Foreign Affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 1567

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Evidence heard in Public

Questions 175 – 245



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 13 December 2011

Members present:

Richard Ottaway (Chair)

Mr Bob Ainsworth

Sir Menzies Campbell

Ann Clwyd

Mike Gapes

Andrew Rosindell

Mr Frank Roy

Sir John Stanley

Rory Stewart


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rt Hon David Lidington MP, Minister of State for Europe, Ms Pat Phillips, Head of Enlargement and South East Europe Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Steve Saward, Head of Russia, Turkey, Central Asia and the Caucasus Section, UKTI, gave evidence.

Q175 Chair: May I welcome members of the public to the fourth evidence session of this inquiry into UK-Turkey relations and Turkey’s regional role? It is an opportunity for us to put questions to the FCO Minister responsible for Turkey across a wide range of issues relevant to Government policy; he is also, of course, the Minister for Europe. This will probably be the last evidence session before we move to producing our report.

Mr Lidington, may I give you a warm welcome to the Committee? It is very good to see you here. I think that we will start by talking about the bilateral relationship and other associated issues, and then perhaps we will look at the EU accession point in the second half of the meeting.

We had a very successful visit by President Gül a few weeks ago. I think all of us involved were impressed by his grip on the situation. What do you feel came out of that meeting? What are the highlights of it? What did you agree, and what plans have you got for the future arising out of that meeting?

Mr Lidington: Thank you very much, Chairman. Before I try to answer your question, perhaps I could say for the record that I am accompanied by two of my officials from the FCO today-Pat Phillips on my left and Steve Saward on my right.

Q176 Chair: I do beg your pardon, both Ms Phillips and Mr Saward. For the record, I should say that Pat Phillips is the Head of Enlargement and South East Europe Department and Mr Saward-I hope I am pronouncing that properly-is the Head of the Russia, Turkey, Central Asia and Caucasus Section of UKTI. Thank you very much.

Mr Lidington: It was a remarkable state visit. I saw the Turkish Foreign Minister at the OSCE meeting in Vilnius last week, and this was something that he still wanted to talk about. I believe both sides regard it as a success. I think that there are four gains that I would point to.

At a direct tangible level, there was a marked improvement in the quality of our defence relations. There was a military co-operation treaty signed between our Secretary of State for Defence and the deputy chief of the Turkish general staff, and a memorandum of understanding has also been signed about defence procurement co-operation. The military co-operation treaty will have the advantage of giving UK forces opportunities to train in Turkey, where you have a mix of different terrains available. Particularly if, for example, our troops were being prepared for service in Afghanistan, this is something that would be extremely helpful to us.

Secondly, there was a strengthening of trade and commercial links. I hosted, on behalf of the FCO, a lunch for the Turkey-UK chief executives’ forum, and the President had presentations from a number of key British and Turkish businesses. There were a couple of significant contracts signed while the state visit was going on, but being able to link the CEO forum to the state visit will have reinforced the importance that both Governments give to the bilateral commercial relationship and strengthened our push to deliver on the Prime Minister’s promise to double our trade with Turkey by 2015.

There were two slightly less tangible points. On foreign policy co-operation, our Prime Minister and the President, our Foreign Secretary and Mr Davutoglu talked about a whole range of issues on which we are seeking to work more closely together-from Afghanistan to the Balkans, to the Middle East peace process, to the emerging democratic revolution in north Africa, to counter-terrorist and counter-proliferation issues.

I think it is just helpful to have the quality of relationships between leaders in the two countries strengthened by the opportunity for long meetings and for spending time in each others’ company over a couple of days. One thing that I have learned in 18 months as a Foreign Office Minister is that while national interest, at the end of the day, is of absolutely critical importance, the quality of relationships between people in positions of responsibility in different countries can make a huge difference, for good or ill, to our ability to deliver on behalf of our national interest.

Q177 Chair: Thank you. During the visit, a number of defence contracts were signed. As the UK defence sector seeks to expand its business activities inside of Turkey, is there any risk that the equipment that is sold will be used for the excessive use of force against detainees?

Mr Lidington: Any defence exports would of course be subject to the consolidated criteria that we apply to all such exports, including not only defence equipment, but also equipment for police use that could conceivably be misused for those purposes, for example. We would apply those checks to such exports in the same way that we would apply those checks to any other country, so the answer is that, while one can never have a 100% guarantee, we think that we have very rigorous controls, and those controls will remain.

Q178 Chair: Is there any risk that it would be used against the PKK in Turkey or in Iraq?

Mr Lidington: The PKK is a banned terrorist organisation in this country, and it is responsible for some brutal terrorist atrocities both inside and outside Turkey. We completely support the right of Turkey to defend itself against terrorism, but in the conversations that we have with them-not just about counter-terrorist work, but also about human rights-we do talk about the issues of how you combine an effective counter-terrorist policy with respect for human rights and due process of law. Our argument would be-with our Turkish friends and with other countries-that the two complement each other and should not be seen in opposition.

Q179 Rory Stewart: Welcome, and thank you very much for coming. I want to begin on a slightly nerdy subject. According to the FCO report, in your current UK-based work force you have 20 people who have passed the operational exam in Turkish, but in Turkey at the moment only half the jobs designated as speaker slots are filled by staff with Turkish language skills. Only one officer has passed the FCO operational exam in Turkish and one has passed the extensive exam. Why is that? What can we do to address this? How does this tie in with the Foreign Office’s diplomatic excellence initiative?

