William Hague to promise 'foreign policy with a conscience'

Wednesday 15 September 2010 09:28 BST

Foreign Secretary William Hague will today declare his commitment to the protection of human rights around the world, insisting it is not in Britain's interests to pursue "a foreign policy without a conscience".

Mr Hague will use the third in a series of linked speeches on foreign policy to announce that he is setting up a new group - including aid agencies and independent experts - to advise ministers on human rights issues.

He will also say that the Foreign Office is reissuing guidance to its staff on the need to report any incidents of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that they encounter in the course of their work.

"There will be no downgrading of human rights under this Government and no resiling from our commitments to aid and development. Indeed I intend to improve and strengthen our human rights work," he is expected to say.

"It is not in our character as a nation to have a foreign policy without a conscience, and neither is it in our interests.

"We cannot achieve long-term security and prosperity unless we uphold our values. Where human rights abuses go unchecked our security suffers. And our international influence will bleed away unless we maintain our international standing and cultural influence."

His comments carry echoes of former foreign secretary Robin Cook's declaration at the start of the last Labour government that it would pursue a foreign policy with an "ethical dimension".

However Mr Hague will also stress that "idealism in foreign policy always needs to be tempered by realism".

While he will say that the Government will raise human rights concerns "wherever and whenever they arise" - including with countries where the UK is trying to build closer ties - it will be guided in its actions by what is achievable.

"Our starting point for engagement on human rights with all countries will be based on what is practical, realistic and achievable, although we will always be ready to speak out as a matter of principle," he is expected to say.

He will acknowledge that Britain's reputation has been damaged by allegations that intelligence officers were complicit in the abuse of suspected terrorists held overseas but insisted lessons would be learned.

"Our standing is directly linked to the belief of others that we will do what we say and that we will not apply double standards," he is expected to say.

"Where problems have arisen that have affected the UK's moral standing we will deal with them patiently and clearly. We will act on the lessons learnt, and tackle the difficult issues we currently face head on."

Mr Hague will confirm that the Foreign Office will continue the previous government's practice of publishing an annual human rights report - although it will no longer be a glossy document but a simple parliamentary paper.

Shadow foreign secretary David Miliband welcomed the confirmation that the report would be retained, but accused Mr Hague of diverting resources away from human rights issues and frontline diplomatic services.

"William Hague has cut programmes on human rights and democracy by £560,000 this financial year, while the Government has watered down Labour's policy for a universal standard for arms sales," he said.

"The last Foreign Office had a ministerial team half the size of this Government's. The Foreign Secretary could protect his resources by spending less on ministerial perks, while retaining the diplomatic front line."

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