Skip to main content

Political Parties: Loans and Donations

Volume 638: debated on Wednesday 21 March 2018

1. For what reasons the decision was made to publish information about loans and donations given to Northern Ireland political parties dating back to July 2017 rather than 2014. (904409)

The recent publication by the Electoral Commission of donations and loans data for Northern Ireland parties is a positive step that should be welcomed by the whole House. The decision to backdate transparency was taken on the basis of broad support from the majority of political parties in Northern Ireland.

It has recently been revealed that a portion of the largest ever political donation given to a party in Northern Ireland was spent on services linked to Cambridge Analytica. In the light of that, should not the Secretary of State backdate transparency regulations to 2014, so that we can finally have full disclosure about where that cash came from?

As I say, the decision to backdate to July 2017 was taken due to the broad support of the majority of parties in Northern Ireland. My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), took time to consult the parties, and July 2017 was the date that they wished to start the transparency from.

I think that my right hon. Friend has already answered the question I wanted to ask: did all the parties agree not to take it back to 2014?

As I say, my predecessor consulted all the parties, and this position was supported by the broad majority of them.

The Secretary of State will be able to confirm that even if the regulations did go back to 2014, no information would be published that has not already been published. Will she also confirm that there is a disparity when there is no mention in this Chamber or elsewhere of the dark money received by Northern Ireland parties from foreign jurisdictions? This is the only place where that is allowed to occur, and it should stop.

I firmly believe that transparency is the important thing that we have here. We should all know where money is coming from, and I understand the hon. Gentleman’s comments.

I am very interested to hear the Secretary of State’s explanation of why the Northern Ireland Office deliberately and wilfully ignored the advice and recommendations of the Electoral Commission that the publication of donations to political parties in Northern Ireland should be backdated to 2014, not 2017.

There was no wilful ignoring or anything else. My predecessor consulted all the parties in Northern Ireland and there was broad support for July 2017.

We know about one questionable donation that was channelled from Scotland through the Democratic Unionist party to be used in the Brexit referendum. People are rightly asking what the original source of that money was and whether there are others that we do not know about. If the Secretary of State will not consider revising the recent decision to limit transparency by taking it back to 2014, will she bring forward legislation to allow the individual parties to instruct the Electoral Commission to reveal their donation data?

As I have said, we are keen to ensure that there is transparency, but the question the hon. Lady asks is a matter for political parties themselves, not the Government.