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Jagtar Singh Johal

Volume 726: debated on Thursday 19 January 2023

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the imprisonment of Jagtar Singh Johal.

Let me begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate to proceed today. I noticed, while going over my notes in preparation, that it is almost a year since I first submitted the request, yet the Committee has indulged my requests to delay owing to the changing circumstances of the case. I think it was more in hope than expectation that my friend, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), offered me the slot last week, and I am delighted to see them in their place today, as well as other members of the Backbench Business Committee.

I do not intend to spend much time today going over the specifics of the case. These are a matter for the public record, following: the Adjournment debate that I was granted in November 2018; the Westminster Hall debate of June 2021; and, indeed, the urgent question heard by the House in September last year. Indeed, in the five years since Jagtar’s arrest, I have brought up his case on the Floor of the House on more than 30 separate occasions. This, along with the excellent work of my colleagues from other political parties across the House who have continued to raise my constituent’s case in parliamentary questions—

I have arranged meetings with Foreign Secretaries, Ministers and Prime Ministers, but my efforts have been as nothing compared with the incredible assiduous work of my friend, the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes). His pursuit of freedom on behalf of Jagtar and his family is admirable and I am determined to offer any support that I can as he continues to fight this case.

The hon. Gentleman has been a stout defender of Jagtar’s rights, and I am grateful for his continued support and for that of some of his colleagues.

As I was saying, the engagement across parties in debates and in meetings with Ministers shows the strength and durability of the feeling in this place to address what is becoming one of the most—at least I would say—prominent injustices in modern UK foreign policy. That is, essentially, the purpose of this debate. Through the speeches and interventions made in the House today, I want the Government to see: that Members across this House, across parties, and across the nations of these islands, have no intention of forgetting Jagtar Singh Johal; that the choice that they made not to deem his continued detention an arbitrary one until recently to not be without consequence; and that even five years on, we will be here, and for another five years if that is indeed necessary. Once again, we ask them, through the Minister, to call for his immediate release.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and on all the work that he has done on behalf of his constituent, and, indeed, his constituents. Plenty of constituents in Glasgow North are regularly in contact with me about this issue—not just people who worship at the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple in Otago Street, but members of the Amnesty groups and the wider community. They understand that Jagtar has been arbitrarily detained. The United Nations understands that that is what has happened to him. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government must recognise that and that they have to call for fair due process and, ultimately, for Jagtar’s release?

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. We are at the point now where that needs to be vocalised on the Floor of the House. It is one thing to say it in private, but it does need to be vocalised by the Minister.

The United Kingdom Government are, of course, not the only relevant party: the Government of the Republic of India, their judiciary and their police forces are the ones who continue to hold my constituent in a fashion that is consistent with arbitrary detention—

I wish to add to the contributions that have been made about my hon. Friend’s endeavour in relation to standing up for his constituent. On the point that he just made, we know that, in August 2022, there were reports that MI5 and MI6 operatives supplied information that has led to the torture of a British citizen in India. That is, of course, a breach of his human rights and, to my mind, it is an act of treachery on behalf of the UK Government. Does my hon. Friend agree?

That matter is about to go before the courts, Madam Deputy Speaker, but let me say that that type of approach by previous UK Governments is not unknown. I hope that the courts will recognise that we need further information on the involvement of the British Government in the arbitrary detention of my constituent and his possible torture.

As I said, the UK Government are not the only relevant party. The Government of the Republic of India, their judiciary and their police forces are the ones who continue to hold my constituent in a fashion that is consistent with arbitrary detention. I would like them to watch this debate and recognise that this has not escaped international attention and nor will it do so.

Last May, when the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention submitted a report on the case, it could not have been clearer. It said:

“Mr Johal’s arrest and detention are arbitrary…as there is a lack of legal basis or justification, and amount to unlawful abduction, incommunicado detention and unreasonable pretrial detention.”

