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Monday, 15 April, 2002, 11:15 GMT 12:15 UK
Smallpox contract stays in spotlight
Mock-up of smallpox victim
Smallpox is a highly infectious disease
The decision to award a 32m smallpox vaccine contract to a company owned by a 50,000 Labour donor is set to come further under the spotlight.

Senior Labour MP Dr Ian Gibson has tabled a series of parliamentary questions asking about how the contract was awarded and why this particular strain of vaccine was being used in the UK.

We are going to have to look very seriously at government funding of political parties

Dr Ian Gibson
Dr Gibson - who chairs the Commons Science Committee - denied that he was suspicious about the contract.

He said PowderJect Pharmaceuticals was a good company and boss Paul Drayson was an "honourable man".

On Saturday the Conservative Party called for an independent inquiry into the issue.

That prompted the leader of one of Britain's largest unions to warn that many people believe Labour is up for sale to the highest bidder.

TGWU general secretary Bill Morris said: "A lot of people are worried that the Labour Party is abandoning its roots in favour of securing a relationship with business.

"Party leaders have to get a grip. We cannot become a party dependent on big business for funding and administration".

The government has dismissed the allegations saying there has been no impropriety.

Conservative MPs continue to press ministers about the Department of Health's contract to buy up stocks of a vaccine against a smallpox attack by terrorists, although there is no known threat.

Dr Ian Gibson
Dr Gibson has tabled questions about the affair

The government said the contract award, confirmed on Friday, was not linked to the gift.

But Dr Gibson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We are going to have to look very seriously at government funding of political parties to take that kind of perception away.

"I don't think it's sleaze - I think we have seen that over 18 years with the last government - but not with this one ... but there's still a perception on the street as you say."

Tory vice-chairman Tim Collins, referring to previous 'cash-for-favours' claims, has suggested the contract was "another coincidence in a long chain of coincidences after Mittal, Enron and Formula One".

The contract has also infuriated other pharmaceuticals companies.

But Health Minister John Hutton said: "The reason why PowderJect was given the contract, as we've tried to make clear, was for one reason and one reason alone.

"They were the only company which could provide the type of vaccine we wanted as quickly as possible."

The BBC's Sarah Nelson
"Paul Drayson's links to the government have put ministers on the defensive"
Health Minister John Hutton
"PowderJect was the only company who could provide the type of vaccine we wanted"
Dr John Brown of Acambis
"I believe we will be the first people with a fully clinically tested vaccine available"
See also:

14 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Party donation 'link' to jet deal
13 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Cash link to smallpox contract denied
12 Apr 02 | Health
UK stockpiles smallpox vaccine
25 Sep 01 | Americas
WHO warns of bio-weapons risk
21 Nov 01 | Americas
US warns bio-terror 'cure' websites
04 Nov 01 | Americas
Smallpox fears after anthrax
25 Jul 01 | Americas
Q&A: Germ warfare
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