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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Baroness that expansion of trade is the key to the development of many developing countries. We always have in mind that three out of four of the world's poor people live in rural areas and that agriculture represents the best opportunity for them to become more integrated in the world trading system. It is clear that throughout these negotiations the UK has taken a very strong lead in all agricultural issues, and we shall continue to do so. We consider the removal of trade barriers to be as important for developing countries as it is for developed countries, but it needs to be properly sequenced and part of a broader development and poverty reduction plan.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, the Minister said that the UK Government have taken a lead in trying to get some of the farming reforms agreed, and obviously I agree with the noble Baroness that we wish to help the less well off countries to develop their own agriculture. But will the Minister give an undertaking that he will ensure that he does not sacrifice any more UK agriculture, which is very much in jeopardy?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I think I can give that assurance. We want to give a lead but obviously we are always mindful of the interests of British agriculture.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge that Romania and Bulgaria, which are joining the EU, are very poor countries and that half the budget of their absorption into the EU has been borne by the CAP? Does he agree that the 1 per cent limit on the EU budget for the CAP is unrealistic when the Americans have their own £180 billion Farm Act?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, there are clearly a number of objectives here. As government, we have an objective to keep control of the EU budget. Within that, we also believe that there should be a shift away from agriculture subsidies to other areas where investments will be of enormous importance for the future of all our economies in Europe. Those two things have to be balanced.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, following the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, does the noble Lord agree that food security is extremely important and that our food trade gap is huge at present? Does he agree that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said, it is important to encourage UK producers to produce their own food, including vegetables, rather than biofuels?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, food security is an important issue but we should also face up to the fact that the support given to agriculture through
 
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restrictions on market access, domestic support or export subsidies must be looked at in the wider context of the WTO negotiations. Again, we have to balance things, and it is important for Europe that the balance is made in the right direction.

Airlines: Disabled Passengers

2.58 pm

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we have had no discussions with Ryanair, which is not a UK airline. During the UK's presidency of the EU, however, we have given priority to progressing the Commission's proposal for a regulation on air passenger rights for disabled people. That would prevent disabled people being refused carriage on the basis of their disability and would guarantee the provision of assistance without additional charge. As a European provision, it would apply to all European carriers, including Ryanair.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his response. Is he aware that recently nine blind and partially sighted people were ordered off a Ryanair jet and that the excuse put forward by the airline was that the policy had been agreed with the Disability Rights Commission? I have spoken to the chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, Mr Bert Massie, who says that that is untrue. What is true is that that is not an isolated incident but part of widespread discrimination against disabled people by many airlines. Although I welcome what my noble friend has said about working with Europe, there has nevertheless been criticism that the European proposals are too weak and too slow. In negotiations with Europe, will my noble friend ensure that the Government press these points for a comprehensive document and for one that moves rather more quickly than Europe envisages?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful for what my noble friend has said. I wish to confirm to the House that, as the matter involves airlines that are not subject to British law, it is better that we should seek European agreement to a regulation that enforces such rights. We are determined to do that. We expect the regulation to be considered by the European Parliament in November/December this year. On the European front, we are making progress. We are also determined to make progress with British airlines, but many airlines that come to British airports are foreign, so we need a clear element of control, given the fact that the Disability Rights Commission, which has met Ryanair, appears to have had no satisfaction from the meeting.
 
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Lord Renton: My Lords, at the age of 97, I can assure the noble Lord that for the past four years, during which time I have become increasingly disabled, I have, nevertheless, found it easier to take trains for journeys of up to 200 miles inland. However, for journeys overseas and for longer journeys inland there is a great advantage in travelling by air. Will the Minister bear that in mind when making provisions for the future?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I would think that it is a privilege for those who commission travel services to carry the noble Lord. I am glad to hear that he has good experience of British trains. We are, of course, committed to ensuring that every British train will be capable of carrying disabled passengers easily and readily in the not too distant future. That was the subject of legislation this year. As he rightly says, we have progress to make on air travel. I am sure that the whole House would agree that, although we applaud the success of no-frills airlines, which have opened up air travel to people who otherwise would not have been able to afford it, "no frills" cannot possibly mean discriminating against disabled people.

Baroness Ludford: My Lords, the Minister mentioned that he was waiting for the European Parliament to approve the draft proposal from the Commission. I am in a reasonably good position to know that the European Parliament has backed the proposal. I believe that the ball is now in the court of the Council of Ministers and, therefore, with the UK presidency. Will the British Government give a positive response to the European Parliament and the Commission and will they lead the Council to achieve agreement by the end of the British presidency on the well deserved proposal to assist disabled passengers?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful for the comments of the noble Baroness. I had been briefed that discussions at European parliamentary level had not been concluded. We certainly regard it as a matter of some priority. We have made it clear that, during the six months of our presidency, we intend to make as much progress as we can on the matter. So, I can give her the reassurance that she requires.

Lord Rix: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Ryanair's attitude towards disabled people was made clear when it made it difficult for people with a learning disability to enter its aircraft several years ago? Allowing for the fact that Ryanair is not a UK airline, what can the Government do to ensure that UK airlines do not have that attitude towards learning-disabled people in particular and disabled people in general?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we have a code of practice to which British-based airlines subscribe. They are based on the principle of no discrimination.
 
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The question has arisen because of an airline outside the United Kingdom. There was also a case in which Iberia Airlines was guilty of what would appear to everyone in the House to be unfair discrimination. There has been some recognition of the mistake that was made on that occasion, so we are making progress. However, the noble Lord will recognise that we need to make progress on a European basis as well as on a British one.

Lord McColl of Dulwich: My Lords, will the Minister consider taking action to encourage the British airlines to devise a system whereby a disabled person can board a plane in a wheelchair that can then be securely fixed in the cabin? Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to do that.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that may be part of the solution. Not all aircraft can meet that specification, but we are working on the principle that we expect airlines to provide the same consideration for the disabled as other forms of transport. The difference is that it is much easier to legislate for UK-based transport than it is for foreign airlines. That is why we are putting such emphasis on the European directive.


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