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Political Donations

Volume 525: debated on Wednesday 23 March 2011

4. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the registration of donations to political parties active in Northern Ireland. (47495)

10. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the registration of donations to political parties active in Northern Ireland. (47501)

An order to extend the current confidentiality arrangements for political donations in Northern Ireland was debated and approved by both Houses last month. [Interruption.] This order came into effect only from 1 March, so I have not had discussions on this issue with ministerial colleagues since then. [Interruption.]

Order. I understand that the House is eagerly awaiting subsequent business, but there are far too many noisy private conversations taking place, which is very discourteous to the people of Northern Ireland.

While discussing donations to political parties in Northern Ireland in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the Minister made reference to “details of the recipient”, “the amount received” and when donations were made. Those were the reference points, so can the Minister tell us what progress has been made?

Indeed, I can. I remain firmly of that view. We are not in the position that we would like, but I am advised that there are serious doubts about whether the issues that I mentioned can be addressed under existing legislation, which is very tightly drafted. I hope to make provision to bring more transparency to existing arrangements when a suitable legislative vehicle can be found.

Will my hon. Friend let us know when legislation will be brought forward to make sure that donations and loans made to political parties in Northern Ireland during the prescribed period are not disclosed when the prescribed period expires?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which was behind the introduction of the statutory instrument. I hope that this will happen at the earliest opportunity. Primary legislation will be required: we have extended the order for a further two years, so it allows us time to find a suitable legislative vehicle.

One of the problems with regulating donations to political parties in Northern Ireland is that a loophole enables some parties to bring funds in through the Republic of Ireland—without requiring the kind of registration that applies to funds donated within the United Kingdom. Will the Government move to close this loophole so that there is a level playing field for the funding of political parties in Northern Ireland?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that any donation over £7,500 has to be declared to the Electoral Commission, as it does in the rest of the UK, so that is covered. When we move towards a Bill on the whole issue of elections in Northern Ireland, we can certainly look at that issue, along with other anomalies that we believe exist.

The Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force was the snappy title given to the alliance adopted by the Conservative party and the Ulster Unionists in last year’s general election. Will the Secretary of State share with the House how the new force in UK politics is doing these days?

We remain committed to bringing national politics to Northern Ireland. I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman’s question is within the scope of the subject of registration of political donations, but I can assure him that many people in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the United Kingdom wish to support a Conservative party, which is why we are in government and he is not.