To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list the five largest British defence companies providing defence equipment to the United Kingdom armed forces.
The Ministry of Defence does not maintain separate information on the size of companies, but the five largest British companies by turnover and providing equipment to the United Kingdom armed forces in 1989–90 were BP, Shell, ICI, BAT Industries and British Telecom.
The Minister told the House on 9 January that issues of defence diversity were purely matters for the commercial judgment of the companies concerned. Does not he realise that the Government, private firms and public enterprise must all play a part in the profound changes that are affecting our defence industries? The Government cannot wash their hands and leave the matter purely to commercial considerations.
The hon. Gentleman distinguished himself as being the only hon. Member who tried to get a whinge-up going on the occasion of the European fighter aircraft statement by my right hon. Friend last week. Therefore, I do not feel particularly disposed to join him in a philosophical discourse.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the question just put to him was absolute nonsense? Would not it be much better to talk about which companies are most important to our defence capability and, in that context, would he include Westland?
Plainly, as our principal helicopter manufacturer, Westland will have an important role in the provison of helicopters for the armed forces in the next decade.
Will the Minister advise the five companies to which he referred to avoid getting into bed with SGL Defence Ltd., whose paid hack in the House of Commons is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence?
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he cannot say that. We dealt with the matter yesterday. The hon. Gentleman must not cast aspersions of that kind across the Chamber. Will he please withdraw that charge?
I am not aware of what I can withdraw. The Register of Members' Interests shows that the hon. Gentleman is a paid hack of SGL Defence Ltd.
Order. The phrase to which I object is "paid hack". That is not a parliamentary expression. [Interruption.] Order. This takes up a lot of time. Will the hon. Gentleman please withdraw the phrase "paid hack"? It is unparliamentary.
Would paid servant be in order, Mr. Speaker?
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he must not bandy words of that kind. I want him to withdraw that charge. If it was levelled against an Opposition Member, he would feel strongly about it. Withdraw it, please.
Order. I am dealing with the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).
I am not dealing with another point while I am on my feet. I am asking the hon. Member for Workington to withdraw that phrase.
I am a little concerned that my credibility among my hon. Friends might drop if I withdraw it.
The hon. Gentleman should be far more concerned that his credibility in this place may be compromised. Withdraw the charge, please.
Order. The hon. Gentleman does not need to consult his hon. Friends.
I withdraw it.
One thing that I have never done is to tell anyone whom he should go to bed with.