A BOURNEMOUTH MP has defended making an all-expenses-paid trip to Bahrain at the invitation of the government which is now facing mass protests from its people.

Conor Burns, MP for Bournemouth West, declared the trip – worth around £3,279 – on the House of Commons’ register of members’ interests.

He visited the Middle Eastern kingdom last year as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Bahrain.

The royal family of Bahrain has also given a string of gifts to British politicians, including jewellery worth £140 given to David Cameron in 2009.

Mr Burns said it was right for MPs to visit Bahrain last October to observe the elections to the lower house of its legislature.

“The purpose of these parliamentary groups is that they’re essentially friendship groups between countries and between parliaments,” he said.

“There are exchange visits organised between the parliaments to each other’s countries to learn more about them.”

He said the King of Bahrain gave up “quite a lot of his powers to parliament” 10 years ago and was sympathetic to calls for reform.

“By our standards their democracy is very, very imperfect but they’ve started on the process of reform,” he said.

He said he “100 per cent condemned” the violence seen against protesters in the kingdom. But he said it had taken democracy centuries to take root in western countries and it could not be imposed overnight in the Middle East.

“There’s an old saying, ‘Be careful what you wish for’. There are some pretty extreme and unpleasant religious forces at work in that part of the world,” he added.