Sir Jock Stirrup reveals Labour vetoed cuts to forces

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Proposals put forward by defence chiefs for "painful" cuts to the armed forces were vetoed by Labour ministers, it was claimed yesterday. Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup,former chief of the defence staff, said that plans to reduce fast jet aircraft, ships and Army equipment were all overruled.

But the project to build the Royal Navy's two new aircraft carriers had to go ahead as part of a rationalisation deal with the dockyards, he said.

Speaking on BBC's The Andrew Marr Show, Sir Jock said there had been some "pretty unfortunate cases in procurement" during the Labour government's years in power, adding: "I think the root of the problem was cost growth for a whole variety of reasons in the programme, which needed to be attended to and which the Defence Board had plans to manage.

"But those plans were vetoed by ministers of the day because they were, I suppose, politically too difficult."

He went on: "When the cost of the programme clearly outstrips the amount of money that you're likely to have available under any givenscenario, then you have to reduce the total programme, which means you're going to have to cut some things.

"And proposals were put forward to cut various things – painful militarily and politically – and it had to be done, but those proposals were vetoed."

Asked what cuts were proposed by the Defence Board, which is the highest non-ministerial committee in the Ministry of Defence, he said: "Reductions in the number of fast jet aircraft, reductions in numbers of ships, reductions in equipment for the Army, all the kind of things that we have had to do in this defence review."

He also said the previous government signed a "terms of business agreement" with the dockyards, committing them to the two carriers.

There has been controversy over the project, which will cost at least £5.4bn, amid claims it would cost more to cancel it than to go ahead.