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World Trade Organisation

8. Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment he has made of the EU's contribution to the World Trade Organisation ministerial talks in Hong Kong. [40204]

11. Christine Russell (City of Chester) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the consequences for the EU of the outcome of the World Trade Organisation ministerial conference in Hong Kong; and if he will make a statement. [40207]

The Minister for Trade (Ian Pearson): The World Trade Organisation ministerial conference in Hong Kong made some progress, but it was less than we had hoped. It agreed improved market access for the poorest countries and an end to export subsidies by 2013, but we aim to reach a more detailed and ambitious agreement
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by the end of April, and constructive engagement from all WTO members will be needed if we are to meet that deadline.

Jim Dobbin: As the Minister has said, the EU has made some progress, but the expected benefits from the enlargement process, which I support, have been made more difficult to obtain because of the failure adequately to reform the common agricultural policy. Will he confirm that the Foreign Secretary will continue to encourage the reform of the CAP, so that accession countries and developing countries can benefit from global investment and greater access to world trade?

Ian Pearson: The UK Government are totally committed to further reform of the CAP. The reform of the sugar regime has begun recently, and we expect to see further reforms. My hon. Friend may have seen the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs document, which was issued just before Christmas, outlining the Government's policy on the CAP. We should continue to maintain a high level of ambition on the Doha development agenda and use the next six months to continue working together with our international partners to secure an ambitious outcome to the round. It is not only the EU, but the US which must do more on agriculture, and Brazil, India and other countries must play their full parts, too.

Christine Russell: What exactly does my hon. Friend plan to do in the way of having discussions with EU member states that are likely to block the early phasing out of farm subsidies—France and Ireland in particular?

Ian Pearson: The European Commission has a mandate which Peter Mandelson, as the EU Commissioner,
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negotiates on our behalf. We need Europe to move further, but to achieve that we need movement from other countries as well. We need progress from the United States, as well as a response from Brazil and India, on all the different aspects of the WTO Doha development agenda dossier, including non-agricultural market access and services. Significant progress is required on agricultural reform, non-agricultural market access, services and trade facilitation. That is the task that we all have to face up to over the next months.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): What sort of Foreign Office phrase is "a high level of ambition"? I do not know who drafted that in the Minister's private office, but he knows that nothing meaningful will now happen until 2013. Europe has passed the buck on this. We will not see a decent reform of agricultural subsidies until 2013. The Americans are not going to reciprocate. Phrases such as "a high level of ambition" are therefore completely meaningless. The Doha development round will not be a development round at all.

Ian Pearson: I am afraid that I have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. It is completely wrong to give up on the Doha development agenda. We have to work for an outcome that will really deliver for the world's poorest nations. There is a lot at stake here. A 1 per cent. increase in sub-Saharan South Africa's share of world trade would produce an additional £70 billion in income. That is a prize well worth fighting for. We all need to redouble our efforts to ensure a successful conclusion to the Doha round, with a high level of ambition for the world's poorest countries.

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Points of Order

3.32 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have on several occasions made clear to this House the importance of Government Ministers making new policy announcements to this House before they do so to the media. Today, the Prime Minister and 16 Government Ministers have been around the country launching the Government's new policy on antisocial behaviour and the respect agenda. May I seek your guidance as to how we can ensure that in future the Prime Minister and members of the Government show the appropriate respect to this House; or are we to assume that there is nothing new in this policy announcement at all?

Mr. Speaker: I do not know about that assumption. Let me say to the right hon. Lady that I understand that a written statement was supplied by the Home Secretary on this matter, so at least the Government have given us this information through one of their Ministers. I also say to the right hon. Lady that there is nothing to prevent her, as a member of the Opposition Front Bench, or any of her colleagues, from seeking an urgent question. I give no guarantee that it will be accepted, but that does not prevent her from doing so. In this case, I think that it is a draw.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You must be aware that the document to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) refers contains phrases such as, "we will legislate", "we will take targeted action", "we will expand", and "we will take a new approach". Surely, in a Government document, that is a clear indication of new policy, yet no Minister has had the courage to come here and be questioned on that policy. Written ministerial statements are not good enough—we want to question Ministers on new policies.

Mr. Speaker: As I said to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), there was an opportunity to table an urgent question. That can be borne in mind for a future occasion, when the right hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to question Ministers as he sees fit.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that part of the proposals on antisocial behaviour is of special concern to many constituents and colleagues in Hertfordshire. We have not had the opportunity to learn from the Prime Minister, who made the statement today, what the proposals are. Is it within your power to ask the Prime Minister to have respect for the House, come here and give us a chance to ask questions? I understand that the Prime Minister is asking for parents to have lessons in respect. Perhaps you should have the power to make the Prime Minister have respect for this place.

Mr. Speaker: Obviously I have every respect for the House and I want that to continue. I stress to the hon. Gentleman that Prime Minister's questions are tomorrow, when hon. Members will have an opportunity to catch my eye and question the Prime Minister on the matter.
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Bus Services

3.35 pm

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I beg to move,

In essence, I seek to put the customer first in the relationship with bus companies. As the House knows, since the deregulation of bus services by the previous Administration, standards have varied across the country. Some areas have enjoyed excellent provision while elsewhere services have been sparse. Many hon. Members believe that deregulation was a mistake and that services have suffered as a consequence. Tempting as it is to try to present a Bill to reverse the Transport Act 1985, today I am simply going to deal with two matters: the unilateral removal of services and the needs of the least mobile passengers.

