We are rightly concerned about the admissions policy of our universities, and hon. Members have engaged in all kinds of debates recently on that. While we are debating, however, American universities are scouring the world and Europe in particular to offer attractive packages to the very best students, with the prospect of US citizenship at the end. In no way do I present this scenario as an anti-American rant, but as a recognition of the USA’s clear, co-ordinated policies to assemble a defence industry that has the capability for significant domination in the foreseeable future. It is therefore vital for us to recognise that our procurement policies will have to take into account those realities. I hope that that gives my view in terms of work that may go out of this country to the USA in particular.
I want to turn to a few current concerns. Mention has already been made of the Astute submarine programme, especially the delays that have been experienced. I have recently been made aware of the operational vulnerability of our existing Trafalgar class submarines. I understand that HMS Torbay and HMS Tireless have been withdrawn from service and are undergoing further expert assessment at Devonport. I readily pay tribute to the highest degree of safety standards that are adopted at Devonport when dealing with our nuclear-powered submarine fleet. Clearly, safety is of the utmost importance not only to those who sail on those ships but to those who do the work at Devonport. It places inevitable strains on the existing submarine fleet if replacements are delayed, however, and we are likely to experience technological difficulties in ships that are probably among the most complex pieces of machinery in the world today. Increasingly, lengthy delays will be experienced, exposing some of the problems with replacements. If the Minister cannot provide clarification of the current situation of those two submarines in Devonport in his wind-up, I would be grateful if he could write to me.
As we have indicated previously, we wholeheartedly support the carrier programme and would welcome the Minister’s confirmation of the current situation. Reference has already been made to that. In an intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) mentioned the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability project in an attempt to understand the thinking of the MOD in respect of the MARS and carrier programmes, as it appears that they are inextricably linked. If our warship yards cannot cope with the construction of eight to 10 ships for the MARS programme at the same time as the construction of aircraft carriers, we would like some understanding of the thinking on how to tackle that programme. If they can be constructed at the same time as carriers, in this country, I would be only too pleased to hear it.
Finally, I want to refer to the results of the MOD internal survey, which was published only a few months ago. I hope that the Minister agrees that it provides some alarming figures. Two thirds of those questioned are spending their own money on extra equipment because they do not have confidence in the MOD issue, and nearly half our soldiers in Iraq have no confidence in their fighting kit. Furthermore, a constituent of one of my hon. Friends who is the mother of a Royal Marine serving in Iraq at the moment has advised me that the Marines cannot operate effectively at night because there are only eight pairs of night-sight goggles for a total of 800 men. That seems extraordinary and I would therefore welcome the Minister’s comments.
The same survey revealed that 39 per cent. of soldiers do not feel valued by the Army and that 35 per cent. felt that morale was very low. When asked, “Does the MOD look after its personnel?”, only 3 per cent. of respondents strongly agreed, and 32 per cent. somewhat agreed, leaving 62 per cent. who either did not know or did not believe that the MOD looked after its staff. Furthermore, 35 per