Jagtar Singh Johal

– in the House of Commons at 12:38 pm on 7th September 2022.

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Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means) 12:38 pm, 7th September 2022

I understand that legal papers have been lodged in relation to the case that is the subject of the urgent question. I am content for the urgent question to be dealt with because of the seriousness of the issues concerned, but I ask all Members to exercise caution and not to discuss issues that might prejudice any later legal proceedings.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for asking the urgent question, and I pay tribute to his tenacious support for his constituent Mr Jagtar Singh Johal since his arrest in India in 2017. I appreciate what a difficult time this must be for Mr Johal’s family and friends. Again, I pay tribute to his Member of Parliament for all that he is doing for his constituent in these challenging circumstances.

Consular assistance to British nationals overseas is the primary public service of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and a priority for the Foreign Secretary. Since Mr Johal’s arrest over four years ago, Ministers and officials have consistently raised our concerns about his welfare and treatment directly with the Government of India. With Mr Johal’s consent, this has included raising allegations of torture and mistreatment, and his right to a fair trial. The former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson raised Mr Johal’s case with Prime Minister Modi in April. The then Foreign Secretary raised Mr Johal’s case with the Indian Minister of External Affairs, Dr Jaishankar, most recently in Delhi on 31 March. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Minister of State with responsibility for south Asia and the Commonwealth, is also in regular contact with his counterparts across the Indian Government. Since 2017, Ministers and officials have raised Mr Johal’s detention on almost 100 occasions, and they will continue to do so.

In May, the UN working group on arbitrary detention published its opinion that Mr Johal is arbitrarily detained. We take this seriously, and we are committed to doing what we can to assist Mr Johal. On 9 June, the then Foreign Secretary met Martin Docherty-Hughes and Mr Johal’s brother Gurpreet to discuss this matter.

In February this year, lawyers acting for Mr Johal issued a civil litigation claim against Her Majesty’s Government in the High Court. Last month, they detailed their allegations. We must let the legal process take its course, and I will therefore not comment on this matter, in line with long-established practice, as I am sure all Members will appreciate and as you, Madam Deputy Speaker, outlined before the start of the urgent question. I can assure the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire and the House that we will continue to do all we can to support Mr Johal and his family.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (PPS to the Westminster Leader)

I am grateful for the Minister’s words, but my constituent had his 188th pre-trial hearing suspended today because the courts in India could not make up their mind. Perhaps we should extend our consideration to him and not just to everyone else who has been mentioned so far.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you mentioned the proceedings that have been brought. I think that it should not be outwith order to say that lawyers representing my constituent submitted a motion at the Royal Courts of Justice seeking redress after compelling evidence emerged linking the United Kingdom Government directly to his arrest and torture almost five years ago.

A case study in the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office annual report in March 2020, which is in the public domain and was uncovered by the human rights group Reprieve—I and the Johal family are extremely grateful for all its work—matches entirely the specific details of Jagtar’s case, with a gut-punch of an admission that he was arrested on the basis of information provided by the intelligence services of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This information has posed a multitude of hard questions for this Government, and especially for the new Prime Minister, the former Foreign Secretary. I am sure that we will get to hear many of them from Members present today. I am hugely grateful to the many Members who have supported this case.

Like hundreds of thousands of UK citizens of Sikh ethnicity, the Singh Johal family travel to India every year, yet now they must wonder if it is safe for them to continue to do so. They must also contend with the realisation that the horror that Jagtar went through in November 2017 of being held incommunicado for 10 days, tortured and forced into signing a blank confession, the arbitrary detention that the previous Prime Minister agreed he has faced since, and his trial by media in the Indian republic were all caused directly, at least for me, by the intervention of the state that is meant to protect him. We have a family, an MP and a House of Commons who want answers on who knew what and when.

Jagtar has a UK passport. I am afraid that is the only passport that I have, and I think it is the only one that you have, Madam Deputy Speaker. On the inside page are written the words:

Her Britannic Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.”

Of all the many questions I could ask the Minister, the one I think is most important is this: do they think that their Government have stayed true to those words in the case of Jagtar Singh Johal?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The first point I make to the hon. Member is that the Government’s first priority is the welfare of Mr Johal. That is the first priority of the Government, as it would be the first priority of any Government with regard to British citizens anywhere around the world.

