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MV Seaman Guard Ohio (UK Citizens)

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 3rd March 2015.

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Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Liberal Democrat, Argyll and Bute 11:30 am, 3rd March 2015

What steps he is taking to secure the return of the UK citizens who were aboard the MV Seaman Guard Ohio when she was detained by the Indian authorities.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

We have regularly raised this case at the most senior levels of Government, and have pressed for the legal process to be resolved as soon as possible. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be raising the issue yet again when he visits India next week. Last month, following requests from three of the men, we issued emergency travel documents. The men will still require permission from the Indian authorities before they are able to leave the country.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Liberal Democrat, Argyll and Bute

I thank the Minister for that answer, but it is now eight months since an Indian court quashed the charges against my constituent Billy Irving. He, and the other UK citizens, are still unable to leave India because the legal process has ground to a halt. Will the Foreign Office redouble its efforts to persuade the Indian authorities to conclude the legal process quickly and get these men home?

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The hon. Gentleman knows that we have raised this again and again at the highest possible level. Indeed, I am meeting him, and other Members who have been assiduous in raising this with us, in the next couple of days to update him. What we cannot do, however, is simply ignore the Indian judicial process or interfere with it. That is not to say that we do not share hon. Members’ frustrations about the pace of progress.

Photo of Ian Lavery Ian Lavery Labour, Wansbeck

These six British soldiers all fought for the British Army on the front. They feel utterly betrayed by the Government because of what they see as a lack of assistance in their hour of need. They were all acquitted and freed on 10 July last year. We must be able to do something to get these people home. We must redouble our efforts.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised this with Prime Minister Modi in November 2014. The Deputy Prime Minister did so on his visit to India in August, as did the Foreign Secretary when he met his counterpart in October. I have done so numerous times at ministerial level and with the high commissioner here, and most recently British officials in Delhi raised concerns with the Ministry of External Affairs on 16 and 23 February. Members have been right to raise this again and again and we have kept Members informed. This has taken up a huge amount of time, but, in the management of expectation, I say again to the hon. Gentleman—I say it slowly and clearly—that we cannot ignore the Indian judicial process. We are dealing with a sovereign country, but we share the frustrations about the pace of progress.