Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this statutory instrument is about providing increased transparency in relation to the imprints on printed election campaign material. To be clear, an imprint is the information on election material which is added to show who is responsible for its production. It helps to ensure transparency about who is campaigning. Imprints underpin public trust in the democratic process and ensure that voters are informed about who is behind an electoral campaign.
I will begin by putting this order in context. It is part of a wider package of measures which will ensure that there is a comprehensive paper imprint regime for candidates and parties in all elections in Northern Ireland. The current imprint regime in Northern Ireland is slightly different and not as comprehensive as that in place in Great Britain or for referendums across the whole of the UK. We do not believe that people in Northern Ireland deserve any less transparency for elections than those in the rest of the UK.
On its own, this order will not deliver the comprehensive cover we are seeking. It is one of two SIs needed to create a coherent regime: this order and a separate commencement order, which will be timed to come into force together. Together they will ensure that the paper imprint regime in Northern Ireland covers parties and candidates in all elections.
This order will make provision in relation to material printed for a specific candidate at local elections. The commencement order will bring into force other measures already on the statute book but not yet commenced for Northern Ireland, which will cover candidates at parliamentary and Assembly elections, and material in relation to parties at all Northern Ireland elections.
I will explain why we are taking these steps now. While the existing imprint regime in Northern Ireland has never been problematic, in recent years the Electoral Commission has highlighted the discrepancy between the regimes in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. We undertook to bring forward the change when the legislative timetable allowed. The weight of legislation required for our exit from the EU has delayed these changes but I am delighted to bring them forward now.
It is important to understand that the principle underpinning this measure is ensuring greater transparency for voters. We accept that the Northern Ireland regime should be no less comprehensive than that in Great Britain. All voters, whether in Great Britain or Northern Ireland, should know the origin of election campaign material, who is printing it and on behalf of whom.
On transparency, some of your Lordships may remember that last year the Government brought forward a measure to remove private addresses from ballot papers. On the face of it, this may seem to run counter to those measures which protected the personal data of candidates. However, I reassure your Lordships that the Electoral Commission has produced advice on this matter and there is no requirement for candidates to have personal addresses printed on election material as a result of bringing Northern Ireland into line with Great Britain. A name and PO box address is sufficient for transparency purposes, while protecting personal addresses.
I will now explain what we are changing. The existing regime for Northern Ireland provides that only the name and address of the printer must be included on Northern Ireland election material for candidates. This differs from the regime for Great Britain, which covers material for both candidates and parties, and specifies that in addition to the name and address of the printer it must also include: the name and address of the promoter of the material and the name and address of any person on behalf of whom the material is being published and who is not the promoter.
The promoter of the material is whoever has caused the material to be published. This may be the candidate themselves, their agent or, in the case of a party, the party treasurer, another officer of the party or the party itself, as outlined in the Electoral Commission’s guidance on imprints. The format that imprints should take is, across the UK, subject to Electoral Commission guidelines. While the commission does not take a view on the font of the imprint, this essential information should be clear and legible so that it can be seen by potential voters.
Although the Electoral Commission provides guidance on these matters, it does not enforce the rules. Any concerns about non-compliance with the imprint regime should, as is the case currently, be reported to the police. I should mention that the penalties for non-compliance will not change and the offender is liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to £5,000.
I am happy to tell the Committee that the proposal to close the gap between the Northern Ireland and Great Britain paper imprints regime is fully supported and welcomed by the Electoral Commission. I should also say that as the measures relate in some respects to the publication of personal data, we have, as noble Lords would expect, consulted the Office of the Information Commissioner, which has approved the draft order.
Finally, it is of course the case that much of the election material now seen by voters does not take the slightly old-fashioned form of printed material. Your Lordships will rightly ask how this order address the transparency of the sources of political campaigning online and through digital media. The short answer is that it does not, nor is it intended to. The Government have consulted on the issue of digital imprints and have made clear our intention to bring forward UK-wide legislation to address the issue. This SI is a measure to bring the paper imprints regime into line with that in Great Britain. Digital imprints are a separate issue and will be the subject of separate legislation.
