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I announced to the House on
I welcome that news from the Secretary of State and the confirmation of what many of us know: that women can do everything that men can do. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] But better. Can the Secretary of State please expand on when it is most likely that women will first be put into training and service on submarines?
Let me say, Mr Speaker, that if my wife is to be believed, not only can women do everything that men can do, but they can do two things at a time, while men can do only one thing at a time. I hope that this will contribute to the efficiency gains that we need to make in the Royal Navy and elsewhere. I can tell my hon. Friend that female officers will serve on Vanguard class submarines from late 2013, followed by ratings in 2015, and that women will be able to serve on Astute class submarines as both officers and ratings from about 2016.
I pay tribute to all those who have the fortitude to serve on submarines underwater for many months at a time, particularly at this time of year. Can the Secretary of State say whether there will be any cost to the public purse from adapting submarines to accommodate both sexes?
Yes, there will be an estimated cost of about £3 million in total, to provide appropriate accommodation and emergency air supplies, so that should any female submariner be found to be pregnant while on board, she will be able to breathe from a discrete air supply until she can be medically evacuated.
Have any trials been conducted for this project? I generally welcome the principle entirely, particularly given the great success of women on board all other ships, but does my right hon. Friend not think that it might be worth while conducting a lengthy trial in simulated conditions before the plan goes ahead?
I would say two things to my right hon. Friend. First, the only reason why women were not eligible for the submarine service was that until recently the best medical evidence suggested that there could be a risk to foetal health. It is now clear that that risk does not exist. I would also say that the United States navy has made the change already, and has found the arrangements to be perfectly satisfactory.