Mr Lidington: I think there is a legacy of some years in which we saw the Foreign Office language school closed down and a lesser importance placed on language skills than I think ought to have been the case. This is something that the Foreign Secretary has declared publicly that he is determined to redress, and we are doing that by setting out to re-establish a language training facility within the FCO, as the Foreign Secretary said in his speech in, I think, July this year about the future of the Department, but also by trying to ensure that, in key posts, we give priority wherever possible to people with language skills.

As Mr Stewart knows, Chairman, the FCO and UKTI have been stepping up their representation in Turkey, as with a number of other emerging economies, and for all the new UK-based slots in the Turkey network there is now a Turkish language requirement. As those new appointments are made, that will increase the overall number of UK-based staff with Turkish language skills. Where we have UK-based staff in the Turkey network where the Turkish language is not a requirement, we are encouraging them to take full advantage of the opportunities to learn Turkish that are available to them.

I know from my conversations with Ministers in various countries that you get extra credibility if you have diplomatic representatives who can speak the language of the country to which they are accredited, so I am completely on board with what Mr Stewart is urging on us.

Q180 Rory Stewart: Thank you. A thing that Turkey seems to have done that is very constructive is to support us in terms of what happened to the embassies in Libya and, most recently, in Iran. Can you provide any more detail on those connections and on whether there is any other possibility around the world for co-operating with Turkey in that way?

Mr Lidington: To take Mr Stewart’s last point first, I hope that we do not get many other occasions in which our embassies are under attack and we need to call on friendly countries for help. Turkey certainly helped a great deal in Libya in providing support when we were winding down our embassy there and in providing humanitarian support for British nationals.

In Iran, more recently, Turkey came out with some very strong statements supporting our position and deploring the attack on the embassy, and Turkey made very strong representations of her own to the Iranian authorities at a critical time. Without going into detail about those conversations, the fact that Turkey is a neighbour and a predominantly Muslim country, and is seen by Iran as such, gave those representations additional weight, which was greater than if they had come from western countries. We are looking for opportunities to develop the bilateral political relationship with Turkey on a number of fronts. I think, as the Foreign Secretary said, that over the past six months or so when we have had Libya and Syria in the headlines, he has actually spoken to Minister Davutoglu more frequently than to Hillary Clinton about how to work together on the way forward.

Q181 Rory Stewart: Finally, is there anything more that we could consider in terms of strengthening that bilateral relationship even further? Is there more that we could do, perhaps in other countries around the world, in encouraging our embassies to pair up with Turkey or anything else that we could do to ensure that this initiative solidifies?

Mr Lidington: I would not want to make it an exclusive relationship with Turkey, because I think that often one needs other countries as well as part of a coalition, as we saw over Libya. I think that there is merit, too, in the EU context, in trying to associate Turkey with European Union initiatives wherever possible, but in the South Caucasus and Central Asia, for example, there are important British interests, particularly commercial ones, but also Afghanistan, and strategic and political interests. Turkey has a very great understanding of those areas and has significant diplomatic representation and frequent ministerial visits-more than we do-so we can work with Turkey.

Turkey has also been helpful in the Balkans. The fact that Turkey organised a declaration with Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2010 that committed all three countries to supporting the independence, sovereignty and ethnic diversity of Bosnia and Herzegovina was, I think, an important and helpful step forward. On Kosovo, Turkey is among those countries lobbying for more international recognition and for the independence of that country.

Pat Phillips: Could I just add one thing on that last point about the Western Balkans? During the state visit, we also signed a sort of partnership for working-level contacts and director-level frequent meetings on the Western Balkans specifically to follow this up.

Q182 Ann Clwyd: Can I take you back to the UK arms exports and the new deals that have been signed? Presumably, that has not yet gone before the Committee on Arms Export Controls. I am on that Committee, but I have only just joined, so I cannot answer the question.

Mr Lidington: I will ask Mr Steve Saward if he wants to add to this, but if we cannot give a detailed response now, we will certainly write to the Committee.

Steve Saward: No, I do not know the answer to that.

Ann Clwyd: Fine. If we could have a response-

Mr Lidington: We will write to you about that.1

Q183 Ann Clwyd: As you know, there is still considerable unrest in south-east Turkey with the Turkish Kurds and the Turkish Government. I wondered whether that had been taken into account when these deals were being signed. The attacks against the PKK, both in Turkey and in Iraq, have taken place over a number of years-the Turks go over the border into Iraq without any agreement with the Iraqi Government-and I wondered whether that had come into the discussion at all, because I know there is considerable resentment among the Kurds in Iraq about those continuing incursions.

Mr Lidington: I think what we’ve got in south-east Turkey are two issues that intersect. There is an acknowledged challenge from organised terrorism, with the PKK making use of operational bases over the borders. We also have, of course, this very long-standing sense of resentment by the Kurdish people of south-east Turkey about how they are treated-the reality of an historical legacy whereby Kurdish language, culture and customs were sometimes outlawed, and at best barely tolerated.

The British Government’s approach is to say, "Yes, we want to show solidarity with Turkey in co-operation against terrorism, but we also want to encourage the steps that have already been taken to promote reconciliation between the Kurdish population and the rest of Turkey." It is worth noting that Prime Minister Erdogan’s AK party has attracted, and still attracts, considerable electoral support in south-east Turkey.

Q184 Ann Clwyd: That is variable.

Mr Lidington: It is variable, but it is good that the KDP is taking part in the discussions on a new Turkish constitution, which I think is an encouraging sign. When we talk about human rights to our Turkish friends, we certainly encourage further liberalisation. There have been some welcome steps taken, but I think there is more that could still be done, such as on the Kurdish language, on freedom of expression and so on. We do have conversations about respect for human rights, not just for the Kurds, but for all minority groups, and more generally about the rights of citizens. On one of my visits to Turkey last year I had meetings with the local branch of Amnesty International so that I could hear direct from them what their concerns were. I do not know whether Pat or Steve want to add anything to that.