It continues that

“none of the domestic or international law requirements was complied with during Mr Johal’s arrest. Mr Johal was bound, hooded and taken by unidentified police officers. During that time, Mr Johal was never informed that he was being arrested, nor was a family member with him. Under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, no person is to be deprived of life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”

We subsequently heard last year, following the excellent work of the charity Reprieve, that this arrest was almost certainly the result of intelligence shared by the British Government. There is, of course, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar), an ongoing legal case. I hope we will one day be able to establish the circumstances that set this terrible personal tragedy into motion, although it would save the family the stress of the court process if the UK Government were to be up-front about their role in the case as soon as possible—but I am afraid I do not think that will happen.

We are here one week before 26 January, when India celebrates Republic Day and marks the 73rd anniversary of the constitution’s coming into force, effectively heralding the culmination of a long and often bloody struggle to create the modern Indian state out of the unjust and rapacious reality of British colonial rule. Standing in this Chamber, within this Palace constructed partially with the proceeds of the wealth extracted from India during the colonial period, every one of us must be mindful of so much when addressing the actions of the Indian Government, as I hope I have always been when referring to this case.

The Republic of India is a great state—indeed, it is more than that; it is a great civilisation. During my Adjournment debate in November 2018, I ended with an appeal that,

“transparency, due process and the rule of law”—[Official Report, 27 November 2018; Vol. 650, c. 222.]

be upheld in this case. The course of time has certainly not altered those sentiments, but it allows us to reflect on whether they have been upheld. I am afraid that not only do I, the majority of hon. Members present, the Johal family and countless legal experts hold the view that transparency, due process and the rule of law have not been upheld in Jagtar’s case, but so does the United Nations.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on once more securing a debate on behalf of his constituent Jagtar Singh Johal. This is a matter I have raised on numerous occasions on behalf of many concerned Slough constituents. Does he agree that, since the UN working group on arbitrary detention issued an opinion finding that Jagtar “was subjected to torture” and that his detention was based on “discriminatory grounds”, it is incumbent on the Foreign Office to issue Jagtar’s family and legal team with all the consular support and advice required in their fight to get him released and see justice delivered?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is another doughty campaigner for my constituent and works closely with me. I do not disagree, but I must put on record that, in difficult times, the consular teams have stepped up to the plate in many ways and have worked tirelessly to assist the family. The difficulty is political leadership.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful contribution. I am aware, as hon. Members across the House will be, of the good work he is doing in championing Jagtar’s family. Does he agree that this is only the latest example of a growing trend of UK Government incompetence and inaction when faced with British nationals detained abroad, and that it is vital that we ensure that previous blunders are not repeated in the case of Jagtar Singh Johal?

There has been a litany of personal disasters when it comes to consular support, but I say again that that is not the staff, but the lack of political leadership, the impact of change since 2016 due to Brexit, the number of staff members taken away from different desks covering different countries and the amount of churn going through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. That has been profoundly difficult, and it has dire consequences for all our constituents on the ground.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate and on his determined effort on behalf of his constituent. Does he think there is anything to be learned from the result of the Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe case and how that transpired? What learnings are there from that case in terms of both campaigning and how that was worked through with the Foreign Office and how that might secure Jagtar’s release?

The hon. Gentleman raises a range of issues, but I am afraid that the debate will not give me long enough today to open up Pandora’s box on the differences between my constituent and others, although some differences are self-evident. I put it on record that the support from the Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe campaign for my constituent and his family has been 100% solid. On the differences between dealing with theocracies and what are supposed to be close allies, we have seen clear differences between the two cases come out politically over the past couple of years.

In the week before Republic Day, I made a plea to the Indian Government, and the judiciary, which is quite correctly independent, to reflect on the preamble to the great foundational document of the Republic of India that they will celebrate next week. Let us recall the words:

“JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and opportunity;”

and then of course:

“FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the Unity and integrity of the Nation.”