On the hon. Member’s specific point, I return to the point I made earlier—and the point that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, made at the outset—with regard to any civil litigation and to concerns on the intelligence agencies. I cannot and I will not comment on that in this House. Since the hon. Member raised it specifically, I reiterate that Mr Johal has active civil litigation against Her Majesty’s Government on this matter. This is the issue before the court, and we must let the legal process take its course. Therefore, in line with long-established practice, I will not comment on this matter. I am sure that the hon. Member appreciates that.

Of course, the Indian Government, having listened to these proceedings, will have to take into account the views of Members of Parliament. Some 140 MPs and peers have expressed an interest in this case. Our former Prime Minister raised it with the Indian Prime Minister. Our former Foreign Secretary raised it with her counterpart, the Indian Minister of External Affairs.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I will take questions later, subject to what you say, Madam Deputy Speaker. The point I am trying to make, to bring the House together, is that this case has been raised with our counterparts at the highest level possible, and we will continue to do all we can to support Mr Johal in this particular case.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

I associate myself with every word uttered by Martin Docherty-Hughes. Let us be clear: we cannot talk about the case, but the allegation is clear. The allegation is that the British Government were complicit in the provision of information to the Indian Government knowing that it might be used for torture and in a capital case. The point is that this is not the first time that this has happened; it has happened on numerous occasions. When my right hon. Friend Mrs May was Prime Minister, she apologised for the most famous previous case in Libya. She said:

“We are profoundly sorry for the ordeal that you both suffered and our role in it.”

That was within a few months of Mr Johal’s arrest and the Government’s potential involvement.

There is not only one civil case looking at this issue; there is another case in my name and that of Dan Jarvis to demand that the Government review, as promised, their attitude to torture and their complicity and involvement in it. I ask the Minister whether he will give an undertaking that we will now have that review to cover the Johal case and all the others that went before it, and whether he will promise this House that we will never again be complicit in the torture of any British citizen.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My right hon. Friend’s first point was that there are allegations in this case. Absolutely: there are allegations and there is a procedure and process that they must go through to be looked at. They are going through the High Court at this time. On that basis, I will not be drawn into commenting on that. He, and every other Member of Parliament, will recognise that if there is an allegation, it has to go through a process. Therefore, there is a separation of power between the Executive, the judiciary and the legislature. That specific matter is now at the High Court, and the High Court should make a determination on it.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The allegations in recent weeks of the potential collusion of the British intelligence service in the arbitrary detention of Mr Johal are deeply worrying. It is vital that the veracity of those claims is investigated as soon as possible to find the truth.

The House will expect the Minister to be clear on whether the former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, under whose watch we believe this occurred, authorised sharing this intelligence with the Indian Government when he was the Foreign Secretary. I also urge the Minister to outline whether the Government are using their contacts at the highest level of the Indian Government to press for Mr Johal’s release without further delay.

I have three further questions. First, will the Foreign Secretary, who was appointed last night, make himself available at his earliest opportunity for a meeting with the family? Secondly, since 1995, every Government have made human rights part of the dialogue when they speak to India about trade, yet the current free trade agreement does not appear to have human rights within it. Can he clarify that?

Finally, it is a worrying pattern that there are other such cases in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—for example, Morad Tahbaz, who remains languishing in an Iranian prison, or Alaa Abd El Fattah in Egypt, who liked a Facebook page. What urgent action is the FCDO taking on those cases? It must be a first principle that it is the first duty of the Government to look after every British national. The family asked today whether the new Prime Minister will show more guts than her predecessor. I think all hon. Members would like to see some backbone injected into these negotiations.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

It is a real pleasure to face the shadow Minister, and I look forward—if I am in post—to exchanging views with her on these specific points. First, she raised the actions or non-actions of the former Prime Minister with regard to this specific case. It is important, when such an accusation is made, that it is fully and thoroughly investigated and looked at. That will be done by the High Court. As I say, Mr Johal has an active civil litigation case against Her Majesty’s Government on this matter. That is an issue before the court, and we must let the legal process take its course. I therefore cannot and will not comment on this matter, in line with long-established practice, as I am sure she appreciates.

I am also sure that the hon. Lady would agree that we all in this House respect the separation of power between the Executive, the judiciary and the legislature, and, with regard to the intelligence agencies, the various checks and balances. We have the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. There is no doubt that the accusations that have been made need to be fully and thoroughly looked at, in line with the High Court case.

