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Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): The Turner commission on pensions is due to publish its report soon. May we have an assurance that there will be not only a statement when that happens but an early debate in the House on an important matter to the pensioners of today and tomorrow? It appears from reports today that the Chancellor is already ruling out any link between pension rises and earnings. When in opposition, the Labour party supported restoring the link, which is vital for the future prosperity of Britain's pensioners.

Mr. Hoon: I am confident that if there are specific proposals for changes, there will be every opportunity to debate and discuss them in the House. Equally, we anticipate in due course an important report by the Turner commission considering pensions in the longer term, which is vital for all those whom we represent. Let me make it clear that there will be opportunities to discuss that in future.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): To return to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), as today's published report vindicates those many British nationals who were stranded in Thailand at the time of the tsunami who believe that they were badly let down by the Foreign Office—particularly in Thailand, where
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the service offered was totally inadequate—can we ensure that the Foreign Secretary makes a full statement? As the Leader of the House said in answer to earlier questions, we must learn lessons, but in doing so, we must also be able to cross-examine the Foreign Secretary to satisfy ourselves that the lessons have really been learnt.

Mr. Hoon: I have said that the report is important, and that we must learn lessons from what was an overwhelming tragedy not only for the countries affected but for many citizens of this country who were caught up in those terrible events. There is an opportunity next Tuesday, at Foreign Office questions, to begin the process to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, and it is important that we go on learning lessons and subjecting Ministers to proper political accountability.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Is the Leader of the House aware that the fourth Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in a year announced on the "Today" programme this morning that there would be a statement next week on the Turner report? Why is the Leader of the House not able to tell us, when he announces the business, what statements are planned? Is it because, from week to week, the Government are in such chaos that they cannot tell us what the programme will be?

Mr. Hoon: In the dim and distant past, as a very young member of the Opposition Whips Office, I used to admire the skill and ability of the Conservative Whips Office in its management of parliamentary business. I recall asking a similar question from the Opposition Benches on one occasion, and I will give the right hon. Gentleman exactly the same answer as I received—that that is a matter for the Government.

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the scope of the NHS, at a time when GPs are being encouraged by Ministers to turn people away who are not critically ill or elderly? The flu jab costs £25. The average wage is now £12 an hour. Therefore, if the jab prevents the flu, the cost is saved in two hours. Is the universal NHS that we have had now restricted to those with life-threatening conditions?

Mr. Hoon: On the contrary, the Government have made tremendous progress in extending the availability of flu jabs each year. This year, something like 14.6 million doses will be available. In 1997, under the previous Conservative Government, a mere 6.1 million jabs were available. A huge improvement and increase in protection has been made available to the British people under this Government compared with the Conservative one.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on freedom of speech and, as we approach the Christmas season, on freedom of religion? Is it not the case that the Government have passed successive legislation that is creepingly anti-Christian?
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Mr. Hoon: I do not accept that at all. The Government have recently proposed a change in legislation to protect religion more extensively than in the past. Given that the hon. Gentleman has raised this issue, I am slightly surprised that he did not support that legislation.

Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): Bedford hospital, which cares for my constituents, has just closed two wards. It is £8.5 million in deficit, and as part of its recovery plan, has announced a list of further closures. It will restrict neo-natal services for premature babies, stop 10 theatre sessions a week, close a ward at weekends, close the Mulberry unit—the list goes on and on. Those cuts in services are affecting patients on the front line. Will the Minister make time for a debate so that we can all discuss in more detail the NHS deficits that affect all our constituencies, and the effect on the most vulnerable people who need the services?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Lady knows full well that a significant increase in resources has been made available to the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire strategic health authority. If she is not aware of the figures, let me tell her that there are 2,975 more nurses, 659 more doctors and 168 more consultants. That is a huge change in the numbers of people available to serve her constituents. Clearly, they require paying for, but in paying for those extra resources available to her constituents, it is important that the management of those resources is as effective as possible.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): May I re-emphasise to the Leader of the House how bad it looks that we will not have a debate on police restructuring? Given that both Surrey's police authority and chief constable have expressed considerable reservations about the short time scale, have gone through one proposal and are now being invited to consider five different strategic proposals to go back to the Home Office by 23 December, and that the Surrey police authority will manage to have a public meeting on 19 December before their latest submissions go to the Home Office, surely to goodness we can debate the matter on the Floor of the House before Christmas?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman knows full well that this Government have put enormous extra resources into policing—something like an extra 14,000 police officers across the country. It is important that we have the right structures to support those police officers who are doing a tremendous job. That is why we need to debate and discuss these issues, and why I have repeatedly made it clear that the House will have the opportunity to have the debate that he requests.

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Points of Order

12.26 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to follow up the point of order that I raised on Tuesday. As you will recall, I raised the question of the Ministry of Defence holding a press briefing in advance of the publication tomorrow of the National Audit Office's major projects report. You kindly responded that you would look into the matter, and you have written to me, with a copy to the Secretary of State and a copy placed in the Library, saying that you do not find it desirable that a Department should arrange a briefing so close to the publication of the NAO report. I thank you, on behalf of all Members of the House, for your vigilance on our behalf and the protection that you seek to give to us.

Nevertheless, may I point out to you, Mr. Speaker, that the briefing given by the noble Lord Drayson as Minister with responsibility for defence procurement was headed, "Major Projects Report 2005"? When I raised the matter with you on Tuesday, I was concerned that the debate about such an important report, as the Leader of the House knows, in the annual cycle of Ministry of Defence activities might be tainted or pre-empted by the Ministry of Defence, which had sought to present a favourable gloss on it. I understand that I could have had access to that report earlier this week, as you have pointed out to me in the letter placed in the Library. The fact is, however, that Members generally are not able to use those reports until they are available from the Vote Office.

The headline written up by journalists in yesterday's newspapers was that the Ministry of Defence had cut the overspend by £699 million—the precise figure contained in the report to be published tomorrow. I submit that the Ministry of Defence did not say in its briefing to journalists that the NAO's conclusion was that

In other words, the savings have not come from Ministry of Defence efficiency savings but from cutting the capability or numbers of major projects to which the report refers.

It therefore seems that the noble Lord has been somewhat cavalier with the House in presenting a partial view of what the National Audit Office was due to release tomorrow. I have written a note to you, Mr.   Speaker, and I would be grateful if you could consider the matter again on behalf of the House.

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