Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200
WEDNESDAY 13 MARCH 2002
STRAW, MP, MR
CMG AND MR
200. The Committee in its Report on Human Rights
congratulated this initiative and we asked people on the ground
whether they found that helpful and we were told that it was.
In relation to torture we drew the analogy during the visit that
just as we introduced the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in
the early 1980s in Britain which made acceptable what is to happen
in police stations and what is not, there is nothing similar at
this stage which starts to define what torture is and what is
acceptable and what is not. I just want to press you a little
bit further because on the human rights issue, when it comes to
issues like freedom of expression I think there are real difficulties
when you go into the Kurdish language and it becomes contentious.
Even the Turkish Government accepts that torture in all its forms
is totally unacceptable.
(Mr Straw) Yes, it is.
201. Should we not focus much more on intensifying
activities to deal with this issue which is accepted by everyone
that more needs to be done but it needs to be done on the ground
at every day level in the police stations not at a governmental
(Mr Straw) If you take changes in police practice
which have occurred in the last 25 years in this country, and
some of us will remember that they were a bit by and large before
the implementation of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and
a lot more has come out more recently about what needs to happen,
we had to change the law in this country and then there had to
be a big programme of training and really winning the minds of
police officers. I remember when the Police and Criminal Evidence
Act was going through the House, and it was aborted before the
1983 election and had to come back, there was a lot of hostility
by police officers about the idea that their freedom was going
to be undermined by the introduction of what was alleged to be
a set of bureaucratic rules. So there had to be a training programme
but also taking people through the benefits to the police of,
for example, interrogating people in conditions in which the integrity
of the interrogation could not be challenged, which is a situation
which we have now achieved. I noticed in one of the telegrams
reporting on your visit, Ms Stuart, you referred to the parallel
of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and I think that is something
where we should do some work and where, as both you and Mr Macgregor
are saying, we need to ensure the advice is given police officer
to police officer. That is extremely important. The other thing
I would say on human rights is that Turkey is a member of the
Council of Europe and subject to the European Convention of Human
Rights and the European Court of Human Rights, and they have signed
up to it, and if we are going to ensure there is a reality of
human rights on the ground in Turkey we need to ensure the Council
of Europe at a political and ministerial level and every other
level is engaged with Turkey in a very active way.
Chairman: Foreign Secretary, I am afraid we
have to suspend the sitting for ten minutes and we will come back
as soon as possible.
The Committee suspended from 5.27pm to 5.37pm
for a division in the House
Chairman: Everyone is here so we can start.
Sir John on human rights.
Sir John Stanley
202. Foreign Secretary, have your Department
found a greater difficulty in trying to get the Turkish Government
to address the human rights issue since 11 September?
(Mr Straw) I have certainly not in the discussions
I have had. It has to be said that both visits I have made to
Turkey have been post-11 September but at the one I made by definition
within a few weeks or so of 11 September, it was the first item
that the President raised with me when I saw him, and he is actually
very proud of what he has achieved in getting through these constitutional
amendments. I have had no sense of that, I do not know whether
any of my colleagues have.
(Mr Macgregor) No.
203. I ask because, as you will be well aware,
around the world fundamentally non-democratic or only marginally
democratic regimes have seized on the war against terrorism to
pursue some extremely repressive policies and actions which, in
some cases, are very undesirable in human rights terms. I wondered
whether you might find it that much more difficult to get firm
attention to making progress on human rights in a country like
Turkey, which, you could argue well, is facing terrorist threats
from within, on the grounds that the United States is saying everything
has to be now subservient to the war against terrorism.
(Mr Straw) I understand the point you are making but
it has not been my experience nor that of the officials who are
with me. Turkey has had a terrorist problem and it had one which
pre-dated 11 September. We have a terrorist problem. When I was
Home Secretary I proscribed the DHKP-C, one of a list of 21 non-Irish
terrorist organisations which I proscribed, which decision was
endorsed by Parliament in February a year ago. I know obviously
there is a fair degree of co-operation on the anti-terrorist and
counter-terrorist front between our law enforcement agencies but
I have to say I have had no experience myself that their attitude
or approach has changed. At a senior level, the impression I have
had is that the Government of Turkey is as committed post-11 September
to its human rights agenda as it was before.