The hon. Lady’s second point related to human rights and our engagement with India. Let me make it clear: we believe that trade is vital for our economy and future prosperity, but that in no way compromises the United Kingdom’s commitment to upholding human rights at the core of our foreign policy. We will not pursue trade to the exclusion of human rights. We regard both as important parts of a deep, mature and wide-ranging relationship with our international trading partners. The “2030 Roadmap for India-UK future relations”, which was agreed by the former Prime Minister with Prime Minister Modi, has a specific agreement about a commitment to resolving long-running or complex consular cases.

On the other specific cases that hon. Lady raised, I see the Minister for Asia and the Middle East on the Front Bench, who covers a different thematic region in the world, and she will no doubt take them on board. I am happy to ensure that the hon. Lady gets an answer about what the Government are doing on those matters.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I congratulate Martin Docherty-Hughes on pursuing this case on behalf of his constituent. He has been assiduous in pursuing justice for Jagtar Singh Johal. I will come back to the plight of Jagtar Singh Johal rather than the case against the Government. I understand that he is a member of the Khalistani Liberation Force, which is a proscribed organisation in India. Indeed, at the moment he is facing up to eight charges of murder or attempted murder. Will my hon. Friend ensure that consular assistance is provided to him so that he gets a fair trial, and then we can deal with the issues that result?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The specific question that we have before the House today looks at the welfare and treatment of a British national in India, where there are specific concerns about his welfare and treatment. The United Kingdom Government have made it clear through the number of engagements and representations that we have made—nearly 100 between officials and Ministers, including Prime Minister to Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to Foreign Secretary—how importantly we take these concerns. My hon. Friend’s point about the accusations and allegations is that—

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Allegations. If I may finish, what I would say is that the accusations and allegations that have been made with regard to the situation of a British national abroad need to be looked at fully and fairly, in line with India’s commitments to human rights, domestic law and international law. That is what we would regard for any citizen anywhere around the world.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Martin Docherty-Hughes for securing this urgent question and for his relentless campaigning on behalf of his constituent. I echo his comments 100% and agree with what he said. As I understand it, the outgoing Prime Minister has previously been absolutely clear that this is a case of arbitrary detention. Is that still the Minister’s position? It seems absolutely clear that Mr Johal has been disgracefully treated during that detention, so will the Government call for his release? It is a simple question. I appreciate that legal proceedings are ongoing just now, but can the Minister assure us that in the fulness of time there will be a full statement to this Parliament about exactly what went on and the sort of inquiry that my hon. Friend calls for.

Can I raise two final issues? We know about this thanks to the diligent work of organisations such as Reprieve, but it brings to our attention the issue of whistleblowers. We know that 99% of the time our security services serve us absolutely fantastically well, but things do go wrong and abuses happen, so is there not now a need for protection of whistleblowers and for public interest defences in relation to disclosures—for example, in relation to the National Security Bill going through Parliament just now?

On that Bill, does the Minister agree that, hypothetically, if UK agencies are found liable for damages for actions they undertake that lead to torture abroad, those damages should be paid? If so, why does the Bill—in clause 58 —appear to create new and unnecessary ways to avoid the security services having to meet those damages? How can that be justified in any way, shape or form?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The first part of the hon. Member’s question was about the view taken by the former Prime Minister of arbitrary detention and Mr Johal’s case. The United Nations working group on arbitrary detention has issued its opinion about Mr Johal. We take this seriously and have consistently raised our concerns about Mr Johal’s case directly with the Government of India. We are committed to doing what we can to assist him.

On the second part of the hon. Member’s question about arbitrary detention and the issue of release, the focus of these cases is always on working in the best interests of the individuals concerned. There is no blanket approach for these cases; our approach is tailored for specific individuals. I am sure that the new Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary will want to review this case as a priority.

On the hon. Member’s specific point about the National Security Bill, the Home Office leads on that matter. Again, I do not comment on matters relating to the intelligence agencies, or on this specific case because of a live civil litigation case in the High Court.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I want to emphasise that I have advised right hon. and hon. Members to exercise caution in what they say. However, just to be clear, I cannot force people to stick to that; it is my advice.

I want to try to get everybody in, but that means short questions—not a series of questions from now on, but a short question—so that the Minister is able to respond quickly. In that way, I can try to get everybody in.