I therefore hope that your Lordships will agree that bringing the paper imprint regime in Northern Ireland in line with the more comprehensive one in Great Britain is a sensible and important step towards modernising elections in Northern Ireland. I hope that your Lordships will support this order. I commend it to the Committee and beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for presenting this statutory instrument so clearly and comprehensively. It is not a contentious matter, as he rightly says, although, for Liberals, anything to do with elections, constitutions and electoral processes is always a matter of enormous interest. The Alliance Party, on whose behalf I am speaking today, has been doing that kind of thing for over 50 years—and before that, the Ulster Liberal Party did so. It would be, in Liberal terms and in the Northern Ireland parlance, what one might describe as a traditional route for Liberals.
As I say, the noble Viscount is right in saying that the order is not contentious and the question that it addresses has not been particularly problematic in Northern Ireland. Of course, when we look at elections, there are two issues that we would like to try to address. One is when there has been a problem and the other is when we are able to improve things, even where there has not yet been a problem. For example, in the early days, the Alliance Party and previously the Ulster Liberals campaigned for the single transferable vote system in the polarised context of Northern Ireland. That was an improvement in the situation and has continued to be so.
It is not that printed media have no problems at all. For example, on this side of the water there was recently concern about some newspaper advertising. Who had paid for it? How had it come about? It is always important to ensure that those who pay for any kind of advertising are doing it with appropriate and, indeed, legal funds. That has sometimes been a bit of a concern in Ireland, north and south.
However, as the Minister rightly says, it does seem a little strange at this point to be addressing the question of the printed medium. I do not know about the Minister, but I find that although I get more and more material coming to me, less and less comes through my letterbox—almost all of it is now digital. I have to search out printed material if I want to look at that—or, of course, print it out. The Minister has indicated that it is in the Government’s mind—and I know that there has been the Cabinet Office document, Transparency in Digital Campaigning; the consultation was to be finished by the end of last year, if I recall—so if he is able to say anything about that, that would be helpful.
This whole question of digital campaigning is becoming an increasingly serious issue, not just in Northern Ireland but, truth to tell, globally—not so much because it is putting out a message but because the tactic that is being used, the stratagem that has been devised, is to use social media to deepen polarisation. One can see this being done with armies of bots, directed by artificial intelligence, being employed to pick up messages, amplify them and, through that, create deeper polarisation. We have seen it in this country with referendums as well as elections, and in other countries too. Are the Government addressing this question, not just in principle—knowing who produces something and checking that it comes from appropriate funding sources—but whether the tactics are undermining the process of liberal democracy itself? This is becoming a really quite serious question. It is not an easy one. I would be encouraged if the Minister were to reassure me that the Government are actively addressing this question. It is a matter of very real concern.
I thank the Minister for what he has said. I agree that it is not contentious so far as it goes. The real matters of contention are those things that are not addressed, and I hope that in summing up he may be able to address some of them.
My Lords, we hold today’s debate against the backdrop of a global pandemic which seemingly has new variants monthly and has affected so many lives across the United Kingdom. Our councils and local government can and will play a key role in normalising things and getting this country back to work; in particular, in revitalising and renewing our town centres and shopping areas.
As we discuss local government election changes, I believe we ought first to take a moment to acknowledge those who work on the front lines for local government every day across our nation. I offer my thanks to and praise for front-line and public-facing council workers in Northern Ireland and across these isles. As a former Belfast city councillor for 25 years and former lord mayor of the city, I am all too aware of the hard-working council staff in our towns and cities.
Those council workers and others involved in delivering front-line public services, including volunteers, have done a tremendous, heroic job in supporting communities through the unprecedented and unsettling circumstances of the past year. Public-facing council workers have worked throughout the pandemic, and it is right and proper that we acknowledge their efforts.
In relation to the specifics before us, I welcome the amendments to Schedule 9 and thank the Minister for bringing these regulations before your Lordships’ Committee for consideration. I note that for many of us in Northern Ireland, this is not entirely new information. In many respects, we have been ahead of the game, as it were, specifically in terms of highlighting the relevant details; namely, the published inclusion of names and addresses of election agents and printers on leaflets, flyers, posters and various electoral communications. Even on social media in Northern Ireland local elections, you will often find the election agent’s information emblazoned on infographics and social media posts.
