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Drayson back at MoD, retains biznovation portfolio

'Malodorous' supersonic-car lord returns

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Controversial former military equipment purchasing boss Lord Drayson has been made a Defence minister once again. Details of his portfolio have yet to be announced, but Drayson will outrank the current equipment minister - and will retain a position at the new department of "Business, Innovation and Skills".

According to the Number 10 Downing Street website, Drayson returns to the MoD at "Minister of State" grade, making him senior to the Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) minister Quentin Davies, who is only an Under Secretary of State.

Drayson originally entered government in 2005 following his elevation from the common herd to the peerage. One Labour lord refused to share a bench with him at the time, saying his ennoblement was "malodorous".

As DE&S chief, Drayson was regarded as a staunch defender of the interests of the UK arms industry. He authored the Defence Industrial Strategy (DIS), effectively a guarantee of continued existence for large parts of the UK arms sector, and followed a policy of ordering British-made equipment wherever possible.

James Arbuthnot, Tory MP, current chairman of the parliamentary defence committee and former MoD procurement minister himself, said in 2006 that Drayson had "made a favourable impression... he has given a strong impression of knowing industry, being prepared to listen to industry... He has been among industry and has listened to it."

In particular, Drayson ordered the controversial £1bn Future Lynx purchase that year, buying upgraded Lynx helicopters from British-Italian firm AgustaWestland. The Future Lynxes are to arrive from 2011.

Critics suggested that Drayson could have ordered larger and more powerful Blackhawk and Seahawk helicopters from Sikorsky instead, got them sooner - perhaps saving lives among UK forces - and spent less money to boot. The AgustaWestland deal, however, safeguarded an estimated 900 jobs in the UK. The deal was also defended on the grounds that it would reduce UK military dependence on foreign suppliers: though in fact the Future Lynx has American engines and also requires significant support from Italy.

Drayson's previous business career was also the subject of some debate. The company which made him rich, Powderject, has been the subject of some question as to whether the vaccines it sold actually worked: and the eponymous needle-free injection device never actually appeared.

In 2007, Drayson resigned his position at the MoD, stating that he wanted to spend more time racing his biofuelled car at Le Mans. This was widely disbelieved, however, with rumour suggesting that he had in fact quit over successful moves by the Army to resist his plans for their armoured-vehicles project (the Future Rapid Effects System, FRES).

Drayson would have used the £14bn FRES budget to revitalise the moribund British tank industry: the Army preferred to avoid reinvention of American wheels, and wished instead to simply buy a vehicle from General Dynamics.

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