BASINGSTOKE MP Maria Miller has met with human rights groups in Russia ahead of the Winter Olympics.

Mrs Miller, who is Minister for Women and Equalities, travelled to the Russian cities of Moscow and St Petersburg in December, and met representatives from groups concerned with domestic violence, racism and gay rights.

The run-up to the games in Sochi, which are due to start on Friday, February 7, has been dominated by the issue of gay rights.

Campaigners have called for a boycott of the Winter Olympics after the Russian Government passed a law in June last year making it illegal to provide information about homosexuality to people aged under 18.

Mrs Miller told The Gazette: “I was in Moscow and St Petersburg before Christmas, meeting human rights groups and also Russian government ministers in advance of the Sochi games.

“The meetings that we had were very constructive, and we already work with human rights groups on the ground in Russia. We will be talking to them about how that can be continued in the future.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin recently said homosexual visitors would be welcome to the games but added they should not spread “gay propaganda”.

He said: “We don’t have a ban on non-traditional sexual relations. We have a ban on promoting homosexuality and paedophilia amongst minors.”

Several world leaders have said they will not travel to Sochi in protest at the new law, but British ministers, including Mrs Miller, will attend the games.

Mrs Miller said: “I think it’s really important that we support the Winter Olympics and the British Olympic team.

“There are many countries around the world whose people take part in international sporting events where there are significant differences in terms of our approaches to human rights.

“We feel very strongly as a Government that we should take these opportunities to challenge that, and to work with human rights organisations and support them in the appropriate way.”