Many candidates and parties in Northern Ireland have carried out these practices for a number of full election cycles. Indeed, during my time on Belfast City Council, I often served as an election agent for local council elections. We always made sure to publish the relevant information on electoral communication and posters. I recall one particular election when I, alongside colleagues, had to remove a batch of recently erected, fresh council election posters and individually affix to each poster the published name and address of the printer alongside the election agent, before they were allowed to be erected once more. I believe that we have been ahead of the game; this has been long-standing practice in Northern Ireland elections. None the less, I welcome these up-to-date clarifications.
I wish to turn to one particular issue which remains a concern to many in Northern Ireland in relation to donations from abroad, using certain electoral and other loopholes. These loopholes enable some parties to bring funds in through another jurisdiction, such as the Irish Republic, without requiring the kinds of registration and thorough checking that apply to funds donated from within the United Kingdom. One example of this can be found in a very recent Times newspaper article, which revealed that a number of Sinn Féin staff in the Republic of Ireland donated part of their salaries to the party in Northern Ireland for approximately three years. The Times report highlighted the long-standing practice that exists whereby Sinn Féin party staff in the Irish Republic switched payments to a bank account belonging to the party in Northern Ireland. This policy was adopted after rules on political donations were changed in the Irish Republic, with lower thresholds imposed in 2013.
Decision-makers in that state banned foreign donations to political parties within their jurisdiction. Here in mainland Britain too, foreign donations to political parties have been banned—but in Northern Ireland there remains a significant loophole as it relates to party donations from other jurisdictions, which have been used by some to fund local elections and their party operations. For an all-island party, this has been a useful alternative route whereby donations may be made from individuals, companies and organisations in the Irish Republic to a party in Northern Ireland.
In recent years we have also seen examples of large donations to the same political organisations in Northern Ireland from Australia, Canada and the United States. The question over the need for regulation in respect of overseas donations to political parties has existed for many years. When we discuss local government electoral changes or mention election cycle donations, one cannot help but question why this particular issue has lingered for so long without a real and focused effort to address it head on. Does the Minister share my view that this is a particular issue of concern, when money from other jurisdictions can be continually used to fund the pursuits of a political entity in one part of this nation—indeed, via the only part of this nation where this loophole remains open?
In previous debates, we have heard about foreign money and, indeed, foreign election interference. I can recall a debate in your Lordships’ House some years ago in respect of American election interference. Is it not time that we addressed this issue of foreign sums of money being used within the realms of our own United Kingdom democracy? I am pleased to support the order before us today.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the Minister for the very clear articulation of what this SI says. Reading what we got from the Library and the Northern Ireland Office, I found one or two points where it did not seem quite so clear, and I think that he made a very clear run at telling us what it says. It is also quite nice to speak when the Minister is moving something on Northern Ireland with which I am totally in agreement.
I very much support this order. We should have consistency across the United Kingdom in our elections as far as possible. Sometimes that is not just one-way; of course, Northern Ireland has very sensibly and successfully had photographic ID for elections for a long time, and now the rest of Great Britain is going to follow on that. I think that is very sensible. You do not need a passport or driving licence; the local authority will give you something that shows your identity, which I think is very important. It is not just a case of Northern Ireland always catching up. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said, sometimes we are actually ahead in Northern Ireland.
The imprint issue is important, and this has clarified what will happen in the future. I was also going to raise the question of social media, Twitter and Facebook, all of which are being used much more in elections, so I am very pleased that the Minister has mentioned this. I am interested that there is going to be legislation. Could the Minister give us some timings on that? I think this will be more and more of a problem. Having said that, Twitter and Facebook have brought a lot of people into listening to and being interested in politics who maybe did not or were not before, so we have to be careful in judging social media. There are positive aspects of both Facebook and Twitter, but for elections it is important that there is the same amount of scrutiny of who is posting and promoting things. I would support that, and I would like to find out whether there is a date for legislation coming through.
Finally, could the Minister tell us what is now left? What is the not the same in Northern Ireland as in the rest of Great Britain? It would be useful to know whether we will be exactly identical in our election format, procedures and rules after both aspects he mentioned go through.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the explanation of these regulations, which require on the document the name and address of the printer; the name and address of the promoter of the material; and the name and address of any person on behalf of whom the material is being published and who is not the promoter. I presume that this means the name of the candidate; could the Minister confirm that this is the case? We already provide the name and address of the election agent and the printer at all elections throughout the election cycle, and the candidate’s name is already there, so what is required in addition?
