Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Submarines and Mine Clearance Diving: Employment of Women

Lord Brookman asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): In the course of the Strategic Defence Review we examined the possibilities for maximising opportunities for women in each of the Services, consistent with maintaining our combat effectiveness. The results of this work were set out in the report on the Strategic Defence Review, Cmd 2999, in which we also announced our intention to review the exclusion of women from service in submarines and Royal Navy mine clearance work.

We have now completed our review of these matters and have concluded that we should maintain our policy of excluding women from service in submarines and mine clearance diving for medical reasons.

24 Feb 1999 : Column WA121

In reaching this conclusion we considered all the evidence very carefully and looked hard for options which might enable us to open service in submarines to women despite the medical risks involved. We are not able, however, to put to one side the MoD's statutory duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

All RN submarines currently in service may remain submerged for up to 90 days for operational reasons. In the course of such deployments, contaminants build up in the internal atmosphere. Although there is careful control of the materials allowed aboard and atmospheric filtration, the build up of contaminants such as carbon dioxide in this closed environment cannot be prevented. Such an atmosphere is not harmful to adults, but medical studies by the Institute of Naval Medicine show that for some contaminants the levels exceed those considered safe for the foetus of a pregnant woman, and can also place the woman's health at risk. In other cases there is insufficient data available for us confidently to recommend with confidence maximum exposure limits which would prevent harm to the foetus and the woman.

A woman, in the first days after conception, may not be aware that she is pregnant. If she were serving in a submarine there is, therefore, at least the possibility that she might unknowingly expose her unborn child to levels of contamination above those considered safe. Even if some women were prepared to accept the risks and volunteer to serve in submarines, the Government could not compromise its duty of care by allowing them to do so.

In the specialised area of mine clearance diving, where there are far fewer posts involved, an unborn child and its mother could be exposed to substantial medical risks caused, in this case by the very high pressures to which these divers are subjected. As far as women who are not pregnant are concerned, the medical risks are less well understood, but there may be a risk to a woman during menstruation. We have accepted the medical advice that women should, therefore, be excluded from working as mine clearance divers at least until more definitive medical advice is available.

The Government and the Armed Forces are determined that the widest possible employment opportunities should be available to women in the Armed Forces. The position on service in submarines and mine diving clearance will, therefore, be kept under review.

Land Command Order of Battle

Lord Morris of Castle Morris asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Following the Strategic Defence Review, what is the revised Order of Battle for HQ Land Command; and whether a diagram illustrating the revised Order of Battle could be provided.[HL946]

Lord Gilbert: Following the Strategic Defence Review, the Order of Battle for Land Command will be

24 Feb 1999 : Column WA122

two deployable divisions and four regional divisions. The deployable divisions will be:

    1st (United Kingdom) Armoured division based in Germany, consisting of three armoured brigades, 4, 7 and 20;

    3rd (United Kingdom) Mechanised Division based in the UK, consisting of three Mechanised Brigades, 1, 12 and 19.

The regional divisions will be:

    2 Division consisting of 15 (Northeast), 42 (Northwest), 51 (Highland) and 52 (Lowland) Brigades;

    4 Division consisting of London District and 2 (Southeast), 49 (East) and 145 (Home Counties) Brigades;

    5 Division consisting of 43 (Wessex), 143 (West Midlands), 107 (Ulster) and 160 (Wales) Brigades;

    United Kingdom Support Command (Germany).

There will also be 2 (National Communications) Signal Brigade and nine deployable Brigade-sized formations:

    16 Air Assault Brigade;

    Combat Service Support Group (United Kingdom);

    1 Artillery Brigade;

    7 Air Defence Brigade;

    12 (Air Support) Engineer Brigade;

    29 (Corps Support) Engineer Brigade;

    1 Signal Brigade;

    11 Signal Brigade.

In addition, there will be six overseas detachments:

    British Army Training Unit Suffield and British Army Training Support Unit Wainwright in Canada;

    British Army Training Support Unit, Belize;

    British Army Training and Liaison Staff Kenya in Nairobi;

    British Gurkhas, Nepal;

    Brunei Garrison.

I am sending a copy of a diagram illustrating the Order of Battle to my noble friend. Further copies will be available in the Library of the House.

Muslim Children in Care

Baroness Uddin asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many Muslim children are in local authority care; and how many are awaiting adoption or foster-care.[HL1191]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman): Information about the religious faith of children who are looked after by local authorities or the faith of their parents is not held centrally.

24 Feb 1999 : Column WA123

Less Favoured Areas

Lord Hooson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to ensure that in less favoured areas of the country viable rural communities, sustainable farming and good forest management are maintained: and what contribution the Government are prepared to make over and above the European Community contributions to achieve such ends.[HL1011]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): Dedicated support for farmers in the Less Favoured Areas (LFAs) of the United Kingdom is provided through the Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances (HLCA) scheme. The scheme is designed to help sustain the economies and environment of these rural areas and is largely nationally funded, with the EU contributing about 25 per cent. of the total cost. An extra £60 million was provided for HLCAs as part of the Government's special aid package for the livestock sector announced last November, taking total expenditure this year to £170 million. Farmers in the LFAs also receive other subsidies worth over £500 million a year. The Government's plans to make the HLCA scheme more effective in meeting both social and environmental concerns will be taken forward in the context of the Agenda 2000 proposals for reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy.

The Government's approach to sustainable forestry is set out in the UK Forestry Standard which was published last year. The Forestry Commission offers advice and incentives under the Woodland Grant Scheme to encourage landowners to manage their woodlands in accordance with the Standard.

BSE Inquiry

Lord Monkswell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they expect the BSE Inquiry to be completed by 30 June.[HL1136]

24 Feb 1999 : Column WA124

Lord Donoughue: The Committee of Inquiry has indicated that it needs an extension of time beyond 30 June 1999 in order to enable it to complete its work. Discussions are under way on the additional period that will be required to allow the Inquiry to do this. A further announcement will be made as soon as possible.

India and Pakistan: Aid and Compliance with Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Lord Moynihan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the provision of aid to India and Pakistan is intended to be linked to compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.[HL1153]

Baroness Amos: The Government's guiding principle in relation to the provision of aid to these countries following the 1998 nuclear tests has been that all new commitments should be carefully re-examined but the poor of India and Pakistan should not be punished for the action of their government. Virtually all our bilateral assistance to India and Pakistan is poverty focused and we have therefore decided, following a careful review, that it should continue.

For lending by international financial institutions (IFIs), the situation is set out in the G8 Communique of 12 June as follows:

"We do not wish to punish the peoples of India or Pakistan as a result of actions by their governments, and we will therefore not oppose loans by international financial institutions to the two countries to meet basic human needs. We agree, however, to work for a postponement in consideration of other loans in the World Bank and other international financial institutions to India and Paksitan, and to any other country that will conduct nuclear tests."

In response to Pakistan's severe fiscal crisis Board agreement was given in January to an IMF/World Bank economic reform package. In the case of India, we continue to consider proposals on a case-by-case basis against the basic human needs criteria.

24 Feb 1999 : Column WA123

   Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page