§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Desmond Browne)
During the making of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (Disapplication of Part IV for Northern Ireland Parties, etc) Order 2001 in February 2001, the Government gave an undertaking that they would review the need for the Order after two years. This stage has now been reached and I am therefore requesting views from interested parties as to whether the Order is still applicable to the funding of political parties in Northern Ireland. I shall be writing to the Northern Ireland political parties, the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee and the Electoral Commission.
The Order, made under section 70 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA), exempted the Northern Ireland political parties from the requirement to comply with part IV of the Act for four years. Part IV is intended to impose restrictions on the source of donations so as to prohibit foreign and anonymous donations to political parties.
The provisions of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act are based on the recommendations contained in the fifth report on Standards in Public Life, 21WS chaired by Lord Neill and published in 1998. The Neill Committee concluded that it would be unsafe to disclose the names of those who made donations to the Northern Ireland parties as this may result in their intimidation. It was also recommended that it would not be right to ban contributions from Ireland given its special role in Northern Ireland's political life, as set out in the Belfast Agreement.
The Government accepted the Neill Committee recommendations including those in respect of Northern Ireland. However, the consequence of this was that donations from countries other than Ireland could not be prohibited as there would be no way to prevent donations from other countries being routed through Ireland. It therefore became apparent that a ban on foreign funding could not be policed in Northern Ireland.
Once the review is concluded, I will, of course, report back to the House.