The Independent prides itself on having intellectual debates on any issue, but the story "The great animal rights betrayal" (13 November) was not based on knowledge of the facts. I am not scrapping animal welfare legislation. The Animal Welfare Act makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal, and ensures that people responsible for an animal must take reasonable steps to ensure its wellbeing. We constantly look to improve the welfare of animals, but any decisions taken must be based on sound scientific advice rather than just listening to pressure groups, however well-meaning.
The Farm Animal Welfare Council has provided that independent advice. It is a body of highly qualified scientists and veterinarians. The decisions I have taken are based on their advice, including on beak-trimming and game birds.
In reporting the decision to protect the welfare of chickens until a beak-trimming ban can be safely implemented, you brushed over the other advances for the welfare of chickens I announced last week – to fight the import of eggs from EU countries that haven't implemented the ban on conventional cages by 2012, and to set, for the first time, a maximum stocking density for meat chickens.
We will prosecute any abattoir that does not maintain high standards of welfare as long as our case will stand up in court – but we can't use evidence that has been obtained illegally. Groups like Animal Aid can help us; but that help must be legal, otherwise we'll be laughed out of court.
I'm happy to debate with anyone on animal welfare issues. But let's have a debate based on facts, not a personal, distorted opinion of what we are doing.
Jim Paice MP
Minister of State, Defra
There is no evidence to suggest that "the proposed game-bird cage ban would have improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of the 40 million game birds bred annually for shooting", not least because the original code did not actually ban the use of "cages". The agriculture minister James Paice revisited the legislation because the previous government ignored the advice of its own experts.
From that measure to the badger cull, Mr Paice has made some tough decisions based on a deep knowledge of farming and the countryside. He could have easily shied away from making them just as a host of urban-based ministers have done over the past decade. Happily he seems to know the difference between genuine animal welfare measures and animal rights.
Director of Campaigns
I was foolish enough to vote for the Liberal Democrats in the last election, hoping that they would be able to form a coalition with a Labour Party that was going to struggle to form a government in its own right. Since that time, barely a day has gone by when I have not found cause to regret that decision, none more so than after reading your article .
As someone who was born in the country and continues to work in it, I was appalled to read about this government's plans to roll back or stall animal welfare reform.
I do not see myself as a stereotypical "tree-hugger", having had occasion to hunt for my dinner when living in more remote parts of the world, and do not have a problem with people choosing to use animal products if these have been produced in an ethical way. However, the treatment of animals reared on intensive farms, shoddy slaughterhouse practices and the abuse of animals in circuses should be a cause for national embarrassment, and not to be swept under the carpet as this administration seems intent on doing.
To make matters worse, instead of taking a critical look at intensive farming's role in the rise and spread of diseases such as TB, the badger will once again be scapegoated (despite the science to the contrary).
The Government is stalling on measures to improve animal welfare in factory farming, but need it all rest with the Government?
Unethical practices in the farming industry develop and continue because the most powerful force in the retail market, we, the shoppers, tacitly approve them. Most people if confronted would be appalled at the conditions under which some factory farmed animals are kept.
Supermarkets hide their "freedom food" away shyly on the top shelf, if they offer it at all. Is there not one among them who might trust the public and run a full-scale promotional and educational campaign? Is the niche really too small, or will we sadly never find out?
If the public spoke on this issue, then some government measures would not even be necessary. A nation of animal-lovers?
I was moved and saddened upon reading "The great animal rights betrayal".
Why don't egg and chicken producers who do not trim beaks say so on their labels? Ideally, beak status would be required on all labels, but as such a requirement would be fought tooth and nail (beak and claw?) by producers who do trim, maybe we can foment a movement for a voluntary system.
Then, market pressure would increase the demand for fully beaked bird products.
Many, many thanks for the front page article "The great animal rights betrayal". It made me proud to have a connection with The Independent.
The information you gave us is truly horrifying, and yet distressingly consonant with the Coalition's general attitude towards those who cannot speak for themselves, towards the disadvantaged and the needy, and with their determination (as it is coming to seem) to sacrifice these in the alleged interests of cutting statist interference and concomitant costs.
What is going to be the long-term result of people hearing from the very top that the welfare and feelings of sensate beings are unimportant compared with the freedoms of money-makers and (as in the caged game-birds issue) the totally unnecessary pleasures of a small elitist minority?
Bishop's Castle, Shropshire
The watering down of animal welfare legislation should come as no surprise. Deregulation is integral to the neo-liberal philosophy espoused by Cameron and Clegg.
It's all part of the same process that ensured the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the gulf oil spill in the US. It's called "small government". Protections that we have previously taken for granted in the workplace, in the food industry, on our roads and in other aspects of daily life will continue to be eroded until enough people relearn the lesson that the one thing worse than too much government is too little.
I feel I am inhabiting a country which has been invaded by a savage foreign power that is destroying the decades of progress – inch by hard-fought inch – on animal welfare, and 60 years of my life's aims.
Oxford reaches out to all schools
Oxford University's very extensive work with schools and colleges operates through three strands of activity, one of which is about providing information and guidance to all potential Oxford applicants, from all school types ("Oxford targets Britain's top private schools", 15 November). Given that independent school candidates make up 33 per cent of all those in the UK achieving three As or better at A-level, it is not surprising that this information-based work brings us into contact with the sector. It would be quite wrong of us not to provide information to all able candidates, just as every other university does.
The other strands of work are about encouraging more applications from under-represented groups of students, particularly in the state sector; and raising aspirations towards higher education as a whole, not specifically Oxford.
What the figures really show is the sheer quantity of work we do with state schools. Oxford's admissions team ran 5,500 events over three years, of which around 80 per cent were with state schools. I would challenge anyone to find another university that has done so much work with the state sector.
Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Oxford University
The statement that the Oxford Classics Faculty last year organised 154 outreach events with independent schools and only 83 with the state sector distorts what is actually going on.
First, many events hosted at independent schools are under the aegis of the local area Classical Association and are open to schools from both sectors.
Second, whenever I receive an invitation to speak, the one condition I place on acceptance is that all schools in the surrounding area be invited to attend. In many cases this is already standard practice for the host institution. Where a school seems intent on ensuring that only its own pupils have access to my lecture, I make it clear that I cannot come.
Professor Matthew Leigh
St Anne's College, Oxford
Time to take up the bus pass
There is another good reason, not mentioned by your previous correspondents, for allowing all pensioners to have a free bus pass.
Twelve months ago at the age of 81 I had a TIA (a "mini-stroke"). Fortunately I was not driving when it struck, but half an hour earlier I had been, and could have involved not only myself but others in an accident. I had four days in hospital, made a good recovery, was told not to drive for 28 days and then after that it was my own decision. I decided to sell my car and not to drive again as we have a reasonable bus service.
I do miss the convenience of having a car. Every journey takes two to three times as long. Had I had to pay for every bus journey I would have been tempted to carry on driving.
As we age, eyesight, hearing and reaction times deteriorate, and the knowledge that we may be slowly becoming less safe is hard to face. Free bus passes may help to persuade many of us to give up driving sooner rather than later.
Paris, city of sound sleepers
Why "wake up" Paris ("Wanted: ideas for how to kick-start Paris nightlife", 13 November)? Why shouldn't Paris become the city of sleepers?
Indeed, Paris can't be the "city of lovers" and the city of clubs at the same time. Lovers drink a wonderful wine while they taste a delicious meal but they certainly do not get drunk after drinking a bucket of vodka. Then, lovers walk in Paris, along "les bords de Seine", but don't vomit on each other, in a noisy club full of drunk people.
So, instead of fighting for Paris to wake up, we would rather promote this difference. Paris used to be the fun capital of the world; it's not any more: no matter. Let's look at Europe as a marvellous place where people can both have a lot of fun, enjoying debauchery in cities like Berlin or London, and benefit from a high quality of life and sleep in Paris.
A free press in straitened times
Alexander Lebedev is spot on with his assertion to the Society of Editors that a free press is "a defence against tyranny, corruption and injustice". And, by and large, the serious papers around the world, among which I would include The Independent, The New York Times, Corriere della Sera and Le Monde, fulfil that function.
While these papers have influence well beyond the size of their readership, in that they provide much significant material followed up by the rest of the media, they operate in an economic climate where a populist press is not guided by principles such as Mr Lebedev promotes. I fear that with the squeeze on editorial budgets in all sections of the media, the role of the free press is becoming ever harder.
John Lichfield, (Notebook,15 November) refers to current French expressions. "Ouf" is now used mostly as part of "verlan", the street slang of inverting letters in popular words. "Ouf" is in fact "fou" (mad) as in "it was crazy" – "c'était un truc d'ouf."
Perspectives on cutting the budget deficit
The left has yet to come up with a sensible plan
Johann Hari's article of 12 November shows a misunderstanding of J M Keynes's brilliant economic insight. Of course, Keynes did not favour moving towards a balanced budget during an economic slowdown. But he also did not favour running budget deficits during the upturn phase of the economic cycle.
That is the mistake that the Labour government made, as the UK had a public sector deficit of over 2 per cent of GDP in 2006-07, the last full year before the crisis started to unfold. This deficit was caused by increasing public expenditure over the years to 2006-07 at twice the sustainable growth rate in the economy, without raising taxes enough to pay for it.
The depressing feature revealed by Johann Hari's article is that the debate seems to be divided between those like him who object to any specific actions to reduce the deficit and those, such as George Osborne, using the crisis to advance a "small state" agenda, with measures that are significantly greater than are needed to deal with a structural deficit of about 5 per cent of GDP. The Government is aiming for cuts that are too deep, by £25bn-30bn a year, and are trying to make them too quickly. But if those who oppose the Government's plans carry on in denial of the reality that considerable reductions are needed, many of which will have to be painful, then the Government will win the argument by default.
We need a coherent, centre-left plan for dealing with the structural deficit, and of that there is no sign.
Major surgery needed
Those who demand that there should be no fees, no cuts, no job losses offer no suggestion for where the money should come from to permit this dreamworld scenario. Is attacking the police and smashing windows the only argument that students and lecturers can muster?
It is ridiculous to damn Nick Clegg and others for having the intelligence and strength to realise that given the state of the country and its finances there cannot be anything other than major surgery.
What the Coalition Government is asking is that the universities and the students must look very closely at the cost-efficiency of the whole higher education process, just like any other business or individual is having to do. If this means dropping some subjects to be able to channel money into other more beneficial areas or cutting back on other expenses in order to keep fees low, then so be it.
To many who will suffer real hardships because of the legacy of the previous Labour government's economic incompetence, leaving higher education exempt from sacrifices and progressive change is unacceptable.
Take pride in hard work
I am shocked at what I have read on your letters page (15 November) regarding the proposed welfare reforms. Your liberal correspondents do not seem to understand the problem.
I have worked every year bar one since leaving school at 16. My tax has been used, quite rightly, to support those not able to work or made redundant. I have worked hard to get to where I am and done many different things, for many years paid well below what would be considered a living wage today. But I wanted to work whatever the work was because it enriched my life. I made friends, learnt new skills and took pride in doing a good job.
If everyone had this attitude and stopped seeing a job for the bottom line this country would be a much happier place and we wouldn't need these reforms.