Q185 Ann Clwyd: What about Iraq’s attitude to these continuing incursions?

Mr Lidington: We do urge Turkey to work closely with, in particular, the Kurdistan regional Government. Again, there is a better relationship now between Ankara and Irbil than there was just a couple of years ago. That has-I think this is a good phrase-gone through some ups and downs, but we think that, in the longer term, the best way forward for Turkey, and for her to ensure her own security, is to get a good relationship with the Kurdish regional authorities so that they can work together against a terrorist threat that helps nobody.

Q186 Ann Clwyd: Lastly, on monitoring the use of British arms-I ask this question in relation to a lot of countries-how is the monitoring done?

Steve Saward: I do not know the answer to that. I know that all exports of defence equipment are judged on a case-by-case basis by the Government here, and they have to meet strict EU criteria. So there will be a process that is followed, but I am not aware of what that is.

Mr Lidington: I will talk about once it has been approved. As Ms Clwyd knows, there is a process for doing that. It is not normally done by me in the Foreign Office, but I have dealt with one or two cases of this, so I know from that that it is rigorous. When the Minister or the official, depending on the sensitivity of the particular case, has given approval, they will obviously look for evidence as to whether it has been misused. I think Mr Ainsworth will probably have ample experience from his own time as a Minister of dealing with this. But I think the best thing would be for us to get the memorandum involving our colleagues in BIS and the MOD, and make sure that you have a more detailed and thorough account of this.2

Q187 Mr Roy: Minister, Turkey now has problems with Armenia, Israel, Syria, Iran and Cyprus and yet the Foreign Office in a submission to our inquiry described Turkey as a force for stability. Is there not a contradiction there?

Mr Lidington: No, I don’t think one can look to Turkey as being responsible for what is happening in Syria at the moment or what is happening in the Middle East peace process, or the very fraught relationship between Iran and most of the international community. On Iran, we encourage Turkey to work with the E3 plus 3 against the Iranian nuclear weapons programme. The fact that Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country means that they have channels to the top leadership, including to the Supreme Leader, which western countries do not have. So they are a very valuable channel for two-way exchange of information there.

On Syria, our two foreign Ministers are in frequent contact, exchanging information and intelligence about what is going on there and what might be done. Turkey has been working very actively behind the scenes to try to strengthen the international pressure on the Assad regime in Syria to desist from its attack upon its own people. I think it was no accident that that Mr Davutoglu was invited to be present at the key Arab League meeting that decided to suspend Syria from membership. Turkey, or course, is not an Arab country.

On Israel, we would love to see an improvement in the relationship between Ankara and Tel Aviv. Of course, until Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, Turkey had enjoyed a very good bilateral relationship with Israel and was hosting proximity talks between Israel and Syria with a view to securing a deal over the Golan Heights. So she has a record of playing a very constructive part in the Middle East peace process. There is no doubt that Prime Minister Erdogan felt personally offended-he has said so-by the Israeli action in Gaza and the subsequent collapse of the Israel-Syria talks. There is no doubt too that the flotilla incident has soured relations even further. We hope that the two countries can find a way forward.

Q188 Mr Roy: The point of my question was whether it is a force for stability. Stability probably means a two-way process. Although we agree with what you are saying, it does not really pertain directly to, for example, the view of the Syrians, the Israelis, the Armenians, the Cypriots and the Iranians.

Mr Lidington: I would say that Turkey is a force for stability in two key respects. First, she has been actively working to promote greater stability and peaceful resolution to a number of regional disputes. I have already referred to what has been happening in the Balkans, where her role has been constructive. That is true also of what was to be the Middle East peace process before we got to the breakdown following the Israeli action in Gaza. I think that in terms of both Libya and now Syria, Turkey has played a constructive role in trying to look beyond the autocratic regime and an outbreak of civil war, and to trying to get an enduring settlement that is democratic and stable in character and bringing together disparate opposition forces.

Secondly, because Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country but one that has a functioning democracy where Governments lose office when they lose an election, it offers a pattern to which other countries in that part of the world are able to look for an alternative model of political development to that presented by some of the autocratic Governments we see there.

Q189 Mr Roy: What does Turkey’s recent behaviour with respect to the Arab Spring and Iran tell us about the degree of strategic convergence that exists between United Kingdom and Turkish foreign policy?

Mr Lidington: I think it has shown a coming together of interest and objective. We have not agreed at every stage, but there was certainly, in response to the Arab Spring, a recognition from very early on that North African countries needed to change in response to the demands of their own citizens. The Turkish experience is that economic growth-a vigorous enterprising economy-goes hand in hand with greater recognition of political and civil rights, so those two things should not be seen as opponents. On Syria, it is probably fair to say that we lost confidence earlier than Turkey in the willingness of Bashar Al-Assad to change. I think we gave up hope at an earlier stage that he was willing or able to deliver reforms in response to what was going on in the streets. Turkey has recognised that and said so very firmly.

Q190 Mr Roy: Just to go back to the Turkish-Israeli problem, what can the Government do to help solve that problem? What have we tried to do?

Mr Lidington: I will be quite honest; we have limited leverage there. If nine British citizens had been killed by the soldiers of another country, there would have been an issue with our public opinion. On top of whatever the Turkish Government’s own approach would be, they have an issue of public opinion in their own country following what happened in the flotilla incident. I think that the best hope for a way forward is still for there to be signs of movement in the Israel-Palestine dispute. If there were to be some move forward in that process-some serious negotiations started, so that everyone could see there was movement towards the creation of a Palestinian state that was functioning on the ground, with a map to full sovereignty and functioning independence-that would help to ease a lot of the other problems.

