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Submarines (Female Personnel)

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 19th December 2011.

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Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Conservative, Gosport 2:30 pm, 19th December 2011

What expertise women can provide and which roles they can fill on board Royal Navy submarines.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Conservative, West Worcestershire

If he will take steps to encourage women in the Royal Navy to apply to serve on Vanguard and Astute class submarines.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

I announced to the House on 8 December that women will be recruited into the Royal Navy submarine service. All submariner roles will be open to women, and this new opportunity to serve will enlarge the talent pool from which the submarine service will recruit. All male and female applicants will be assessed against the same criteria. All applicants will receive the same training. I am confident that there will be sufficient interest from female personnel to serve on board Royal Navy submarines.

Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Conservative, Gosport

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?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

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.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Conservative, West Worcestershire

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?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

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.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

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?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

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.