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12 Mar 2001 : Column WA57

Written Answers

Monday, 12th March 2001.

Workforce Skills

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their assessment of the relative strength of relevant education and training in the workforce of Britain as compared with that of other relating nations in Europe and beyond; and what role they seek to persuade companies and employers in the private and public sectors to play in this respect.[HL960]

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): International comparisons suggest that the UK performs favourably in comparison with other advanced countries at higher skill levels. We compare less favourably, and need to make improvements, at intermediate skill levels and in adult basic skills.

Our aim is to drive up the skills of the workforce by working in partnership with employers. Through initiatives such as Investors in People and the Union Learning Fund we are focusing employers' attention on the benefits of skill training and employee development. We will be consulting on how to give statutory backing to union learning representatives and we are working with national training organisations to test new voluntary ways of funding training.

The new Learning and Skills Council will have a key role in persuading and engaging employers to invest in the skills and development of their employees. The council will set up, with industry, clear targets for improving the skill levels in the workforce and will consult on its workforce development strategy in June 2001.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What role they will encourage trade unions to play in the Learning and Skills Councils and the Regional Development Agencies.[HL961]

Baroness Blackstone: Trade unions have a vital role to play in supporting the Government's lifelong learning and workforce development agenda, including through their involvement with the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs).

John Monks has been appointed to the LSC's National Council and as Chair of its Adult Learning Committee, Tony Chandler (Unison) and Bill Connor (USDAW) have also been appointed to the Adult Learning and Young People's Learning Committees respectively. At the time of the main announcement of local council members in November, all 47 of the LSC's local councils appointed members with trade union experience.

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We are also setting in place other arrangements to enable trade unions to work closely with the LSC on workforce development and lifelong learning. We shall provide funding from April 2001 for TUC Learning Services activities that will complement and contribute to the department's learning priorities. In addition, the Union Learning Fund, which has supported many successful union-led learning projects, will transfer to the LSC from April 2002.

There is a trade union representation on all RDA Boards. In addition, we expect the RDAs to consult the regional TUC Councils, as key regional partners, on their plans for economic development and regeneration. The regional TUC Councils are also represented on the Regional Assemblies, which are consulted on the RDAs' strategies.

University Teaching: Quality Assurance Assessment

Lord Norton of Louth asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the estimated cost to universities of the assessments of teaching quality carried out by the Quality Assurance Agency in 1999 and 2000.[HL1025]

Baroness Blackstone: Institutions are not required to maintain records of costs associated with assessments carried out by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). They will vary between type of provision and the amount institutions invest in their internal quality assurance. In 2000, a report commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Better Accountability of Higher Education), based on a study of two institutions and other unpublished work, estimated that the higher education sector has incurred costs in the region of £45 million in QAA reviews. Quality of teaching is a small part of the reviews for the QAA.

Lord Norton of Louth asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What value for money studies have been undertaken of the work of the Quality Assurance Agency in assessing teaching quality in universities; and what have been the results of such studies.[HL1026]

Baroness Blackstone: In 2000, a report commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Better Accountability of Higher Education), assessed the accountability burden for institutions. It found that institutions do not maintain any systematic cost or value data but concluded that the efficiency of the accountability regime could be improved. The Quality Assurance Agency has overhauled its review mechanisms and from September 2001 will use a method which will significantly reduce the amount of work carried out by institutions for reviews which include assessment of teaching quality.

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Acoustic Shock

Lord Hanningfield asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What advice they are issuing to help combat the increasing rise of acoustic syndrome in the workplace.[HL738]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): I am not aware of any rise in ill-health effects caused by acoustic shock (a sudden increase in noise in telecommunication systems) in the workplace. Since 1991 any risk of hearing damage has been limited by the design of headsets and, although sudden noises may startle the operator, they are unlikely to be harmful.

Speedometer Accuracy

Lord Allen of Abbeydale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the light of the increasing importance of speed limits, they have any plans to make it easier for the private motorist to have his speedometer tested for accuracy.[HL839]

Lord Whitty: The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, as amended, allows the use of speedometers that meet the requirements of EC Community Directive 75/443(97/39) or ECE Regulation 39. Both the EC Directive and the ECE Regulation lay down accuracy requirements to be applied at the time of vehicle approval for speedometers. These requirements are that the indicated speed must not be more than 10 per cent of the true speed plus 4 km/h. In production, however, a slightly different tolerance of 5 per cent plus 10 km/h is applied. The requirements are also that the indicated speed must never be less than the true speed.

A vehicle meeting these requirements would not be able to travel at a greater speed than that shown on the speedometer and a driver could not, therefore, inadvertently exceed speed restrictions. Her Majesty's Government have no plans to introduce instrument tests.

Road Bridges over Railways

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to review the adequacy of crash barriers on the approach roads to bridges over railway lines.[HL1184]

Lord Whitty: We are extremely grateful to the HSE and to TRL for their speedy consideration of the factors involved in the tragic accident at Great Heck near Selby on 28 February 2001. HSE and TRL will be continuing their investigations, but it is becoming apparent that there was nothing the railway industry could reasonably have done to prevent the train

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collision. It also appears that there were no technical matters connected with the road infrastructure that would help explain why the vehicle left the M.62 in the first place. The road surface appears to have been adequate and the safety barriers more than met the current standards. We will, of course, have to await the report of the police into the incident. But in the interim my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister has asked the HSC to convene and lead a working group that will look at the circumstances of incidents where vehicles have blocked rail lines and whether there are features in common that might have been preventable. In parallel, the Highways Agency will be reviewing its standards for safety barriers.

Chinook ZD576

Lord Jacobs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether on 2 June 1994 after the Chinook helicopter ZD576 had completed its morning sortie a member of the crew completed the aircraft technical log form 700; and, if so, what exactly was written on that form.[HL985]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Form 700 is a generic descriptor for a series of forms. The only member of the crew of ZD576 to complete any forms after the morning sortie was Flt Lt Tapper. He signed a Form 705(H) Flight Servicing Certificate to show that the morning sortie had been completed and he was handing over the aircraft for flight servicing at 15.30. He also signed this form again to show he was accepting the aircraft, before its final flight.

Flt Lt Tapper had also completed a Form 724 (Chinook) Flying Log and Equipment Running Log showing that on the 2 June 1994 the aircraft had flown a day sortie lasting 5 hours, 40 minutes from 09.45 to 15.25, and had used 5,000 kg of fuel. Also, that this brought the total time flown by the aircraft to 2,882 hours and 45 minutes. He also recorded the settings on the two Emergency Power Clocks. No faults were recorded on any forms.

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