I am all for transparency; I want to see election fraud eliminated. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, said, we were ahead of the game on this issue, but there was a very good reason for that, because there were high levels of election fraud. That is why the legislation was brought in and why we have photographic ID—which works very well now—and complete registers. In that regard, there is a concern, not necessarily that certain political parties have direct access to the electoral register but that they have additional information on voters. Therefore, the issue of the GDPR comes into play. This has been an issue in Northern Ireland which many of us, as members of political parties, have been subjected to. We have been contacted by people realising that certain parties have information about them. This has also been the case in the Republic of Ireland, and very serious issues have been raised about this matter. Are the Government contemplating any future legislation in that regard?
I do not have an issue with this secondary legislation for an imprint, because it leads to greater levels of transparency. However, like other noble Lords, I would like to know the detail of the future legislation in relation to digital imprints—the information that will be required if you are going to publish on Facebook and Twitter—because Facebook is one of the mediums used greatly by political parties, candidates and elected representatives today to communicate their messages to voters.
One of the more worrying features for me is the major threat to political stability in Northern Ireland due to the ongoing internal difficulties in the DUP. I am glad to see that Jeffrey Donaldson will be the new leader, and I wish him well in his new role. There are also the ongoing challenges presented by the exit from the European Union and, as a consequence, the protocol and those difficult relationships between Britain and Ireland. After all, the UK and Irish Governments are the co-guarantors of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. It is important that they are seen to be working together and do work together in the interests of reconciliation, together with the Northern Ireland Executive and the political parties in Northern Ireland.
I can think of one previous Secretary of State, who is with us in this debate—the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen—who, along with his colleague, the then Secretary of State Mo Mowlam, clearly engineered situations to ensure dialogue between the parties and at an intergovernmental level. I would like to find out from the Minister whether the meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference promised for June is taking place this month. It is vital that high-level direction is given by both Governments, by the Northern Ireland Executive—I hope the difficulties can be ironed out—and by leaders of political parties in Northern Ireland, and that the north-south arrangements and the east-west arrangements operate on an equal basis.
I have concerns that there are, I am told, illegal parades taking place without notification to the Parades Commission, which could be in breach of Covid regulations. It is a time for responsible leadership, and we need to ensure that. Above all, we all need to ensure that the power-sharing arrangements are underpinned, so can the Minister indicate when that high-level British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference will take place? We need to see the commitments in New Decade, New Approach—which all parties and both Governments agreed to, and which heralded the restoration of our political institutions in January last year—implemented in full. Can the Minister indicate what work is being done with the Irish Government to ensure that this will take place?
In summary, I have no problem with this order and look forward to further measures to create greater levels of transparency in the digital area and that of recording information about electors, so that potential electors are protected from any nefarious activity that may or may not be going on.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in a debate in which there is so much agreement and consensus; that is not always the case in our Northern Ireland debates in this House. I add my thanks to the Minister for such a comprehensive explanation of the context of this order, which I found enormously helpful and enlightening.
These Benches very much welcome the introduction of this order. As the Minister said, it will ensure that the imprint regime for local elections in Northern Ireland finally mirrors the regime in place for parliamentary elections in Great Britain. This will go some way to improving transparency and open democracy for elections in Northern Ireland, and this is greatly to be welcomed. As my noble friend Lord Alderdice said, Liberals are always in favour of systems that introduce greater transparency and open democracy.
Improving transparency for voters so that it is clear from the election literature who is campaigning and who is supporting candidates at local government elections is something we have long called for from these Benches over many years. It will also introduce greater accountability for political parties, as well as facilitating legal actions and remedies should these become necessary.
However, it is clear from the Explanatory Memorandum that consultations took place back in 2018—three years ago. The Minister explained that Brexit was the cause of the delay, but perhaps he could say a little more about why this has taken three years to come before us today.
These measures were also a key conclusion in the report of the Independent Commission on Referendums, published in July 2018. Can the Minister say what has happened to the associated recommendations from that report? In particular, the distinguished cross-party group that formed that commission on referendums recommended that
“a searchable repository of online political advertising should be developed, including information on when each advertisement was posted, at whom it was targeted, and how much was spent on it.”
Can the Minister say whether any progress is being made on following those recommendations?