Q191 Mr Roy: Minister, quite a lot of times when I have been speaking to constituents and I mention the word Turkey I get negative feedback, rightly or wrongly, on that word. In a recent YouGov survey, when the public were asked for a list of European countries that they felt favourable about, only 3% mentioned Turkey last year, and this year only 5%. When invited to identify European countries about which they felt especially unfavourable, 26% named Turkey last year and 19% this year. Bearing in mind that the United Kingdom wants a special relationship-a strategic partnership-what can the Government do to change those figures?

Mr Lidington: I think that we and Turkey have to demonstrate that Turkey is a serious country that is a functioning democracy with a gradually improving record on human rights and personal freedoms-although it still has some distance to travel-and with which this country can have major economic and diplomatic opportunities by strengthening our co-operation. I suspect most people in the United Kingdom, in so far as they think about Turkey at all, have an image of the country that is 20 or 30 years behind the times. It certainly made a big impression on me when I went out to Istanbul for the first time as a Minister, just to sense the economic self-confidence there and the pace of development taking place in Turkey. This is a country that can hold its head up alongside a great many other European countries, in terms of its economic development and its growth rates now of between 7% and 11%, depending on which period you measure; and there is a growing political self-confidence, too.

In part, if one looks at how and where European history is taught in schools, we very much have a focus on western Europe. Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire do not figure much in most accounts of European history, as taught in the UK, so Turkey’s image suffers in part because of that. There is also-let’s be honest about it-a fear in this country of unmanaged immigration, and there is always a tendency to look to any country around the perimeter of Europe and say, "We are worried that lots of people will try to come here if we have close relations with them." That is an issue we might talk about in the EU context later on-that partly accounts for the fear. I do not think any Government of any party can wave a magic wand and change public opinion overnight. We have to work steadily to show that we have things in common and that there are great opportunities for co-operation.

Steve Saward: Just to add a practical example, the UK-Turkey CEO Forum has "brand Turkey" as one of its key workstreams, and that is to increase or improve the perception of doing business in Turkey with the British business community, which the forum concluded could be improved.

Q192 Sir Menzies Campbell: While accepting that Turkey cannot be held responsible for what is happening elsewhere, perhaps there is some responsibility for what is not happening elsewhere, and I particularly have in mind the issue of Cyprus. I know we may come to that in the context of European Union membership, and I do not want to trespass on these countries-I am sorry, on these questions. That was a Freudian slip, wasn’t it? In the course of the successful state visit, was there any indication on the part of any Turkish participants that they were ready to try to make an accommodation in relation to Cyprus, not least because of the relevance it would have to any application for membership of the EU? We can come to the details of that, but I am really interested in attitudes at the moment.

Mr Lidington: Yes, certainly during the state visit, but in any conversation you have with Turkish Ministers, they will say that they want a settlement over Cyprus. The difficulty boils down to detail and sequencing. The Turks believe, rightly or wrongly, that the leadership of the Republic of Cyprus is determined to resist what Turkey would consider a fair settlement for Turkish Cypriots. If you talk to leaders of the Republic of Cyprus, they will give you the completely converse picture-of an unreasonable, hard-line Turkish approach.

There is no alternative at the moment to continuing to support the work that Ban Ki-moon and Alexander Downer are doing to try to bring the two communities together. If a peace settlement in Cyprus is to endure, it will have to be something that both communities buy into and are prepared to endorse in a referendum. There is a real challenge, because that means that both parties, given their recent history, are going to have to be able to say that what they have won is better than the Annan plan. Enabling both parties to say that is very demanding.

As Sir Ming knows, there is an immediate issue of tension, which is over the Cypriot decision to license drilling in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone. That, of course, has aroused Turkish suspicion and anger, because they do not recognise the Republic of Cyprus and its sovereignty over those waters, and because rights over the Aegean sea are complicated. There are very long-standing disputes between Turkey and Greece over the waters around different islands.

We, along with every other member of the European Union and all parties to the UN convention on the law of the sea, have taken the view that Cyprus has the right to develop resources that lie within its exclusive economic zone. We have urged Turkey not to up the ante by using aggressive or threatening language, let alone by taking action to try to interfere with the drilling.

We have impressed on Cyprus the importance of its showing that any hydrocarbon resources that are discovered should be for the benefit of all communities in Cyprus. President Christofias has said that that would be his objective in principle, but we would certainly be happy if the Government in Nicosia were to make that commitment more concrete, whether by setting up a fund that would show that some money was being directed to help Turkish Cypriots or by another mechanism.

Q193 Ann Clwyd: Although I agree that human rights have improved immensely in Turkey, there is, as you said, quite a long way to go. There are reports of increasing surveillance of the general public-not by the press, but by the state. There are also reports of numbers of the press being on trial or awaiting it. In addition, there are reports of Members of Parliament being intimidated and not being able to carry out their mandate. Have you discussed any of those issues, either with Mr Davutoglu or Mr Erdogan?

Mr Lidington: We do raise human rights issues with the Turks at both ministerial and official levels. As the Committee will understand, this is done, in the first place, largely through our embassy in Ankara and the consulate general in Istanbul, but these matters do come up at ministerial meetings. I have discussed this with Egemen Bagis, the Turkish Europe Minister, when we have met. We are trying to open up a dialogue between other ministries with a direct interest.

