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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the solution is to approve drag hunting, which has all the advantages of galloping over wonderful country in costume and not the disadvantage of cruelty to the fox?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, certainly that is a proposed alternative. I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Denham, would agree with the thrust of the noble Earl's question. Drag hunting would have the benefit that it could not fairly be described as "the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable", which was Oscar Wilde's view of hunting. In any event, the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable has now been taken over by Mr. Tyson and Mr. Holyfield.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, last weekend the Prime Minister sent a message of support to the Gay Pride march. Is the Minister aware that on Thursday another minority group, people who live and work in the countryside of our nation and not just those who support hunting with hounds, is gathering in Hyde Park because those people feel that the voice of the countryside may not be listened to in this House and another place? Will the Prime Minister, who said that he would govern on behalf of the whole nation, also send a message of reassurance to the countryside rally on Thursday?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, your Lordships will be shocked that I myself was not

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consulted by the Prime Minister as to whether or not he was going to send a message of support to Gay Pride. The noble Baroness makes a very serious and well taken point. I shall certainly undertake that her request is transmitted to the appropriate quarter. It is important that everyone in our community is listened to. I myself live in the country. I do not hunt foxes but some of my best friends do so. It is very important that people who think they are in a minority should have their voice clearly listened to. Perhaps I may say that they are very fortunate indeed to have the voice of moderate, rational reason, which is always the voice of the noble Baroness.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, is the Minister aware that his assurance that everyone will be listened to is extremely welcome? Is he further aware that many people are worried that Ministers in particular, of all governments, listen carefully but, having done so, turn and go in the opposite direction to that advised?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord knows perfectly well that he and I often sat late at night on opposite Benches under the last regime; his comment is well justified.

Lord Monson: My Lords, will the Government also consider making available, though it is not a Stationery Office publication, the report of the expert scientific committee chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, published about 20 years ago, which established beyond doubt that fish feel pain and suffer from stress just as much as mammals?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am not sure that it is for the Government to disseminate the report of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. It is available. It is well known. And those who wish further argument for their views will dip in as appropriate.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, the report to which my noble friend refers covers many aspects of controlling wildlife. Can the Minister assure us that any review that is performed will look at the whole aspect of looking after rabbits, hares, otters and all other such animals? Will it also look at the whole question of trapping, gassing and poisoning as well as hunting which should be taken into consideration? The issue is how to control animals as well as how to prevent cruelty.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is extremely important that the welfare of all animals is carefully attended to. Whether it is wise to have a panoramic review of every single aspect of mistreatment of animals is questionable. What is likely to be before your Lordships if it passes another House

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is a Private Member's Bill which will be dealt with in the usual way. That seeks to outlaw the hunting of wild mammals with the use of hounds.

Higher Education: Dearing Report

2.52 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they propose to promote public debate within and beyond Parliament on the future of higher education in the United Kingdom after the publication of the Dearing Report.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, the report of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education is expected to be published later this month. At that point the Government will make a Statement and invite comments on its recommendations, with the intention of making a fuller response later in the year. The Government will also take into account the wide range of consultation already undertaken by the National Committee of Inquiry.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, will the noble Baroness accept that urgency and importance push in different directions in relation to the report? The budgetary squeeze on universities is sufficiently acute for many of them to want to take decisions before the 1998 year. The importance of this for the future of universities suggests that a period of consultation--which may, for example, be from late July to late September, when most of us are on vacation--will not necessarily be such as to encourage wide public understanding.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am fully aware, having been the head of an academic institution myself, that universities are, in part at least, on holiday during August and September. However, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware, many people in universities work extremely hard even in August and September. It has been known for a long time that the date of publication of the Dearing Committee's report would be towards the end of July. Most academic institutions and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals are well aware of that fact.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the University of Oxford's congregation met only once in August in the past 50 years? That was to acknowledge and receive a major private benefaction. Where there is money on the table, universities will ignore their so-called holidays.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, it is wise of them to ignore their holidays when there is money on the table.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that during the previous administration it became the practice of the Conservative Government to consult on

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major changes in education during the summer vacation period? That gave a bad name to that government in regard to public consultation on significant issues. Can the Minister assure the House that that will not be the practice of the new Government?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that that will not happen. Perhaps I may put a little flesh on what I said earlier. The Dearing inquiry has already consulted widely in drawing up its recommendations. During the course of its work it received written evidence from 840 individuals and organisations and had 150 meetings with interested parties. Therefore, there has already been an enormous amount of consultation. Moreover, on the day of publication I plan to write to the representative bodies enclosing a copy of the Government's Statement and inviting comments on the recommendations addressed to them. We shall be listening to what people have to say throughout the summer and, indeed, in the early autumn.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I welcome the statement about more discussion. Has the Minister considered--I have heard rumours to this effect--how replacing A-levels with a baccalaureate-style examination will affect university funding? I ask that in view of the fact that all our neighbours who use the baccalaureate always have four-year university courses, and Scotland, which has the equivalent of the baccalaureate, also has four-year university courses. Therefore, if the baccalaureate is on the cards, has the Minister given thought to the effect on funding?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, this supplementary question is rather far from the Question on the Order Paper. However, I am happy to say that a consideration such as whether a baccalaureate should be introduced would take into account the position of higher education and of the universities in particular. Perhaps I may add that no decisions have been made about introducing a baccalaureate and any suggestions in the press that indicate that are inaccurate.

Commercial Vehicles: Weight Limits

2.57 p.m.

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any plans to amend the Construction and Use Regulations to provide for an increase in axle or gross weights of articulated commercial vehicles. In doing so, he declared an interest in that he is president of the trade association affected by the legislation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, when the United Kingdom's derogation from certain of the European Community weight limits expires on 31st December 1998 we will allow increases in the

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weight limits for articulated vehicles on international journeys from 38 to 40 tonnes for vehicles with five or more axles and from 35 to 38 tonnes for vehicles with four axles. In both cases the drive axle weight limit will be increased from 10.5 to 11.5 tonnes.

The previous government issued a consultation document which invited views on, among other things, a possible general increase in the maximum weight limit to 44 tonnes for certain six-axle articulated and drawbar vehicles. We are considering the responses and, in particular, the possible effect of any increase in maximum lorry weights on rail freight.

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