Whitehall may cut warheads may

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SPECULATION was growing last night that the Government was about to cut its Trident nuclear warheads to half their present number in a defence review to be published next month.

The pledge, originally made in a Labour defence policy document two years ago, looked more likely to be fulfilled after the row over nuclear testing in India and Pakistan. It seemed likely that the idea of making an anti- nuclear gesture would be attractive to the Government at this stage.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said last night that the department had examined its deterrents as part of the Strategic Defence Review, including the number of warheads and the need for greater transparency.

"The conclusion can be drawn that if we could make any reductions then they would be made. The key, overall, is effective deterrence," he said.

It is thought that the number of warheads, carried by Trident missiles, could be reduced from 96 to 48.

This would fulfil the pledge made in A Fresh Start for Britain, a Labour policy document approved in 1996, but not renewed in last year's manifesto.

The plans for greater transparency could include the official disclosure for the first time of the number of warheads and even their explosive power.

The changes are expected to be announced by George Robertson, the Secretary of State for Defence.

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