When the EU progress report on Turkey made specific criticisms of its record on freedom of expression, the Turkish Ministry of Justice sent a delegation of senior officials over to London. They had meetings with various Government and outside organisations about freedom of expression. We helped to facilitate that and to make sure that they had a good programme. The fact that the Turks took that initiative in response to the EU report was an encouraging sign, but Mrs Clwyd is right that it is not just the EU; the Council of Europe has passed resolutions about limitations on human rights in Turkey, and the OSCE representative on freedom of the media expressed concern in May of this year about changes in the press law and internet censorship.

We have taken part in EU statements on those issues and have had common agreement across the 27 about it. We continue to encourage Turkey to take this forward, because Turkish leaders-President Gül, Prime Minister Erdogan and other Ministers-say all the time to us, "Look, we are in transition. We want to get into the EU. We believe that the accession process is justified. It is in Turkey’s interests. Even if we were not intending to join, we would still want to do this." For Turkey, as with any other EU candidate for membership, the accession process involves demanding not only economic reforms, but political, judicial and administrative reforms as well, to bring those countries to what we would see as normal European standards.

It is right to recognise that Turkey is not the country it was when it had military rule, but it is a country that still has further to travel. Signals like the work on the new constitution, where all the parties are sitting together around the table, and like the decision announced earlier this year to return some properties to some of the minority religions within Turkey, are things we should welcome. But we should also continue to talk honestly to our Turkish allies about the poor standard of human rights that we still see.

Q194 Mr Ainsworth: When the Prime Minister went to Ankara last year, he announced that he had set a new target for the doubling of UK-Turkish trade by 2015. What was the process by which that target was arrived at?

Mr Lidington: Steve, do you want to say a bit about this?

Steve Saward: Okay. The process was that the baseline figure that we used was the 2009 figure of bilateral trade in goods, which was £6.5 billion. That is the baseline. We have measured since, and the 2011 figure that we expect will exceed £9 billion of bilateral trade in goods, which is around a 40% increase from the baseline. That is the measurement that we are using and that is the progress that we have made so far.

Q195 Mr Ainsworth: That is the measure, not the process by which you arrived at the target, which was the question that I asked. How come doubling was the target? What was the process through which you arrived at the target?

Steve Saward: Okay, I do not know why the Prime Minister set the doubling target per se, but what I can say is that Turkey is seen as a country that is growing rapidly economically. It grew nearly 9% in 2010, which was about five times the eurozone average. The potential in that country-the Prime Minister described it as Europe’s BRIC-is substantial for UK business. I would say that the target of doubling trade was an aspirational target for a country with massive potential for UK business.

Mr Lidington: I think the truth is that no Government can be absolutely specific, because, in the end, decisions about trade statistics rely on numerous decisions by individual companies about where contracts will be placed. Mr Ainsworth will know better than I that Prime Ministers have a responsibility not only to look at the detail, but to set targets that they believe are demanding, but achievable and to tell their Ministers and their officials, "Right. You go away and do this."

The aspiration-the ambition-to double trade with Turkey, looked at in the context of Turkey’s recent rates of economic growth and the general trend of UK-Turkish trade, was judged to be attainable, but was one which would require effort to attain. It was not something where you could just click your fingers and say, "Right, that will happen anyway, so it will just look good in a glossy brochure." It has demanded things of UKTI, of BIS and of the Foreign Office. It is part of a broader strategy by the Government to strengthen Britain’s commercial relationships with a number of the emerging powers.

Mr Saward said that Turkey is one of the 20 high-growth priority markets identified in the "Britain Open for Business" paper, and I think that it is one of the top four within that-as Lord Green said at the CEO forum during the state visit. The fact that it is on our doorstep in European terms helps, but that ambitious target then required Government Departments to work out which sectors of business we needed to focus on and offer greater support to in order to deliver that objective; how we should promote the UK as a beneficial and attractive destination for Turkish inward investment and how we needed to start up our teams in both London and on the ground in Turkey to support it.

What we have seen with both an increase in staffing resources for UKTI in Turkey and in diplomatic resources in Turkey, with the objective of a particular focus on support for the commercial initiatives, is part of our delivering on that prime ministerial target.

Q196 Mr Ainsworth: You set the same target for Brazil and for four other major countries, so one has the suspicion that this was just plucked out of the air. I have heard nothing from what you have said that doesn’t allay that suspicion.

Mr Lidington: Brazil is not something that I can talk about with any particular knowledge.

Q197 Mr Ainsworth: What is the point of going around the world setting targets for the doubling of trade, all of which are the same and will double trade by 2015? What does it mean? We are running a deficit with Turkey, so what does the doubling of trade mean? Does it mean that we should import a lot more and increase the deficit? We would thereby reach the target, wouldn’t we?

Mr Lidington: The setting of the target drives the machinery of government to organise its resources and staffing, so as to deliver an outcome that is beneficial to the British national interest in terms of jobs and prosperity in this country. That will come in part from our exports to Turkey.

Q198 Mr Ainsworth: But your target doesn’t say anything about exports to Turkey.

Mr Lidington: I want to come back to that. Clearly, exports to Turkey are an important part of it. So, too, is investment by Turkish companies in the United Kingdom. Bringing Turkish capital into this country involves the hiring of British people. Unsustainable employment seems to be very much in our interest.

Q199 Mr Ainsworth: None of those measures is covered in the target. That is exactly the point I am making. The target simply says, "We are going to double trade with Turkey by 2015". What you said, such as Turkish investment in the UK and UK exports for Turkey, are all wonderful and laudable things that we ought to be aiming at. Why were they not in the target?

