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Simon Robertson

Volume 517: debated on Thursday 4 November 2010

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Stephen Crabb.)

This relatively simple debate has been complicated by the fact that it has spread across the world, as it involves an international airline. I am raising this issue as someone who has for more than 30 years acted as a representative for people in many forms of conflict and dispute, many times doing so in times of direct conflict. What I have found during those years is that there are always at least two sides to every story. I am here tonight to present one side of this story—that of my constituent, Mr Simon Robertson. He is a 38-year-old young man who had visited Japan five times before he went there in February. I wish that I could make part of the case for the Japanese immigration service and for KLM, the airline involved, but because they have not given me the relevant information I am hard-pushed to do that.

The case refers to a journey that Mr Robertson made in February. I shall read from a letter that he sent to both the Japanese embassy and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He stated:

“This…should be considered both as an official protest at the unacceptable and unlawful treatment to which I was the victim of, as well as an official report of criminal offences, committed against myself, by those at the Narita Airport Border Agency… The incidents to which I refer are as follows:

Recently, I arranged to make a long trip to Japan. I was to stay in your country for 89 days and while I was there, I was to have meetings with numerous individuals as well as seeing some friends of mine. The trip was to last from 4 February…until 4 May 2010. Arrangements had been made to hold meetings during that period, and these meetings were over various topics, but the main business reason was to make preliminary investigations as to expanding my business operations.”

He included the details of his trip in the letter to the immigration service. He continued:

“I accurately filled out an immigration form, while on the aircraft and I arrived at Narita on 5 February….I presented this form along with my passport to the Narita Border Agency. For unknown reasons, the official queried this information and then took my airline tickets and my passport from me and I was taken to a separate room.

While I was there, I was interviewed by another official, who despite being told by me on numerous occasions in both English and in Japanese, that my Japanese was poor, insisted in conducting this interview solely in Japanese.

After a while, I was led into another room, where I was investigated by a different inspector. He wished to know my purpose of my visit. I explained very clearly what the purpose was…I pointed to the address of Mr. Junji Abu and his family, who I was to visit. They were aware that I was coming and they would confirm this to the investigator. He telephoned Mr. Abu and returned. At this point, his entire tone and manner became extremely hostile. He demanded to know about the relationship between myself and Mr. Abu’s daughter called Yuuko. I correctly stated that I had known…Yuuko…for 17 months, we speak everyday and are close. At this point, the questioning became even more outrageous. The investigator demanded and shouted over and over: ‘Are you going to marry Yuuko?’ He repeated this question six times and on the first five occasions I stated that we had not decided that at that time. On the sixth occasion, I said that this decision was a matter between myself and Yuuko. At this answer, the investigator got angry and stated that he would oppose my entry to Japan.

I consider this to be an outrage. My relationship with Yuuko is a matter solely between myself and the Abu family. It is not a visa requirement of any country that visitors must marry one of their citizens, in order to be granted a visa.

Subsequently to this, I was taken into another room where the same investigator spoke in Japanese, but a translator was used. At the beginning of the interview, I was told that the investigator was the judge and his decision was final. I answered all the questions accurately and truthfully, but I noticed on the investigator’s desk that the decision to refuse my entry had already been written out.

I was told that my request for entry was denied and I was to be removed from the country.

I was then marched to a bureau de change where it was demanded that I give the inspector 40,000 Yen. A copy of this transaction is included within this letter as proof of this. I was forced to hand over this money and I was marched into a car and then to a cell. I was held in this cell for 24 hours where I was denied food and access to a telephone to call a lawyer or one of my friends. The guards also deliberately deprived me of sleep by continually hitting the metal door of the cell and then laughing about it, for one entire night.

The following morning, again no food was provided to me and at 12:15, I was marched into a car and to Narita Airport. I was not told where I was going, nor was I permitted to call my friends who were extremely worried about me, nor was I allowed to call my family. I was forced to wait at the gate with the guard standing right over me for over an hour. I found this to be extremely humiliating.”

Mr Robertson then explains what happened when he got on the plane. His letter continues:

“The KLM Captain had been told by the Narita Border Agency that the reason that I had been refused entry to Japan was because I had arrived in Japan with the wrong documents. This was a blatant lie. I produced a copy of my travel arrangements and a photocopy of my passport to show the captain and the purser who both confirmed that my documents were all correct and in order. They said that my treatment was ‘an outrage’ and that I should make a formal complaint. I am sure that the KLM staff will confirm this.

