Page last updated at 16:41 GMT, Thursday, 21 January 2010

Ministers defend counter-terror spending in Pakistan

Foreign Office projects hit: From BBC Democracy Live

Ministers have admitted cutting some counter-terror projects in Pakistan - a day after Gordon Brown said the area was the "number one security threat".

Ministers say the budget for counter terrorism will go up next year - but not by as much as hoped and some projects have already been axed.

The Foreign Office is having to cut back because of the falling pound.

The Tories have accused the government of "being indifferent" to Britain's global interests.

But Foreign Secretary David Miliband firmly denied this, telling the BBC: "We make absolutely no apology for making sure our spending goes on the highest impact programmes.

"As our budget rises we want to make sure that it has greatest effect. And it's very important that people understand the priority that the Foreign Office as well as the whole government gives to counter-terrorism and it's very important that the truth gets out which is that our spend on counter-terrorism in Pakistan is going up and I'm pleased that it's doing so."

'Essential projects'

Foreign Office minister Baroness Kinnock said the budget would go from £8.2m in 2009/10 to £9.5m in 2010/11.

But in a statement to peers, she admitted this was "not as much as hoped" and that a "small number of... projects that were not delivering as effectively as other projects at meeting CT (counter-terrorism) objectives" had been cut or "scaled back" as a result.

We have a government, and in particular a prime minister, which is indifferent to the point of negligence towards the global interests of the United Kingdom
Shadow Foreign Office minister David Lidington

The BBC understands they include education projects and efforts to tackle radicalisation in madrasas - Islamic schools or colleges.

Pakistan's High Commissioner Wajit Shamsul Hasan told BBC Radio 4's The World at One that the projects that had been axed were "essential projects" which he hoped would be restored when the British government had resolved its financial problems.

Shadow Foreign Office minister David Lidington said the row suggests "that we have a government, and in particular a prime minister, which is indifferent to the point of negligence towards the global interests of the United Kingdom".

But minister Chris Bryant hit back, telling Mr Lidington: "You can huff and you can puff as much as you want, but unless you are prepared to make commitments about your funding after a general election, I don't think anyone will take you seriously."

'Substantial cuts'

The Foreign Office, which receives about 50% of its funding in foreign currency, was cushioned against the falling pound by a special fund until it was axed in 2007.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth has also said exchange rate issues were affecting the defence budget.

"We are having to try to live within our budget and move money around to our priorities," he said.

The full extent of the problem for the Foreign Office is set out in a leaked memo obtained by the Conservatives.

The memo orders officials to draw up plans for "substantial" cuts to be implemented "soon after the election" - blaming the cash crisis on the falling value of sterling and budget pressure.

Further cuts could and should not be achieved by salami slicing: it would require us to stop activity, close posts and reduce staff numbers
Leaked Foreign Office memo

It suggests foreign posts may have to close if funding is cut further, although it stressed that Foreign Secretary David Miliband did not want this.

Nevertheless, the Tories have accused Labour of drawing up a secret hit list of embassies it planned to close - something firmly denied by ministers.

The row over Foreign Office funding blew up on Wednesday after Baroness Kinnock revealed it was facing a budget shortfall, which was due to get slightly worse in 2010/11.

She told peers: "We have had staff redundancies in Argentina, Japan and across the United States.

"Programmes in Afghanistan in counter-narcotics have been cut, capacity building to prevent conflicts in Africa, counter-terrorism and radicalisation in Pakistan, the list goes on."


Her comments came two hours after Gordon Brown outlined a range of new counter-terrorism measures to MPs in a Commons statement.

During that statement he said that the "crucible of terrorism" on the Afghan-Pakistan border remained the "number one security threat to the West".

BBC political correspondent Carole Walker said the apparent confusion between the two statements had arisen because the Foreign Office "failed to clear the specific cutbacks through the government committee which oversees security and counter-terrorism".

Speaking on a visit to a housing estate in Stevenage, Mr Brown stressed that there would be no cuts in the counter-terrorism budget to be spent in Pakistan and it would increase next year.

"We are extending the range of work we are doing on de-radicalisation... but we also want to support the moderates," he said.

But Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey said: "Cuts to essential counter-terrorism work in Pakistan are simply unacceptable.

"When our troops are in Afghanistan to fight the terrorist threat, it is a betrayal of their sacrifice to slash the diplomatic budget crucial to crushing the very source of that threat."

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