I shall outline the deregulation provisions in the 1985 Act, which a helpful briefing from the Library describes. Proposals to deregulate local bus services were published in 1984 in the White Paper, "Buses" and a subsequent series of more detailed consultation papers. They were brought into effect by part I of the 1985 Act, which abolished road service licensing in Great Britain, except in London, from October 1986. The Act replaced the licensing system with a system of registration and removed the duties of local authorities to co-ordinate public passenger transport in their area.

Individual bus operators were responsible for timetables and the introduction of new services depended on the operator's opinion of the demand for them and their commercial viability. There was no requirement in the 1985 Act or its regulations for the commercial bus operator to consult before making changes to the timetable and the position of bus stops.

The criteria for registration did not include any reference to public demand or existing services, and objections could no longer be made by other operators or local authorities. Passenger transport executives—PTEs—and county councils were given powers to secure, using subsidy, socially necessary services that were not provided by the commercial market. Controls over those services, such as fare levels, type of bus and so on, could be maintained. Operators had the right to participate in concessionary fare schemes and the PTE had powers to compel participation in them. Operators were to be reimbursed for the net financial loss incurred by such participation.

I have been trying for some time to get companies to consider the needs of hospital visitors and patients as well as those of the young, elderly and disabled, not all of whom always get as good a service as that to which they are entitled. Out of the blue, I was told at the end of last year of a series of cuts and service changes—a euphemism for more cuts—that would occur on 8 January on routes covered by First. First's headed paper has the strap line, "transforming travel". It should say, "transforming travel for the worse".

Needless to say, the company did not think it appropriate to consult the local Member of Parliament. Although it apologised for the fact that I discovered its
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plans through a member of the public, consultation was clearly not going to take place in any case. In a half-hearted grovel, it went on to say:

In other words, it was going to withdraw them irrespective of anything that I said. This was a fait accompli; any representation that I or anyone else made would be ignored.

I wrote to the company on 29 November to advise it of my intention to raise the matter in the House. However, all I have received since then is a vague letter inviting me to meet its representatives after the services have disappeared. I hope that my hon. Friends in the Department for Transport will take note of this lack of courtesy to the House and to the people of my constituency.

Just as an aside, I must point out that the same company has invented a story about the future of its depot in Ellesmere Port. It claims that it faces a situation in which

A good excuse, perhaps, if it were true. However, my research shows it to be a distortion. In fact, the landowner, Shell, has provided me with a history of the site, and it is quite clear that First is not being forced from it. However, First's lack of candour is typical of its general approach.

I am pleased to say that there is good news in all this, in that Arriva has agreed to take over the services. First did not think that the services were commercially viable, but Arriva is prepared to run them. Indeed, it has made a particular point of using low-floor vehicles, which takes me to the second point in my Bill, namely the needs of less mobile people. While I welcome progress that has been made by the introduction of more accessible vehicles, the House should be mindful of the fact that we are a long way from achieving 100 per cent. coverage by this type of vehicle. I fully recognise that there are cost implications involved, but I urge my friends in the Department, in local authorities and in bus operating companies to give a high priority to meeting this need.

My Bill would also require companies, when establishing timetables, to make allowance for the time that it takes for the less mobile to get on and off buses. None of us should ever have to hear complaints that a bus would not wait to allow a person to get a wheelchair or buggy aboard, or that a driver would not wait for a
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slower person with learning difficulties. These are all real examples of cases that have come to my attention as a Member of Parliament. Timetables must meet the needs of all passengers, but particularly those less likely to have access to a car. Part of this problem results from a lack of awareness of the needs of disabled people by drivers and other staff, but I am not seeking to blame them. Their employers should be required to take responsibility for ensuring that they receive proper training. I would prefer to achieve the solution to this problem by gentle persuasion, but I want to leave scope in my Bill to require the provision of such training.

None of these proposals is intended to place unreasonable burdens on the good operators. My intention is to try to stimulate a debate to raise standards in the important area of bus provision. I also want to use this opportunity to make it clear to companies such as First that the way in which they treat Members of the House who are acting on behalf of their constituents needs to be looked at carefully, to say the least. The notion that a company of such stature can simply withhold information from a Member of Parliament about things that are happening in his or her constituency is unacceptable. The notion that such companies can tell us things that are stretching a point or are inaccurate is also clearly unacceptable.

I am pleased to see the Minister with responsibility for bus services in the Chamber, and I hope that my hon. Friends in the Department for Transport will take on board the points that I have raised. I hope that colleagues will support my proposals here today and encourage the regulated and deregulated parts of the industry to raise their game.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Andrew Miller, John Bercow, Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods, Helen Goodman, Mr. Kevan Jones, Dr. Ashok Kumar, Andrew Mackinlay, Bob Russell, Ms Angela C. Smith, Angela Eagle and Dr. Brian Iddon.

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