Sadly, the guard did not return my passport to the purser of the KLM aircraft and instead had kept hold of it…When I landed at Amsterdam, I sought the purser to ask her to return my passport, so that I could clear Dutch customs and fly on to Newcastle. The purser stated that she did not have my passport and she sought the captain. The captain did not have my passport either and he and the purser confirmed that they had never received it at Narita.

A copy of that letter went to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Japanese embassy.

On 9 March, Mr Robertson received a letter from the FCO saying that it did not have the power to investigate the matter but that it had written to Tokyo requesting that an investigation should take place. I also wrote to the Japanese embassy on 12 February asking it to investigate and on 13 April—10 weeks after the original letter—I received a letter of reply from the embassy saying that

“we have already reported this case to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan, and are currently waiting for the result”.

On 25 May, I forwarded an e-mail from Mr Robertson to the new Prime Minister and the new Foreign Secretary asking them to look into his case and also to try to progress it. In the period between the original letter and 25 May, Mr Robertson had been in regular contact with the FCO, asking what was happening. The e-mail made it clear that a Foreign Office official who had been working with Mr Robertson had originally agreed to report the incident as a crime.

In the interim, Mr Robertson tried to help the FCO and the Japanese immigration service because he had been able to find out the identity of the officer who he believed had abused him in Japan. He reported that information to the new duty officer with whom he was dealing, but he was devastated when she told him that she was dismissing that information. She refused to pass it to the Japanese authorities and said that she was not prepared to report the matter as a crime. Surely, when someone makes a very serious allegation and is able to tell an official in the FCO specifically who was responsible, it is reasonable for that person to ask the official to pass that information to the Japanese authorities and ask them to investigate. Mr Robertson could not believe that the official refused to do that.

On 4 June, I received an e-mail from Mr Robertson advising me that, sadly, his girlfriend in Japan had died. He said:

“She took her own life, but she was killed by the outrageous intransigence of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our own Foreign Office”.

On 24 June, I received a letter from the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), who now has responsibility for the far east. On whether the FCO should have reported the matter as a crime, he said that he was

“sorry for the misunderstanding”

about whether it had agreed to report a crime, but added:

“we do not agree that we have a duty to report alleged crimes to the local authorities”.

I find that amazing. If someone says to a representative or an official body of this Government, “We believe a crime has taken place against a British citizen,” it is just good manners, if nothing else, to say to people with whom we have a strong relationship such as Japan, which is one of our best allies, “Look, this has been said about you in your nation. We believe that this man believes that it is a crime.” It may well not have been a crime, and I shall come on to that, but if Mr Robertson believed that it was, why would the Foreign Office not want to alert the Japanese to that?

The Minister also said on 24 June that the Japanese authorities had informed him that they believed that

“Mr Robertson was treated in line with their regulations and international human rights standards.”

The Minister also suggested that Mr Robertson seek legal advice. So, on 24 June, with reference to a case going back to 6 February, the Foreign Office decided, “We have been told by the Japanese that everything is okay. Therefore, you should forget about it or take advice from a lawyer.” To me, that is effectively the Foreign Office trying to wash its hands of the matter and move on.

Interestingly, the Foreign Office knew that information before Mr Robertson did, because he did not receive the letter until a day later, when the Japanese confirmed what we had learned from the Foreign Office—that they believed that he was treated properly. I asked the embassy to show me exactly what happened, and in the paperwork it included a flowchart of what should have happened. There was also a document on why he was refused entry. I shall read it out very slowly, because it states:

“Your statement concerning activities to be engaged in Japan in your application is not found not to be false.”

There were no details of what that meant, what he had said or what they had said. Obviously, the embassy was saying, “We’re not quite sure that you’re telling lies, but we’re not quite sure that you’re telling the truth, either.” It was very confusing.

In the letter, the embassy made it very clear that,

“since the individual remains the responsibility of the carrier, the immigration bureau has no involvement in the process…Mr Robertson’s allegation that he was forced to hand over money by immigration officials has no basis in reality.”