Those are fine words, befitting a great global state, which, if trends continue, stands to become a great global leader of the 21st century, but that will require not only economic might and demographic advantage but translating great sentiments into great actions: fair and open institutions that have the trust of the people.

This week we saw Jagtar’s case again adjourned until March due to witnesses not being presented, just as it was in November, and those more well-versed than me in Indian legal matters think it could continue to be adjourned at eight-week intervals for some time. If the prosecution cannot produce witnesses, they are not only wasting everyone’s time, but wasting the best part of my constituent’s life.

Goodness knows we still have our problems with institutions on these islands, but that should never stop anyone or any political state striving to be better. In that spirit of self-reflection, I will bring my remarks to a conclusion by asking the Minister to think about changing their strategy. Neither the family or I doubt the commitment of the Government to raise this often and at the highest levels; yet here we are, five years on, having seen very little movement in the case. Indeed, only one of the nine cases involving Jagtar has advanced in any meaningful way. The current approach simply is not working.

When the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), conceded in a letter to the Leader of the Opposition that it was the Government’s view that Jagtar had been arbitrarily detained, the family and all the many people interested in Jagtar’s welfare naturally expected that that would be followed by action from the British Government. We know that the Government have called for the release of UK citizens arbitrarily detained abroad: will they now do so for Jagtar?

I hope by the time we hear from the Minister—maybe rather quicker than we hoped—we will have an answer to this straightforward question and others that will be brought forth by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. With miscarriages of justice such as this, it is often some time before victims and families see action; when we are seeing one continuing to take place before our eyes, then we must redouble our efforts to stop it. I put it to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the Government can do their bit too.

That is the spirit of this debate. I look forward to hearing the voices of those who contribute, and they have the gratitude of the Johal family. I hope their voices will echo not just across the road to King Charles Street, but across the globe to India. We will not give up on Jagtar. It is time to set him free.

I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and in particular to my co-chairmanship of the Indo-British all-party parliamentary group and of the APPG for India (Trade and Investment). I congratulate the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) not only on securing the debate, but on his long campaign for his constituent. He has been diligent in seeking support and justice from both the UK and Indian Governments for a very long time on behalf of his constituent, as is absolutely right as a Member of this House.

Jagtar Singh Johal, who was resident in Dumbarton, was detained in India, I believe, on 4 November 2017. The charges he faces, as the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, relate to terror conspiracy cases. They relate to an outlawed militant group: the Khalistan Liberation Force. That is a proscribed organisation in India. Membership of such an organisation is a crime, if proven. I understand that Mr Singh has been formally charged in eight separate cases of assassination, terror and violence. Clearly, those are very serious offences indeed. The cases were investigated by India’s National Investigation Agency.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. We clearly have a bit of a disagreement. The Indian courts, the NIA and the police had five years to bring cases against my constituent for the charges against him, yet they have progressed only one of those, and even then, it was using evidence that was likely—whether the hon. Gentleman agrees with it or not—obtained using torture. Does he think it is time they actually brought a case to court and got on with it?

Justice delayed is justice denied. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this case should proceed in court as fast as possible. We have to remember that in India, the judiciary is impartial and is based on the UK model. We should also be clear that keeping Jagtar in prison for this length of time without bringing charges and without proper process, so that he can either answer those charges or, indeed, be found guilty of them, is unfair and unjust.

My understanding is that Jagtar got married relatively soon before he was arrested. This delay in justice being delivered is having an impact on not just Jagtar himself but his wife, who I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet when she visited Parliament. She must be distraught at this extended period, and that impact must resonate through not just his family but the entire Sikh community. I get regular representations from my gurdwara in Willenhall about their concerns, and I am keen to strongly advocate on their behalf.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Clearly, everyone associated—Jagtar’s family, his friends and the Sikh community—will be very concerned about his safety and his being detained for five and a half years.

