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Jim Fitton: Detention in Iraq

Volume 822: debated on Wednesday 11 May 2022

Commons Urgent Question

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat the Answer to an Urgent Question in the other place from my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Europe and North America:

“I thank the honourable Lady for raising this important case. I recognise that this is a very distressing time for Mr Fitton and his family. I would also like to reassure honourable Members that consular officials continue to maintain contact with Mr Fitton and his family—indeed, they met his family this morning—and we liaise with his lawyers to provide consular assistance. Since his arrest in March, consular officials have visited Mr Fitton on four occasions.

We understand the urgency and the concerns that Mr Fitton and his family have. We cannot, of course, interfere or seek to interfere with the judicial process of another country, just as we would not expect interference in our own judicial process. That said, the British ambassador in Baghdad has raised and will continue to raise Mr Fitton’s case with the Iraqi Government. That includes raising with the authorities the UK’s strong opposition to the death penalty, in the context of both its potential application to Mr Fitton and our in-principle opposition to it in all instances.”

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that Statement. Jim Fitton was arrested and detained simply for picking up unguarded shards of broken pottery and stones at a historical site, after being assured that they had no value. It could happen to any tourist travelling in a country of significant historical interest. In the House of Commons, the Minister said that the Government were engaging with officials in Iraq over the incident, but can the noble Lord confirm whether this is at a high level, between Minister and Minister? If it is not, do the Government have any plans for the Foreign Secretary to intervene personally?

I can confirm that high-level conversations are going on between the FCDO and the ambassador in Iraq. The ambassador has raised the case with the Iraqi authorities on four occasions, including by sending a note verbale. As regards ministerial engagement, my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Asia and the Middle East, Amanda Milling, has been kept very much up to date on Mr Fitton’s situation. Officials have lobbied at a high level in Iraq and will continue to consider what lobbying is most effective.

My Lords, this is a worrying case, not least because under Iraqi law it is a capital crime. I am glad that the Minister has conveyed to the House that representations have been made about the death penalty, but Ministers have refused to engage with my colleague Wera Hobhouse MP, who represents Mr Fitton. On 27 April I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, in his capacity as Human Rights Minister, about the death sentence for this British citizen. I have yet to receive a reply, which is of significant concern given the urgency of this case. I know that the Minister engages with the Front Benches in this House. Will he please meet me and Wera Hobhouse, who represents Mr Fitton? The trial is days away and ministerial representations for the elected representative of Mr Fitton are highly appropriate.

I thank the noble Lord for that. Of course I will be delighted to meet him. I should say that my noble friend Lord Ahmad would be here, but he has Covid, as the noble Lord probably knows.