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8 Jan 2004 : Column 438W—continued

Road Signs/Markings

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what guidelines apply on the use of (a) road signs and (b) road markings in national parks. [145761]

Alun Michael: The national requirements for road signs and road markings are specified by the Department for Transport, principally in the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 (SI 3113/02).

With the agreement of DfT, highways authorities may make limited modifications to meet any special local considerations such as those which might apply within a National Park.

US Vessels (Decommissioning)

Mr. Jack: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the Environment Agency's handling of the ghost ships. [146368]

Mr. Morley: As the competent authority in England and Wales for the relevant controls, the Agency agreed in July to the import of the ships from the US for dismantling in Hartlepool. It became clear, however, that not all the required permissions for the dismantling facility were in place, and since the arrival of four of the ships in Hartlepool, the Agency has taken steps to prevent any dismantling work on them.


Public Appointments

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Minister for Women what recent assessment has been made of the participation of black and minority ethnic women in public life. [146257]

Jacqui Smith: The latest assessment (March 2001) showed minority ethnic women held only 2 per cent. of all national and regional public appointments. The Cabinet Office is developing a Public Bodies and Public Appointments database that will include information on diversity. This will underpin information that is held by individual Departments. To mark Black History Month in October 2003 my officials in the Women and Equality Unit produced a fact sheet, available on their website which gives more information about Minority Ethnic Women in Public Life.

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Gender Budgeting

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Minister for Women what discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on gender budgeting. [146250]

Jacqui Smith: I have had no specific discussions with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on gender budgeting, however I have jointly sponsored, with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, a pilot project on gender analysis of expenditure.

I believe gender analysis of expenditure can be an extremely useful tool in both policy development and evaluation. My officials in WEU have worked closely with HMT during the pilot project, with DTI being one of two Departments taking part. Lessons from this project will be used to inform further work in this area.

Occupational Segregation

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Minister for Women what assessment has been made of the contribution of occupational segregation to the skills gap. [146254]

Jacqui Smith: Within the recent Skills Strategy, 21st Century Skills, Realising our Potential, we have highlighted the challenge in making real improvements in raising the skills level of our workforce. We know that the majority of working women are concentrated in just five occupational groups which are often low paid and low skilled. For example 89 per cent. of hairdressers and beauticians are women and in a survey their average pay was found to be the second lowest of all occupations 1 .

Some sectors identified as having significant skill weaknesses, such as Construction and Transport and Communications, have extreme occupational segregation. Only 9 per cent. of the workforce in Construction are women and 24 per cent. in Transport and Communications.

While we cannot entirely influence women's career choices, both the Skills Strategy and our recent Innovation Report identifies some of the levers to improve skills levels and for the UK to have a highly educated workforce with a culture of lifelong learning. To do this we have made a commitment to provide better information, advice and guidance on skills, training and qualifications so that people know what is available to them.

We have identified that our young people need to be properly prepared for the world of work. That is why we have commissioned a Working Group, chaired by Mike Tomlinson to advise on the development of more coherent vocational programmes for 14–19 year olds to ensure they have the necessary skills for employment and adult life. We want both girls and boys to make informed choices about their vocational routes and our Modern Apprenticeships will help support young people in their career choices and to improve their workplace skills, particularly at craft, supervisory and technician level.

Our Employer Training Pilots, introduced in September 2002, is designed to increase the demand for training by reducing barriers and providing training in more responsive ways. Over 20,000 learners and over 5,000 employers are now engaged. Trends show that

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overall there is a high proportion of female learners involved in pilots from all sectors, with a large majority concentrated in education and health and social work which is in line with the national average.

Gender Pay Gap

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Minister for Women what steps are being taken to close the pay gap between men and women. [146258]

Jacqui Smith: The Government are taking forward a range of policies to tackle the gender pay gap. These include a new questionnaire procedure for use in equal pay cases, and measures to simplify and speed up equal pay tribunal procedures. The Government have led by example in committing all Civil Service departments and agencies to review their pay systems and produce action plans to close any equal pay gaps. The Government have provided funding for the EOC to develop equal pay tool kits so all organisations can carry out equal pay reviews. Measures to help parents maintain links with the world of work and better balance their work and home lives will contribute to a reduction of the pay gap. The Government also welcomes the EOC's investigation into modern apprenticeships and the concentration of men and women in different professions.



Miss Kirkbride: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what targets (a) her and (b) her Ministers' offices have for responding to constituency mail; and if she will set out the performance achieved in the last 12 months against these targets. [145603]

Mr. Caborn: The departmental target for responding to constituency mail (i.e. letters from hon. Members and the public) is 18 working days.

The figures for performance against target for the period 1 December 2002 to 1 December 2003 are as follows:

Percentage answered within18 working days
MPs cases79
Members of the public73

The Department produces regular statistics to monitor the performance on answering ministerial letters. These statistics are produced for review and discussion by the permanent secretary and the management board.

In addition, the Cabinet Office, on an annual basis, publishes a report to Parliament on performance of Departments in replying to ministerial correspondence. The report for 2002 was published on 15 May 2003. The report for 2003 will be published in due course.

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Departmental Christmas Expenditure

Miss Kirkbride: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how much has been spent by her Department on the postage of Christmas cards (a) in the last year and (b) since 1997. [145596]

Mr. Caborn: No assessment of postage was made but the majority of cards were sent by second class post.

Digital Television

Miss Kirkbride: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how many more analogue transmitters need to be converted to digital to achieve the same reach as the current analogue transmitters. [145617]

Estelle Morris: There are currently 1,154 transmitters in the UK; 80 of those, including all the main stations, are able to transmit both analogue and digital signals. It is estimated that around 1,150 transmitters would be necessary to reach, on switchover, the same level of coverage by digital terrestrial television as previously with the current analogue transmitters.

Millennium Commission

Hugh Bayley: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how much the Millennium Commission contributed to Bradford Cathedral's Life Force Exhibition; what checks were carried out on the exhibition's financial viability before the grant was given; who carried out the financial viability study; how many visitors the exhibition expected to attract; how many attended; what plans she has to change the procedures for financial scrutiny of Lottery grant applications; and if she will make a statement. [146234]

Tessa Jowell: As detailed issues relating to Lottery funding of Bradford Cathedral's Life Force Exhibition are primarily for the Millennium Commission, I will write to my hon. Friend in my capacity as Chair of the Commission, and place copies of my reply in the Libraries of both Houses.

On the more general matter of scrutiny of Lottery grant applications, Lottery distributing bodies' financial directions already require them to have clearly developed policies and procedures for the financial, and, where appropriate, economic appraisal of projects, of which risk assessment should be an important part, and to assess applications in accordance with those procedures. Revisions to the financial directions being discussed with distributing bodies will further strengthen these requirements to focus more directly on risk assessment.

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