Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

22 May 2002 : Column WA97

Written Answers

Wednesday, 22nd May 2002.

Schengen Agreement

Baroness Ludford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have conducted, or will now conduct, a cost benefit examination of the advantages and disadvantages of full United Kingdom accession to the Schengen agreement, including the benefits to United Kingdom citizens and third country nationals legally resident in the United Kingdom of rights of free movement within the European Union.[HL4313]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Rooker): There has not been a full cost benefit examination of joining Schengen. The Government have considered this previously and remain of the opinion that a detailed study would not be a proper use of resources given their position on Schengen. Our decision not to participate in Schengen is based on our geography. Common travel arrangements are sensible for countries with land borders. However, the United Kingdom has a unique island position and traffic is naturally channelled to ports where immigration controls are most effective. Signing up to Schengen and abolishing our border control would conflict with this.

Rehabilitation of Offenders

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What stage has been reached in the review of legislation on the rehabilitation of offenders; and when announcements or decisions may be expected.[HL4320]

Lord Rooker: The review of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 is expected to report in the summer. cliff

Women in the Armed Forces

Baroness Golding asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will publish the outcome of the study into the employment of women in the Armed Forces.[HL4435]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): Women play a vital role in the Armed Forces. They have made, and continue to make, a valuable contribution to recent and current operations. The great majority of posts in the Armed Forces are already open to them. Only posts in the Royal Marines General Service, Household Cavalry, Royal Armoured Corps, the Infantry and Royal Air Force Regiment remain closed for reasons of combat effectiveness.

22 May 2002 : Column WA98

Following a detailed study into the performance and suitability of women in these close-combat roles, we have concluded that the case for lifting the current restrictions has not been made. We are today placing in the House of Commons Library the report of this study, entitled Women in the Armed Forces, together with a short paper explaining the reasons for the decision.

Although women are, on average, less able to meet the physical demands of these roles, some women would certainly be able to do so and this was not, therefore, in itself a reason to exclude them.

The key issue was whether the inclusion of women in close combat teams could adversely affect the combat effectiveness of those teams in a high-intensity direct fire battle. All the units in question operate primarily in small units as fire teams or tank crews.

The evidence available suggests that on operations other than close combat the presence of women in small units does not affect performance detrimentally. However, there is no evidence to show whether this remains the case under the extraordinary conditions of high intensity close combat.

Given the lack of relevant direct evidence from either field studies or the experience of other countries, we have concluded that military judgment must form the basis of the decision. The military advice is that under the conditions of a high-intensity, close-quarter battle, group cohesion becomes of much greater significance to team performance and in such an environment the consequences of failure can have far-reaching and grave consequences. To admit women, therefore, would involve a risk without any offsetting gains in terms of combat effectiveness.

The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 allows the Armed Forces to exclude women from close combat posts. The judgment of the European Court of Justice in Sirdar the Army Board and the Secretary of State and relevant European Community equality law uphold that position, subject to a requirement periodically to assess the position.

The Ministry of Defence is committed to equality of opportunity consistent with the need to maintain combat effectiveness. It will continue to work with the Equal Opportunities Commission and discuss with it the results of further work to examine the wider issues raised by this study. Women must have the same opportunities as men to progress to the highest ranks.

School Places

Lord Ouseley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the extent of the demand on schools for places by newcomers into particular areas; and what steps are being taken to secure education provision for all children now out of school because of failure to provide a place in any chosen school.[HL4230]

22 May 2002 : Column WA99

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): The department does not collect statistics on demand for school places by newcomers. Local education authorities (LEAs) have a statutory duty to ensure that sufficient school places are available for all pupils of compulsory school age and will take account of trends of pupil movement in their planning arrangements.

Parents have a right to express a preference for a school but not a right to a place in a particular school. They also have a duty to ensure their children receive a suitable education in school or otherwise. If parents have been offered a school place for their child, the LEA has met its duty. If parents do not accept the place offered and do not make alternative provision, it is for the LEA to consider whether to take school attendance proceedings.

Schools: Pupil Participation

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What has been the result of consultations inside and outside the Department for Education and Skills on the participation of young people in decisions which affect them in schools and the need for statutory requirements which reflect this.[HL4374]

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: The Department for Education and Skills has consulted young people on the current Education Bill and on possible changes to the 14–19 curriculum. Some young people who took part in these consultations indicated that they would like a stronger voice in decisions that affected them in schools. The department has also received representations from organisations that have consulted young people, including some of those that comprise the Children's Consortium on Education, seeking a greater role for young people in the running of schools. In the debate on 9 May this Government set out their commitment to set out through statutory guidance a range of measures that schools should adopt to secure greater pupil participation. cliff

Personation of Voters

Lord Greaves asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any evidence that personation of voters is a problem in any part of the United Kingdom outside Northern Ireland.[HL4336]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): We have no evidence to suggest that personation is a significant problem in England, Wales or Scotland. It is for the police to follow up any allegation of personation, and we recognise the importance of doing so to preserve the integrity of the poll.

22 May 2002 : Column WA100

Regional Government

Baroness Hanham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their assessment of the cost of the restructuring reviews of local government which would be required if regional government was to be introduced by region.[HL4369]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: We are currently discussing the cost of reviews with the Boundary Committee. Costs are likely to vary significantly, depending on the number of county and district councils in a region.

Millennium Dome

Baroness Hanham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the explanation for the monthly increase in cost of maintaining the Millennium Dome from £251,000 in January to £287,000 in February.[HL4371]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The monthly cost of managing and maintaining the dome site fluctuates according to variations in regular outgoings and routine maintenance cycles. The monthly costs include rates, utilities, security and maintenance and English Partnerships' staff costs on management and maintenance of the dome.

The difference between the January and February figures is a result of such routine fluctuations and is mainly as a result of particular maintenance works that were required in February but not in January. It should be noted that costs rose from October (£229,000) to November 2001 (£275,000) but were lower between November 2001 and December 2001 (£266,000) and between December 2001 and January (£251,000) this year, all reflecting routine fluctuations.

All dome related costs incurred by English Partnerships will be recovered from eventual sale proceeds. cliff

Baroness Hanham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the cost of the telephone calls made from the Millennium Dome during January and February 2002; by whom they were made; and for what purpose.[HL4373]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: No calls were made from the dome itself during January and February apart from in relation to the Ministry of Sound event on New Year's Eve 2001, for which English Partnerships received full reimbursement of costs.

The bills for telephone services to the dome site have not yet been finalised in relation to January and February due to ongoing delays by the service provider, particularly in transferring accounts formerly held by the New Millennium Experience Company to English Partnerships.

22 May 2002 : Column WA101

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page