The concern here is whether Jagtar is indeed a member of and associated with this banned organisation. As I understand it, that has been thoroughly investigated by India’s National Investigation Agency. That organisation has links in not only the United Kingdom but France, Canada and Italy. India’s designated anti-terror court has taken cognisance of the charges filed against Mr Johal in these cases. My understanding is that he is presently in judicial custody and undergoing trial proceedings, as the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire alluded to.

The hon. Member has missed the point of this debate entirely. What we are debating today is not what Jaggi has been charged with. We are debating getting him home now, and that requires ongoing support from the UK Government, not an eight-week review, as we have been having.

I recognise what the hon. Lady says. One of the questions I have for the Minister is: can he confirm that Mr Singh has been given access to legal representation at all times?

This is vital, because if he has been denied legal representation, that is a denial of his human rights. Equally, has the high commission maintained contact with not only Mr Singh but the Indian authorities, to establish exactly what is going on?

I am posing questions for the Minister to answer because I genuinely want to hear what the view of the British Government is on these points. The key here is the actions of our high commission in representing not only the hon. Gentleman’s constituent but, importantly, a UK national.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I am sorry that I was not here for the first sentences of his speech. Is there not another area of concern here? As I understand it, having met Jagtar’s brother the other day, one of the reasons the Indian authorities seem to be particularly keen on keeping him as part of the conspiracy allegations is that, as he is the only person who is not Indian, that is the only way they can make specific allegations about the others being engaged in an international conspiracy.

The hon. Gentleman suggests that this might be the case. We know that India—and we will be talking about Republic Day next week—faces a number of terrorist atrocities and terrorist attacks. We therefore have to be very careful when we are looking at what the Indian Government, the Indian police and their crime agencies are doing to combat that terrorism.

In relation to the banned organisation of which the hon. Gentleman said my constituent was a member, he must remember that that so-called banned organisation was not banned until 2018, and my constituent was arrested in 2017. Rather than throwing accusations and aspersions without evidence, which would not stand in a court of law, does he agree that he should use his contacts in the Indian Government to ask them to bring forward witnesses and bring the case to court?

It appears that the hon. Gentleman now accepts the fact that Mr Singh is a member of a banned organisation.

Well, it seemed me that that is exactly what he was alluding to. The fact is that under Indian law, Mr Singh has the right to bring his case to the courts. The accusations of torture—which, of course, would be illegal under international law—should be listened to in the Indian courts, so he should bring that case to the Indian courts through his lawyers and legal representatives. That is vital.

Can my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that consular officers from the high commission have been granted access to Mr Singh more than 60 times during the duration of his arrest and detention? That means we are ensuring that the high commission is doing its job and that proper access and proper assistance is provided to our citizen, to ensure that we will eventually get to a conclusion of this case, however long it takes.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) on securing another debate on this issue. He has advocated relentlessly and resolutely for Jagtar since his constituent’s detainment over five long years ago. I am really pleased to hear the praise from across the House for his dogged pursuit of this case on behalf of his constituent. I also pay tribute to MPs across the House who have raised Jagtar’s case and to the tireless advocacy of campaigners and Sikh communities across these islands, including in my constituency, which is home to Edinburgh’s gurdwara.

The UK Government must recognise the strength and breadth of feeling on this issue. A Scottish and British citizen is the victim of a grave injustice. We cannot let up until Jagtar is safely home. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire noted, the UN has confirmed that Jagtar has been detained arbitrarily with no legal basis or justification and recommended that the appropriate remedy would be his immediate release. Transparency, due process and the rule of law have been absent in this case. That is a view held by the UN as well as various legal experts.

My hon. Friend eloquently cited the Indian constitution and appealed to the Indian Government to live up to its ideals. I sincerely hope that they will heed his call. He asked the Minister a straightforward question: will the UK Government call for the release of Jagtar, as they have done for other UK citizens arbitrarily detained? The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) stated that was his view, and it would be good to hear whether that was the official FCDO position, too.

