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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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