204. Foreign Secretary, you have just said that
you have put on the proscribed list two organisations, the PKK
and the DHKP-C. They are not, of course, on the EU list. Are we
pressing the EU to include those on the list? What are the prospects
of them being so included?
(Mr Macgregor) There are two arguments. One is about
these two organisations, another is about eight more. The Turks
are lobbying in favour of ten altogether. In our view, the chances
are better to pinpoint the two to start with, and I do not think
there is any reason to be negative about the hopes for eventually
agreeing those two.
205. That is wonderfully circumlocutory.
(Mr Straw) That is circumlocutory, unlike paragraph
206. Sir Humphrey would be pleased with that.
Can I ask a straight question?
(Mr Straw) You may not get a straight answer!
207. If pressure were solely restricted to these
two, would there be other than bureaucratic objections or would
there be objections in principle from other partner Members?
(Mr Macgregor) I know of no objection in principle.
(Mr Straw) There you are, a straight answer.
208. That is much better. Let us move then to
economic assistance. Foreign Secretary, you know we found it very
useful to meet Mr Leigh, who works with Commissioner Verheugen
on enlargement and in respect of Turkey, and he endorsed the idea
that the United Kingdom Government should establish a central
fund for bilateral assistance to Turkey, just as the Know-How
Fund was set up for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe
and proved indeed so successful in respect of those countries.
Why is there not currently such a fund analogous to the Know-How
Fund in respect of Turkey, and would you consider setting up such
(Mr Straw) I would certainly consider it.
209. So if the Committee were so to recommend,
it would be an open door?
(Mr Straw) It is not a blank cheque.
(Mr Straw) It could be an open door but you never
know which room you are walking into. Of course.
211. May I say that the Committee was impressed
with the success of the Know-How Fund in respect of the other
countries and the possible extension therefore to Turkey.
(Mr Straw) I am looking forward to your report.
(Mr Macgregor) Could I just add, although it is modestI
do not know quite what figure the Committee considers modestwe
have allocated £150,000 in the current year to a series of
projects which we label under our EU Action Plan for Turkey, which
is similar to Central European action plans of about the same
212. You say "the current year", that
is the financial year
(Mr Macgregor) The current financial year coming to
an end in March.
213. Has that been disbursed?
(Mr Macgregor) These are actual projects in the year
2001-02. We can let the Committee know what the level of disbursement
214. And the nature of the projects please.
(Mr Macgregor) I have a list here of the ten projects.
215. Can I move on to the relationships between
the United Kingdom and Turkey in terms of the exchange of students
and also in terms of visa applications; the two are almost directly
related. First of all, a straightforward question: from the information
we have there has been a halving of the money allocated to Turkey
for the Chevening Scholarships, and I would be very interested
to know what the justification for halving that was, given there
is an acceptance that we need to work more with Turkey. The second
issue relates to the starting of the SOCRATES programme, which
will allow Turkish students access to institutions of higher education
in EU countries. Given it would appear that many students and
perfectly straightforward business people are finding it very
difficult at times to get their visas processed, (a) how is the
Government preparing for the SOCRATES programme and, (b) what
do we intend to do to speed up the process of visa applications?
It was not a very happy sight in Istanbul to see queues and queues
of people and a perception that Britain was being far more difficult
than other EU countries, which really created a very negative
impact and impression of Britain.
(Mr Straw) I am going to ask Mr Macgregor to comment
on the Chevening Scholarships and the SOCRATES programme. On the
issue of the visa section's work flow, as you will have seen principally
in Istanbul, much less in Ankara, we are concerned about the time
which has been taken to process visa applications. The position
has been reviewed by JECU, the Joint Entry Clearance Unit, and
measures implemented include a 20 per cent increase in throughput,
increased staff levels and allocation of duties, improved workflow,
making better use of accommodation, extra interviews and improved
lines of management and section objectives. I am very happy, Chairman,
if you wish, to write to you setting out in more detail the actions
that have been taken and I am glad you have raised it.
