Confusion over pledge to reprieve regiments

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Senior Tories yesterday mounted a damage limitation exercise after Nicholas Soames, the shadow Defence Secretary, appeared to disown a pledge by Michael Howard that a Conservative government would reinstate any army regiments scrapped in Scotland.

Senior Tories yesterday mounted a damage limitation exercise after Nicholas Soames, the shadow Defence Secretary, appeared to disown a pledge by Michael Howard that a Conservative government would reinstate any army regiments scrapped in Scotland.

The party was thrown into disarray on defence cuts when Mr Soames suggested on Wednesday it might not be possible to reinstate axed regiments if it took a long time for the party to get back to office.

Mr Howard told his party conference on Tuesday: "If, before the next election, Labour scrap any of Scotland's historic regiments, we will reinstate them."

But on Wednesday Mr Soames said this might not be possible, telling BBC Radio Scotland's Newsdrive programme that, if the Tories were elected in May, they would stop the changes "dead in their tracks" but that if "we don't get in until later and it's all been done, clearly we can't reverse it". He added that Mr Howard had not consulted him over the pledge.

Tories later argued there was no contradiction, saying that, while they would reinstate axed regiments if they were returned to power in May, this would become more difficult with the passage of time.

Liam Fox, the party's co-chairman, told Good Morning Scotland yesterday: "We hope we can reverse it and we will be doing everything we can to do so. One of the problems we have is what Labour will do before we can get a chance to get back to office ... The problem is easily resolved - the quicker we can get back to office, the less damage can be done by Labour."

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