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Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. However, is she aware that the Government and the generals are wrong to suggest that disabled people are demanding a right to join the Armed Forces in a combatant role? It would be ludicrous to talk of having blind tank drivers and deaf radio operators. The reality is that only certain disabled people seek an opportunity to serve in the Armed Forces in a non-combatant role and in jobs they are capable of doing. Was not the old idea that all soldiers, including cooks, should be flexible enough to serve in the front line in an emergency demolished by the Army itself when it accepted women--who are not allowed to serve in combat roles in the front line--as soldiers? Noble Lords smile, but all we are asking is that disabled people receive the same kind of consideration as women soldiers.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there are women in the front line on our ships in the Royal Navy and serving as fighter pilots. No serviceman or service woman can be guaranteed not to be called upon to fight. Although they may not be called upon to fight, it is a possibility. They must not only be willing to do so; they must physically be able to do so in not merely dangerous, but extraordinarily dangerous, circumstances.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, as disabled people have been accepted by the Army for suitable jobs in the past, is the policy that every soldier must be transferable to a combat unit a result of overstretch? Is the Minister aware that I agree that disabled soldiers should not fight on the front line? I speak from
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we are possibly dealing with a problem of definition. "Disability" has a legal meaning within the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. There are people who would be categorised as having a disability under that Act but who might be eligible for recruitment into the Armed Forces--I make the point forcefully to my noble friend Lord Ashley--if their disability did not affect their operational effectiveness. For example, people with certain kinds of facial disfigurement who are covered by the Act may have a fruitful career in the Armed Forces. The point is that the criteria must be based on a military judgment regarding the operational effectiveness of the individual concerned.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I and many others were required some years ago to complete our National Service? At that time, many people with minor disabilities were exempted. Were conscription to be reintroduced, is there a danger that under any current change disabled people might be conscripted?
Lord Burnham: My Lords, as the Chief of the Defence Staff has recently given unequivocal support to Her Majesty's Government on so many matters, will the Minister assure the House that the Government will totally support his views on this subject?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord will acknowledge, the Chief of the Defence Staff gives support when the case is well argued, well reasoned and well merited. I am happy to say, as the noble Lord notes, that that has been so on a number of occasions recently.
I read the remarks of the Chief of the Defence Staff to the RUSI conference and I found nothing exceptional in his remarks. He made an extremely sensible statement of policy. It was compassionate to those in our Armed Forces who have suffered disablement. As I said in my initial Answer, many of those people still have an operational value for the Armed Forces and so are retained. The Chief of the Defence Staff struck the proper balance. As we must never forget, the criterion is one of operational effectiveness.
Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, does my noble friend know how General Guthrie, for whom all of us have due respect, defines disability? Does he accept the Government's definition, in which case approaching 9 million disabled people could be excluded from serving, among them many Gulf War veterans who are in the forces now? Will my noble
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the point about the definition that Sir Charles may or may not have been using is that the Armed Forces do not use the definition in the Disability Discrimination Act. The definition that we are dealing with here is one of the operational effectiveness of the individuals concerned. I point out to my noble friend, and to my noble friend Lord Ashley, that the MoD as a whole, under the guidance of the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Permanent Secretary, has a very good record on disability: 5,900 out of 100,000 civilians employed in the MoD have disabilities, and the MoD has been commended by the Royal National Institute for the Blind on the work it has done on disability issues in the past couple of years. Sir Charles has contributed to that. But there are different criteria in our Armed Forces.
The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): My Lords, the advice of the Civil Aviation Authority is that the Lower Airspace Radar Service in south-east England is satisfactory. The noble Lord, as an active and distinguished flyer himself, may be aware that the Civil Aviation Authority is currently carrying out a routine review of the LARS service provision in south-east England. If the review identifies any particular difficulties I can assure the House that these will be addressed.
Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer; however, I am a little bemused by it. How can there be satisfaction with the LARS service in south-east England when three of the major LARS areas are not covered; namely, Manston, Luton and Dunsfold? As a radar service to general aviation below 9,000 feet in non-controlled airspace, LARS is a very important service. It enables general aviation--police helicopters, air ambulances, pipeline inspection workers and those involved in air traffic control, as well as flying schools--to operate in an environment that can often be extremely difficult in bad weather over an area of high population density.
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, many civilian pilots do not use LARS, as they prefer to fly and navigate without assistance. Radar is generally ineffective in monitoring low-flying aircraft in some
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, is it not a question of who would pay for LARS in this particular area? The Minister's first Answer suggested that, if the review took account of further needs, such needs would be provided. Does that mean that new radars would be provided in the event that such provision were required?
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, although LARS is available over much of the United Kingdom, it would require a great increase in resources to extend it to cover the whole of the country. At present, aerodromes are not required to provide, nor flyers required to use, LARS. It already costs in excess of £1.4 million a year. Therefore, to extend it to cover the whole of the United Kingdom would appear to be a disproportionate level of effort and investment for the benefit that would accrue. The costs fall on the commercial aviation community to the benefit of the general aviation community.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, does the Minister accept that this radar service is a valuable aid to safety and that its withdrawal causes significant concerns to pilots who fly outside of controlled airspace, especially those who fly by way of instruments in certain meteorological conditions--that is, in cloud? Therefore, does the Minister accept that the withdrawal and the diminution of the service has caused very significant concerns to pilots? I should declare an interest here as a current aviator.
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, in relation to the question of LARS withdrawal from Luton Airport in particular, I can tell the House that that decision was made prior to that airport handing over the control of its air traffic services to NATS. That decision was based on a very substantial traffic increase at Luton Airport in recent years. However, NATS has assured the Government that the management of the controlled airspace in the area around Luton Airport is sufficient to provide protection to aircraft. Nevertheless, I accept the noble Viscount's point about the importance of LARS. I commend the very important role played by the Ministry of Defence and its air traffic providers in the kind of assistance that they give to the general aviation community.
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