City & Business: The Navy lark

DEFENCE contractors have traditionally been great patrons of politicians.

For years British Aerospace and GEC have indefatigably wooed MPs and ex-Cabinet ministers. A seat on the board here, a consultancy there, a fact-finding trip everywhere. It's ironic that just as they want to call in some of those favours, the eyes of the country are riveted on each and every freebie.

Meanwhile the MoD is muddying the waters. On the one hand it has ruled out using its 'golden share' to block GEC's bid to take over VSEL. But it has then confused the issue by hinting that the deal could still be stymied on competition grounds. Yet the only trigger for a monopolies reference would be a complaint from VSEL's sole customer - which is, of course, the MoD.

This looks like politically expedient fudge. Everyone - the staff of VSEL, the shareholders of VSEL, GEC and BAe, and the Navy - deserves an unambiguous statement on what warship procurement policy now is. Over to you, Mr Rifkind.