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7.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I hope to do so, and to reassure the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) that many of the allegations that she has directed towards our consular officials are unfounded. However, I first congratulate her on securing the debate on Ian Stillman. There has been extensive parliamentary and public interest in his case, and I welcome the opportunity to set out the action that we have taken so far on his behalf.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, my noble Friend Baroness Amos—the Minister with primary responsibility for such consular cases—and I have taken

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an active role in Mr. Stillman's case, and Foreign Office officials have done a great deal on his behalf. I shall spell out some of what they have done.

The hon. Member for Romsey has outlined the background and we agree on it. Mr. Stillman made an appeal to the High Court against his conviction in October 2001, but it was rejected on 11 January 2002. Mr. Stillman intends to appeal to the supreme court.

We have done all we can to help Mr. Stillman since his arrest on 28 August 2000. The police first informed our high commission in New Delhi of his arrest on 30 August and Mr. Stillman spoke to a consular official on the telephone that same day. Mr. Stillman said that he was fine, that the police were treating him well and that a local friend would inform his family of his arrest.

A consular official visited Mr. Stillman on 5 September—less than a week later—at a jail in Kullu. Mr. Stillman had no complaints about his treatment and said that he was satisfied with the facilities provided by the prison authorities. Our consular official communicated with Mr. Stillman by writing notes, explained Indian legal procedures and gave him a list of English-speaking lawyers in India.

We have taken a close interest in Mr. Stillman's welfare since his arrest. Our consular staff in New Delhi have monitored it closely during consular visits, which generally take place every three months, and by liaising with Mr. Stillman's son, who visits him in prison approximately twice a week. Consular officials are also in touch with Mr. Stillman's wife, who lives in India, and have met members of his family who visited New Delhi. Most recently, senior officials met representatives from his family on 1 March and 5 March 2002.

Our consular staff in London are also in frequent contact with Mr. Stillman's family in the United Kingdom by telephone and e-mail. Consular officials also met his family on four occasions—14 May and 2 July 2001, and 14 January and 7 February 2002. As the hon. Member for Romsey pointed out, my noble Friend Baroness Amos discussed the case with Mr. Stillman's sister on 5 February.

Our consular staff have taken all possible measures to ensure that the Indian authorities are meeting Mr. Stillman's welfare requirements adequately and they have been instrumental in achieving improvements to many aspects of his detention. I have to say to the hon. Lady that, before his conviction in 2001, we had not been asked to help with any transfer.

In June 2001, following the first request that we received, our consular staff helped to arrange for Mr. Stillman to be transferred to his current prison in Kanda, which is relatively new and has better conditions and facilities. We also helped to ensure that Mr. Stillman was provided with a wheelchair, and that he was able to use a computer and have better lighting in his cell. Mr. Stillman has his own room in Kanda prison and we understand that fellow inmates have been assisting.

Sandra Gidley: Does the Minister accept that the reason why Ian Stillman did not want to rock the boat initially was that he knew he was innocent and thought that he would soon be out of there? He thought that the

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best way to get a quick trial was by not making a fuss. Does the Minister still think it acceptable for somebody to be in such cramped conditions for so long?

Mr. Bradshaw: It is not for me to comment on Mr. Stillman's motives for not seeking consular help before his conviction. The implication of the hon. Lady's earlier allegations was that we did not do what was requested of us before his conviction. We did: we received a request only after conviction.

Throughout his detention, Mr. Stillman has received medical treatment from prison doctors. During a prison visit on 16 July 2001, our High Commission also sought permission for a visit by a specialist after Mr. Stillman's family informed us that he was experiencing phantom pains, thought to have been caused by his artificial leg. His family provided our high commission with details of the prosthetic specialist of their choice shortly thereafter, and a written formal request was sent to the prison authorities on 21 July 2001. Our high commission followed up those requests with the prison authorities, who granted permission for a prosthetic specialist to visit on 24 September 2001. Mr. Stillman's artificial leg was subsequently remoulded.

In January this year, Mr. Stillman's family informed consular officials in London that Mr. Stillman's health had deteriorated. We offered to refer his case to a doctor on the FCO's pro bono panel of doctors to obtain an independent assessment of any risk to his health and whether he was receiving proper medical treatment. We asked his family to send us copies of his medical reports from doctors who had examined him recently, as we do not have a legal right to obtain those documents ourselves. Mr. Stillman's father wrote to the prison requesting the records, and our high commission in New Delhi contacted the prison authorities in support of his request on 14 and 22 March. As soon as we receive Mr. Stillman's medical reports we shall refer his case to a doctor on our pro bono panel.

