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8 Nov 2000 : Column: 220W
Deeside, with particular reference to small and medium-sized enterprises; and if he will make a statement. 
Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) are currently responsible for assessing the skill needs of employers in their areas--including small and medium-sized enterprises, and for working with local authorities and others to promote local action to meet those needs. I understand that the National Assembly is supporting this process through commissioning research under the Future Skills Wales study, which provides information on skill needs at TEC area and local authority level. From April 2001, the responsibility for analysing and addressing local skill needs will fall to regional offices of the Council for Education and Training in Wales.
Mr. Barry Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales (1) what consultations he has had with the First Secretary concerning the provision of skilled persons in the engineering industries; and if he will make a statement; 
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I understand that the National Assembly liaises closely with the Engineering and Marine Training Authority (EMTA) and other national training organisations on the skill needs of the engineering industry and will take account of their views in drawing up an employment action plan as part of the National Economic Development Strategy.
Mr. Barry Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what consultations he has had with the First Secretary concerning the number of houses built by local authorities in Wales since 1990; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Barry Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what consultations he has had with the First Secretary concerning the requirement for skilled persons in Alyn and Deeside, with particular reference to the aerospace industry; and if he will make a statement. 
I understand that the National Assembly, the Welsh Development Agency and the Training and Enterprise Councils have been working with the aerospace sector to help overcome recruitment and training difficulties. For example, the Assembly has part-funded a collaborative project with the industry to meet training needs arising out of new British Civil Aviation Authority requirements.
Mr. Kidney: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the adequacy of the training of RAF aircrews in laser-guided bombing performance; and what plans he has for improving it. 
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Mr. Spellar: As we have acknowledged in the publication 'Kosovo--Lessons from the Crisis', the RAF already has a well-practised low-level all-weather attack capability. Given the strong possibility that future operations could, as in Kosovo, be conducted at medium altitude, we have considered how best to be prepared for such an eventuality. Precision guided munitions, including the RAF's Laser Guided Bombs (Paveway II and Paveway III), achieved good results in the Kosovo crisis. The RAF had built up their precision attack capability as a consequence of lessons from the Gulf War and this paid dividends, with the laser-guided systems performing well and in accordance with expectations. Nevertheless, the limitations of our current laser-guided systems in poor weather were highlighted.
I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave on 30 October 2000, Official Report, column 272W, to my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) about plans for improving laser-guided bombing performance. We intend to procure an interim all-weather precision guided bombing capability for the RAF and have selected Raytheon Systems Corporation to supply the RAF Tornado GR4 aircraft, subject to the successful completion of contractual negotiations, with Enhanced Paveway Bombs.
Mr. Alasdair Morgan: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if Crown immunity applies to the Torrs Warren Range at the head of Luce Bay, Galloway; and if such immunity extends to prescribed sea areas adjacent to both that range and Kirkcudbright Ranges, Galloway. 
Mr. Spellar: Crown immunity is an expression used by lawyers to refer to exemptions for the Crown which appear in legislation. Whether or not the Crown is exempt from certain legislation in respect of the sites in question will depend on the precise terms and effects of that legislation.
Mr. Keetch: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, pursuant to his answer of 30 October 2000, Official Report, column 276W, what percentage of Army commitment and what interval between deployments his Department assesses to be optimal in order for overstretch to be alleviated; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Spellar [holding answer 6 November 2000]: We concluded during the Strategic Defence Review process that for the Army, six-month operational tours and an average interval between tours of 24 months are optimum for operational effectiveness and retention. We do not identify an optimum percentage figure for commitment levels, which are a reflection of operational deployments. Whether such deployments are sustainable depends on a number of factors, including the nature of the task and duration of the commitment, which are not reflected in overall percentage figures on commitment levels.
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Mr. Spellar: Royal Navy nuclear submarines are subject to a rolling programme of planned inspection and maintenance. The periodicity of this work is designed to ensure the safety of the nuclear reactor and the submarine as a whole. For example, certain reactor protection systems are inspected every 24 hours, while some hull and support system components are examined every few months. In addition, there are major overhaul periods, which can take some two years to complete, when further inspections are made.
Mr. Simon Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what effect the cracks in the cooling system of HMS Tireless will have on the immediate environment; and if the cracks resulted from a design flaw in the nuclear submarines. 
Mr. Spellar: Since her arrival in Gibraltar on 19 May, HMS Tireless has undergone routine radiation monitoring and has had no effect on the immediate environment. During her repair, no radioactive contamination of any kind will be released into the environment either within HMS Tireless or externally in Gibraltar. All nuclear waste arising from her repair will have extremely low levels of radioactivity and will be returned to the UK in specially constructed tanks.
At present there is no evidence to suggest that the defect found in some, but not all, hunter-killer submarines, has resulted from a design flaw. It is feasible that the defect could have arisen from the manufacturing process when the submarines were built or have some other origin. The analysis of the evidence collected so far is, as yet, inconclusive.
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