Page last updated at 11:18 GMT, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 12:18 UK

Tories plan early defence review

Eurofighter Typhoon jets
Mr Osborne said he did not have details of the Eurofighter contract

A strategic defence review would be carried out "very quickly" if the Tories win power, says David Cameron.

He said it was "extraordinary" that one had not been held in the eight years since the September 11 attacks.

He played down reports he would axe various big defence contracts but said no areas were "exempt from the need to control public spending".

The GMB union has said axing plans to build two new aircraft carriers would lead to "devastating" job losses.

The Times reported the Conservatives could scrap defence projects worth £30bn, following comments made by shadow chancellor George Osborne on Tuesday.

He mentioned at a Spectator event he did not know what the "break clauses" were in contracts for the Eurofighter/Typhoon project, two aircraft carriers and A400M transport aircraft.

No exemptions

In his monthly press conference on Wednesday, Mr Cameron said Mr Osborne had been responding to a question about how easy it was to get details of defence contracts - which he said, in opposition, was "very difficult".

He added: "It only highlights the need for a proper strategic defence review. We have said we will hold that if we win the election, we will get on and do that very quickly."

Everything has to be subject to a value-for-money test and that is the way it should be
David Cameron

Asked about suggestions the party was having conversations about aircraft carrier contracts and different ways to replace the Trident nuclear missile system he said no area was "exempt" from discussions but none "should be particularly singled out".

He added: "Do we discuss all of the things that could be done and debate them? Yes of course we do, it would be extraordinary not to. Everything has to be subject to a value-for-money test and that is the way it should be.

"In terms of defence though, we have said very clearly - partly because of the difficulties of trying to deal with these things in opposition and partly because we don't want to make piecemeal decisions - we do need a strategic defence review to look at what is Britain's role in the world, how are we going to safeguard our national security in the modern age and what sort of armed forces and equipment do we need to do that?"

Jobs threat

After Mr Osborne's comments Keith Hazlewood, of the GMB union, said he was concerned about the future of the aircraft carrier projects.

"We are looking at 10,000 jobs on the carrier project over six years," he said.

"If this 'break' (clause) is carried through it will leave a major gap and lead to devastating job losses in Scotland and Portsmouth. The Tories could threaten the viability of the UK's shipbuilding industry itself."

Ministers say they will begin a strategic defence review early in the next Parliament, the first since 1998, and will launch a green paper on future defence priorities early next year.

On Tuesday Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth hinted at "major shifts" in defence spending, as the government prioritises resources for Afghanistan.

On Trident, Mr Ainsworth said the UK would "stick" with its seaborne nuclear deterrent but would look at its costs.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has called for Trident to be scrapped when it expires in 2024, arguing it is too expensive and no longer meets the UK's defence needs.

He said a deterrent was still needed but a "like for like" replacement - at an estimated cost of £20bn - was out of the question.



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