The BBC division that eavesdrops on the world and assists in the battle against terrorism has been warned it may have its funding cut.
The bombshell warning has come from Foreign Office minister Chris Mullin, who benefited from the BBC Monitoring service when he was a sub-editor at the BBC World Service in the Seventies.
It was BBC Monitoring, working with the US Foreign Broadcast Information Service, which first drew attention to the claim by an Al-Qaida group claiming responsibility for the Madrid terrorist outrage.
The statement was spotted in a London-based Arabic newspaper.
Before Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed Libya’s announcement in December that it was prepared to dismantle weapons of mass destruction, BBC Monitoring was asked to check that the statement had actually been made.
Based in Caversham Park, BBC Monitoring tracks more than 3,000 sources in the international media, covering 150 countries and 100 languages, providing 1,000 reports daily.
While 22 per cent of its £22m-a-year funding is borne by the BBC World Service, the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence share 33 per cent and the Cabinet Office contributes 12 per cent.
But despite acknowledging it was “the main open source provider of information for the Government and the BBC World Service”, Mullin admitted to MPs that BBC Monitoring’s £7m grant from the Foreign Office was under review.
“It [BBC Monitoring] faces the same pressures on resources as the FCO and I find it difficult to envisage any increase in funding for it,” he said.
Labour MP Gavin Strang had pressed the Government for assurances it would provide adequate funding in a Commons debate.
“BBC Monitoring, with its reach and skills, is of tremendous value to Britain and our allies in the face of that threat,” he said.
By David Rose