The Minister will know that last month the head of the Electoral Commission Northern Ireland again called on the UK Government to change the law to allow it to publish information relating to political donations and loans which occurred before 1 July 2017. The commission’s most recent research in this area, published in February this year, confirms that the majority of the public agree that this information should be publicly available. I appreciate that this is a little beyond the scope of this order, but in the spirit of openness and transparency which this order promotes, it would be extremely helpful to have an update on this matter from the Government. If the Minister is unable to provide a response today, I would be grateful if he might be able to write to me at a later stage.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this very interesting short debate and to make it clear that the Opposition support this statutory instrument. We do so because it makes elections more transparent and because, obviously, it aligns Northern Ireland with Great Britain.
It is 48 years since I first had the effrontery to ask people to vote for me in an election, and in all those years, imprints have been a very important part of any candidate’s or agent’s job. However, it is worth remembering that it has not been quite that easy in Northern Ireland, and that fraud and intimidation have been features of the electoral system there over the last half a century. Of course, it is changing dramatically, and the law changes with it too. However, I can recall that when I first became a Minister in Northern Ireland in 1997, the then Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland came to see me in my office in London and brought with him a suitcase in which were hundreds of ballot papers, every one of which was fraudulent. He was showing me how they were made fraudulently and how real the problem was in Northern Ireland.
An awful lot has changed since that time, but I emphasise that it has been different. There has been a similar situation with intimidation and political donations —certainly those that came from within Northern Ireland. On both sides of the political divide there, people were frightened to reveal that they had given gifts to various political parties for fear of intimidation and threats. It has not been easy, and it is good that we are catching up with the rest of the United Kingdom with regard to how we deal with elections, but it was different.
I have a couple of questions for the Minister. First, I saw from the notes that the department put out that there was a consultation in Northern Ireland on this change in electoral law and that the majority of people supported it, which I do. However, it would be interesting to know whether the minority who did not do so was substantial and what they said that they did not like about this change. Secondly, a number of noble Lords mentioned the important issue of a digital imprint regime and how the world has changed. For most of us, when we started our political lives, digital electioneering did not exist. Now it is becoming increasingly important. Can the Minister confirm that any change in the law on that, which is necessary, will also cover Northern Ireland?
A number of your Lordships have raised issues of stability. Of course, elections have to operate within political stability and I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, about the need for a meeting of the BIIGC—the sooner the better—and that there should be more meetings with all the political parties in Northern Ireland, including with the new leader of the DUP.
However, I also want to point out that with regard to voter ID in the whole of the United Kingdom, which will come before us in separate legislation, it is not as simple as that. My experience over the years has been that we will have problems in getting older people in particular used to that system. There is something to be said for it and I am not suggesting that there is not, but one has to weigh it against the enormous issue of people deciding not to vote at all if a substantial obstacle is placed in front of them. We must acknowledge that, as well as the fact that Northern Ireland is still different. But that is for another day. I give notice to the Minister that we will be discussing that matter in much greater detail in the months ahead.
However, we support the order and I hope that the regime will start as soon as possible.
I start by thanking your Lordships for their broad support for these measures. As the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, said, it is true that it is difficult to achieve a general consensus on Northern Ireland matters and, in general, we have managed to achieve that this afternoon. However, that is not to say that a number of questions were not raised and I will do my best to answer them all.
However, before I go into that, I want to say a word or two about something raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, and some more expansive comments by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy. The noble Baroness is right: she mentioned voter ID and it is true that Northern Ireland is a leader here and at the forefront of that measure, leading the way. The noble Lord related the issue to the rest of the United Kingdom and is right to say that there are some challenges. One that he mentioned was about including older people and getting them used to the system. It is good to discuss it and, no doubt, discussions will continue.
Before I go into the substantive issues raised, I want to say one thing about security or intimidation, to address any concerns that the addition of an address to election material may lead to the intimidation of a candidate, printer or promoter—something that I did not really address in my opening remarks. It is vital for our democracy that individuals are able to engage in campaigning in elections without fear of intimidation. I want to be clear that a candidate, for example, is under no obligation to print their home address on any election material. The Electoral Commission provides guidance that the address provided does not need to be a home address; it may be a business address or, as I did say in my opening remarks, even a PO box. These changes will not, therefore, risk intimidation for any candidate and the existing law provides that the printers must already include details on any election material that they produce. However, it is only right that the people of Northern Ireland have the same levels of transparency and clarity in elections as people in Great Britain. Voters have the right to understand who is publishing and promoting election material. This order, combined with the commencement order, will do just that.
