FURTHER DEFENCE CUTS ON THE WAY

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The Independent Online
Further defence cuts are to be made, in spite of a pledge by the Prime Minister that big cuts in defence are over, it was confirmed yesterday by Nicholas Soames, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces.

His remarks in the defence debate in the Commons will fuel speculation that Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence, has agreed to a substantial cut in the defence budget as part of the annual review of public spending, to make way for tax cuts by the Chancellor.

"Not only have we not gone too far, but there have been and will be further cuts and attempts to keep down the cost of the way in which we do our business," Mr Soames said during the two-day debate.

He was challenged about the cuts by Keith Mans, a Tory MP and former Vulcan bomber pilot. Conservative MPs are privately alarmed that the Thatcherite Mr Portillo, a former chief secretary to the Treasury in charge of public spending cuts, could have conceded large-scale savings in support services' expenditure.

Mr Soames refused to be drawn on the extent of the cuts, but he assured Tory MPs it would not mean cutting the front line, or Britain's defensive capability. He said: "It is quite plain what I meant. I said the Ministry of Defence is a very large organisation and cannot be complacent." Costs would have to be "ruthlessly" pruned to preserve the integrity of the armed forces, he said.

Mr Soames announced that savings of pounds 2m would be achieved by moving the Commando Logistics Regiment and the Command Squadron of the Royal Engineers to Chivenor. Amphibious vessels are to be concentrated in Plymouth Devonport. A buy-out of the Rosyth naval base in Scotland by the Rosyth 2000 Ltd consortium was also announced.

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