That is despite the fact that Mr Robertson sent on to the Japanese immigration service a copy of a receipt that had been taken while he was in Narita airport. The letter continued, stating that

“Mr Robertson’s treatment…prior to removal was entirely the responsibility of the airline, any inquiries regarding this treatment, the allegation that money was forcibly taken from him or the location of his passport should be made directly to the airline.”

I find that incredible. The Japanese Government are saying that it is all the airline’s fault, but the airline was on Japanese soil. If it did what Mr Robertson said it did, surely the Japanese authorities should go to KLM and say, “What on earth are you doing in our country behaving like that?” Perhaps it did not behave like that, but it was the Japanese Government’s responsibility, not the responsibility of someone who could not get back into the country to pursue the matter.

On 8 July, I wrote back to the Japanese embassy explaining that Mr Robertson challenged both its interpretation of the events and the role played by KLM, with which he had been in constant dialogue. I asked the embassy for a meeting with KLM in order to sit around a table like adults and talk things through in order to see exactly where we were. I expected my suggestion to be put forward, and thought it a reasonable thing to do. On 2 August, I got a letter back from the Japanese embassy, basically reiterating that Japan had acted fairly, that the “sole responsibility” for the matter lay with KLM and that my request for a meeting was refused. Again, that was less than helpful.

On 19 August—a date that I should like the House to remember because I shall come back to it—I wrote to KLM asking it for specific details about its role in Mr Robertson’s detention and removal, because some very serious things had been said about an airline with a reputation. Apart from the fact that I wanted to clear up the matter on behalf of Mr Robertson, I also wanted to give the airline a chance to stop a Government saying some pretty disparaging things about it. I made the airline aware that, ultimately, if I could not get a satisfactory response, I would raise the matter, as I am doing, on the Floor of the House.

I asked KLM specifically how long Mr Robertson’s passport was in its possession; exactly what happened to it; whether the airline was told why he was being refused admission to the country; whether his passport was handed over; and when. On the same date, I again wrote to the Japanese embassy asking for specific details that would expand on the denial of entry letter and on what went on, including the timing of events. I also asked about its statement,

“your application is not found not to be false.”

What did that mean? What was said? What was done? What went on in that room? We wanted to gain a view of events.

I again asked to have a meeting, because that would have been a sensible thing to do. On the same day, I wrote to the Foreign Office expressing the concerns and uncertainties about the whereabouts of Mr Robertson’s passport; nobody seemed to know where it was. On 3 September, I received a letter from the embassy saying, “We are unable”—and, I believe, unwilling—

“to provide any further information…we are unable to respond to any further request for a meeting or any further questions concerning his removal.”

The Japanese embassy was saying to me that it did not want to talk anymore and it believed that it had gone far enough. It was refusing to talk to a Member of the House. How it has treated Mr Robertson is not right, and it is also not right to have treated me in that way—not as an individual, but as somebody trying to work on behalf of my constituents. I would suggest that the same would apply to the other 649 Members.

In October, I again wrote to the Japanese asking them please to consider the position and try to give more specifics. I wanted to avoid bringing this debate to the House if at all possible; I wanted to resolve the matter in a sensible, adult way. I also advised them in the interim that I had been told by Mr Robertson that he had been approached by Amnesty International, which had said that his case was not unique. In 2002, it produced a report that pointed out that this sort of behaviour had been going on in Japan for some time. I have no proof that that is the case, but Amnesty International tells me and Mr Robertson that that is exactly what is happening.

On the same day, I wrote to the Foreign Office to ask it to ask the Japanese to meet me and, if possible, Mr Robertson. On 16 September, I received a letter from the Foreign Office explaining its view of where the passport had been. On 19 August I had written to KLM; on 14 October I got a letter from the company explaining where it thought the passport had been. To put it mildly, the two letters show a degree of confusion. The final paragraph of the KLM letter reads:

“Mr. Robertson’s passport was incorrectly added to a special envelope dedicated to storing copies of travel documentation…This envelope should normally not contain original passports and unfortunately it was not examined until a later date.”

I had asked the company for specific time scales, and the letter said:

“Mr. Robertson’s passport was then handed over to the UK Immigration…who advised it would be sent to the UK.”