Mr Lidington: High-level target is the first step. What follows from that is the detailed plan to deliver it in a way that optimises jobs and prosperity for the UK. That is what is built into the plan for growth, to the BIS trade and investment White Paper and to country-by-country plans that then start to drill down into the detail, identify what sectors need to be supported and how diplomatic UKTI resources can deployed to give British business the support that it needs, and advise Turkey’s business that we are good place in which to invest.

Q200 Mr Ainsworth: So the Committee can see those detailed plans?

Mr Lidington: Well, I will look at whether we are able to give you access to more detail. They are held, I suspect, by another Department. I probably cannot give an open promise, but we will look into the possibility.3

Q201 Mr Ainsworth: We support customs union with Turkey, no?

Pat Phillips: We have a customs union with Turkey.

Q202 Mr Ainsworth: We have a customs union with Turkey, but it only covers industrial goods. It does not cover services. As a nation that excels in the supply of services, is that in our interest? Why have we entered into a customs union that only covers industrial goods and not services?

Pat Phillips: It is EU-Turkey.

Mr Lidington: It is an EU-Turkey customs union, so it is limited by that. From our point of view, yes, we would love to see it more ambitious, but then there is a problem here with EU services legislation more generally. We are trying to address that at the EU level-with a measure of success since the last election-but we have further to go. There is resistance in a number of EU countries to further liberalisation of services markets.

Q203 Mr Ainsworth: But we are developing, or seeking to develop, particularly close relations with Turkey. Have we raised the issue of access for British services in Turkey with the Turks? Did we do that in their recent visit?

Mr Lidington: Customs is an EU competence under the treaties that successive Governments have agreed to. The customs union is something that was negotiated between the EU and Turkey. To change the terms of that is something that has to be dealt with at the European Union level.

Q204 Mr Ainsworth: Did we raise access for Scotch whisky to the Turkish market in their recent visit, because not only is there a problem with the tax regime, but there is also the non-application of the rules that have already been agreed, I understand?

Mr Lidington: From memory, yes, we raised that, because this was not a customs issue. Mr Ainsworth is right: it was either-I am speaking from memory now-about the way in which Turkey applied its existing rules or it was to do with their domestic tax treatment of Scotch whisky as compared with home-produced spirits. That issue was raised, and there were senior representatives from at least one of the UK drinks companies at the CEO forum.

Q205 Mr Ainsworth: And did we achieve anything? Have we got any commitments to remove the discrimination against this British export?

Mr Lidington: That is something useful. Again, I will take advice from BIS and write to the Committee about it.4

Q206 Mr Ainsworth: May I just raise the issue of visas? You said earlier, Minister, as part of the reasons behind the bad figures about the public perception of Turkey, that there was a fear of uncontrolled, unmanaged immigration. Yet the visa regime, and the complexities and difficulties of the visa regime, is one of the issues that was raised with us by the Turks and is something that we are trying to settle. Is there not a contradiction between what you are telling the British public, on the one hand, about what you are going to achieve in terms of non-EU immigration and your desire to relax the visa regime and satisfy the needs of British-Turkish relations in this regard?

Mr Lidington: I would not describe it as a contradiction. There is an inherent tension in immigration policy between, on the one hand, the wish-a quite sensible objective-of controlling immigration to this country, particularly immigration for settlement or immigration that would cause disruption to domestic labour markets, and, on the other hand, having sufficient openness to immigration for tourists, for business visitors and for potential investors, so that they are not deterred from coming here and are attracted to our competitors instead of to us. There is no way in which we can wish away that tension, which I think is inherent in devising migration policy. That is obviously something that different Departments, different Ministers discuss within Whitehall, and we thrash out an agreed way forward that tries to take proper account of both those objectives, each of which are legitimate public interest objectives.

When it comes to Turkey, there are two things that we have had developments in during recent months. It is a small step, but we have agreed a diplomatic waiver for diplomats, so that they can travel freely, without the requirement for visas. Pat may want to provide detail here, but I think we are looking, at the official-level discussions, into a fast-track system for business visitors. We want to see whether it is possible for somebody who wants to make a business-related visit, perhaps at short notice, to do so smoothly. We have to have a policy that shows that we are open for business but at the same time does not compromise what are necessary measures involving biometrics and so on, which we introduced not only to try to limit illegal migration but to serve the very real purpose of making sure that people involved in terrorism, international crime, drug trafficking and so on cannot move freely to the UK.

Q207 Mr Ainsworth: But Turkey is the gateway for a lot of illegal immigration into the European Union and into the United Kingdom itself, isn’t it?

Mr Lidington: Yes, that is true, and there is a particular problem over the Greco-Turkish border, which I think the Home Affairs Committee has visited and reported on. Part of the way forward there, looking beyond British immigration policy, is to help Turkey to develop more effective controls of its own over its external frontiers so that its systems are capable of distinguishing better between those who are legitimate travellers and those who are not. That is the approach that the EU is taking towards the north African countries now, where this tension between not wanting unlimited migration but allowing legitimate business and tourist access is replicated. The EU worked on the basis of migration partnerships with a number of north African countries, which allow a certain number of legal migrants to travel to the EU but which also involve co-operative work to strengthen those north African countries’ immigration control systems and the quality of their immigration service, and to introduce anti-corruption measures and better information systems.

Chair: We still have a lot of ground to cover today, so I would be grateful if you could keep your questions shortish.

Q208 Mike Gapes: Can I just take you back to your answer to Bob Ainsworth? I thought the coalition Government were against artificial, top-down targets.

