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  1. ITV Report

Foreign Office accused of promoting trade and security over human rights

MPs said the Foreign Office had given the impression it valued trade and security above human rights Credit: PA

Britain is increasingly giving the impression it values trade and security over human rights, MPs have warned.

A shift in diplomatic priorities and a string of high-profile trade visits by leaders of countries with some of the worst human rights records has led to the perception the government has downgraded the issue of human rights in its dealings with other countries, according to the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

Singled out for criticism by the committee was Tobias Ellwood, the Middle East minister, who once told parliament he was unable to recall whether he had raised the issue of human rights while leading a delegation to Egypt.

"We are disappointed by [his] choice of language on this occasion and others which raises questions about how energetically the government is raising human rights issues", the committee said in its report.

The committee said the UK could do more to support Italian authorities over the death of Giulio Regeni, an Italian national and Cambridge University student killed in Egypt who some experts say died after being tortured.

It also criticised the omission of Egypt and Bahrain from a Foreign Office list of countries requiring special attention over human rights abuses.

Philip Hammond rejected the committee's criticism Credit: PA

The Foreign Office, the report concluded, should be "more mindful of the perceptions it creates at ministerial level, especially when other interests are engaged such as prosperity and security, as is the case with China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia".

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond rejected the committee's criticism, saying: "I do not recognise this characterisation of our human rights work."

"Improving human rights is a core function of the Foreign Office and is the responsibility of every British diplomat around the world," he said.

"The UK supports over 75 human rights projects in more than 40 countries and this year we are doubling the funding available for human rights projects to £10 million - a true measure of the importance we attach to this agenda."

In the report, the MPs welcomed the dedicated human rights fund Mr Hammond referred to, but criticised its restriction only to countries receiving overseas aid.

The committee also called for a relaxation of rules barring groups which were not registered in their own countries from receiving funding.