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Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House why the fast-track scheme was withdrawn by her department last month? As a result of the fracas, what plans does she have to reinstate it?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the assessment course to which I referred has been offered by the University of Gloucester for some years. I shall have to write to the noble Baroness about her specific question. In order to generate the increasing numbers of teachers in the profession—we have the highest number of teachers since the early 1980s—we have sought to diversify the different routes by which people can come into the profession from employment, initial teacher training and the routes that we have been talking about in relation to the independent sector.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the key problem is not so much the lack of teaching qualifications on the part of potential teachers of mathematics who have mathematical qualifications, but the lack of mathematical qualifications on the part of many of those in state secondary schools who are currently teaching mathematics? What do the Government propose to do about that?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we are very conscious of that problem. The noble Baroness will know that the figures for mathematics vacancies have dropped by half over the past two years.

We are looking to increasing the number of mathematicians in training. But, nevertheless, we have a significant number of teachers of mathematics who do
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not have post-A-level qualifications. The new remit of the Teacher Training Agency, which will come forward in the Bill, will make it clear that there will be a strong professional development route that it will take charge of, with a much greater subject focus. That is certainly one way, with additional courses and training, in which we hope to close those professional gaps.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I taught various Members of this House who have not done too badly in later life, although I have no qualifications. While I would not say the word "talent", does not the Minister think that it has worked? Why be rigid about this? Is the Minister prepared to accept the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Walton, a professor, can be refused the right to teach? I did it.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am sure that the former students of the noble Lord in this House are a great credit to him, and I would quite like to know who they are. Clearly at least one has made it to the Front Bench.

I shall reiterate what I have said. Far from closing off the routes for quality teachers with experience, energy and commitment, we want to see them come back to the state sector at whatever stage they are prepared to do so. However, we have to ensure that qualified teacher status is a high and uniform standard. That must remain our primary concern.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, as a governor of the school of which Mr Jones-Parry is headmaster, can I ask the Minister to correct the Hansard reference? His name is not Mr Parry-Jones.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, all Ministers make mistakes of that kind, but I stand corrected and I am mortified. I shall certainly see what I can do.

Railway Franchises

Baroness Scott of Needham Market asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, potential bidders are already able at pre-qualification stage to state their track record and the Strategic Rail Authority has taken this into account. This process will be refined further following the recently published White Paper, The Future of Rail, which proposes that evaluation of past performance will be a factor in awarding franchises.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Is he prepared to say whether the new refinements will include improved transparency both for the industry and for passengers?
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Does he not concede that where there are examples of perfectly well run franchises being replaced by operators with a less good record elsewhere, it leaves open the question that bidders have offered too much for too little, and that at some point the public will be required to bail them out?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, although past performance is to play a part in the criteria, the House will recognise that the main features of those criteria are the nature of the bids and commitment to the improvement of the future service. Those will be the most important elements of the criteria for all bids. However, it must be recognised that past performance does have its part to play, although the Government, on behalf of the community, have a direct interest in ensuring that bids promise both improved performance and can establish the basis on which that improvement can be achieved. That is what we expect to see in the bids for the considerable number of franchises which will fall due in the fairly near future.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, in declaring an interest as someone who has used the train to travel backwards and forwards between Manchester and London for more than 40 years, can I ask my noble friend to emphasise in his assessment of these matters the fact that Virgin Trains, which presently runs the service, has now come up with Excuse No. 75 for its delays and cancellations? I hope that he can give an assurance that both past and current performance will play a part in assessing whether that company's franchise should be renewed.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I hear what my noble friend says and I am aware that many Members of this House and of the other place have suffered considerably as a result of the under-performance of the West Coast Main Line over the years, together with a significant section of our community. However, it will be recognised that a substantial element of those delays has been related to the renewal of the track, which has involved massive investment over the past decade.

I emphasise a point that I have made on previous occasions: this is the busiest main railway line in the whole of Europe. As a consequence, renewal of the track has presented some significant problems. Nevertheless, Virgin Trains will have to stand the test of past performance, and no doubt it will attest to the fact that its cross-country services have performed somewhat better than the West Coast Main Line. However, it is certainly the case that the criteria that will be established for operating the West Coast Main Line will take into account the fact that the substantial investment in track renewal on the line is now nearly complete.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, in the Government's White Paper, The Future of Rail, published in July, the Secretary of State announced plans to hand over
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responsibility for rail services in London to the Mayor. Can the noble Lord say what role Ken Livingstone will have in awarding new franchises for London?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, under the present arrangements, the Strategic Rail Authority will continue its role so far as concerns franchises, but the noble Viscount will recognise that it needs to take into account the local dimension of the services being provided. Not all franchises cover long-range, cross-country routes, and those which operate for London commuters are of great significance to the London economy and London society. Around 1.5 million commuters travel into London each day and therefore it is not surprising that the Mayor of London expects the local voice with regard to the provision of rail services to be heard at the appropriate time.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, turning to the case of the east coast franchise, which is being subject to the process of bidding at the moment, does my noble friend agree that it would be deplorable if a quality provider of the service were to be ditched in favour of an operator who offered just a cheap and cheerful one by proposing, for example, to take out train catering? What more does GNER have to do to demonstrate that it should win the franchise again, given that the franchise has cost the taxpayer nothing in terms of subsidy and, indeed, is contributing £6 million, as well as substantially increasing the number of trains and the number of passengers using them?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I shall not make a judgment from this Dispatch Box on the bidders invited to tender for that particular franchise. I have indicated that past performance will play its part. Moreover, my noble friend is right to point out that GNER can boast of a good performance. Nevertheless, let me be absolutely clear: future commitment and plans will be the main criteria for a successful bid. So far as the east coast franchise is concerned, other bidders are submitting strong bids, and of course under procurement law we must be fair to all bidders—new ones and those operating the existing franchises—when we invite bids.

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