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Pensions Liability

12. Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): What he estimates the total public sector pensions liability is. [17048]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (John Healey): As was reported to the House last year, the figure stood at around £460 billion in April 2004. Of course, that calculation is based on figures that were published in the 2003–04 resource accounts. Accounts for 2004–05 have still to be finalised and published.
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Mr. Fallon: Does the Financial Secretary know that the latest independent estimate places the figure at more than £700 billion? Given that public sector pensions are guaranteed and that the liability is now so large, why does not he come clean and start including the figure on the public sector balance sheet?

John Healey: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the figures that he cites have been produced using very different assumptions and discount rates. What counts
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is not the construct of the actuaries in creating the figure for public pensions liabilities but how much cash the Government spend each year to fulfil their pension obligations and whether that is sustainable in the long term. We publish that information; it is fully factored into our public finance forecast. We publish it every year in a report alongside the pre-Budget report as part of our long-term public finance report. The hon. Gentleman can study the proper, Government figures alongside the pre-Budget report in due course.

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Business of the House

11.30 am

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): Will the Leader of the House give the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The business of the House for next week is as follows:

Monday 17 October—Remaining stages of the Transport (Wales) Bill.

Tuesday 18 October—Remaining stages of the Identity Cards Bill.

Wednesday 19 October—Opposition Day [7th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate apparently entitled "Government Confusion over Council Tax Revaluation", followed by a debate on emergency preparedness. Both debates arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 20 October—A debate on the Thames Gateway on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 21 October—Private Members Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 24 October—Remaining stages of Electoral Administration Bill.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 27 October and 3 November will be:

Thursday 20 October—A debate on the report from the Home Affairs Committee on terrorism and community relations.

Thursday 3 November—A debate on the twenty-seventh annual report from the House of Commons Commission.

Chris Grayling: I am grateful for next week's business.

I am sure that the Leader of the House accepts that there is much to discuss after the recess. Does he agree that we need early opportunities to question Ministers and debate the things that are going badly wrong in the national health service? May we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Health on the financial crisis that affects many primary care trusts around the country? I am sure that the Leader of the House knows that vital services are being cut in many places, including mental health services in Oxfordshire, services to the elderly in Surrey and even operations for children at Great Ormond Street.

May we have a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer about his strategy for getting value for money for taxpayers? Will he explain in particular why the NHS is cutting services in many parts of the country when overall NHS funding is rising fast?

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 752, about the Government's programme of hospital closures?

[That this House recognises the excellent service provided by community hospitals in affording locally accessible healthcare; deplores the current programme of
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closures that conflicts with the Government's commitment to community hospitals given in its 2005 manifesto; notes the strength of public opinion in favour of community hospitals; recognises that the cost of treating a patient in a community hospital is often significantly less than the cost of similar treatment in a district general hospital; further notes the potential loss to the NHS of dedicated staff when a community hospital closes; further notes that bed blocking in large acute units is exacerbated by the absence of step-down care; and calls upon the Government to conduct a review of closures and to recognise the potential for community hospitals to carry forward its plans for locally delivered healthcare.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman provide an early opportunity in Government time to debate that early-day motion so that he and his colleagues have a chance to explain why, having given a commitment in their manifesto to support community hospitals, they have decided to close them instead?

Does the Leader of the House agree that the Public Accounts Committee should conduct an inquiry into why many NHS facilities, such as Bolingbroke hospital in Wandsworth and Westbury hospital, are being downgraded or closed soon after expensive upgrading programmes?

Will the right hon. Gentleman provide for a debate in Government time on the cost to the taxpayer of regular Government reorganisations? I am sure that he remembers the Government, shortly after coming to power in 1997, scrapping county-wide and regional health authorities and creating the smaller primary care trusts and strategic health authorities. Now, things are coming full circle. The authorities are all being merged to recreate the same bodies that the Government scrapped eight years ago. May we have a debate on why that is good value for taxpayers' money?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman obviously has not spent his summer recess productively or usefully. I would have been delighted for him to accompany me to see the remarkable changes that extra spending on the NHS is delivering throughout the country. I would be very pleased if the shadow Leader of the House came to Ashfield, where he would see plans for a remarkable new hospital. I have seen those plans for myself, and I know that similar plans are being replicated right across the country. That is the result of the extra spending that the Government have put into the national health service since 1997. That extra spending was desperately needed because of the underfunding by the previous Conservative Government.

Regarding the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we have just had an hour of questions to the Chancellor. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not organised his Back Benchers more effectively to raise the issues that he mentioned at such times. However, I am confident that the Chancellor has no difficulty in dealing with these rather poor questions about funding. It is absolutely clear that this Government are investing more in the national health service than any previous Government in history. That is the message that the hon. Gentleman needs to understand. If he would like me to, I will
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organise a programme of visits for him, so that he can see the excellent work that is being done right across the national health service.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend will know, we are now half way through our presidency of the European Union. Will he find time for a debate on the progress that has been made during our presidency, particularly on the decision to open talks with Turkey—we had a statement on that from the Foreign Secretary this week, but these are substantial issues—on progress with Croatia, and on the progress with the EU budget? At the end of our presidency, there will be a debate on what has happened during it, but would it not be a good idea to have it while the presidency is ongoing?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend and I have both had the privilege of being the Minister for Europe, and we know how difficult negotiations can sometimes be in the European Union. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of the European Union, on succeeding in the negotiations on 3 October in respect of Turkish membership and in relation to Croatia, as he set out in his statement to the House the other day. I shall give some thought to my hon. Friend's suggestion about a debate on Europe before the end of the presidency. As he said, the House always has such a debate at the end of a presidency, and I anticipate that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will keep the House up to date on developments such as those that arise from the informal summit that will take place shortly. However, I will certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's suggestion.

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