Our high commission in New Delhi has also been helping Mr. Stillman's family to arrange for a medical specialist of their choice to visit Mr. Stillman. It wrote to the additional director of prisons on 11 March this year in support of a recent request by Mr. Stillman's father for a specialist visit. We understand that the prison authorities have now agreed to such a visit. The authorities also permitted Mr. Stillman to be taken on 21 March this year to a hospital in Chandigarh, where he was examined by a neurologist, an orthopaedic surgeon, a psychiatrist and a general physician.

Consular officials visited Mr. Stillman while he was at the hospital and spent almost two hours with him and his son. Mr. Stillman raised a number of issues with them and asked whether the high commission could help arrange for a further visit by a prosthetic specialist and for his wheelchair to be repaired. On 22 March, a consular official raised those issues with the prison authorities, who agreed to Mr. Stillman's requests.

Our consular representative also asked the prison authorities if Mr. Stillman's son could continue to visit him frequently and interpret for him when he was taken

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to the hospital. Our high commission in New Delhi will continue to do all that it can to ensure that the Indian authorities meet Mr. Stillman's welfare requirements.

We recognise what a distressing experience Mr. Stillman's arrest has been both for him and for his family. I hope, however, that the hon. Lady will understand that international law prevents us from getting involved in the judicial process of another country. Our own judicial proceedings are similarly protected from outside interference.

Our objectives remain to ensure proper conditions for Mr. Stillman and a transparent and expeditious judicial process. It is not the case that interventions have not been made at a high level. On 26 June 2001, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised our concerns about Mr. Stillman's welfare and our hope that his appeal to the high court would be heard as quickly as possible with the Indian high commissioner and Prime Minister Vajpayee's Principal Secretary, Brajesh Mishra. On 4 July 2001, the Deputy Prime Minister raised his case with the Indian Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, and Mr. Mishra. I also raised it with the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, Omar Abdullah, on 18 February 2002 during my visit to New Delhi, and I asked that Mr. Stillman's appeal to the supreme court be heard as quickly as possible once it has been submitted. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the issue again most recently with the Indian Home Minister, Mr. Advani, on 27 February 2002.

I should like to respond to a couple of the specific points that the hon. Lady raised. She asked about the allegation that was being made in the Indian media and by others that Mr. Stillman was not deaf, and that he was a criminal and wanted in the United Kingdom. Our high commission in New Delhi issued a press statement on 3 July 2001 making it absolutely clear that Mr. Stillman was not a wanted criminal in the UK. However, it is for Mr. Stillman's lawyer to present the proof that Mr. Stillman is deaf during his appeal to the supreme court.

Sandra Gidley: I fully accept that that useful action was taken by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at that time. It helped considerably, because the

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misinformation campaign stopped. However, it has now started again, so could the Foreign and Commonwealth Office repeat its previous action?

Mr. Bradshaw: I have no objection to re-issuing the press release, but the implication of the hon. Lady's question was that we had not already taken such action. I am perfectly happy to issue a press release again.

The hon. Lady also asked about the first consular visit to Mr. Stillman on 5 September 2000. A friend of our consular representative accompanied him on that visit. Our consular representative asked Mr. Stillman whether he had any objections to the friend being present. The suggestion was made—perhaps not by the hon. Lady—that the friend may have been a journalist, and that may have inhibited Mr. Stillman from talking. I assure her that that was not the case, and he was not inhibited from talking.

We have also offered Mr. Stillman the assistance of a British lawyer from our pro bono panel. The panel consists of 53 UK-qualified barristers and solicitors. Among other services, they are able to offer free legal advice to the local lawyers of British prisoners abroad on human rights issues, such as fair trials.

I am aware of the allegation by the director of Fair Trials Abroad, Stephen Jakobi, that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office interfered in his relationship with his client because it offered to put Mr. Stillman in touch with a lawyer from our pro bono panel. I wish to point out that neither Mr. Stillman nor his family informed our consular staff that Mr. Jakobi had been formally instructed as Mr. Stillman's lawyer in the UK. Indeed, Mr. Stillman accepted our offer to put him in touch with a British lawyer from our pro bono panel in February. Ultimately, it is for Mr. Stillman to choose which lawyer he would like to represent him.

I hope that I have made it clear that, contrary to what the hon. Lady suggests, our consular officials have acted properly in this case. They have done everything possible, including paying regular visits and providing regular access to our consular officials in Delhi and in this country, and they will continue to do all they can to ensure that Mr. Stillman is well treated while he is in detention and that his appeal to the supreme court is heard as quickly as possible.

Question put and agreed to.

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