Navy floats birth control for Wrens at sea: Leaked document reveals officers' concern. Edmund Hall reports

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A CONFIDENTIAL meeting of senior Navy officers considered the possibility of offering the morning- after contraceptive pill to members of the Women's Royal Naval Service - the Wrens - serving at sea, according to a leaked document.

A copy of the minutes of the meeting of commanding officers and Admirals shows concern over problems with Wrens at sea. It was agreed at the meeting last December that new guidance on the handling of relationships on board would be circulated, and that an investigation should be carried out into the feasibility of setting up travelling 'well-women' clinics.

The leaked documents, marked 'Senior management in confidence - restricted', are the minutes of a 'command meeting' held in Portsmouth by Rear Admiral M C Boyce, the Flag Officer Surface Flotilla (FOSF). At the meeting, Captain F M Malbon, the commanding officer of the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible, brought up the subject of female personnel serving at sea.

The minutes say: 'Invincible urged senior management to accept there is a problem with WRNS at sea so that it can be managed.'

As a result of the discussions another officer, Captain M P Sauvage, agreed to investigate the prescription of the morning-after contraceptive pill to WRNS personnel.

The 'problems' caused by Wrens serving at sea is only one of the concerns expressed. Captain D A J Blackburn, commanding officer of the second frigate flotilla, said that he felt pressure was going to increase to accept homosexuals into the service. The meeting took place between President Clinton's election and his taking office, and many believed that the US President intended to honour his election promise to allow lesbians and gay men to serve in the US armed forces. Had he done so, pressure would have increased to bring Britain's armed forces into line with most other Nato countries, which no longer bar homosexuals from service. A note added to the minutes after the meeting says 'the services intend to rebut any suggestion robustly'.

The minutes of the meeting highlight a division between senior management and the commanding officers. The commanding officer of HMS Ark Royal, Captain J J Blackham, brought up the subject of morale on board. 'Ark is concerned that senior management telling everyone that morale is fragile will become a self-fulfilling prophesy. View from the sea was that morale . . . is generally still good despite the uncertainties of fewer promotions and redundancies. One group, unhappy juniors, need special attention because of the length of time it takes to get to sea after Raleigh (HMS Raleigh is the Royal Navy's training base for ratings).'

The Ministry of Defence said that the FOSF command meeting took place every six months and offered senior officers in the Royal Navy an opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues. 'These can range from fleet management issues to more mundane matters including personnel or ship painting . . . It is not a policy-making body.'

On the captain of the Invincible's comments on Wrens, the spokesman said: 'The ministry considers the integration of women at sea as a complete success story.' On homosexuality, the spokesman added: 'The MoD policy on homosexuality is well known . . . The RN has no plans to change current policy.' The policy is that homosexuality is grounds for dismissal from the services.