Minister defends navy cuts

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DEFENCE minister Peter Luff has defended the government’s cuts to the Royal Navy during a visit to Portsmouth.

Mr Luff, who is in charge of defence equipment, responded to criticism of last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review which saw 5,000 sailors, aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and the navy’s Harrier jump jets axed.

He said: ‘No-one wanted to get rid of the Harriers and Ark Royal. It was not the decision we wanted to take.

‘But the UK faces a huge financial crisis and cuts had to be made.’

The minister poured cold water on speculation that a small number of Harrier jets may be brought back for use on Ark Royal’s sister ship HMS Illustrious, which emerged from a £40m refit in Scotland last week.

He said: ‘We will shortly be announcing disposal of the Harriers. That decision has been taken and there will be no backing away from it.’

In recent weeks, military chiefs have expressed concerns about the state of the forces following the cuts.

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope publicly questioned if the navy can sustain its level of operations off Libya beyond the summer without becoming stretched.

But Mr Luff argued: ‘I would say that the conflict in Libya has completely vindicated the decisions taken in the SDSR.

‘We have a flexible force which has still been able to launch aircraft and play a part in the international effort.’