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In the Lords yesterday Baroness Kinnock gaffed with an acknowledgement that foreign embassies and related activities were facing budget cuts across the globe:
"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."
Tory foreign affairs spokesman David Lidington took up the issue in the Commons an hour ago:
“The Rt Hon Friend Baroness Kinnock explained to the House of Lords that his government was cutting Foreign Office expenditure on counter-terrorism programs in Pakistan and anti-narcotics programs in Afghanistan, not from any reassessment of strategic priorities, but because of the movement of exchange rates and the Government’s overall debt crisis, which is not the way to run an effective foreign policy. Yesterday we had the spectacle of Gordon Brown standing up in the House of Commons talking about fighting terror, while in the House of Lords his Minister was admitting that we are cutting spending thanks to the Labour's debt crisis. It 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.
“I have three questions for the Minister [Chris Bryant MP].
“First, how did the government get itself into this mess ? We know that the problem started with the decision to end the Overseas Price Mechanism transfer exchange rate risk from the Treasury to the Foreign Office. Did ministers not understand at that time what harm might be done to Britain's international interests and why did the present Foreign Secretary allow this to happen on his watch?
“Second, what is the scale of the damage done so far? Can the Minister confirm the figure given to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee by his Permanent Secretary that the cost to the FCO in 2008/09 was £60 million, and Baroness Kinnock's statement to the House of Lords yesterday (20 January 2010, column 992) that the shortfall has risen to £110 million in the current financial year and is set to rise further in 2010/11?
“That figure adds up to about a quarter of the budget for the FCO's core activities, once you strip out the ring-fenced budgets for the British Council and the BBC World Service. We know from the Permanent Secretary's evidence that as a consequence the FCO has now "stopped most training" and put some staff on involuntary unpaid leave or four day weeks. We know from Baroness Kinnock that there have been reductions in conflict prevention work in Africa and in climate change programmes.
“Isn't it time for the government to come clean about what it is doing and make public a full list of the cuts which it is imposing as a result of its exchange rate policy?
“Third, what are Ministers' intentions for the future? I have seen an internal FCO memorandum which says that "further cuts could and should not be achieved by salami slicing" but instead by stopping activity, closing posts and reducing staff numbers. Officials have been instructed to grow its work up contingency plans for substantial cuts which could be implemented soon after the election". The memorandum states that this plan was discussed with the Foreign Secretary and his ministerial team on the 21st of December. Did the Minister and his colleagues approve this strategy? In particular how far has work now proceeded on a contingency list of British posts overseas which might be closed?""