy
Roy, Frank Todd, Mark
Ruane, Chris Touhig, Don
Ruddock, Joan Truswell, Paul
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Ryan, Ms Joan Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Sarwar, Mohammad Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Savidge, Malcolm Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Sawford, Phil Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Sedgemore, Brian Tynan, Bill
Shaw, Jonathan Ward, Ms Claire
Sheerman, Barry Watts, David
Shipley, Ms Debra White, Brian
Singh, Marsha Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Wilson, Brian
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Winnick, David
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Snape, Peter Wise, Audrey
Soley, Clive Wood, Mike
Southworth, Ms Helen Woodward, Shaun
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Woolas, Phil
Steinberg, Gerry Worthington, Tony
Stevenson, George Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Wyatt, Derek
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard Tellers for the Noes:
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe and
Stringer, Graham Mr. David Clelland.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment made: No. 24, in page 40, line 18, leave out "a" and insert "each".—[Mrs. McGuire.]

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