Many of the representations I have received from constituents share my view, which is respect for India and its independent Government, respect for its constitution, and a natural concern about any form of terrorism in India or anywhere else, which has to be tackled. The concern that my constituents have expressed time and again—I have also related it in the Chamber before—is the lack of openness and transparency in the whole process. Just to add to what the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) has said, from the earliest stage most were simply asking for adherence to due process. That clearly has not been the case, and that is why there is such concern around this case. The concern also relates to the openness and transparency of our own Government and their involvement in this case, too. The appeal today is for openness, transparency and due process, and I think that would result in the release of Jagtar immediately.

Perfectly put. I commend the right hon. Member for that contribution and agree with him. I have to say I was disappointed by the contribution of the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). As my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) said, I think he has rather missed the point of today’s debate, so I will focus on those parts of his contribution that I agreed with.

The hon. Member said that justice delayed is justice denied, and I agree with that. He said that keeping Jagtar in prison without pressing charges is unfair and unjust, and he has acknowledged that Jagtar’s friends and family continue to be deeply concerned about his welfare. I also welcome the fact that he asked for assurance from the Minister about whether Jagtar has had appropriate legal representation and the part that the high commissioner has been playing in all this.

Jagtar, his family and everyone campaigning for his release deserve an explanation as to why the Government have failed to implement their policy to seek the release of arbitrarily detained British citizens. Jagtar, as has been mentioned numerous times, has been detained for more than five years, and only one of the nine cases against him has proceeded in that time. The Government’s current approach is simply not working.

The Government are of course categorically opposed to abuses such as torture and the death sentence, so surely it is in their interest to take swift remedial action and secure Jagtar’s immediate release. Indeed, the UN special rapporteur on executions has made clear that in death penalty cases, where the detainee is detained on spurious grounds as a political statement or in circumstances of clear human rights violations, the home country should be making representations to the detaining state. The UK, it appears to me and many others, is failing in its duty to one of its own citizens by not doing so.

It should be highlighted again that in August last year, Jagtar’s legal team, along with human rights organisations Reprieve and Redress, uncovered evidence suggesting that British intelligence agencies may have contributed to Jagtar’s detention and torture by sharing intelligence with the Indian authorities. I believe a claim has been lodged in the High Court against the FCDO and the Home Office alleging unlawful sharing of information where there was a risk of torture. Rather than forcing Jagtar and his family to go through a long court process, the Government should acknowledge their role in his mistreatment and provide an apology to him and his family for the harm he has suffered.

Jagtar has bravely highlighted human rights abuses against India’s Sikh population and has sought accountability for historical anti-Sikh pogroms. For that, he has endured the unimaginable trauma of being abducted in front of his wife, just three weeks after their wedding, and then being tortured into giving a false confession. It has been more than five years since the UK Government promised to prioritise Jagtar’s case and take extreme action in the event of his torture. When will the Government make good on these promises? Will Ministers finally engage with the Indian Government to secure his release? I look forward to the Minister’s contribution.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) for securing this debate and for demonstrating continuing and admirable tenacity in his support for his constituent and his family during this terrible time of imprisonment. He knows that he has the support of all of us across the House to find a just solution to this ongoing saga.

It is with deep regret that we are in this situation yet again, spending time in the House on this case, which should have been resolved some time ago. As my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) has said, we have had not just urgent questions, but statements, Westminster Hall debates and now this big Backbench Business debate. This matter has been the subject of debate by so many Members on so many different occasions. What we would like to see from the Minister today is more clarity on whether this British citizen is receiving just treatment. That is what each of us can expect abroad and that is what many look to the Foreign Office for.

I agree with the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire about the ongoing steadfast support from the consular services in India, and I put that on the record on behalf of all Labour Members. The staff of the FCDO in India have sought consular access on many occasions and have been supportive, but the situation remains unsustainable. As shadow Asia Minister, I have raised the case directly with the Indian high commission here in London. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the Leader of the Opposition, and the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), have both met Mr Johal’s family and made their own representations to the Government to urge that his case be resolved and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said, to ask for clarity on the process.