This leads nicely into some points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, who spoke about digital campaigning. I have noted his comments, which were becoming more expansive, I think, and were supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. He asked whether the tactics were undermining the liberal process. That is a very good point, and I am sure that is a subject for future debate.
On digital imprints, just to reassure the noble Lord, we have consulted, and I promise him and others who have raised this point that comprehensive measures will be included in forthcoming legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, asked about the timings on this. I am unable to give any timings on this particular legislation at the moment, but I shall check back with officials. If there is anything more that I can add to that I shall, of course, write.
The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, also alluded to the point that imprint offences are, mercifully, very rare. I inform him that, between 2015 and 2020, only three offences were found to have taken place within the UK, and those were for failing to include an imprint on election campaign material. This perhaps demonstrates how well the current imprint regime in the rest of Great Britain is working. We expect the updated regime in Northern Ireland to work similarly. I hope that that gives some reassurance. It plays well into the point that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, made, which is that we do not believe that this is particularly contentious, and I appreciate that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, spoke about political stability. It is very relevant that this point has been raised. I know that the noble Baroness has spoken about this before, and how important it is to have political stability—to state the obvious perhaps—in Northern Ireland. She spoke, quite rightly, about the importance of continuing dialogue and creating agreement between all parties. On current events, I was pleased that the DUP and Sinn Féin nominated First and Deputy First Ministers last Thursday following the Secretary of State’s intensive negotiations with the parties’ leaders. I hope that the UK Government’s commitment to legislate for the balanced culture and language package agreed on in the New Decade, New Approach deal, should the Executive not do so by the end of September, now means that we can move on to much more pressing issues such as healthcare, education and jobs in Northern Ireland. This Government look forward to working with the whole of the Northern Ireland Executive to address those challenges and embrace the opportunities that lie ahead for Northern Ireland.
This brings me to a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, about the BIIGC. There is a date in the diary of 24 June for that group to meet in Dublin.
The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, asked why this order had not been implemented before—why these changes had not been forthcoming. I cannot really add to what I said in my opening remarks, but I reassure her that, because of the weight of legislation required for our exit from the EU, it really is the case that these changes were delayed. As I said earlier, I am pleased that we are at this point now. It is not that Northern Ireland was entirely without imprint rules. However, the Electoral Commission has felt and has highlighted that the law on imprints in Northern Ireland was less comprehensive than in the rest of the United Kingdom and that it was important that we addressed that properly.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne, said—and he is right—that we should give thanks to those who are in the front line of organising elections. I pay my tribute, too, to those who give so much in terms of public service in this respect. The noble Lord raised a point about foreign donations—Irish donations. Perhaps I can reassure him that all donations to registered Northern Ireland parties from all donors are subject to the rules, and Irish donations are allowed; that respects the Belfast agreement principles. I shall read Hansard but, if he has particular concerns, I shall undertake to write to him on the matter.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, asked about additional requirements in terms of what we are doing today. I reassure her that, as I think I said in my opening remarks, this includes the name of the printer and the promoter on whose behalf the leaflet is published. This is no more and no less, and I understand that this information is usually made available in Northern Ireland. It sets down the requirement in law.
The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, spoke about transparency, which plays rather well into comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. The question of retrospectively opening up historic records from 2014 remains genuinely difficult at a time when threats to elected representatives are all too common and various measures have been put in place to protect those elected representatives. We must be very careful that nothing we do might lead to intimidation against members of the public who donated to parties. We have always been clear that any movement on this issue must have the support of all the parties in Northern Ireland, but I am not aware that any of them have raised the issue of historic transparency with us since we changed the law to bring reporting requirements into line with the rest of the UK from July 2017.
The noble Lord, Lord Murphy, asked about fraud measures in place. I reassure him that they are more stringent in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the UK.
I believe that we are nearing the end of the time, but I hope that I have answered all the questions. However, I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, asked about the consultation. I think I shall write to him on that. He asked about the minority of those who responded to the consultation. I do not have information for him, but I shall endeavour to write.
Again, I appreciate the general support for these regulations, and I beg to move.