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.