Cost-cutting warning over human rights report

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The Independent Online

Whitehall cost-cutting must not be allowed to damage the status of the Government's annual human rights report, Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies Campbell warned today.

The former party leader said he agreed that the publication might be delivered more cheaply, but added that money-saving measures should not give the impression that Britain was any less committed to human rights.

The report has been published since 1997 to highlight levels of torture, oppression, capital punishment and arms trading around the world, but it faces being downgraded amid intense pressure on budgets.

The Foreign Office is looking at alternatives to "the expensive glossy colour publications of the past". One option appears to be publishing the report online.

Sir Menzies said today: "It's a symbol, and what is important on an issue where Britain's reputation stands very high indeed, where we have a long-term historical commitment, where we have international legal obligations, is to ensure that a symbol of this kind is not damaged in a way that suggests we are in any way less committed to the cause of human rights.

"If it's a case of taking out glossy photographs of foreign secretaries and all the rest of it, having something that is cheaper, then I have no objections to that whatsoever, indeed in the present circumstances it's almost certainly necessary to do so."

Asked whether he felt that the principle of the audit should not be lost, he added: "Precisely."

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Sir Menzies said he was in "no doubt whatsoever" that Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg agreed with him.

"There won't just be Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons, there will be members in the Conservative Party and in the Labour Party as well," he went on.

"In the House of Commons there is an all-party commitment to human rights, and it's essential in my view that we maintain that as part of our international profile."