Mr Lidington: I think there is a difference between an artificial, top-down target and an ambitious target that is designed to make sure that Government Departments and Ministers raise their own aspirations and are pushed to deliver something that is in the interests of everybody in the country.

Q209 Mike Gapes: But is there not a problem-Bob touched on it-in that the way you have produced this crude target will be very welcome for Turkish exporters to the UK market but it does not seem to be of benefit necessarily to UK exporters to Turkey, given the other difficulties that we have touched on?

Mr Lidington: But we have to make sure, and we are making sure by the way in which we are setting out to deliver this target, that there is real benefit to the people of the United Kingdom. I would ask Mr Gapes to believe that we are not sitting back in the Foreign Office or in BIS and saying "Oh, let’s get a few extra Turkish tomatoes in, because that will help us to meet our target."

Q210 Mike Gapes: We are more interested in manufactured goods than in tomatoes.

Mr Lidington: When I went to the CEOs’ forum, there was a line-up there of serious business players from both countries, responsible for employing, in many cases, thousands of people in one or both countries. They were talking about serious co-operation and doing business with each other on information technology, on manufactured goods and on services.

The fact that Turkey is modernising her economy so rapidly that she is investing not only in classic transport infrastructure and development projects but in much higher standards of telephony and computer systems gives huge opportunities for UK business. What a prime ministerial target does is make Departments across Whitehall recognise that this needs to be out of their pending tray, put in the action pile and dealt with.

Q211 Andrew Rosindell: Minister, you may have heard my question to the Prime Minister yesterday during his statement.

Mr Lidington: I did.

Andrew Rosindell: I mentioned Turkey. We are talking about trade and the customs union here. Without going into a debate on what has been going on in the past few days, do you not think that the current situation actually gives us a new opportunity to work with countries such as Turkey that have a customs union but are outside the EU and the eurozone? Is it not time that we had greater engagement with Turkey, and other similar countries that want trade with the EU, to boost towards the increase in trade that the Government hope will happen?

Mr Lidington: I do not see them as alternatives; I see them as complementary. Let us not forget that Turkey’s aspiration remains to join the European Union and that, although support for that in Turkey has diminished in the past couple of years, it still remains at a level of about 60% in most Turkish opinion polls. Every Turkish leader I have talked to says that that remains his country’s ambition. So the two, it seems to me, go together and complement each other. We cannot ignore the 40% of our trade that is with eurozone countries and the 50%, roughly, with the EU as a whole, but, yes, we also need to work really hard to maximise our opportunities not just with Turkey, but with all the emerging economies around the world. That is something that the Government is doing through a process that is co-ordinated through the National Security Council, which has a sub-committee dealing with the emerging economies in which we try to knit together the commercial and political relationships. UKTI and BIS on the ground are trying to spearhead this with defined programmes for each country. Lord Green is closely involved with that.

Chair: Sorry, Andrew, but we have a large number of questions on Europe coming up shortly. Ming Campbell.

Q212 Sir Menzies Campbell: I want to ask some questions about the judicial system. You referred in some of your earlier answers to the principles that lie behind human rights, and, of course, the judicial system is necessarily involved with that. The recent European Union progress report on Turkey said that, "progress has been made in the area of the judiciary… However, further steps are needed on the independence, impartiality and efficiency…including the criminal justice system and the large backlog of pending serious criminal cases." I am sure you are aware of that report, and I am sure the Foreign Office is seeking to take forward the issues identified. I really want, in my turn, to identify judicial independence and transparency as of significance. I want to ask you what significance is attached to those. In addition, some of the crimes are framed in such wide terms as to allow a very wide scope for prosecution, and sometimes-it is alleged more than sometimes-prosecution for political purposes rather than law enforcement purposes. What is our take on the current state of the judicial system, particularly the judiciary? Once again, was that topic discussed at the successful state visit to which you have already referred?

Mr Lidington: It was not discussed in terms at the meetings I attended, but certainly human rights were raised in more general terms. I cannot speak for every bilateral meeting that took place around the state visit.

I may ask Pat Phillips to say a bit more, but I think in general terms we would say that the judiciary is in a better place than it was perhaps 10 years ago, let alone 20 years ago. But the evidence in not just the EU report but the Council of Europe ECHR findings shows that Turkey is, regrettably, not yet in a place where one would have the same confidence in the judicial system as one would in the judicial systems of the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Norway and so on. Of course, the Turks did introduce a new law about a year ago to try to strengthen judicial independence. I think that the criticisms Sir Ming made are accurate. We of course cannot legislate for Turkey. We have to persuade Turkey that it is in her interests to deal with this. It would help to address the problems of reputation that Mr Roy alluded to in his questions earlier. That is something we shall continue to do not only bilaterally, but in the various multilateral forums in which we are engaged. Pat, do you want to add anything?

Pat Phillips: I don’t have anything specific to add. This is very much part of the EU accession process, and that is the leverage over it and also the benefit of it.

Mr Lidington: It is one of the frustrating things that the more difficult the EU process is for other reasons, the less pressure there is upon Turkey to accelerate these reforms that would be welcome. If there was clear movement, year by year, in the EU accession process, then, as I have seen with the western Balkan countries, the incentive really to crack on with these chapter 23 and 24 measures, as we would now describe them, would be much greater.

Q213 Sir Menzies Campbell: To use a sporting analogy, the closer they get to the tape, the faster they want to run.

Mr Lidington: That’s certainly what we have seen in the case of Croatia, and it was very telling.

Q214 Sir Menzies Campbell: I have just one last point. Again, I do not want to trespass on the more general discussion about the European Union, but of course, the Copenhagen criteria demand progress in the areas that we have discussed.

