I will not, because I have very little time to make the speech I want to make.
UK nationals travelling abroad should ensure that they have sufficient travel insurance and read the FCO’s travel advice so that they can make informed decisions about the obvious risks in certain parts of the world. We offer help appropriate to the circumstances of each case. Our overseas staff assess individuals’ vulnerability and needs based on who they are, where they are and the situation they face. Dual nationality was mentioned; I will endeavour to ensure that there is a review of precisely what impact that has and revert to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston.
We work particularly hard to support those who are most in need of our help, and we intervene on behalf of families if British nationals are not treated in line with internationally accepted standards or there are unreasonable delays in procedures compared with the way nationals of the country concerned are treated. We are not, however, in a position to take decisions on people’s behalf, nor are we able to do everything that might be asked of us. As a matter of policy, we do not pay outstanding bills, including legal fees, as we are not funded to provide such financial assistance, nor does the FCO seek preferential treatment for British nationals. That means we do not and must not interfere in civil or criminal court proceedings, as was pointed out. It is right that we respect the legal systems of other countries, just as we expect foreign nationals to respect our laws and legal processes when they are here in the UK.
We have a clear policy that dictates how we engage in detention cases. We typically become aware of such cases when the British national involved agrees that the host Government may notify us of their detention. We then make contact or visit, where possible, within 24 hours. That did happen in the Johal case: as was alluded to, there was simply a delay in British authorities’ being made aware of his detention.
There are some 2,000 Britons in detention at any one time, the greatest number—approximately 400—in the United States of America. Our priority is always the welfare of UK nationals: to ensure that they receive food, water and medical treatment as required, and that they have access to legal advice. I know personally from dealing with the notorious cases of the Chennai Six and the group that was recently detained in Cambodia just how important that is.
The number of consular visits depends on the context of a particular case. Some have described those visits as a lifeline, and they may be the only visits a British national in detention abroad receives. Our assistance does not stop there. If a British national tells us they have been mistreated or tortured, our consular staff will, with their permission, do their best to raise concerns with the authorities and seek an investigation. To strengthen our support, we often work with partner organisations, of which the charity Prisoners Abroad is one example. Prisoners Abroad supports detainees and their families and helps to facilitate contact. If there is no family, it can help find detainees a pen-pal or send them books to read or study. It can also help with prisoners’ resettlement in the UK after release.
The death penalty exacerbates the anxiety for all those involved in consular cases where a British national is at risk of receiving or is in receipt of a capital sentence. Working to abolish the death penalty remains a key priority of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is an important part of our day-to-day work and that of all our diplomatic missions in countries that still carry out the death penalty. Our message to them is clear: we believe the death penalty to be unjust, outdated and ineffective, and it risks fuelling extremism. There are currently 15 British nationals on death row around the world. Irrespective of the reason for their conviction, we do all we can to ensure that the death penalty is commuted and is not carried out. As with all countries that retain the death penalty, we hope that the Government of India establish a moratorium on executions, in line with the global trend towards the abolition of capital punishment.
Let me turn to some of the specifics of Mr Johal’s case. Only this morning, his tenacious and hard- working constituency MP, the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), who is here, was able to speak to our high commissioner in India, Sir Dominic Asquith. I was asked directly why consular officials have not been given private consular access. That is a matter of great frustration. We frequently requested private consular access when Mr Johal was first detained, but as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston will know, he has since been moved to the Nabha prison—a maximum security jail where, for security reasons, private visits are not permitted. I will write to Members who raised the issue of CHOGM, particularly the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire.