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ELECTORAL COMMISSION COMMITTEE

Volume 654: debated on Thursday 21 February 2019

The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, representing the representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Northern Ireland Parties: Donations

4. If the Electoral Commission will publish its correspondence with the Cabinet Office on the publication of donations received by political parties in Northern Ireland from 2014 to 2017. (909353)

7. If the Electoral Commission will publish its correspondence with the Cabinet Office on the publication of donations received by political parties in Northern Ireland from 2014 to 2017. (909356)

The Electoral Commission has ongoing dialogue with the Northern Ireland Office as the lead Department on the transparency of donations received by political parties in Northern Ireland. Copies of the relevant correspondence will shortly be placed in the House of Commons Library. The commission continues to urge the UK Government to bring forward additional secondary legislation to allow the publication of donations from January 2014 onwards, as envisaged by the original primary legislation.

The Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s interim report into “Disinformation and ‘fake news’” rightly criticised the shadowy and secretive Constitutional Research Council for having

“deliberately and knowingly, exploited a loophole in the electoral law to funnel”

£435,000 to the Democratic Unionist party during the EU referendum. The source of that money remains a secret and is beyond the scrutiny of both this Parliament and the public. Will the hon. Lady add her voice to those on the Select Committee and the Electoral Commission in calling for the publication of the source of that money?

I fully understand the hon. Gentleman’s frustration. However, the law requires the Electoral Commission to keep confidential all information about political donations and loans in Northern Ireland before 1 July 2017. The commission therefore regrets that it is unable to disclose information and its own work in fulfilling its statutory duties to give confidence to the public, parliamentarians and others.

The Electoral Commission has stated:

“We continue to urge the UK Government to bring forward additional legislation to allow the publication of donations from 2014 onwards.”

It is astounding that this Government refuse to allow those donations to be published, so will the hon. Lady call on the Government to remove the shield from those responsible for dark money?

The hon. Lady is right to add her voice to that of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) in expressing frustration. I can only reiterate the Electoral Commission’s position, which is that it is unable fully to disclose information in this regard. However, it is for the UK Government to bring forward further legislation, should they so wish, to make such information available,