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Written Statements

Friday 23 January 2015

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Consular Services

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Philip Hammond): The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) welcomes the scrutiny of its consular services by the Foreign Affairs Committee. The Command Paper laid today sets out the Government’s response to the Committee’s report of 23 November 2014 into the FCO’s consular services.

The Government welcome the Committee’s endorsement of how the FCO has prioritised the provision of consular services to British nationals overseas, as one of our three foreign policy priorities. The Committee recognises the high level of service the FCO’s consular staff provide to thousands of British nationals every year, often in distressing circumstances. It also commends our consular services in many areas, including our focus on supporting the most vulnerable British nationals abroad, the improvements we have made to our preparation for and response to large-scale crises, the support we provide in cases of kidnap, death penalty and forced marriage, and our innovations in service delivery such as our consular contact centres.

We also welcome the Committee’s recognition of the challenges we face around managing the public’s expectations of our services, and the importance of British nationals taking responsibility for their own safety and security when travelling and living abroad.

We are committed to continuing to improve the services we provide to British nationals, and recognise many of the areas where the Committee has suggested improvement may be required. This includes our support to families of British nationals who have died abroad, in particular victims of murder and manslaughter, our handling of allegations of torture and mistreatment of British Nationals travelling overseas, and our complaints handling procedures.

This Command Paper sets out the specific commitments we have made to address the Committee’s recommendations across all our consular services.

We take all allegations of torture or mistreatment extremely seriously. We will be reviewing the specific cases raised in the Committee’s report where it is alleged that we failed adequately to protect and support British nationals who said that they had been the victim of torture or mistreatment. We will also be developing new training for our staff for dealing with these difficult cases.

We have also committed to improving the consistency and quality of the service we offer to the families of British nationals who have died abroad, in particular victims of murder and manslaughter, Official Report, 22 January 2015, col. 10WS; HCWS 218. We also agree

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with the Committee’s recommendation to create a central unit to help us provide an improved level of service in murder and manslaughter cases - our new Access to Justice Unit will start working in January 2015 to lead this.

I am tremendously proud of our consular staff and the work that they do. I also welcome the Committee’s conclusion that the FCO provides a “lifeline” to British nationals, often in difficult circumstances and when they are most in need, and “should rightly be proud of its work”.

Home Department

Unaccompanied-Asylum Seeking Children

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): The UK has opted in to the regulation that amends a single article in the Dublin Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 (“Dublin III”) concerning its application to unaccompanied children. The amendments concern the position of unaccompanied children who are applicants for international protection and who have no family member, sibling or relative present in the states covered by the Dublin Regulation. They are being made to reflect the Court of Justice of the European Union’s ruling in the case of MA and others (C-648/11) that the best interests of the child are generally best served by an asylum claim being considered in the state of the most recent application rather than, if different, the state where a child first lodged an application. The basic approach in the proposal is one that we and other states participating in the Dublin Regulation have been following since the court’s ruling in June 2013, so opting in will have no additional impact on current practice.

The Government are fully committed to the system created by the Dublin Regulation, which determines which participating state is responsible for examining an application for international protection. The UK has opted in to all earlier proposals concerning the Dublin Regulation and the related Eurodac Regulation. Opting in to this single issue proposal concerning unaccompanied asylum seeking children is consistent with our strong support for the Dublin system as a whole, which has been of great benefit to the UK, enabling the removal of over 12,000 asylum individuals since 2003 to other participating states (Member states of the European Union, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein).

The Government will continue to consider the application of the UK’s right to opt in to forthcoming EU legislation in the area of justice and home affairs on a case by case basis, with a view to maximising our country’s security, protecting Britain’s civil liberties and our ability to control immigration.

[HCWS219]