No time scales were given and there was no record of exactly what happened. There was massive confusion from all concerned.

The case has made me face a number of possibilities. First, Mr Robertson is telling the complete truth and someone in Japan or at KLM is refusing to address these matters, which include allegations of physical abuse, imprisonment, verbal abuse, racism, extortion, deliberately or accidentally withholding a passport, and possibly—at least, partly—some responsibility for the suicide of a young woman.

On the other hand, Simon’s claims could be completely or partially untrue. I have to consider that possibility because, as I said, I have only his side of the story—I have never had the chance to sit down with the authorities and KLM and ask why they believed that this man was making it up. Because they refused to meet me, I have no choice but to carry on believing that what I am being told is the truth.

As I said, Simon has been in touch with Amnesty International, which has produced a report. I am also led to believe that both the United Nations and the US State Department have expressed concerns about some of the things that have happened to their citizens at the hands of the Japanese immigration authorities.

Is this all in the mind of a young man who is clearly suffering physically and mentally from the ordeal? I do not believe so, but presumably the Japanese and KLM do. The Foreign Office said that the Japanese have said that they acted properly. Unless the Minister tells me something different tonight, I will have to accept the fact that it believes the same thing.

The Foreign Office has a duty of care to Mr Robertson and a duty of loyalty to our relationship with Japan. I have had a strong relationship with the country for a number of years. In the north-east of England, we are happy that Japanese industry has come into our part of the world and played a tremendous role in manufacturing. I want us to continue to have a good relationship with Japan and I believe that the Japanese Government would not be happy if such behaviour was going on without their cognisance.

I hope that between us we can get to the bottom of this situation. I hope that in his response the Minister will agree to meet me and, if possible, to get people from the Japanese embassy to come and speak to me and him—or his colleague—and to get KLM involved. Let us sit around the table like adults and try to resolve this matter. At the end of the day, I am trying to represent my constituent in the best way I can. I should not have had to do this tonight; the matter should have been resolved much earlier.

I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) on securing this debate. His persistence in following this complex and difficult case is an example of how he puts the welfare of his constituents at the forefront of everything he does.

It is clear that his constituent, Mr Robertson, is both angry and frustrated at the way he has been treated and is not satisfied with the explanations that have been subsequently offered. I thought it would be worth setting out what the FCO has done so far to assist Mr Robertson in bringing some form of closure to this difficult situation. I hope it gives some assurances to the hon. Gentleman that the FCO has done all it can in this case.

There are two separate but related issues. The first is the treatment Mr Robertson received from immigration officials at Narita airport and the second is the difficulty he encountered in locating his passport following his deportation. Let me deal with each in turn, explaining the action that consular officials have taken in each instance.

The first issue concerns what happened at Narita. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, Mr Robertson has been in regular contact with consular staff in the FCO following his deportation from Japan in February. He requested that we raise with the Japanese authorities his mistreatment by immigration officials at Narita. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the FCO takes allegations of mistreatment of British nationals very seriously and will always raise them with the appropriate authorities when asked to do so. Our embassy in Japan wrote to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in March requesting that an investigation be carried out into the treatment that Mr Robertson was subjected to.

A response was received on 2 May stating that Mr Robertson was treated in line with procedures set out in Japan’s immigration and refugee recognition law. I must say that the two-month delay seems unacceptable and was inordinately long. The response also advised that Mr Robertson was treated in accordance with international human rights standards. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also explained that when a foreign national is refused entry to Japan, the airline, as carrier, is responsible for deporting that person. I understand that a notice of deportation order was passed to KLM officials confirming that Mr Robertson was under their custody and that they were responsible for ensuring that he left the country.

I can appreciate Mr Robertson’s frustrations about the length of time it took for us to receive a response from the Japanese authorities and his concerns that the information received did not explain the reasons behind his deportation. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, consular staff raised Mr Robertson’s case within three days of his bringing it to our attention and they pressed the Japanese authorities for a response on four separate occasions after our initial letter in March.

