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Mr Rafiu Odetayo

Volume 620: debated on Wednesday 17 January 2001

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2.52 p.m.

What progress there has been with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office inquiry into how Mr Rafiu Odetayo, a black British citizen, spent a month in prison in Germany after British consular officials refused to recognise his citizenship.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, we have asked the Germans for a full account of the reasons for Mr Odetayo's detention. We are awaiting a substantive written report from them. We have ascertained that Mr Odetayo's detention from 9th February to early March was because of an alleged physical assault by Mr Odetayo on a German police officer. We have requested authority from the State Attorney's Office for the release of the papers. We hope to have the final report soon.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. There are obviously significant questions for the German authorities to answer. They are, after all, like us, signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights. However, it is important to know more about the conduct of our own consular officials. Did they visit Mr Odetayo during his weeks in prison? Did they clarify his status with the German police or find out whether the German authorities had charged him?

My Lords, initially, Mr Odetayo was not visited. He was not offered consular assistance while in detention as consular officials understood him to have been unlawfully in possession of a British passport and not to he a British citizen. When he came to the Consulate General in Frankfurt on 4th March 1999, he was able to satisfy the consular official of his eligibility to hold a British passport and was issued with a new passport without delay.

My Lords, are consular officials advised that they should consider people to be British citizens if they claim to be so unless there is evidence to the contrary, granted that something like a majority of black British people are now full British citizens?

My Lords, I can reassure the noble Baroness in relation to that matter. This may not be the appropriate moment to go through the details, but there were particular difficulties in this case. Mr Odetayo had been issued with two passports: one had been lost and then stolen; the second was valid. It seems that there may have been confusion in relation to which passport was claimed. We are trying as hard as we can to obtain clarification from the German authorities. It may be that the wrong information was given, causing confusion. I can reassure the noble Baroness that everything is done to make sure that all British citizens receive the same quality of consular care.

My Lords, did the problem arise in any way from a confusion over citizenship law? Will the Minister give an indication as to what training consular officials receive in citizenship law?

My Lords, nothing appears on the face of the papers I have received to date to indicate that this was the result of confusion in relation to citizenship law. The confusion seems to have related to whether Mr Odetayo held a valid British passport. Training is certainly given to our consular officials in relation to the exercise of their duties. UK-based staff are given specific training in good race relations and in how to deal properly with such matters.

My Lords, perhaps I may clarify a point. The Minister said that the first passport was lost and stolen. If I understand her correctly, the second was presumably the one that was replaced by the final third version. Was the second passport incorrectly issued? Otherwise, why did it have to be replaced with a third?

My Lords, the second passport was properly issued. As I have said, we are trying to clarify the facts with the German authorities. It is not clear whether the second passport was lost, stolen or retained. We are trying to make sure that a clear exposition of the facts is obtained. I am not in a position to help the House further at this point. We are obviously concerned that any confusion at all has occurred. We are trying to clarify matters so that it does not happen again and so that the German authorities are clear, as our authorities are, in regard to the proper process to be followed if anything of this sort happens again.

My Lords, can my noble friend help me a little further? If the second passport was properly issued, why did it take a consular official a month to labour under the misapprehension that the person was not a British citizen? Although there may be no need for training in law, as my noble friend assured the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, has my noble friend identified the other area of training that the consular official in this case might have needed?

My Lords, I apologise in advance for the fact that this is a somewhat complicated tale. If it will assist the House, I shall explain a little further. Passport number one, if I may so describe it, was submitted to consular officials because it had been damaged. It was subsequently lost and stolen. Passport number two, with a different number, was then issued. It is unclear whether the number on passport number one was the number given when the second inquiry was made. Confusion over the two numbers may have been the problem. We are trying to get to the bottom of the issue. I hope that that is clear.

My Lords, can the Minister help the House a little further? If a passport is lost or damaged, is it not automatically cancelled?

My Lords, usually that would happen. Passport number one was put aside to be discarded and was stolen before it was cancelled. I could entertain your Lordships for a great deal longer!