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Meon Valley

The UK has a close relationship with India, and our partnership is vitally important to both nations, but also for global peace and security, and not least trade. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the UK Government will continue to discuss the importance of human rights and the rule of law with India as part of that partnership, especially in relation to any forthcoming trade deals?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Madam Deputy Speaker, you said that brevity is a virtue, not a vice, and the answer to that question is yes.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport)

According to revelations from Reprieve and investigative journalists, it was apparently a tip-off by British security services that led to the arrest and arbitrary detention of Jagtar Singh Johal in India. All the while, Conservative Ministers were informing us ad nauseam that they were doing their very best and they were protecting his rights as a British citizen. What utter hypocrisy. Can the Minister confirm whether the outgoing, disgraced Prime Minister, during his tenure as Foreign Secretary, signed off the tip-off that led to arbitrary detention, including serious allegations of torture?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I would again make the point to the hon. Member that there is a separation of powers between the judiciary, the legislature and the Executive. [Interruption.] He has made an allegation about what a former Prime Minister may or may not have known of this specific case. The matter is before the High Court. I cannot comment on this matter in that regard and I will not comment on it.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Labour, Barnsley Central

I pay tribute to Martin Docherty-Hughes for the tenacity with which he is pursuing the release of his constituent. I also associate myself with the remarks made by Mr Davis.

This is a deeply concerning case. As we have heard, earlier this year the UN working group on arbitrary detention declared that Jagtar’s detention in India is unlawful, and I, along with other right hon. and hon. Members, raised that earlier this year. The new Government need to move urgently to try to end this nightmare and secure his release. As an absolute minimum, can I ask the Minister to try to ensure that the new Prime Minister raises this matter in her first call with her Indian counterpart? Can the Minister also give an assurance that he and his colleagues across Government will continue to raise their concerns at every available opportunity?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

On whether this matter can be raised at every level, including Prime Minister to Prime Minister, the current Prime Minister, when Foreign Secretary, raised this case with her counterpart and she is fully aware of it. The case was previously raised by Prime Minister Johnson with Prime Minister Modi at the highest level, and Lord Ahmad in the other place has raised it consistently. The hon. Member’s point is about whether this matter can be conveyed. I cannot say to the Prime Minister what must be raised in those meetings—that is a matter for her—but she will have heard his view, and I will convey the point back to the Prime Minister’s office that this has been raised.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The Minister may wish to reflect on the fact that the purpose of the sub judice rule is the protection of proceedings in court; it is not for Ministers to hide behind. The Minister is clearly not going to answer the questions about the ministerial sign-off today, but can he, in fulfilment of his duties to this House, tell us whether or not that information is held within Government?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The right hon. Gentleman asks what specific information is held about what was said, and I would say to him that there is a case going on at the High Court. Subject to what Madam Deputy Speaker—or Mr Speaker—says, after that case has been held at the High Court and the determination has been made, he would be within his rights to ask an urgent question on the Floor of the House. However, speculating at this point in time about what information may or may not be held is not the right thing to do. The top priority for me and this Government is to do everything we can to support Mr Johal and his welfare.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South

Can I just tell the Minister that there is a separation of powers, but it is our job to hold him to account—we ask him questions—and it is for judges to decide on the case? If they are civil proceedings, they are in open court, so everybody can go along and hear the case. I have a very simple question. Mr Jagtar Singh Johal is a British citizen. Has he received consular assistance, and if so, when?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

On the second point about consular assistance, the question that the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire asked was about the proceedings that were to take place in court today. They did not take place because the Indian authorities did not put forward the papers for the prosecution. British officials were at that hearing today. We have been very supportive of Mr Johal, with consular support as well as the support through Ministers meeting his family here in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

I have three Sikh gurdwaras in my constituency: the Central Gurdwara, Singh Saba; the Guru Granth Sahib in Pollokshields; and the Shri Guru Tegh Bahadur, which is also in Pollokshields. Those in the Sikh community in Glasgow are deeply concerned for Jagtar Singh Johal, and they send their solidarity to him and his family. They are also deeply worried about any trip that they may be making to India, so can I ask the Minister what possible reassurance he can offer them?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I, too, have a Sikh community in my constituency, at the Byron Road gurdwara and the Franklin Road gurdwara, and absolutely, I think the point I would make on that is that the United Kingdom’s top priority is the welfare of its citizens abroad. On that basis, we will do everything we can to support our citizens abroad.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I have been contacted by many of my constituents, from all backgrounds, who are concerned about the welfare and continued detention of Jagtar Singh Johal. The UN has confirmed that this is an arbitrary detention, with the working group on arbitrary detention calling for his immediate release. If it is Foreign Office policy to call for the release of arbitrarily detained British nationals, have the Government done so in this case, and if not, why not?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

