Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



  60. But are we giving Government-to-Government advice on this?
  (Mr Vaz) Indeed, we are.

  Mr Mackinlay: Would it be possible to have a position statement, on a piece of A4, as to what the United Kingdom Government's assessment is of what has been done as regards Polish agriculture and what needs to be done? Because it does seem to me, in previous hearings, even with your predecessors, this was talked about, but nobody gives us a position statement of what our assessment is, either of what needs to be done or what the problems are. For instance, I have said, in this Committee, before now, with my colleague Norman Godman, we have discussed it, I sort of say, "Oh, hang on, half of Polish agriculture is economically neutral," because it is a person who has a cow, a few chickens, and so on. It should not come from me, that argument, and I think we need to have, on a piece of paper, what Her Majesty's Government/European Union is, because we do not know, do we? I look to my colleague; but he and I share the same interest, and we approach it from different angles, and we look to you to tell us, the FCO. So, presumably, that could be done, could it not, or it should be done, or does exist?

  Dr Godman: Especially in relation to the CAP?

Mr Mackinlay

  61. That is right; and this discussion has identified, one, is the question of at what level they can get into the CAP, and the other side of the coin is actually the nature of Polish agriculture, to what extent it needs to be reformed, because some would argue it is only half the problem it is perceived to be; but it is not for me to say that. I really would like to hear what your assessment, your audit, is?
  (Mr Vaz) Well, Chairman, Poland has no better friend in the House of Commons than Mr Mackinlay, and he raises Poland, I know, on many occasions. But I do not think it is for us to offer advice to Polish agriculture, or to the Polish Government. I know he wants a position paper from us, but I think that the best course of action would be to give him the latest assessment from the European Commission on these issues, because I think they are best placed, as part of the negotiating process, to do that, and we are happy to do that. Can I just say, I did say that I would supply you with a grid, on a monthly basis, of the opening and closing of chapters, Mr Rowlands. I am reliably informed that, in fact, the grid is on our FCO website, so it is readily available, and I am sure your new Clerk will eagerly log onto the Internet and provide you with all this information, without me having to do so.

Dr Starkey

  62. Minister, can I turn to a country which is rather further away from membership, which is Turkey, and ask you what your assessment is of the current state of Turkey's bid for membership, perhaps, in particular, commenting on the difficulties Turkey has on the human rights front in getting near the standards, whether there has been any progress?
  (Mr Vaz) As Dr Starkey knows, the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister, in particular, has been a great supporter of Turkey being given candidate status without conditions, and that is exactly what happened at Helsinki, and I can remember the drama of Mr Solana being sent to Ankara and then the Prime Minister of Turkey coming over to the summit. It was a momentous occasion for Turkey because they have been seeking this candidate status for some time. Turkey has to improve its human rights record. It needs to do better before it reaches the first stage, it needs to meet the Copenhagen criteria, and, as far as the justice and home affairs agenda, it really does need to make that progress. Dr Starkey will remember, at the last Foreign Office Questions, when we had a number of questions on Turkey, I did make this point clearly. However, Turkey is a valued ally, it is a partner in NATO, it is an important country as far as the United Kingdom is concerned, and we are glad that it achieved candidate status. It will need to look carefully at the way in which its accession partnership is framed; as you know, there was a political agreement, on 4 December, and what we need to do is make sure that there is flesh on the bones so Turkey understands exactly what it has to do. But we are in constant dialogue, through our Embassy in Ankara, with the Turkish Government, on the need for them to make progress on human rights. Dr Starkey is right.

  63. So do you think there has been any progress, however slight, so far?
  (Mr Vaz) It is difficult for me to put a kind of Richter scale analysis of this, and there will be a time when we will have to assess it. But, for example, take the death penalty, which is still in existence in Turkey, Turkey reminds us that they have not used the death penalty for over a decade, Turkey reminds us that it is prepared to look carefully at, for example, judgements of the European Court. I think it is essential that we understand that they are trying, but we also have to realise that there is a long way to go; that does not mean that we are any less committed to their candidacy, we are committed to their candidacy.

  64. Can I ask on another sort of tricky issue on the Turkish front, which is the issue of Northern Cyprus. What is the latest position with regard to the intercommunal talks about Cyprus?
  (Mr Vaz) We firmly support the proximity talks, as Dr Starkey knows. I shall be flying to Larnaca next Tuesday afternoon, and I met members of the Cypriot community on Monday night, in Hendon, with a number of parliamentary colleagues. I told the community there what I have said, and the Foreign Secretary has said, on many occasions, the proximity talks are crucially important, and my message to Mr Denktash is that he should be part of that, and it is a golden opportunity to try to seize the initiative and make sure that these talks are successful, coming, as they are, under the auspices of Koffi Annan and the United Nations. And when I go to Cyprus, next week, this is clearly an issue that I shall be discussing with both sets of people.

