Uk Prisoners (France)

– in the House of Commons at 10:15 pm on 24th April 2002.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Caplin.]

Photo of Mr David Stewart Mr David Stewart Labour, Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber 10:18 pm, 24th April 2002

I appreciate the opportunity to raise in the House the case of my constituent Mr. Jeffrey Logan from Lochaber who is currently detained in Douai prison in France.

My primary reasons for wishing to raise the case centre on the appalling conditions in which Mr. Logan is held, and the great worries of his wife, family and friends about his health. I want to touch on wider issues, including the extent of the problem and alleged breaches of the European convention on human rights. I shall also discuss an analysis of French prisons by Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights. I shall consider the extent of the problem, the number of United Kingdom nationals held in French prisons and the number of such people who are lorry drivers or self-employed hauliers—my constituent's occupation.

In reply to written questions 208 and 213 that I tabled this year, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend Mr. Bradshaw, said that 65 UK citizens are held on remand at present. In addition, he said that

"105 UK citizens have been convicted and are serving prison sentences in France."—[Hansard, 15 March 2002; Vol. 381, c. 1295W.]

Of that number, almost half—26—of the remand prisoners are lorry drivers, and 19 of the 105 convicted prisoners are also employed in that occupation.

Other hon. Members have also raised concerns about the conditions in which UK nationals are held in French prisons. My hon. Friend Mr. Hamilton raised the case of Andrew Beaumont, who is also a lorry driver and is also held in Douai prison, who was handcuffed to a wall with nothing to eat or drink for more than two days.

I shall deal with the details of the case. Mr. Logan was arrested in Calais on 30 May 2000. It was alleged that he had more than 100 kg of cocaine in his trailer. After a long drawn-out incarceration and trial, he was sentenced to seven years and fined almost £6 million by the court in Boulogne. He and his family have steadfastly protested his innocence. The family tell me that the conditions in Douai prison come straight from a Dickens novel—rats, filth, inadequate meals, poor heating, dirty clothes and pools of urine in the exercise yard.

Mrs. Logan is extremely concerned about her husband's mental and physical well-being. Mr. Logan has lost six stone. He has developed severe skin and chest infections and he is very worried about the health risks posed by the hundreds—yes, hundreds—of rats in the prison compound. Last month Mr. Logan collapsed and was unconscious for some time. He was taken to hospital where he underwent investigative tests. The hospital doctor tells me that he was undernourished. He collapsed again a few weeks ago and has been referred to a specialist. Mrs. Logan has met the prison director and consular staff in Lille. She believes that the conditions in the prison

"would not be tolerated in any other civilised country."

What are the wider issues in the case? The family has sought detailed legal advice on possible breaches of the European convention on human rights. First, for example, on Mr. Logan's arrest, he was denied legal advice for four days, he was handcuffed to railings beside a trailer while he was searched, and on a separate occasion he was handcuffed to a wall—possible breaches of articles 4, 5 and 6 of the European convention on human rights. Secondly, every four months Mr. Logan was required to sign a document in French, which he does not speak. No lawyer was present and no interpretation was offered. That again represents a breach of articles 5 and 6.

Of course, some may say—some in the Chamber tonight may say—that Mr. Logan's plight is just a one-off example, that it is self-inflicted, or that it is unrepresentative, exaggerated or fabricated. What do French politicians say about prison conditions? I shall quote extensively, with apologies, from Jon Henley's article in The Guardian on 26 August last year. He wrote:

"Two suicides in the space of a week at a jail near Rouen have rekindled debate about French prison conditions, just weeks after a damning parliamentary report said the country's jails were 'the humiliation of the Republic'."

The article continues:

"Prison warders blamed a shortage of manpower, a crippling lack of resources and an atmosphere of 'appalling insecurity' due largely to the growing number of psychologically disturbed inmates.

'The situation is the same all over France,' said Philippe Doré of the prison officers' union. 'We try to do a good job but it's impossible. There are too few of us, we're demotivated . . . There's a terrible malaise in French prisons.'

The suicides have fuelled the row over prison conditions triggered by the chief doctor at Paris's La Santé jail . . . who denounced the inhuman squalor of the capital's most famous prison in a best-selling book this spring.

She said that cockroaches, rats and other vermin were commonplace, hygiene was non-existent and rapes, fist-fights and self-mutilation were almost daily occurrences.

'Some improvements have been made', Ms Vasseur wrote. 'But the majority of problems remain: drugs, the omnipresence of sex, the absence of supervision at night, the filth, the lack of hygiene, the decay. The place remains an inhuman nightmare, an eternal shame to France.'

Partly in response to the furore surrounding Ms Vasseur's book and to surveys showing that nearly 50 per cent. of the French believe their country's prison system is rotten, MPs and senators produced two reports on the nation's jails in July— that is, July 2000—

"just before their summer recess.

The cross-party reports, based on prison visits and interviews with former inmates, warders, relatives, magistrates and prison directors, concluded that drastic reforms were needed, particularly as France's prison population has doubled over the past 40 years.

'We need to rethink the entire basis of our prison system,' Jacques Floch, a Socialist MP and co-author of one report, said. 'We have no single body of legislation directly governing prison conditions and no consistent penal policy, just reactive, day-by-day chaos.'

The deputies were critical of plans by the justice minister . . . to build half a dozen big new jails, arguing that alternative punishment or treatment would be far more appropriate than prison for many inmates.

They demanded instead a multi-million pound refurbishment programme and the construction of small new detention centres where conditions could be more effectively maintained and inmates prepared for their return to society."

Amnesty International, in its 2000 annual report, said that France had been found guilty of torture and excessively lengthy judicial proceedings, prison guards were accused of ill-treatment and prisons were criticised for cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

In July 1999, the French Minister of Justice set up a working group to examine the external control of the prison system. A report by seven non-governmental organisations called for an independent body to control prisons. It said that there was concern about longer sentences in France, overcrowding and lack of guard control and protection of inmates. Ill-treatment by prison guards was particularly highlighted. It said:

"Everyday life in French prisons is all too often not in accordance with the law."

I stress that that is a group of French non-governmental organisations.

In conclusion, I have extreme concerns about the well-being of my constituent, but, more generally, I have extreme concerns about British citizens in French prisons. I acknowledge the tremendous work done by Mrs. Logan, her family, friends and lawyers, and the dedication, composure and compassion that they have shown.

I understand that France is an important country in the EU and I am not criticising France as such. It is a key ally of the UK and of course it is for the French Government to resolve their internal prison issues. But the Foreign Office and consulate staff clearly have a duty to protect British citizens abroad. If anyone does not believe me they should read the inside pages of any UK passport.

I respectfully suggest the following action. There should be direct ministerial contact with the French Minister of Justice to investigate the conditions that Mr. Logan and other UK nationals have to endure at Douai prison and a request for a full public inquiry.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow Anniesland

How many people does my hon. Friend think have suffered in French prisons with no one to help them with the language?

Photo of Mr David Stewart Mr David Stewart Labour, Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber

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.

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.

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, 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?

Photo of Mr David Stewart Mr David Stewart Labour, Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber

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.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 10:30 pm, 24th April 2002

I am grateful to my hon. Friend 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 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. 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 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.

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.

Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.