On arbitrary detention and the specific point about release I will again give the answer I gave earlier: the focus of these cases is always to work in the best interests of the individuals concerned. There is no blanket approach to these cases, and they are tailored to specific individuals. I am sure that the new Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary will want to review this case as a priority, which goes to the point about determination of arbitrary detention in that regard.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

The policy on intelligence sharing with overseas intelligence agencies is covered by a document called “The Principles”. At the moment there is a loophole in that, which allows Ministers to authorise tip-offs leading to torture, contrary to UK and international law. Will the Minister ensure that that loophole is removed, so that it is absolutely clear that Ministers must not authorise tip-offs leading to torture?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

If the right hon. Gentleman would write to me in detail on that specific point, I can ask officials to look into it and come back to him on that technicality.

Photo of Anum Qaisar Anum Qaisar Scottish National Party, Airdrie and Shotts

Since his arbitrary detention by Indian authorities, Jagtar Singh Johal has been represented—I use that word loosely—by three Prime Ministers and five Foreign Secretaries, none of whom has managed to secure his release. Jagtar has been tortured into signing a false confession, denied proper access to a lawyer, and potentially faces the death penalty. Will the Minister, and the newly appointed Foreign Secretary, make Jagtar’s release an immediate priority? Will the Minister commit today to further ministerial statements on this matter? It does feel like he is hiding behind a smokescreen.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

This case is a priority for the United Kingdom Government, and it will be a priority for the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister. The Prime Minister raised the issue directly with her counterpart in India when she was Foreign Secretary, so yes, it is a priority for the United Kingdom Government.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I need to push the Minister on a specific point. The outgoing Prime Minister accepted that Jagtar Singh Johal has been arbitrarily detained. The Minister says that the Foreign Office does not have a blanket approach, but that is not correct. It has always been Foreign Office policy to call for the release of arbitrarily detained British nationals, yet the Government have not done so in this case. Will the Minister explain why the Government have not acted in line with their own policy, and will he commit to seeking Jagtar’s urgent release and return to the UK?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Lady is correct to say that the former Prime Minister made a determination on arbitrary detention, and the United Nations working group on arbitrary detention has issued its opinion about Mr Johal. That is the point—the new Foreign Secretary and new Prime Minister will have to make a determination for themselves on this matter. The hon. Lady asked about the former Prime Minister, and that was his opinion. The new Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary will need to come to their own opinion on this matter.

Photo of Khalid Mahmood Khalid Mahmood Labour, Birmingham, Perry Barr

I welcome the Minister to his place. The crux of the matter is that whether or not this issue is before a civil court is the prerogative of the Government. They can pull that and deal with the real issues and concerns of the family of somebody who has been tortured in an Indian prison since 2017. We want the Minister to do what we would expect for a British citizen, and for the Government to deal with the issue and bring Mr Johal back home to his family.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we should do everything we can to support Mr Johal and his family. That is why there have been nearly 100 forms of communication between officials and Ministers and their Indian counterparts about Mr Johal’s case. It is a top priority for us, and we will do all we can to support him and his family.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

I congratulate my hon. Friend Martin Docherty-Hughes on securing this urgent question. Many people will think that the fact that negotiations on a free trade deal with India are going on at the same time as a UK national faces the death penalty is simply grotesque. Will the Minister confirm that negotiations on any free trade deal with India will cease until Mr Johal returns home?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We will not pursue trade to the exclusion of human rights, and we regard both as an important part of a deep, mature, and wide-ranging relationship with our international trading partners. More specifically, the United Kingdom is very clear that we are opposed to the death penalty.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

This is a real test for the new Government: do they agree with universal human rights and a rules-based system, or not? If they do, they must demand that Mr Johal is immediately released and returned to this country.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