  65. Can I turn then to a related issue, which is about Turkey and NATO. There was a bit of difficulty, where Turkey was raising strong objections to European Union members who are not members of NATO using NATO facilities. What is the present state of discussions with Turkey on that issue?
  (Mr Vaz) They are ongoing; but I think that, sadly, there is a misunderstanding about the position on defence, and I just need to repeat what the Prime Minister and President Bush said at Camp David, on 23 February. That is that NATO is the corner-stone of our defence policy and that Turkey is a valued ally, and the Rapid Reaction Force, which was agreed at Petersberg in 1992, was designed to use the facilities available from the Western European Union so that there was a means of dealing with crisis management, the so-called Petersberg tasks. This was approved at Petersberg by Douglas Hurd and by Malcolm Rifkind, who was then the Defence Minister; and we are stating, as we have always stated, that we will not act without NATO's say-so, without NATO being involved, because it is the corner-stone of our policy. As Lord Robertson said recently, it is only going to be in a very small number of limited cases, where planning can really be done at national level, or with a group of countries, that the Rapid Reaction Force is going to be used. And I did point this out at Questions; in fact, Mr Godman had the very first question at Foreign Office Questions. I am not trying to remind him of what happened then, but, as he knows, from reading the Hansard, and as Dr Starkey will know, this is what we need to do.

Dr Godman

  66. On that, can I just say, for the record, I have apologised, in fact, to the Minister, for my absence. I was, in fact, over in the Irish Republic and it was a little difficult to get back, but he has, in fact, received an apology.
  (Mr Vaz) I have.

  67. And a handsome apology, I think, it is fair to say.
  (Mr Vaz) Indeed.

  68. But, just on the question of Turkey, do any of the other Member States of the European Union have concerns about Turkey's membership in relation to the fact that Turkey is an Islamic state?
  (Mr Vaz) No; and I am glad Mr Godman has raised this. Can I just say I have accepted his apology handsomely, and I replied handsomely to him. I was glad that he was number one, because, actually, it gave us an opportunity of clarifying matters, but, also, questions two and three also dealt with this. Nobody has said this, and when I went to Turkey, before I was a Minister, in the conversations that I had with Turkish people, they kept saying to me, "We will never be a candidate to join the European Union because a majority of our people are Moslems." And I think that the fact that the EU has accepted Turkey as a candidate country shows the diversity of Europe, and, whatever the religion of a majority of people in Turkey, we welcome them in as a proper and first-class applicant.

Dr Starkey

  69. Just to clarify; would the Minister not agree that Turkey is actually a secular state, the majority of the population of which is Moslem, it is not an Islamic state?
  (Mr Vaz) Yes; but I think what Mr Godman was just mentioning was the level.

  Dr Starkey: Yes; just for the record.

Sir David Madel

  70. Minister, you said there are various things Turkey has to do. Now is one of the things Turkey has to do, to improve its candidature, to withdraw its army from Northern Cyprus?
  (Mr Vaz) What Turkey has to do, Sir David, and I know of your interest in these matters, is to encourage those involved in the proximity talks, such as Mr Denktash, to be fully part of those talks. It is important that everyone realises that this is an opportunity to deal with an agonisingly difficult problem, and simple solutions are not going to solve it.

  71. Well, you see, I do not think it is simple. Let us just go back to 1960. Greece, Turkey and ourselves are guarantors of the 1960 Constitution. Turkey should not be in Northern Cyprus. When I have asked you these questions, and the Foreign Secretary, you have said, many times, that Northern Cyprus will not get into the EU with Turkey, that the Cyprus negotiations are for the whole island. Let us assume Cyprus joins, the whole island, which I gather is what the Government wants to happen, there is an instant problem, is there not, there will not be free movement throughout the island?
  (Mr Vaz) There are problems—

  72. But there would be free movement if the Turkish army would get out?
  (Mr Vaz) Yes, you have put these points, Sir David, to the Foreign Secretary and to myself, and you have had the same reply, which is that it is very important that we have a just and lasting settlement, and the just and lasting settlement is based on negotiations through the proximity talks. Sir John will remember this, when he was a Minister in the last Government, it was not an issue that could be solved then, there is bi-partisan support for these proximity talks, Mr Maples will know this, when he was the Shadow Foreign Secretary.

  Chairman: Which have now broken down.

Sir David Madel

  73. They have broken down?
  (Mr Vaz) They are not progressing, and, in order to progress, and I hope that I am not saying that I am going to make a huge difference to this issue when I go over next week but I will be doing my bit.

  74. But the object of talks is to reach an objective, and what I hope the proximity talks are trying to reach is the objective of the withdrawal of the Turkish army from Northern Cyprus, which it should not be in. Does the Government want that to happen?
  (Mr Vaz) Of course, the Government wants the situation of a bi-communal system.

  75. A bi-zonal state?
  (Mr Vaz) Yes; and we will do our best to achieve that, that is why we have got Sir David Hannay as our special representative, and we want to make sure that that happens. But I do not want to do anything, and I do not think any of us should do anything, to make the chance of success more difficult, by dramatic statements, which will not be achievable.

  76. Presumably, you will see Mr Denktash next week?
  (Mr Vaz) I will.

  77. Will you suggest to Mr Denktash that if the negotiations in Cyprus make real progress towards joining the EU, that he, Mr Denktash, allows a plebiscite in Northern Cyprus to see whether the citizens there wish to join the European Union; with one proviso, no voting by the Turkish army on that referendum?
  (Mr Vaz) I will discuss various matters with him, and—

  78. Including that?
  (Mr Vaz) Well, if you wish me to ask him that,—

  79. Yes, I do?
  (Mr Vaz) I will certainly pass that on to him. But there will be a number of issues that we want to discuss; we want to make progress on this. Sir David, you know, you have been in the House a long time, that these issues cannot be solved overnight; but we want a solution that is going to last, that is going to be in the interests of the people of Cyprus, that is what we want. And I will certainly pass that on.

  Sir David Madel: Thank you.

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