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2 Apr 2008 : Column 309WH—continued

More generally, my hon. Friend asked about what more could be done now and in the longer term. As she is aware, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s primary role in assisting British nationals detained or arrested overseas is to support them and to consider their welfare. We can take up any justified complaint about an individual not being treated in line with internationally accepted standards or if they have been ill-treated or discriminated against. Of course, as my hon. Friend knows and will fairly acknowledge, as will all those campaigning on behalf of the four gentlemen, we cannot seek preferential treatment on the basis of nationality; I think that that is generally accepted and nobody is arguing that case.
2 Apr 2008 : Column 310WH
That is not the business that we are in; we are in the business of ensuring the guaranteeing of minimum standards of protection.

I would like to reassure my hon. Friend that we have monitored Mr. Burke’s case since his arrest in December and will continue to do so right up until his appeal on 2 May. Consular staff in Rome and London have provided assistance, and I would like to put on record the Government’s appreciation of the work that they have provided in regard to this case. They have provided full consular assistance to Mr. Burke and his family. Staff have visited him on three separate occasions; provided information on Italian prison procedures; assisted in arranging family visits; and taken up welfare concerns, as I have already mentioned.

Again, my hon. Friend fairly asked about access to translation services, including immediate verbal translation and the translation of court documents. I must tell her that the practice of the UK Government in all such matters is not to translate documents on behalf of UK citizens. I realise that that may disappoint her, but it is not the practice of the UK Government to fund or organise the translation of court documents, in a court in Rome or in any other city across the world, on behalf of UK citizens. What is offered is access to information about translation services that may be available in the city where the proceedings are taking place. If such a service would be helpful or is required, of course it can be offered, if it has not already been offered.

We will continue to seek ways to provide Mr. Burke and his family with all appropriate consular assistance until such time as he returns to the United Kingdom, which may be as early as May, as we all hope, depending on the outcome of the appeal hearing on 2 May.

In the same determined way that she has carried out the campaign in Parliament, my hon. Friend entirely reasonably asked what would happen if the appeal on 2 May is unsuccessful, including the potential transfer of the four gentlemen back to the United Kingdom to serve any outstanding sentence. Of course, none of us wants that scenario to happen and we are all hoping for the most positive outcome possible. However, if that were to be the case and the appeal were unsuccessful—again, it would be wrong for me to second-guess the appeal today—my offer to her is for us to meet again to specifically discuss what the options would then be. By that time, my hon. Friend and other hon. Members would have had the opportunity to reflect with the four gentlemen and their families, support networks and lawyers. As I say, I would certainly be willing to meet my hon. Friend again to discuss what would happen next in the proceedings. However, I think that we all hope that we do not get to that situation and that, without wishing to second-guess the court proceedings, the appeals are successful on 2 May.

Finally, I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend once again on the remarkably determined way in which, from the day that this case was brought to her attention, she has campaigned on this matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes past Five o’clock.

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