On the first point about the Government’s commitment to an international rules-based system, the answer is yes, as it is for the United Kingdom Government’s commitment to open societies and human rights. I have previously given an answer on the specific point about arbitrary detention and the issue of release.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

The blunt arbitrary detention without trial of Jagtar Singh Johal would be a disgrace even if he were not being tortured and abused, especially as it seems that he is a British citizen. Will the new Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister make absolutely clear to the Indian authorities that if they think they have substantial evidence against Mr Johal, as alleged by Bob Blackman, they should bring him to an open court straightaway for a fair trial? If, as is much more likely, they do not have such evidence, Mr Johal should be freed from prison at once, and allowed to return to his family in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

This case is a top priority for the United Kingdom Government, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, and I will ensure that everything is done to ensure that Mr Johal’s case is dealt with as quickly and swiftly as it can be.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend Martin Docherty-Hughes for his persistence in this case. That is doubly important because it sounds as if the Minister is somewhat rowing back and hiding behind proceedings today. That is wholly unacceptable. My constituents who often travel to India, and constituents across Scotland and the UK, will be looking at this case with deep concern. What will the Minister do to move this forward and ensure that we accept this as a case of arbitrary detention? How can he reassure those who come and go from India that the UK Government will not simply abandon them on a whim, as they have Jagtar?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Lady says that I might be hiding behind procedure, but she knows me as a parliamentarian for 12 years, and I have previously stepped aside from the Government on matters of principle. In this case, the Government are doing all they can to support Mr Johal, and this is a top priority for his family and the United Kingdom Government. The matter has previously been looked at from Foreign Secretary to Foreign Secretary, and from Prime Minister to Prime Minister. I know Lord Ahmad, who covers that part of the world, has been looking at this case consistently with his counterparts in India, and the matter is a top priority for the Government.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

Like many of my constituents, I am deeply concerned to hear that Jagtar’s legal team have provided evidence that Jagtar’s detention and torture took place following a tip-off by MI5. I am absolutely appalled by the Minister’s comments in the Chamber today, which show a lack of compassion and a lack of action on this issue. The Minister says he is unable to comment due to legal proceedings, but I believe it is in the Government’s gift, right now, to explain to the House what measures they are taking to remedy that. What review has taken place following what has happened? This is deeply concerning, and we cannot allow it to happen to many other people. I urge the Minister to clarify to the House whether a review has taken place, and what steps the Government have taken, instead of ducking and diving.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

We really must make sure that questions are very brief, so that I can try to get everybody in.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Lady says that Ministers lack compassion, but when I was the British envoy for religious freedom I worked tirelessly with partners around the world to help release individuals who were being persecuted for their faith. She asks what has been done, but I have answered the specific point. The matter is before the High Court, which is dealing with accusations and allegations regarding what information was shared with whom. That is a matter for the High Court. Let the High Court deal with this matter, and once it has, the hon. Lady is within her rights to bring the matter back in a question to the House.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

The Minister has referred to two meetings: one where the former Foreign Secretary raised the case and one where the former Prime Minister raised it with Mr Modi. Presumably, that is evidence of the Government’s good efforts, but there must be notes from those meetings. Will the Minister put them in the House of Commons Library?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

With regard to any specific notes, they will be dealt with in accordance with procedure.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

A great many worshippers at the Guru Nanak Sikh temple on Otago Street in Glasgow North have signed a petition calling for Jaggi’s release. Will the Minister confirm that, if Jagtar was in the UK and the Indian Government wanted to extradite him, that would not be possible because of the threat of a death sentence? So why should he be threatened with capital punishment after being arbitrarily detained on the streets of India?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I did not quite hear the hon. Member’s question, so I will take it away and get him a full answer.

Photo of Mohammad Yasin Mohammad Yasin Labour, Bedford

Jagtar Singh Johal’s legal team have presented extensive evidence suggesting that the British national’s detention and torture followed a tip-off by MI5 and MI6. Will the UK Government now acknowledge and apologise for any role in Jagtar’s detention and take responsibility for securing his release and redress for the abuses that he has suffered?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

As I have said before, with regard to the UK Government’s position, we will do all that we can to support Mr Johal and his family. The former Foreign Secretary—now the Prime Minister—met Martin Docherty-Hughes and Mr Johal’s brother Gurpreet Singh Johal on 9 June. Lord Ahmad, the lead Minister on the case, has met Gurpreet Singh Johal on at least seven occasions. That answers the hon. Member’s point about what the UK Government are doing and our commitment to do all that we can to support Mr Johal at this specific point in time.

