§ The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)
My right honourable friend the Minister of State has made the following Ministerial Statement.
Last year the Government announced a review of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (Disapplication of Part IV for Northern Ireland Parties, etc) Order 2001.
The order, made under Section 70 of the Act, exempts the Northern Ireland political parties from the requirement to comply with Part IV of the Act for four years. Part IV regulates donations to parties so that foreign and anonymous donations are prohibited.
After consulting with the Northern Ireland political parties, political parties in Ireland, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and the Electoral Commission, and taking into consideration the changed political landscape since the order was first made, the Government are now minded to let the current order expire in February 2005.
The Government recognise that the current funding arrangements lack transparency and that they are open to abuse. Moreover, the current regime creates clear differences between political parties in Northern Ireland, on the one hand, and those in the rest of the United Kingdom and in Ireland in terms of their access to funds.
However, the Government are fully aware of the special circumstances which exist in Northern Ireland both as regards the continuing fear of intimidation of donors and given Ireland's special role in Northern Ireland's political life, as set out in the Belfast agreement. Any new arrangements, therefore, will have to take these important issues into account.
Equally, however, there is a reasonable demand in many quarters for greater transparency and accountability. The Government are, therefore, inviting views on what new arrangements might be made within those objectives, and will aim to announce their decisions by the end of the year. Parties or individuals willing to comment should, therefore, do so by 30 June 2004.
I will, of course, report back to the House in due course.