If the purpose of any assessment is to measure a student’s ability to use laboratory equipment and collect data, then the only way to do that is via a practical lab exam or via a teacher assessed set of labs. A “dry” question on an exam paper will ALWAYS be limited in its scope. It certainly doesn’t mean that meaningful questions relating to laboratory procedures cannot be placed on a “paper and pencil” exam, but it does mean that as long as that is the ONLY manner of examining lab techniques, you are not measuring student’s abilities in the lab at all.
For an example of how this is done in the UK, take a look at this document and focus on Units 3A & 6A; http://www.edexcel.org.uk/VirtualContent/25048.pdf
Quite right! As you also pointed out, the answers to lab questions can be taught quite competently without ever using any lab equipment. Students can write lovely lab reports using data they are fed. The only way to guarantee lab performance is to actually test lab performance. However, I do not think that doing so is feasible.
I can offer students a far better lab experience in college than I can in high school, and I urge my AP students to take the opportunity to do the labs in college if it is offered.