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Lord Quirk: My Lords, taking as a measure the number of pupils who get five or more GCSE passes at grades A to C, is it not the case that specialist schools are doing twice as well as the rest of the secondary school system? If that is the case, is it not an indication that the present criteria are working pretty well and that we should in fact be vastly increasing the number of specialist schools?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. On average last year, the 330 specialist schools improved their A to C examination performance by 2.5 percentage points over 1998 compared with an average of 1.5 percentage points for all other schools. Some 16 specialist schools are in this year's list of top improving schools, which is 15 per cent of the list. As regards increasing the number of specialist schools, that is certainly something that the Government intend to encourage. We have already doubled the number of specialist schools from 222 when we came into office to 403 today. I hope that the noble Lord will be pleased to hear that we expect to double that number to 800 by 2003.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House the difference between selection for specialist schools and selection on the basis of ability?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I thought that I would be asked that old chestnut. I am only the last in a long line

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of Members of this House--even of those standing where I am now--to be questioned on the definition of ability and aptitude.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I did not ask that question.

Lord Bach: My Lords, there is no doubt at all that the noble Baroness implied that question. The noble Baroness ought to understand that all schools with specialisms--including specialist schools--can, if they so wish, select up to 10 per cent of their intake on aptitude; not on ability, but on aptitude. The fact is that, among specialist schools, it is thought that fewer than 5 per cent take part in any selection whatsoever. Furthermore, I should like to add that the record of the party opposite in government was appalling in this field and the country gave its verdict on that educational policy in May 1997. Things have moved on since then and it is about time that the party opposite--and in particular the noble Baroness--moved on.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, taking mathematics as an example, perhaps the noble Lord can explain to me the difference between aptitude and ability in mathematics.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I certainly would not dream of taking on the noble Lord in the field of mathematics. However, I believe that the best definition of "aptitude" is that given by my noble friend Lady Blackstone in this House on 11th March 1999. Perhaps the noble Lord heard it himself. My noble friend said:

    "Aptitude has nothing to do with prior or current educational attainment. The code"--

about which she was talking--

    "makes it clear that children who will be able to benefit from teaching in a specific subject or who have demonstrated a particular capacity to succeed in a subject can be regarded as having an aptitude for that subject.--[Official Report, 11/3/99; col. 441.]

In other words, ability relates to attainment already reached; aptitude is as I have described.

Lord Tope: My Lords, did the Minister say in one of the quieter moments just now that only 5 per cent of specialist schools had applied the selection test? If that is right, on reflection will he agree that these Benches were right to argue that facilities in specialist schools should be available to all pupils, regardless of aptitude or ability?

Lord Bach: My Lords, in the real world, the ability to go to a school of this kind is practically universal. So far, the number of people who have been tested in this way is very small. That does not prove the noble Lord or his party right, but these matters are progressing.

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Channel Tunnel Rail Link

2.52 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the developers of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link are required to design and build it so that it can accommodate conventional freight trains and whether freight facilities will be operational at the time that any part of the new railway is available for passenger trains.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): My Lords, the principal objective of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link is to provide a two-track, high-speed passenger line and any freight provision will need to be designed to ensure that that objective is not compromised. Union Railways has given specific undertakings to Parliament to provide certain facilities for freight from the outset. However, the main benefit to freight services will be through releasing capacity on existing lines in the south-east.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, the existing lines through the south-east require freight to take a circuitous route along lines which are already congested. I ask the Minister in particular whether he is in a position to confirm reports in the technical press that the freight facilities which were to be provided under the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act will, indeed, be provided on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, Union Railways gave undertakings to Parliament in 1996, and the new Kent line, when it is built, will be able to carry high-speed freight running at approximately 125 miles per hour. It has been built to the larger continental standards. Therefore, it should have the capacity for faster freight trains and, indeed, for medium-speed freight trains. A problem would arise with slower trains, which could compromise its operating and safety requirements if they run at around 50 miles per hour because a slow freight train takes up the pathways of perhaps three passenger trains. However, be assured that there will be no concessions unless we are utterly convinced that Union Railways is unable to meet its operational objectives.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, does my noble friend share my disappointment that the proportion of freight nationally which is carried by rail is not high? Is not one of the problems that at the time of rail privatisation no single organisation was placed in charge of the strategic development of freight? Is he satisfied that the take-up of track access grants and freight facility grants made available by the Government is adequate to make a difference?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I am pleased to say that since privatisation the growth of

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freight has been 34 per cent. It now stands at approximately 5 per cent of the freight carried. That is obviously quite a small proportion in comparison with road freight. However, there was 12 per cent growth in the year 1997-98. That has gone down slightly in the past year, but growth is continuing.

On the question of freight grants, it is true that we have had a record number of grants--34 last year. We look to improve on that figure this year. In the three years since 1997 we have spent approximately £80 million on grants. That has resulted in taking about 30 million tonnes of freight off the roads and on to rail. And, for a Minister, I am in the highly unusual situation of saying that there is more money there to spend if anyone wants it.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the shippers of freight give as their main reason for not using the Channel Tunnel the very poor quality of freight services in and across France?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: Yes, my Lords. I share my noble friend's disappointment about the difficulty of growing freight through the Channel Tunnel. It amounted to just over 3 million tonnes in 1998. Unfortunately, a combination of the impact of the World Cup and a rash of strikes meant that SNCF gave priority, as it always does, to passenger services, and that figure is now below the 1997 level. However, EWS, the freight company, is co-operating with SNCF to try to improve the situation. We have been working hard by talking to the French in bilateral discussions and working with the European Transport Council of Ministers to try to encourage greater competition in Europe to tackle the bottlenecks and to obtain greater technical compatibility there. I hope that that will make a significant impact when it comes into force.

Farming: Long-term Strategy

2.57 p.m.

Lord Glentoran asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their long-term strategy for British farming following the Prime Minister's visit to south-west England.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, our long-term strategy remains as announced by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture in another place on 7th December last year; that is, to secure a more competitive and sustainable industry with a strong market orientation; to reduce agriculture's reliance on subsidies based on production; instead, to reflect in public support the public benefits that agriculture provides; and to encourage restructuring for long-term economic and environmental sustainability.

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