I am aware that Mr Robertson was unhappy with the response received from the Japanese authorities and asked that the FCO carry out an independent investigation. At Mr Robertson’s request, consular staff approached the Japanese authorities for further information on the reasons why he was refused entry. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would not divulge specific details of individual cases to our consular staff on the grounds that they are a third party.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the FCO cannot force a foreign Government to respond to our requests, nor is there any legal obligation for them to share information with us. The FCO does not have any jurisdiction to carry out investigations overseas, nor can we insist that the Japanese authorities look into the matter more thoroughly.

I am confident that we explored all possible avenues to obtain this information on Mr Robertson’s behalf and I am sorry to say there is nothing the FCO can do to put pressure on the Japanese authorities to provide the information to us. Should Mr Robertson wish to continue to pursue this matter with the Japanese authorities, he should do so with the assistance of a lawyer. I understand that the hon. Gentleman and Mr Robertson have been given the contact details of the Japanese immigration bureau with which the hon. Gentleman can pursue this matter.

I am aware that Mr Robertson has expressed his dissatisfaction about the level of assistance he has received from consular staff both in London and in Japan, and his concerns that the assistance he was given differs from that provided to other British nationals. I am sorry he feels that way. However, I am confident that our consular staff did all they could to assist and support him in this matter. Consular staff strive to provide a consistent, professional service to all British nationals in accordance with our policies.

May I refer the Minister to the specific point about Mr Robertson identifying the person he believed was responsible for the abuse, and the decision by the Foreign Office member of staff not to report that to the Japanese? Surely that should have happened.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. We will certainly pursue anything that he has raised in this debate that is new and of relevance. I will write to him on that specific point.

The second issue is the retrieval of the passport. I can understand Mr Robertson’s additional concerns in this regard. I understand that when the notice of deportation order was passed to KLM officials confirming that Mr Robertson was under their custody, his passport was handed over to KLM officials, and the Japanese immigration authorities’ involvement ceased at that point. As the hon. Gentleman knows, consular staff in Tokyo raised this with Japanese immigration officials and with KLM airlines in Amsterdam. On 25 May, Mr Robertson’s passport was found at KLM offices in Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, and it was subsequently returned to the Identity and Passport Service in the UK.

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, Mr Robertson’s passport was cancelled on 8 February. The UK Border Agency and Interpol were subsequently notified that his passport was no longer a valid travel document and that all appropriate steps were taken to ensure that his missing passport was not misused. Although the KLM flight captain and crew on the return flight were incredibly courteous and helpful to Mr Robertson, I am not impressed with the follow-up action they took, and there are certainly some points that need addressing.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing Mr Robertson’s situation to the attention of the House. Having introduced a number of Adjournment debates on behalf of constituents over the years, I know first-hand that a Back Bencher’s highlighting of such cases, thus ensuring that their constituents’ concerns are raised and recorded, is incredibly important.

I have tried to spell out what the FCO has done to assist Mr Robertson with his case, although I can appreciate his frustrations at being told there is nothing further we, as an Office, can do to assist him with this matter. I am confident that consular staff have done all they could to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion. Obviously I would not presume to tell Mr Robertson what to do, but if there are outstanding issues that he wishes to pursue, then I really would encourage him to consider seeking the assistance of a local independent lawyer.

The hon. Gentleman said a moment ago that he was keen to have a meeting with me. I have never yet turned down a request from a parliamentarian to have a meeting. Parliamentarians obviously have the right to raise issues on behalf of constituents, and other matters, in the House on the Adjournment. When a parliamentarian contacts a Minister to say that he would like to have a meeting, that is certainly something that we consider very seriously. If the hon. Gentleman would like to come and have a chat with me, or indeed with the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), who is responsible for consular services, then of course we will accede to that request; we are more than happy to do so. I know only too well the hon. Gentleman’s determination and commitment to his constituents—not just this one particular constituent but all of them. He is a fine example of an MP who is taking up the case of a constituent and raising it in the House, and I applaud him for doing that.

The hon. Gentleman said that he would like us to facilitate a meeting with the Japanese embassy and with KLM. I cannot do that. However, as I said, when a parliamentarian contacts a Minister to request a particular meeting, we will certainly accede to that—these are, after all, requests from parliamentarians in the British House of Commons. I hope that his request for a meeting with KLM and the Japanese embassy will be taken very seriously.

Once again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter. If there are any outstanding or additional points that I have not covered, I would be more than happy to write to him in the very near future.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.