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John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): How many people does my hon. Friend think have suffered in French prisons with no one to help them with the language?

Mr. Stewart: That is a good point. My hon. Friend has just predicted my next line. More than 165 UK nationals are in French prisons and, if Douai is representative of French prisons, as I think it is, squalid conditions are widespread. Moreover, UK citizens have to suffer a legal system that is different, where interpretation is not available to many people. The right to legal advice and assistance is an essential part of our law and we have a duty to protect our UK citizens in French prisons.

The consulate in Lille should obtain a copy of the prison health and safety and infection control policy, and request that an updated risk assessment be carried out immediately, as well as a copy of the recent inspection report on the prison.

The Foreign Office should start keeping statistics on the treatment of UK citizens in French prisons, particularly with reference to access to legal representation, interpretation services, the time taken to proceed to trial and conditions within prisons. As my hon. Friend the Minister will know, his written reply to me on 11 March 2002, No. 212, said clearly that those statistics were not recorded.

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I look forward to my hon. Friend's reply and I feel sure that he will understand my real concern about the welfare of Mr. Logan and the hundreds of UK nationals incarcerated in squalid conditions in French prisons.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): Would it be worth while pressing the Home Office to ensure that this gentleman is returned to the UK to serve any sentence so that our Prison Service can ensure that he is treated far better than he has been in France?

Mr. Stewart: I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention. I am sure that I can speak for the family and say that they would very much welcome the return of Mr. Logan to Britain. I understand that there are some problems at the French end in trying to bring that forward, but in the meantime, he and another 165 UK citizens are living in squalid prison conditions. I am very concerned about those conditions and I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

10.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Stewart) for raising the treatment of British prisoners in France as the subject of this debate. I welcome this opportunity to talk about the issue and to explain what help our consular officials give to all British citizens detained overseas and not only in France.

Consular staff visit all British prisoners detained overseas, unless the detainee declines a consular visit. They will also visit Commonwealth citizens if there is no diplomatic representation in the country of their detention.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not make decisions about the guilt or innocence of anyone detained overseas. That is a matter for the sentencing state. As my hon. Friend will know, international law prevents us from becoming involved in the judicial process of other countries. Our own judicial proceedings are similarly protected from outside interference, but it is our job to ensure that prisoners are treated fairly and in accordance with international standards.

Consular staff help to ensure that the detainee has legal representation and can provide lists of local lawyers who can speak English. Consular staff also provide detainees with information on the prison and local judicial system. They will ensure that, if necessary, the detainee receives adequate medical attention. If the detainee asks for their family to be informed of their situation, consular staff will arrange for that to be done. They can help by transferring money to the detainee for comforts additional to those provided by the prison, and can also help the family to arrange a visit to the prison.

Consular staff will also tell detainees and their families about the charity Prisoners Abroad. Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff work closely with that charity and provide it with some funding. Prisoners Abroad exists to help provide prisoners with practical support. Its caseworkers speak at least one foreign language and can therefore liaise with the prison or the detainee's legal representative and with consular staff. It can also provide financial assistance to detainees and their families if they

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have no other source of income. Prisoners Abroad also provides an after-care system, helping to resettle released prisoners in the UK.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a separate prisoners unit within its human rights section. The unit helps to implement policy on clemency and fair trials and is also responsible for negotiating prisoner transfer agreements. The agreements, which have already been mentioned, allow a prisoner, once their sentence is final, the opportunity to apply for transfer to serve the remainder of their sentence in their own country. Advantages of that approach include more regular visits from their family and better prospects for rehabilitation and reintegration into their home society. The prisoners unit has also recently set up a number of initiatives to improve further the service that we provide to British prisoners detained overseas. They include two pro bono panels—one for lawyers and one for doctors.

My hon. Friend asked about the situation in France. There are currently 168 British citizens detained in France. Consular staff from our consulates-general in Paris, Bordeaux, Lille, Lyons and Marseilles visit prisoners regularly. Initial contact is made with prisoners within 24 hours of the receipt of notification that they have been charged and imprisoned. That initial contact is followed up with a first visit to the prisoner as soon as practicable. Prisoners are visited at least once a year after the first visit, and more often in some circumstances. The consular officer will ensure that the prisoner has legal representation and that any medical needs are being attended to. If the prisoner raises serious concerns, consular officers will take them up immediately with the prison authorities.

We also help detainees' families in the United Kingdom. If the detainee has given permission for us to confirm the arrest to their family, we contact them and send an information pack about the judicial and prison system in France. The pack also explains how the family can apply for a permit to visit their loved ones. The consulate will also help the family with booking the visit to the prison.