I should also say, however, that I know from my own constituency
experience that there has been a pattern of some really very difficult
and contested settlement cases, particularly for marriageit
is best if I provide information in confidence to the Committee
about thoseand that has increased the level of scrutiny
of some of the applications that have had to be made.
216. Indeed, but we did hear about one case
where a Chevening scholar wished to return for some form of reunion
or graduation ceremony and in spite of her being accepted for
Chevening was refused.
(Mr Straw) Without going into the merits of that case,
and I will happily look at it to find out exactly what happened
because it obviously is of concern,
217. You have not answered the Chevening point
(Mr Straw) No, Mr Macgregor is going to answer. I
finished answering visas. I will write to the Committee about
the detailed changes that have been made. I will write to the
Committee, if it wishes, about some of the problems that have
been encountered. If I am given some information about this Chevening
scholar, in other words some identification, I would like to follow
that up personally as well if it is unsatisfactory.
218. I am obliged.
(Mr Straw) Now Mr Macgregor is going to give an answer
to Ms Stuart's questions about SOCRATES and Chevening.
219. The spotlight is on you, Mr Macgregor.
(Mr Macgregor) I shall try to be brief and straight.
First of all, as you rightly point out, there was something of
a general crisis on the matter of visas at the end of last year.
That is acknowledged by us and we have done something about it.
It is still not in a wholly satisfactory position but it is better
than it was at the turn of the year. Obviously all visa applicants
have been caught in this same situation. If the waiting time is,
as it is now, around about 75 days that affects students as much
as it affects anybody else. Although we try to make special routes
for people who have specific dates they need to go on, it is actually
quite difficult to run such a large operation on that basis. Secondly,
in the year 2001 we had a very considerable increase in the number
of refusals and refusals are usually on the basis of interviews
and that whole process of refusing inevitably slows down, which
is why we have posted new officers in order to try and do something
about that. Perhaps it indicates that there has been something
of a wave of what I would call opportunistic visa applications,
perhaps in response to the economic crisis. In other words, students
are affected like all visa applicants. In fact, the percentage
of student applications refused is higher than for the rest of
the applications. I will not try to interpret why that is but
it is about three times the rate. With the help of the post we
can perhaps seek to illuminate the background of the generality
of cases to show why. On the question of Chevening scholars, which
is quite different from all this, this is simply a hard choice
we are having to make in straitened budgetary times between a
variety of very worthy countries. In the area for which I am responsible,
which is the whole of Europe including Turkey, we have to decide
on Russia, which is obviously a very high priority, there is Central
Europe, there are countries like Turkey. In the new allocation
it is true that Turkey has considerably fewer than it had before.
I am sure Ministers will be happy to receive the views of the
Committee as to whether we have the right priorities. Perhaps
we could let you see the various countries where we do have Chevening
scholars in Europe and you can help us to make that rather hard
judgment . Your point is taken that there is a limitless market
for these. The SOCRATES point, am I correctly understanding it,
is that there are students who have SOCRATES grants through the
EU to go to a British university and are caught up in visa queues?
Ms Stuart: No. SOCRATES is only starting to
become fully operational within Turkey, so I would expect when
you go back and look at the reasons why you have half the Chevening
Scholarships now I would not be surprised if the starting of SOCRATES
may have been one of the reasons. The two are very much related.
If our processing of visa applications is not improving, not only
may we not be prepared for SOCRATES in the United Kingdom but
even those we want to take will not come here but will go to other
European countries and we will essentially miss a very valuable
opportunity. Maybe you would want to write back to us and show
the combination, the interrelation between the two, but also more
to the point how you are preparing for SOCRATES so we can get
the full evidence on that.
9 See Evidence, pp. Ev 74-Ev 75. Back
See Evidence, pp. Ev 76-Ev 79. Back
See Evidence, p. Ev 74. Back
See Evidence, pp. Ev 79-Ev 80 and p. Ev 82. Back