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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 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 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
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, 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.
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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