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Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have been following with interest details in the press of what is happening with ntl and ITV Digital. My hon. Friends the Members for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) and for Battersea (Martin Linton) and others met my hon. Friend the Minister for E-Commerce and Competitiveness this morning. We discussed the implications for competitiveness, the digital action plan, and for hundreds of jobs in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Lady is not getting us off to a good start. We do not want statements; we must have questions. A great many hon. Members wish to speak, and I appeal to them to be very concise.
Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. Will he be able to find time for a debate on education? That is especially important, given that the Chancellor produced only a minimal amount of money for education in yesterday's Budget statement, and that there will be a national announcement on class sizes next week. My own local authority, Stockport, still receives £830 per child less than neighbouring Manchester. I know that the hon. Members for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins) and for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) are in the Chamber and that they share my view about the need for a debate.
Will the Leader of the House also find time for a debate on House of Lords reform? A remarkable silence seems to have fallen on that matter, which has led to rising fears of a split in Government thinking on what is a very important matter.
Will the Leader of the House also arrange for a debate on the state funding of political parties? A wide range of views appears to be emerging from the Cabinet, and some clarification of the Government's approach would be helpful. It might also help to clarify the Conservatives' approach. They have recently sent out an invitation to a
Mr. Cook: Perhaps I can suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he might usefully reread the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget statement yesterday. He will find, at column 588 of Hansard, a strong commitment from this Government to investment in education. The Chancellor clearly stated that not only did we increase the share of the national income going into education in the last Parliament, but we fully intend to raise it again in the course of this Parliament. Next to health, education is a priority for this Government's investment in public spending and we are proud of that record.
On Lords reform, the hon. Gentleman made the preposterous suggestion that there was a split within the Government on this question. As he is interested in progress on this matter, however, I advise him and the House that, this morning, I believe, the Lord Chancellor has given an interim response to the Select Committee. Of course, many of the major questions that must be addressed are those that we are considering in the period of reflection following the consultation. I assure the House that, as soon as we have reached a conclusion on this matter, I shall bring it to the House in the expectation of support. I hope that the unity that will then be shown in the House will reflect the harmony and unity within the Government on this question.
I am slightly surprised, however, that the hon. Gentleman should express concern about different views within the Government on state funding. We have made it clear, and the Prime Minister has made it clear, that we would welcome a public debate on the matter, and it is very important that members of the Cabinet should be free to take part in that public debate without necessarily first adopting a collective line and then seeking to impose that collective line on the party, on Parliament and on the public. I said the other day, and I am happy to read it into the record, that in 1974 I stood on the commitment of my party to introduce state funding. I believe that it would have been better had we acted on it then. Political parties are an important part of the parliamentary process. One cannot have a parliamentary democracy without healthy political parties. It is very important that we identify the least unacceptable way of making sure that they are healthily funded.
Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish): Could we have a debate early next week on the future of the London underground before the contract for that is signed? Is the Leader of the House aware of the very considerable concern in the Select Committee that the Chancellor or one of his Ministers is not prepared to come before the Select Committee to justify the policy that he is pushing through, which would be disastrous for the London underground?
Mr. Cook: I have, of course, seen the Select Committee report, and it is on a matter on which we have had exchanges in the House previously. My position remains the same as when we last had an exchange on this point. Treasury Ministers are willing to come before any Select Committee provided that it is on matters within the remit of the Treasury. That is why a Treasury Minister has appeared before the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee to consider matters in relation to the landfill tax, for instance, and has appeared before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on a similar tax and duty issue. It was a very important principle of ministerial accountability that those Ministers with responsibility for transport or local government, for example, should appear before the Select Committee and give evidence and answer questions on those matters. It is very important that we preserve that principle of ministerial accountability because all Select Committees would be undermined if it were broken.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): Will the Leader of the House find time today to look at the case of Paul Drayson, who is the chief executive officer of PowderJect. One moment he gives £50,000 to the Labour party and, lo and behold, the next moment his company gets a £32 million order from the Department of Health for smallpox vaccine. That contract was not put out to open tender. Surely we should consider this matter. Is not a pattern of sleaze emerging in which we are seeing cash for favours? Can we have a debate on this, please?
Mr. Cook: First, PowderJect won that contract because it is one of five companies that bid for it, and it put in the best tender. That is why it got the contract; there is no other reason. If the hon. Gentleman really wants to have an honest and open debate on this question, there is one simple way in which the Conservative party can help.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): Events in the middle east have dominated the world headlines in the past few weeks, but another equally serious dispute has been raging in the state of Gujarat. The official figures for the number of dead there are 900, but the real figure is likely to exceed 2,000. As serious allegations have been made against the state government and, indeed, against the national Government, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement to be made in the House so that those hon. Members with many people in their constituencies with relatives and friends in the region can be made aware of the true facts?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises a grave issue that is of deep concern to many communities in Britain because of the strong ties between our country and the sub-continent. I have followed with deep concern the mounting death toll and will look with interest at recent reports. I cannot promise him a statement, but I shall certainly draw his observations to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and will invite him to write to my hon. Friend.
Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): With reference to the answer that the right hon. Gentleman gave me last week saying that he stands ready to amend the data protection legislation so that Members of Parliament will be able to represent their constituents more adequately, will he tell us the Lord Chancellor's view on the matter?