We know that in a recent reply to a written parliamentary question to the Minister for the Indo-Pacific region, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), she admitted that no direct representations have been made on Mr Johal’s behalf by the Foreign Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi since the end of October 2022. Why not? Ongoing pressure in this consular case must be applied, particularly given that the former Prime Minister—it is a bit confusing when we start talking about former Prime Ministers, but I mean the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson)—accepted that Mr Johal was arbitrarily detained. The Minister, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty) will have heard today the breadth of feeling of Members of the House. I am keen to hear his response in full to some of the questions raised by Members and I will press a couple of key issues myself.

Is the Minister confident that Mr Johal, a British citizen, has been treated fairly over the past five years? Is he at liberty to enlighten the House on suggestions of British Government secret service involvement in Mr Johal’s case? Will he confirm that the Prime Minister will urgently discuss the case of Mr Johal in his next meeting with Prime Minster Narendra Modi? The saga has gone on for far too long, and we owe it not just to Mr Johal as an individual, but to the shared sense of justice, on the part of India and the UK, to resolve the issue. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras wrote in his letter to the then Prime Minister on 31 May 2022:

“The UK has a deep and enduring bond with India, and it is vital our governments work together to constructively resolve cases such as this.”

Can the Minister say whether Mr Johal has been treated fairly? Can he rule out the question of torture in this case? Can he confirm that this matter will be raised at the earliest convenience at the next meeting between the Indian Prime Minister and our own Prime Minister?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) for calling this debate, and I am grateful for the contributions of other Members, including the Opposition Front-Bench spokespersons, the hon. Members for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) and for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). I pay tribute to the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire for his tireless energy on behalf of his constituent. He paid tribute to the consular support received by Mr Johal and I agree with that sentiment. We are always terrifically proud of the consular staff in the FCDO. They have been particularly active in this case and we are grateful for their continued efforts.

It may be useful to confirm straight up that Mr Johal has had access to a lawyer since his arrest, in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East. On consular support, since his arrest in 2017, more than 50 such consular visits or calls have taken place, led by the relevant consular regional operations manager. We appreciate their work and I am pleased to report that Mr Johal received one of those consular visits this morning.

Colleagues will understand that Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon is the Minister for India, but his being in the other place it is my pleasure to respond on his behalf. Let me begin by saying that this matter rightly continues to cause great concern across the House and the Sikh community. I recognise how incredibly difficult the past five years have been for Mr Johal, his family and his friends.

We want a resolution to this protracted and complex case. Let me assure Members that we are doing what we can at the highest levels to support Mr Johal and his family, and we will continue to do so. The Foreign Secretary did that with his counterpart Dr Jaishankar during his visit to India last October. During visits to India earlier in 2022, the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), and the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), also raised this case with Prime Minister Modi and Dr Jaishankar.

As I said, the Minister of State Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon continues to lead efforts on this case. He is in regular contact with counterparts across the Indian Government. He most recently raised Mr Johal’s case with the Indian high commissioner to the UK on 13 December. Just this week, the Foreign Office’s most senior official, the permanent under-secretary Sir Philip Barton, raised this matter with his Indian counterpart. More broadly, a working group of UK and Indian officials is discussing measures to improve support to all British nationals detained in India. We are in regular contact with Mr Johal’s family to offer our support and updates on our engagement with the Indian authorities.

On engagement with the family, can the Minister confirm on the Floor of the House that his Government accept that my constituent was arbitrarily detained?

I will come to that in a moment. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has issued its opinion about Mr Johal’s case. We take it very seriously. We are focused right now on giving him the welfare support that he needs and we will continue to raise our concerns about his case directly with the Government of India.

The former Foreign Secretary met the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire and Mr Johal’s brother last June to discuss the matter. The current Foreign Secretary is due to meet the hon. Member and Mr Johal’s brother later this month. Our consular staff are in weekly contact with Mr Johal’s family to support them as best we can through this difficult time.

