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ANY NEW 999 emergency service must 'at least maintain and preferably improve' the current high standard of response to calls, John Major insisted in the Commons yesterday. His pledge came shortly after a national petition calling for a halt to proposed changes to the service was handed in to Parliament during a mass lobby. Under the recommendations put forward by Oftel, the regulatory body, the 999 service would be placed in the hands of a new agency by 1995. Mr Major, who was pressed on the matter at Question Time, said: 'I do agree that generally over the years the system has been efficient, though there have been drawbacks.'