James Cleverly, Minister of State for Europe and North America, responds to an Urgent Question on the detention of geologist Jim Fitton in Iraq.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this important case. I recognise that this is a very distressing time for Mr Fitton and his family. I would also like to reassure hon. Members that consular officials continue to maintain contact with Mr Fitton and his family—indeed, they met his family this morning—and we liaise with his lawyers to provide consular assistance. Since his arrest in March, consular officials have visited Mr Fitton on four occasions.
We understand the urgency and the concerns that Mr Fitton and his family have. We cannot, of course, interfere or seek to interfere with the judicial process of another country, just as we would not expect interference in our own judicial process. That said, the British ambassador in Baghdad has raised and will continue to raise Mr Fitton’s case with the Iraqi Government. That includes raising with the authorities the UK’s strong opposition to the death penalty, in the context of both its potential application to Mr Fitton and our in-principle opposition to it in all instances.
Thank you for granting the urgent question, Mr Speaker.
I am deeply concerned by the nature of the Foreign Office’s engagement with my constituent’s case. Jim is a 66-year-old geologist. He is sitting in a cell in Iraq, he has missed his daughter’s wedding and he potentially faces the death penalty. His family are worried sick. Nearly a quarter of a million people have signed a petition urging the Government to help Jim, whose lawyer believes that representations from the British Government could make a huge difference to his case, but I am afraid the Government give the impression that they are not particularly interested or worried. Ministerial engagement has been slow: it took 10 days for the Minister’s private office to inform me that a meeting with Jim’s family was not on the cards.
Jim is days now away from a trial. We are told that the Government will not be making crucial representations to the Iraqi Government. I understand that the German Government are making representations on behalf of one of their nationals who has been detained with Jim; why will the Foreign Office not do the same?
I hope that the Minister will be able to answer these key questions. Jim’s trial is fast approaching. Will the Minister meet me and Jim’s family before the trial, and before it is too late? Will he commit himself to making representations to his Iraqi counterpart, as the German authorities are doing? This matter has implications far beyond Jim’s case; it fits into a concerning pattern of the UK Government’s failing to do enough for its citizens abroad. Can the Minister clarify his view of the role of the Foreign Office in supporting British citizens who run foul of legal injustice and draconian laws abroad, as has happened in Jim’s case? Will he commit himself to a root-and-branch review of the way in which the Foreign Office responds to situations such as this?
British citizens deserve the help of the British Government. Jim Fitton is potentially facing the death penalty. I urge Ministers to do everything they can to stop this nightmare before it turns into a tragedy.
I completely reject the hon. Lady’s assertions about the role of the British Government in this case, and in other consular cases. Let me remind the House of the facts, with your indulgence, Mr Speaker: I do think it is worth going into this in detail.
On 23 March, shortly after Mr Fitton’s arrest, consular officials visited him in detention. On 4 April, consular officials visited him again. On 10 April, the British ambassador to Iraq raised his case with the Iraqi authorities. On 25 April, consular officials visited Mr Fitton in detention again. On 1 May, the British embassy sent a note verbale to the Iraqi Government on Mr Fitton’s case. On the same date, and on 8 May, the British ambassador again raised the issue of Mr Fitton’s case with the Iraqi Government. Also on 8 May, consular officials visited Mr Fitton in detention. On 10 May, the British ambassador again raised Mr Fitton’s case with the Iraqi officials. On 11 May—just today, as I said—the family met our expert consular officials.
We do these things not because cases are raised in the House, but because they are the right things to do. I am proud of the work done both by our officials in Iraq and by the consular team in the UK to support individuals who have been arrested and their families. We will of course continue to raise this case with the Iraqi officials, we will of course continue to liaise with Mr Fitton and his family, and we will continue to support British nationals in incarceration around the globe.