Minister 'misspoke over fast-jet pledge for new carriers'

THERE was confusion last night over the UK government's plans for the new aircraft carriers, as officials claimed that Defence Secretary Liam Fox "misspoke" when he said that both of them would both be prepared for use by fighter jets.

In his statement on Monday over the future funding of the military, Dr Fox said that the decision made in the autumn to effectively mothball one of the new carriers might be reversed.

He was asked by Glasgow South West MP Ian Davidson whether he meant that both of the new carriers would be fitted with a new cat and trap launch system, when the government had specifically said that only one would get the equipment to allow it to be used for fast jets when it unveiled its Strategic Defence and Security Review in November.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Dr Fox said: "That is our plan, and I have agreed to my officials now getting involved in contract negotiations. They were not previously able to do so because we were not guaranteed that we would have the budget.

"When we make decisions of this nature we must ensure that we have the wherewithal to pay for them. Otherwise, as I have said, they are simply a wish list."

But yesterday the Ministry of Defence insisted that the minister had made a mistake and had "misspoke".

A spokeswoman added: "As previously announced, only one of the carriers will get the cat and trap."

However, Labour MPs, who have been pushing for both carriers to be brought into service to allow for continuous carrier capability in the Royal Navy, as well as boosting jobs on the Clyde and at Rosyth, claimed last night that they had received private assurances from Dr Fox outside the chamber following the statement.

Mr Davidson said that he had taken the Defence Secretary at his word in the Commons and that Dr Fox would need to clarify his statements to MPs if a mistake had been made.

He said: "As far as I can see this is excellent news for the navy and the shipbuilding industry.

"It would have been absurd to build two carriers and then leave one of them unable to launch or land fast jets.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"The government are to be congratulated for recognising the error in their previous position and for being willing to change their mind."

He claimed that with an independence referendum expected some time in the next five years from the SNP Scottish Government, the extra work on the carriers for shipbuilders in Scotland would help towards supporting the Union.

He said: "This extra work is part of the Union dividend that Scottish shipbuilding gets from being part of the UK and which would be lost by separation."

Glasgow North West MP John Robertson MP, chairman of the Shipbuilding Group, said: "At long last we have something from this government on the record. Let's hope this is the end of the matter and that they keep to it."The workers in the historic shipbuilding industry in Glasgow don't need to be have the fear of losing their jobs hanging over their heads."