HC Deb 08 July 1998 vol 315 cc1071-2
Q4. Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

How can the Prime Minister, as an elected Member of this House, be satisfied that he presides over a Government who, time after time, trail important policy announcements in the press before they are made properly to this House? Is he determined that, in future, policy statements will be made by unelected and unaccountable spin doctors, lobbyists and cronies?

The Prime Minister

In respect of the leak of the strategic defence review, I have made it clear that if anybody in government has been connected with that, they will be dismissed forthwith. The leak inquiry will try to get to the bottom of the matter, but I do not believe that anyone in government has been involved. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in saying that if the review has been leaked not by someone in my party but by someone on his side, that person should be dealt with by his leader.

Q5. Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

Can the Prime Minister confirm that an undiluted, full-strength, 22-carat freedom of information Bill will be in the next Queen's Speech? Does he agree not only that that would redeem a key manifesto pledge, but that it would be the best way to stop lobbyists and other parliamentary parasites trading, because it would, by making Government information available to the many, not the few, devalue the very currency in which they trade?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend appreciates, I cannot start saying what will be in the Queen's Speech, but a freedom of information Act is a key part of our constitutional reform programme. We have set out proposals in the White Paper, and the next step is to publish the draft Bill for further consultation, as we shall in due course. It remains a key Government commitment.

Q6. Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Yesterday, a Labour peer—and former Labour Minister—described the measure whereby students from Northern Ireland, Wales and England would pay £1,000 more in fees than students from Scotland and the rest of the European Union as repugnant and as discrimination against our fellow countrymen. Will the Prime Minister explain why students from Manchester will have to pay £1,000 more than students from Milan and why students from Liverpool will have to pay £1,000 more than students from Lisbon? To get through the message that that is nonsense, will the students have to club together to hire a lobbyist to contact one of his cronies at No. 10?

The Prime Minister

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman paid any attention—I suspect that he did not—to what I said about Lord Dearing, who, as far as I am aware, is not known as a lobbyist. Lord Dearing has rightly pointed out that 354 students from other parts of the European Union are involved. If the proposals were limited to Scotland, the sum of money involved would be only £2 million. However, as Lord Dearing also pointed out, it would be wrong to suggest that students who do four-year courses in Scotland should be treated differently from those who do four-year courses in England—[HON. MEMBERS: "That is what you are doing."] We are not doing that; that is precisely the point. If we were, the cost would be £27 million.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the £1,000 tuition fee will not be paid by the poorest third of students and that the next third will pay a reduced rate. The Conservative party proposals, however, would make all students, from whatever part of the United Kingdom, pay the full tuition fees. That would be wrong and would discriminate against those from low-income families.