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Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006

Part 3: Donations for Political Purposes

Section 10: Introduction

51.Currently, donations to political parties are regulated by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (c.41). Donations to political parties registered in Great Britain or Northern Ireland are regulated under Part 4 of that Act. Under that Part, political parties may only accept donations from permissible donors, and must declare the source of any donation over £5,000 to the Electoral Commission. The effect of the “permissible donor” system is to prohibit overseas donations. The system relies for its effectiveness on transparency of donations to parties.

52.In Northern Ireland there has been concern that donors would not want their details made public because of the potential for intimidation. Therefore, in February 2001 an order was made under Chapter 4 of Part 4 of the 2000 Act providing that, in relation to Northern Ireland political parties, the requirements of Part 4 were to be disapplied for four years. The order also disapplied the provisions of Schedule 7 to the 2000 Act in relation to “regulated donees” in Northern Ireland.

53.A further order extending the disapplication was made in the spring of 2005 (Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (Disapplication of Part IV for Northern Ireland Parties etc.) Order 2005 (SI 2005/299) (“the Disapplication Order”)) and is due to expire on 14th February 2007.

54.The Government announced on 24th January 2006, following consultation, that it intended to: introduce more transparency into the donations process by requiring Northern Ireland parties to submit reports to the Electoral Commission; guard against intimidation by maintaining the confidentiality of legitimate donors; and limit donations to Northern Ireland parties from overseas, whilst recognising the special position of Ireland in relation to Northern Ireland’s political culture. This Part of the Act therefore aligns controls in Northern Ireland more closely with those in England, Wales and Scotland. It provides for a transitional stage, under which Northern Ireland parties and regulated donees will continue to be exempt from Part 4 until the end of October 2007. After that, they will be required to comply with most of Part 4. However, initially they need not make their donation reports public; instead the Electoral Commission will check privately for compliance with Part 4. Also, Northern Ireland parties and regulated donees will continue to be able to receive donations from individuals and bodies entitled to donate to Irish political parties under the law of Ireland.

Section 11: Part 4 of the 2000 Act: the final disapplication period

55.This section extends the disapplication of Part 4 of the 2000 Act in relation to Northern Ireland until 31st October 2007, but otherwise replicates the provisions of the Disapplication Order. The order is overtaken by the section.

56.The section also repeals the provisions of the 2000 Act that allowed disapplication of the Part 4 controls in Northern Ireland. Hence the period ending on 31st October 2007 will be the last period of disapplication and is known as the “final disapplication period”.

Section 12: Extension of categories of permissible donors

57.When the final disapplication period ends, Northern Ireland parties and Northern Ireland regulated donees will no longer be exempt from the prohibition on accepting overseas donations generally. They will, however, still be able to accept donations from Irish citizens and other Irish bodies who can currently donate to Irish parties, in recognition of the special place Ireland occupies in the political life of Northern Ireland. Section 12 inserts new sections 71A to 71C into the 2000 Act in order to achieve this.

58.New section 71A specifies the “Northern Ireland recipients” who will be able to receive these donations (Northern Ireland parties and Northern Ireland regulated donees). New section 71B provides for the two additional categories of permissible donors in respect of Northern Ireland recipients: citizens of Ireland and bodies (companies, trade unions, clubs etc) that are permitted under Irish law to donate to political parties in Ireland. These donors will have to meet prescribed conditions to be eligible to donate.

59.The power to prescribe conditions in relation to Irish donors will have a dual purpose: to allow the donations controls to keep pace with any changes to Irish law, without the need for further primary legislation; and to ensure that criteria can be set that allow the Electoral Commission to check that donations from Irish donors are permissible (see Schedule 1 regarding the Commission’s duty to verify donation reports).

60.New section 71C will prevent Northern Ireland parties from making donations to parties or regulated donees in Great Britain. This will maintain the existing position, and will mean that the section does not affect donations controls in Great Britain.

Section 13: Supplementary provisions

61.Section 13 makes supplementary provision in relation to section 12, including provision to prevent Northern Ireland parties from making donations to candidates standing for election in Great Britain. This reflects the current position.

Section 14: Modifications during prescribed period

62.This section provides that the modifications of the 2000 Act set out in Schedule 1 to the Act apply to Northern Ireland recipients during the “prescribed period”. The prescribed period is initially from 1st November 2007 until 31st October 2010, but the section gives the Secretary of State a power to extend it by order by up to two years at a time.

63.After the prescribed period has expired, the 2000 Act provisions will apply to Northern Ireland without the modifications. The effect of the modifications is explained below.

Section 15: Power to make provision in connection with permissible donors

64.This section gives the Secretary of State the power to make an order modifying legislation connected with permissible donors or donations for political purposes. The power may only be used after consultation with the Electoral Commission, and any order made under the power is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure in both Houses of Parliament.

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