On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As you are more than aware, there has been much comment in the House on the Government's policy of financially discriminating against students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland when they seek to attend universities in Scotland. You are also aware, from what the Leader of the House has said, that the issue will shortly come back before this House.
In the House on 23 June, in column 821 of Hansard,the Scottish Minister responsible said that the number of applicants to Scottish universities from the rest of the UK was down to 33,081. The following day, the Prime Minister said:
the number of English students applying to Scottish universities is up, not down. It is actually 33,000."—[Official Report, 24 June 1998; Vol. 314, c. 1047.]
Even in this Government, "down" cannot mean "up". This matter is very important, and I wonder whether you have had any requests for a statement from the Scottish Office or No.10 to clarify it. If not, is it not reasonable for the House to expect clarification before we attend to this important matter next week?
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, I am not responsible for policy matters or for comments made by various Ministers. If he believes that there is a discrepancy, he can pursue the matter by raising it with the Ministers concerned, but he should raise no further points of order. I am not responsible for Ministers' comments. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find a way to raise the matter with the two Ministers concerned or via the Order Paper.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek guidance on a related issue. I have received a written answer from the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), which says that the Government do not collect the statistics on which the statements by the Prime Minister and the Scottish Office Minister were based. Thus, other parts of the Government say that they do not collect the figures that allow them to decide whether the figure is up or down. Which should I take as a more authoritative statement: a written answer from a Minister in the relevant Department; or an oral answer from the Prime Minister to the House?