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Mr. Cook: That is entirely a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. As I said, it does not assist the question of ministerial accountability to Committees of the House for that accountability to be passed to other Ministers. Treasury Ministers have in the past been perfectly willing to appear before the Transport-Sub Committee in respect of matters for which they are ministerially accountable. It is absolutely right that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions should account to the Committee for matters for which he is responsible.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): As we now know, it took only seven months in New Zealand, nine months in Australia and 12 months in Canada, so does my right hon. Friend agree that it is frustrating that in the United Kingdom it should take almost four years to implement freedom of information legislation? Given some of the clauses of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, will he find time in the near future for a debateor at least a statementon the implementation of the freedom of information provisions?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is uncharacteristically unfair about the proposals. He will remember that the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 provided that the Act would be implemented in a five-year period. In fact, we are to bring it fully into force a year earlier than that, but it is not a matter of waiting four years for implementation: the roll-out of the Act's provisions will start next year. It conforms entirely with the advice that we have received from the person appointed to oversee the implementation of the Act's procedures that it should be done one part at a time, so that we can gain experience and properly train and prepare staff to bring the measures into existence. It is a massive public administration undertaking and the House should not understate it. Broadly, there has been a welcome for the way in which we are proceeding with itstarting next year and completing by 2004.
Bob Spink (Castle Point): Will the Leader of the House convey my thanks to the Government for finally offering
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the way in which we are proceeding. He is correct: talks are currently under way with the commercial manufacturers to try to find a financially viable and clinically acceptable way forward. I am not medically qualified, so I hesitate to comment on the particular parameters he imposes on the study, but I hope that we can reach agreement on it.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Two weeks ago, on 8 November, Garry Fagan of Kegworth in my constituency was among the group of 12 plane spotters who were arrested in southern Greece. The position is rather more serious than the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) suggested. Those 12 British citizens were charged with espionage on 12 November, and some or all of them may face even more serious charges next week, on 27 November. I am reassured as to the extent of consular and family contact, but will my right hon. Friend use his influence either to obtain a statement, to initiate a debate in the House, or to speak to colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which he led with such distinction, to ensure that they take a close look at a case that is starting to spiral in the most worrying fashion?
Mr. Cook: I fully appreciate my hon. Friend's concern and can well understand the deep concern that must exist in the family he represents. I am pleased to tell him that the Foreign Office has already been in contact with its opposite number in Greece. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe raised the case of the 12 people who have been detained with the Greek Foreign Minister only a week ago. We shall continue to take every action that we can to ensure that we draw the attention of the Greek authorities to the deep concern in the country and in the Chamber on this matter.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Following the questions put by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the need for an urgent debate on the working of the Select Committee system, does the Leader of the House not realise that the Chancellor is demeaning his office, and that it is for the Select Committee, in the exercise of its prerogative, to decide which persons and which papers to summon? It is not for Her Majesty's Government to decide which Minister should or should not go. If the Chancellor is to do his duty to Parliament, and to our constitution, he has an obligation to attend.
Mr. Cook: I do not think that anybody can accuse Treasury Ministers of not carrying out their obligations to Select Committees. Earlier, I gave the House some examples: the Economic Secretary appeared before the Transport-Sub Committee on landfill tax and the Financial Secretary on green taxation. The reasons for their appearance before the Committee had everything to do
Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): If my right hon. Friend has studied the school league tables that were published this week, he will have seen that the selective system of education in Kent is failing hundreds of my constituents by creating sink schools that do no one any good. My right hon. Friend has just announced the Second Reading of the Education Bill. If, on Second Reading, we find that changes to address the system of selective education and to make it a practical possibility to hold a parental ballot on the subject in Kent have inadvertently been omitted, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Committee and Report stages are programmed in such a way that we can thoroughly debate appropriate amendments to make those changes to the Bill?
Mr. Cook: I fully understand my hon. Friend's concern. He is right to take the opportunity to stress the case for fair treatment of all the schoolchildren in his constituency. We are some way away from the Report stage of the Bill to which he referred, but I shall bear in mind what he said when we come to that point.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney): Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), if we cannot have another day's debate on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, could we at least have a debate specifically on the powers that the Government have taken to pass into British law anything agreed by European Union home affairs and justice Ministers without introducing a proper Bill in the House? Last night, we had just 14 minutes to discuss an enormous constitutional change. I am sure that the Leader of the House will have seen, as I have, early-day motion 452 in yesterday's Order Paper. It states:
[That this House congratulates the entertainers comprising Puppetry of the Penis on their work to raise awareness of testicular cancer; notes that testicular cancers are the most common cancers in men under the age of 40; further notes that each year approximately 1,500 men in the UK develop the disease; further notes that testicular cancer is one of the most curable malignancies if caught at an early stage but that 81 per cent. of males do not know how to conduct a self-examination, further notes that self-examination is quick and easy and can form part of a regular awareness regime; and draws hon. Members' attention to NHS Direct's information webpage on this subject which will be of invaluable use during Check Your Tackle Day on 21st November.]
I accept that that is important, but have we reached a stage in the House where there is time to check your tackle, but there is not time to check the Government's legislation?
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman's closing line was beneath the dignity of the House and the seriousness of fighting international terrorism. I remind the House that when we met in the recall days immediately after
Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford): I should like to raise with the Leader of the House an issue that affects every taxpayer in the country, and urge him to raise it with the Chancellor. I am referring to yesterday's debate on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. There was no opportunity to discuss part 3, which relates to the Inland Revenue's ability to disclose information on personal tax records; colleagues on both sides of the House were deeply disappointed about that. Part 3 represents an unprecedented breach of personal confidentiality. The danger to the Chancellor is that there will be a significant problem in raising Government revenue. I therefore urge the Leader of the House to ask the Chancellor to make an early statement to the House that would establish clearly whether our constituents' tax records are dealt with by the Inland Revenue in complete confidence.