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The Treasury has used a series of big arms projects to avert the threat of a Government defeat tonight over the pounds 1.6bn sale of armed forces quarters. Ministers have denied any direct link between the sale of the estates and weapons orders. But senior Tory sources said last night that leverage had been applied to the Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Portillo, by Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, who has told Mr Portillo a decision cannot be reached on the orders until the homes sale vote is settled. A Cabinet committee has stalled the decision on the pounds 2bn replacement of the Nimrod surveillance aircraft for a fortnight. It is expected to reach a decision on Thursday, along with orders for a new missile, which could produce thousands of jobs.

Labour will force a vote on the sale of the Ministry of Defence homes tonight in the Commons, and tabled a motion in identical terms to one supported by 65 Tory MPs to maximise the rebellion. But the Tories have been under intense pressure by Mr Portillo and senior colleagues not to vote with Labour, which has whittled the rebels down to 22.