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Mr. Forth: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for letting us have the business. May I ask him when the Government intend to bring forward proposals, or a resolution, to enable the Select Committee structure to reflect the recent changes in the structure of Government Departments? Given the right hon. Gentleman's respect for the Select Committee system and the known desire of the House to maintain and strengthen it, we are all keen that those proposals should be introduced as soon as possible.
Given the excellent ten-minute Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) yesterday, may I ask the Leader of the House when the Government intend to do something about the Data Protection Act 1998? My hon. Friend should be praised for bringing this matter to the attention of the House in such a positive way. I know that it is in the mind of the Leader of the House to do something about this, but a lot of time has now passed and hon. Members are getting anxious about it. We would be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman could tell us when the Government are going to seize the issue and deal with it.
On the debate on energy next Thursday that the Leader of the House has just announced, does it not seem a little odd that the Select Committee on Trade and Industry will be on a fact-finding visit to China next week? The oddity is that the Government should select next week to debate energy, because one of the documents relevant to that debate is the Trade and Industry Committee's report on energy. I would not dream of accusing the Governmentor, indeed, the Leader of the Houseof sinister motives or any sort of dodgy conduct in this regard, but, given that we now know that the Select Committee will be away, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to look again, even at this late stage, at the timing of that debate, to give the relevant Committee members an opportunity to participate in this long-awaited debate on a subject for which that Committee has responsibility. I hope that he will agree that that is not an unreasonable request.
For example, following on from the comments that I have just quoted from the Deputy Prime Minister, why were many newspapers quoting Whitehall sources as having denied what he had said? How does blunt truth and honesty come into that? Or to take a different example, when will we get to the bottom of the case of Mr. Hood, that special adviser from the Ministry of Defence who now has a highly paid and cushy job on the back of having been a special adviser? Apparently, on Monday, the Cabinet Office was saying that it had not been part of the process and that there was no need for it to be so, but that is directly at odds with what the Prime Minister said yesterday in column 858 of Hansard. He said that the process of dealing with Mr. Hood
To give yet another example, what about the bizarre episode involving the Press Complaints Commission? Without going into the detailsI am sure that the House would not want me to do so at this stageall that I ask is this: who should we believe? Perhaps the Leader of the House can tell us. Should we believe No. 10 Downing street or Black Rod? It is a pretty simple choice. I do not know which one the right hon. Gentleman believes; perhaps he will tell us. Perhaps we should have an opportunity to debate the matter in some detail, because it touches on some very important issues.
Leading directly from what the Leader of the House said yesterdayand we want to support him in what he saidall that we are asking is that he give his colleagues opportunities to come to the House to correct the record, tell the truth and put an end to all this spin and deception.
Mr. Cook: I am not quite sure how that will be reported in Hansard tomorrow. I was about to begin by welcoming the support of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) for what I am trying to do.
Obviously the right hon. Gentleman has missed our weekly exchanges over the past two weeks, because he has given me a real multiple choice question this afternoon. I shall try to address all his points as briskly as I can.
On the changes to Select Committees, it is a cardinal principle of our departmental Select Committee system that the Select Committees should track the Whitehall Departments. It is therefore necessary that we should put the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee on the same footing as those Departments that now exist in Whitehall. I am keen to make sure that when we do, we do so in a way that ensures continuity of scrutiny of those Departments. For instance, the DTLR Select Committee has just commenced the study of the draft local government Bill that was published yesterday, and I would not want to see that work disrupted.
Before we rise for the summer, I intend to bring before the House a motion that will establish new Committees, but I will do so in way that ensures that there can be continuity of scrutiny and no break between one set of Committees ending and new Committees starting.
Mr. Cook: It is not for me to decide on the Chairmen. I am very grateful to say that it is for the House to decide on the members of those Committees and for the Committees to decide on their Chairmen, thank heavens.
Moving swiftly on to safer territory, on data protection, I can say to the House that I anticipate that before the summer recess we will bring before the House a statutory instrument, and it would be my intention to address the two big problems affecting Members in their constituency work. The first is the rather bizarre argument that we should not be empowered to pass on to any third party what a constituent says to us in our surgeries. That seems topsy-turvy to me; constituents come to our surgeries in order that we then tell someone about their problem. Secondly, we want to remove from those to whom we write on behalf of the constituent any impediment to their replying frankly and openly about what they may know about that constituent's case. That would be of great assistance to Members on both sides of the House and I hope that we can take that step.
On the debate on energy, the right hon. Gentleman has been here as often as me when I have been lobbied from both sides of the House, but particularly from my right hon. and hon. Friends, on the importance of having such a debate. When I announced that debate three weeks ago,