Hague commits to foreign policy ‘with a conscience’

By Alex Stevenson

Britain’s new foreign policy emphasis on security and prosperity will not mean compromises on human rights issues, William Hague has pledged.

The foreign secretary used a major speech in central London this morning to reaffirm the coalition government’s commitment to poverty reduction, international law and human rights.

“Far from giving less importance to these things, we see them as essential,” he said.

“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.”

Mr Hague announced the establishment of a new advisory group on the issue made up of key NGOs, independent experts and others and pledge to publish the Foreign Office’s guidance to its staff on handling allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment overseas.

Rather than continuing the annual “expensive glossy publication” on human rights the Foreign Office will instead publish the same information in a command paper to parliament.

“We will promote human rights painstakingly and consistently,” Mr Hague added.

“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.”

Today’s speech contains strong reservations about the manner in which Britain’s campaigning for improved human rights will be pursued. Mr Hague will warn that idealism “always needs to be tempered by realism”.

He will Britain’s values must be promoted with conviction, but only in ways “suited to the grain of the other societies we are dealing with”.