My hon. Friend raised the conditions at some of the prisons in France. This is primarily a matter for the French Government. Britain can intervene only if we have evidence that British citizens are not receiving the same treatment as that which is provided for French or other nationals. I promise him that I will look into the specific matters that he has raised this evening, and I will write to him on those that I am not about to address in my response.

We are not aware of any instances in which the human rights of British citizens have been abused in French prisons. If my hon. Friend is aware of any such instances, I invite him to let me have the evidence so that we can decide whether to take the matter up with the French authorities. It is also open to the British citizen concerned to raise specific points with the French courts and ultimately with the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the case of his constituent, Jeffrey Logan. I will not go into the details of Mr. Logan's arrest and charge, as my hon. Friend has already given them. Mr. Logan appealed against his conviction on 26 September, and was transferred from Longuenesse prison to Douai prison on 15 October 2001.

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That is the prison to which detainees are normally transferred pending appeal hearings at the appeal court in Douai. Mr. Logan's appeal was heard on 16 April and the result will be announced on 4 June 2002, after which—depending on the outcome—Mr. Logan will be either released or moved.

Douai is one of the older prisons in France; it was built in 1901. As such, its facilities are not as favourable as those of some of the newer French prisons. Although we have no formal system of classification, we do not consider any prisons in France to be "difficult". Difficult prison conditions exist where, for example, the inmates have taken over the running of a prison, where gang warfare, including threats and intimidation, reduces detainees' lives to a level of mere survival, or where even basic rations of food and drinkable water need to be bought. It is impossible to communicate with the outside world from some such prisons, and medical treatment would not exist without the intervention of consular staff. This is not the case in Douai.

As my hon. Friend has acknowledged, the British Government have done all that we can to help Mr. Logan since his arrest on 30 May 2000. His family contacted us on 30 May to tell us of the arrest. Our consulate in Lille made inquiries on that same day, and confirmed to Mrs. Logan that her husband was being held in police custody, as drugs had allegedly been found in his vehicle. Mrs. Logan was then told that her husband would be held for a further 24 hours in custody, and that, as the case was connected to drugs, he could be held for a further 48 hours without being able to contact her or our consulate. That is in accordance with French law.

Mr. Logan was charged with drugs trafficking offences on 2 June 2000 and remanded in custody at Longuenesse prison while the French judicial authorities conducted their investigation. A consular official visited Mr. Logan on 8 June 2000 at Longuenesse prison and explained the prison and judicial system to him. The consular official also delivered clothing on behalf of his family. Mr. Logan did not have any complaints about his treatment by the French authorities at that time. He was grateful for the consular visit and for the assistance that we gave to his family. He received a further consular visit on 22 June 2000 so that he could write a statement enabling his wife to act on his behalf. Mr. Logan was visited again at Longuenesse prison on 14 June 2001. He advised our consular officer that he was in good health, was taking regular exercise and had lost weight. He was also receiving regular visits from his family.

Following her husband's transfer to Douai prison in October 2001, Mrs. Logan contacted consular staff by telephone in early November about the prison conditions. The consulate took up her concerns about the conditions immediately in a letter to the prison director. The prison director replied on 13 November and our consulate provided an unofficial translation of his letter for Mrs. Logan. The director addressed most of the issues that Mrs. Logan had raised in her telephone call, but if my hon. Friend believes that that is not the case, I will happily respond to the specific complaints that he raised.

Mrs. Logan also wrote directly to the prison director on 16 November. The director also met Mrs. Logan on 18 December 2001 to discuss the rest of her concerns. The consulate wrote to Mr. Logan on 14 December 2001 informing him that his wife had been in touch with us

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about prison conditions. We asked whether there were other issues that he wanted us to raise on his behalf. So far, Mr. Logan has not responded.

Mr. Logan is due to receive another consular visit by June this year. As Mrs. Logan has told us that her husband is now suffering health problems, we have applied to visit him as soon as possible. We also wrote to the medical director of the prison on 17 April about Mr. Logan's health. Our consul-general in Lille has also requested an appointment with the prison director to urge him to review conditions in the light of complaints that Mrs. Logan has raised.

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My noble Friend Baroness Amos, who has primary responsibility for consular matters, will write to my hon. Friend to report on the outcome of that meeting. As I said, I shall happily write to him on any point that he has raised in this evening's debate that I have not addressed in my response.

I trust that this debate has reassured you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of our continued commitment to look after the welfare and to protect the rights of all British prisoners overseas.

Question put and agreed to.

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