'Secret defence cuts' denied

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MALCOLM RIFKIND, the Secretary of State for Defence, yesterday denied reports that a secret review of Britain's defences was under way in the MoD designed to cut pounds 4bn from the defence budget over the next three years, writes Christopher Bellamy.

He described the claims in yesterday's Sunday Times as 'exaggerated and sensationalist', and said they were untrue.

Many of the components of the report have already been announced or leaked. On Thursday, the Government revealed that naval manpower would drop by 5,000 below the 55,000 target set out in its Options For Change review.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 yesterday, Mr Rifkind criticised as simplistic those who assumed that the reprieve of the navy's pounds 170m commando carrier (LPH) would have to be paid for out of the naval budget. Defence sources have confirmed that equipment costs for one service can be met by the whole defence budget.