Mr Johal has made allegations of torture and mistreatment during his detention. We take such allegations very seriously. Let me be clear: torture, and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment are prohibited under international law. We have consistently raised concerns directly with the Indian authorities at the highest levels. That includes requests for an effective, impartial investigation into the allegations, for Mr Johal to have access to an independent medical examination, and for his right to a fair trial to be upheld. He is facing multiple charges; the trials have started for some of those. Our consular staff will continue to monitor the developments closely throughout the process.

Mr Johal has been accused of offences for which the maximum sentence is the death penalty. The UK is strongly opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances. I therefore appreciate how deeply distressing the situation must be for Mr Johal and his family. Our consular staff in India visit him regularly to offer support, and did so most recently this morning.

I wanted to check whether the review would include what was reported in The Times just last year that the UK security services had some involvement in Mr Johal’s arrest. Will the review include that as part of the investigation?

I will not comment on intelligence or security matters on the Floor of the House of Commons, in adherence to the Government’s long-standing and settled practice.

Consular staff often attend Mr Johal’s court hearings in India as observers, most recently on 13 January. They are in regular contact with Mr Johal’s legal representatives.

I am going to ask the same question as my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes): will the Minister confirm on the Floor of the House that Jagtar Singh Johal has been arbitrarily detained in India?

As I said, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has issued its opinion about Mr Johal. We take this matter very seriously. We have consistently raised our concerns about Mr Johal’s case directly with the Government of India. We are focused on doing everything we can to provide him with consular welfare assistance.

Last February, lawyers acting for Mr Johal issued a civil litigation claim against the UK Government in the High Court. These are ongoing legal proceedings and we must let them run. As such, I cannot comment on that matter, in line with the settled and long-standing practice of the Government.

There are calls on the British Government to do more, particularly on the Floor of the House today. Our actions in this case and all such cases are tailored to the specific and complex individual circumstances. Where we consider that there is credible evidence that an individual is arbitrarily detained, we will continue to work publicly and privately to support them and tailor our assistance to the circumstances of the case. We are committed to doing what we can to most effectively assist Mr Johal. In his case we have raised our concerns, including his allegations of torture, with the Indian Government on more than 100 occasions, and we will continue to do so. In 2021, the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and Prime Minister Modi committed to work together to resolve long-running and complex consular cases. We have made some progress, including a recent case regarding two British nationals. We will continue to work together to that end.

The UK relationship with India is very important and is based on trust and collaboration. India is a key partner on the world stage, including through its G20 presidency. That strong relationship allows discussions on challenging topics. That is an important part of the deep, mature and wide-ranging relationship that we continue to have with India. Complex consular cases and other sensitive issues form a regular part of our dialogue with India and will continue to do so. We will continue to make those representations on the behalf of all British nationals.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for being in the Chair in this important debate. I thank Members on all sides of the House who have contributed not just in the debate but in the last five years in support of my constituent. What I hope to see, and I do not think I have heard it yet from the Minister, is a change in strategy to be more frank and robust when raising Jagtar’s case, because the current, I have to say, softly, softly approach is not working. When I first raised the case in 2017—it seems a lifetime ago in politics, especially in this House—I was assured from the Dispatch Box that the Minister just stood at that the UK Government would take “extreme action” in the case of a UK citizen’s being tortured. The time for action has now passed, after a lengthy period.

I am disappointed that accusations and aspersions about my constituent have yet again been made in the House. I note that the Indian Prime Minister was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a paramilitary Hindu nationalist volunteer organisation in India that was banned three times in the Indian republic, but I do not see anybody taking him off the streets hooded or arbitrarily detaining him or half of his Cabinet, given their membership of that organisation. I hope that in our meeting with the Foreign Secretary next week, what could not be spoken about in the Chamber today may at least be said privately.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the imprisonment of Jagtar Singh Johal.