HC Deb 24 March 1987 vol 113 cc151-2
5. Mr. Stevens

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many small firms have consulted the Ministry of Defence small firms advice division; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

Over 500 in the four months since my noble Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for small businesses announced the MOD small firms initiative. The initiative is designed to increase competitive opportunities and to secure best value for money. The small firms advice division advises small firms seeking to penetrate the defence market individually, and through regional seminars, about MOD procurement policies.

Mr. Stevens

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. This service is a great encouragement to small firms in a wide range of areas. How many small firms have taken advantage of the opportunities offered by the MOD small firms advice service to get involved in defence research?

Mr. Hamilton

One part of this initiative is the small firms research initiative, which provides oppportunities for small firms with ideas for new and innovative products and processes to apply for a larger share of defence research funds. To date about 150 firms have been involved.

Mr. MacKenzie

How many of those small firms have been placed on the list set up by his noble Friend Lord Trefgarne for the purchase of equipment?

Mr. Hamilton

I believe that the figure is about 200.

Mr. Watts

Will my hon. Friend consider making it a requirement for prime contractors to pay their small subcontractors more promptly? However good the work of the small firms advice service, the late payment of bills by main contractors to small subcontractors is a major cause of concern.

Mr. Hamilton

In principle the Ministry has no authority to intervene, because the matter is between the prime contractor and the subcontractor or supplier. However, there is a code of practice for competitive subcontracting that encourages prime contractors to pass to subcontractors payment terms no less favourable than those applying to the main contractor. Our payment terms are very good.