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Policing)

The Sikh community in Scotland and elsewhere contributes significantly to the economic, civic and cultural life of this country. Do the Government understand and appreciate the damage caused to that community’s trust and confidence in them by failing to achieve justice for Jagtar? What action will they take to rectify the situation and reassure Sikhs not only in this country but throughout the world?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and the UK Government pay a huge tribute to the contribution of the Sikh community across the board. They stood with us in the second world war and the first world war, and contributed to our freedom and liberty. They were a part of us all the way through, and their contribution to our great country absolutely needs to be—and is—recognised by every Member of Parliament. I say to him and Members across the House that this is a specific case, and the UK Government will do all that they can to support Mr Johal, but we are all united in recognising the contribution of the Sikh community.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

I congratulate Martin Docherty-Hughes and align my position with that of my right hon. Friend John Spellar. My constituents are really concerned about the situation with Jagtar Singh Johal and the Government’s failure to support a British national. They are also concerned and frustrated about the lack of transparency and action in certain other cases, including those of Morad Tahbaz, who is in an Iranian prison despite the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office requesting his release, and Alaa Abd El-Fattah, who is in an Egyptian prison. Will the Minister place a report in the Library to update the House on their cases?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I will ask officials to publish in the House what can be published on the specific cases that the hon. Member mentioned.

Photo of Taiwo Owatemi Taiwo Owatemi Shadow Minister (Equalities Office)

I really hope that the Minister is taking Jagtar’s case seriously, because sadly this not an isolated incident: we have faced similar difficulties in defending the west midlands three in Coventry North West. Will the Minister reassure me and my constituents that Jagtar’s freedom will never be up for negotiation in efforts to strengthen wider relations with the Indian Government?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

If the hon. Lady wants to write to me on her specific constituency case, I will ensure that Ministers look at those points and come back to her.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I know that the Minister is committed to addressing issues of human rights across the world—I have worked with him and understand that. Does he not agree that the view of the UN working group, our own FCDO and legal judgments have made it clear that the treatment of my friend’s constituent is internationally unjustifiable and that action must be taken immediately to bring Jagtar Singh Johal back home to the UK and send a clear message that the United Kingdom’s innocent citizens—British passport holders—must be a Government priority in India and, indeed, anywhere in the world?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all the fantastic work that he does on freedom of religion or belief and supporting individuals who are persecuted for their faith around the world. He made a point about the UN working group on arbitrary detention, and that working group has given India until 2 November to respond to its findings. That date has been made clear to the Indian Government. The UK Government are clear, and I am clear, that we are committed to doing all that we can to support Mr Johal and his family.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (PPS to the Westminster Leader)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Earlier, you were clear about what is not exactly a regulation of the House but advice to Members on sub judice and privilege, and that was clearly broken and taken advantage of. I do not know about Government Members, but those on the Opposition side clearly saw it as an abuse of privilege. Frankly, I do not like it when Members become spokespersons for a foreign state. Given that a Member of this House has impugned the integrity of my constituent on the Floor of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, what is open to me as a constituency MP and those defending the rights of their constituents in the courts to ensure that such matters do not happen again?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point of order. I deliberately returned to the advice that I had previously given about Members exercising caution in their remarks. As I said, I cannot force people to follow that advice; it is merely advice. He has put on the record his strong view about what was said. If he wishes to pursue that in other ways, I am sure that the Clerks can advise him, but I really cannot add anything further to what I have previously said.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think that Martin Docherty-Hughes was referring to Bob Blackman and what he said. It is clear that the hon. Member for Harrow East was relying on the privilege given to him as a Member of this House to make those allegations, and it is equally clear that the allegations are contested. What mechanism is open to Members when information released under privilege is contested in such a way? Does the hon. Member not have to repeat it outside?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I cannot prevent Members from expressing their views. I am concerned that Bob Blackman is not here. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is customary to inform an hon. Member if they wish to raise something concerning them. It is open to the right hon. Member to raise the matter on another occasion, but I suggest that he informs the hon. Member that he is going to do so, as that would provide an opportunity for a response. I think that we will leave it at that.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I will take the hon. Gentleman’s point of order after the business statement from the Leader of the House.