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Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon): I certainly recognise the benefits and the positive things that happened at Doha. The Secretary of State referred to the creation of a free, fair and sustainable trade platform. Does that include the bilateral trade agreements that we have seen over recent weeks, particularly that conducted with Pakistanwhich will be very detrimental to a section of the UK's tradein the absence of any parliamentary discussion of the topic? Was the matter discussed at Doha?
Ms Hewitt: The Doha declaration makes it very clear that there is a role for bilateral and indeed for regional trade agreements within the context of the multilateral agreements led by the WTO. There is a proposal from the European Commission for a bilateral agreement between the European Union and Pakistan on textiles, which are of course enormously important to that country. The United Kingdom Government have considered the agreement
I have personally discussed the matter with the employers and the trade unions in the textile and clothing industry. As I said to them and am happy to confirm to the House, we shall continue to work with our textile and clothing industry to enable it to become more competitive and to specialise in sectors in which we still have competitive advantage. We have already made further changes to the help that we give our industry, to ensure that it can penetrate markets abroad.
Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be interested to hear that I recently participated in a simulation exercise with a number of school children on the issue of world trade and developing countries. Can she tell me and my constituents what benefit we derive from working with our European Union partners within the World Trade Organisation?
Ms Hewitt: We derive enormous benefits from our membership of the European Union: half of our own trade is within the European Union. At Doha, we also saw the strength that we obtain as a member of that larger organisation, in securing a new world trade round that is good not only for Europe but for the developing countries of the world.
Norman Lamb (North Norfolk): I welcome the Secretary of State's references to the importance of capacity building for developing countries. Will she say precisely what action she believes needs to be taken to ensure that developing countries can adequately represent themselves in the next round of talks? I am sure that she will agree that such action seems to be the key to ensuring that there is genuine and fair negotiation between the developing world and the rich northern nations.
Ms Hewitt: The hon. Gentleman is right. The United Kingdom Government had already committed £15 million to capacity building in developing countries, and last week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development announced a further £20 million of programmes. Talking in Doha to Ministers from developing countries, it was very clear that they are enormously pleased by that investment, which is helping them to train officials to take part in often very complex negotiations. I think that we saw this week at Doha very mature and increasingly sophisticated leadership from the developing countries, which, as I said, were able to concert their negotiating strategy in pursuit of their objectives. Consequently, we have achieved at Doha an agreement that is good not only for the developing countries but for us as well.
Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, of which I have given Mr. Speaker and the relevant Minister prior notice. I wish to address the manner in which the Government have announced a relaxation of the rules banning hunting in areas that are free from foot and mouth disease.
Yesterday afternoonWednesdayI received from the Minister for Rural Affairs a substantive response to three questions from three hon. Members, including a question from me that had already received a holding reply. My copy appeared on the board after 6 pm. The answer clearly implied that it would be some timeI took that to mean at least a few daysbefore an announcement on the matter would be made. Driving home last night, however, I heard on the BBC Radio 4 10 o'clock news that an announcement would be made today, Thursday. That news came just four hours after I had received my answer. I believe that earlier bulletins carried similar reports although I did not hear them myself.
The policy was confirmed in an interview with the Minister on this morning's "Today" programme. Indeed, I have now learned that a press conference to announce the decision was held this morning, and that invitations to that press conference were issued shortly after lunch time yesterday. Although the Minister tells me that he regrets the fact that the decision itself leaked, the fact remains that the outside world was being told a very different thing from the information given to hon. Members.
Although my constituents will be pleased with the decision itself, I am left with the clear impression that the Government sought to avoid making the announcement to Parliament and indeed came perilously close to misleading the House. I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you will deplore the seriously incomplete statement made in answer to my questionthe answer should have indicated that publication was due todayand accept that it is compelling evidence that the Government now routinely prefer to communicate their policy to the media rather than to the House.
Mr. Gray: Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker. On 25 October, I asked a parliamentary question on the very same subjectwhen the risk assessment would be publishedand received a holding reply on 30 October. Although I have heard no more from the Minister since, on Monday morning, I was amazed to read in The Daily
Madam Deputy Speaker: Mr. Speaker has made inquiries about these matters and has authorised me to make the following observations on his behalf. I understand that copies of the papers published by the Minister this morning were placed in the Vote Office at 9.30 am today. As Mr. Speaker has told the House before, he deprecates the making of announcements of new policy to the media before the House has had an opportunity to be informed. In addition, in this case Mr. Speaker has asked me to say that he deplores the fact that Ministers did not take the opportunity when replying to written questions on the subject yesterday to indicate that an announcement was to be made today.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As you know, many of my colleagues see you and your colleagues in the Chair as the guardians of the interests of the House and of hon. Members, so I seek your guidance on how we should respond to questions of accuracy in relation to ministerial statements to the House.
The House will be aware that on 5 November the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions made a statement to the House in which he made it clear that at a meeting on 25 July with the chairman of Railtrack, the chairman of Railtrack had sought extra financial assistance from the Government. However, in further comments in the Chamber on Monday and in specific evidence to the Transport Sub-Committee yesterday afternoon, the Secretary of State made it clear that no such request had in fact been made. In a case like this, where there is prima facie evidence at the very least that the Minister has made a misleading statement to the House, how should hon. Members such as myself respond?