Mr Lidington: Yes.

Q215 Ann Clwyd: We touched on this earlier, but I would like to expand on it a bit. In your submission to us you did not mention Iraqi Kurdistan or Turkey’s cross-border operations. The Chairman had a letter in August from the PUK-the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan-which said that attacks by Turkey and Iran on Kurdish villages in Iraqi Kurdistan had "killed many innocent civilians" and were "seriously threatening the security and stability of Iraq in general and the Kurdistan Region in particular". Are you comfortable with Turkey’s cross-border operations?

Mr Lidington: No, we are not comfortable with them, but there is a genuine problem of terrorism that the Turks are facing. The most recent PKK attack in October killed 24 Turkish soldiers and that then prompted military incursions into the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.

It is against a background where, in general terms, the relations both with Baghdad and with Irbil over the PKK are reasonably good. We think it is the right way forward that the Turks should say to the Iraqis, "Let’s work together, so we can deal with the terrorist threat." When I have talked to Turkish Ministers about the cross-border raids, what they come back to me and say is, "Look. We are being attacked by terrorists. We know they are based here. We have the funerals of these slain soldiers in villages. I have public uproar. We have to take action against this, and you need to understand the political pressure that I am under." So we think it is important to show solidarity with Turkey in facing what is a genuine terrorist challenge, but also to encourage them in seeing the way forward as better co-operation with the Governments of both Iraq and Kurdistan.

Q216 Ann Clwyd: I should tell you that some years ago, a constituent of mine was kidnapped by the PKK, so I obviously got involved in the negotiations to release them. As a result, I spent three days with the Turkish military in Iraqi Kurdistan seeing the operation there. They captured one PKK soldier. I was taken to the caves in the hills to see where the PKK were supposedly living. I just challenge how big a threat the PKK actually are. How many PKK have been captured in the last year or in previous years, because I do not have any figures on that at all? Is it as big a threat as the Turks make out?

Mr Lidington: That is a judgment ultimately that the Turks themselves have to make. The PKK are guilty not only of attacks on Turkish soil. There are allegations that they are involved not just in attacks on Turkey but in people trafficking and drug trafficking. We ban them in this country as a terrorist outfit. In the long run, I hope the Turks succeed not only in having an effective counter-terrorist policy, but in draining away any support for the PKK within the broader Kurdish community in the south of Turkey. That takes us back to the issue of Kurdish minority rights and how the new constitution is going to be drafted and so on.

Q217 Ann Clwyd: Are we correct to infer from your evidence to the Committee and other information we have heard that you regard the Kurdish issue as essentially an internal one for Turkey?

Mr Lidington: It is more than just a Turkish internal issue. Obviously this affects both Iraq and Iran as well. We don’t support, and no British Government have supported, an independent Kurdistan. We think in Turkish terms that there should be respect for the rights of all minorities and respect for human rights, freedom of worship, assembly and the like, in accordance with what is required by the European convention on human rights and the Copenhagen standards.

Q218 Chair: Minister, turning to Europe, and Turkey’s ambitions to join the European Union, in the light of developments in the last few days, what is it that they are joining? Are they applying now to the EU and the 26? Will they have an opt-out on the 26? Where do you think the position lies? Indeed, it probably applies to other applicant countries in the pipeline at the moment.

Mr Lidington: I think that’s certainly a question to which the quick answer is, it’s too soon to say. Since the creation of the euro it has been a feature of every accession negotiation that the candidate country accepts an obligation to join the euro at some stage in the future. For the small countries of the Western Balkans, this is not something they have argued with as far as I am aware. Kosovo has the euro as its currency even though it is outside the EU and not recognised by five European Union member states. They have seen this as a good way to provide a store of value as a currency. To be quite honest, the question whether Turkey should be required to accept the euro has simply not come on to the agenda so far because we have not got far enough with the accession process. The accession process has become bogged down very much over the Cyprus dispute. Most chapters are blocked and that means there is not sufficient discussion about many ingredients of the accession process.

Q219 Chair: The Prime Minister went to Ankara in July-he made it an early move after he became Prime Minister-and said that he was not just going to support Turkey’s application to join the EU, he was going to fight for it. Does this come at a cost to our relationship with other members of the EU?

Mr Lidington: It means we have bruises. There are some battles in Council meetings from time to time. I don’t think grudges are borne. I don’t think there has been any damage to the United Kingdom’s broader European interests as a consequence of our support for Turkey’s membership. I think our willingness to champion this has made it easier for a number of other countries to come in as well. It would be wrong to assume that this is the UK versus the rest. You find that countries, not only the obvious candidates such as Finland and Sweden, but Spain and Italy, are very strong and committed champions of Turkey’s membership of the European Union. The President of France has made his views well known. There is a disagreement between us on that matter.

Q220 Chair: A business man in Istanbul told us that it was futile to go on with it at the moment while France was opposed.

Mr Lidington: Well, that is his view, and the view of Turkish Ministers remains that this is in the interests of Turkey. It is certainly our view that it is in the interests of Europe, as well as the UK.

Q221 Sir Menzies Campbell: Are we comfortable finding ourselves in such direct opposition to Germany and France?

Mr Lidington: I think the German position is a bit more nuanced. Different parts of the German Government take slightly differing views.

Q222 Sir Menzies Campbell: They have a different problem, of course, in the gastarbeiter.

Mr Lidington: Yes, they do, and that is at the root of German concern about Turkish accession. But I don’t believe that so far, Germany is ruling out Turkish membership permanently, and in fact Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle co-signed a letter, which William Hague and I think 11 or 12 others-

Pat Phillips: Eleven in total.

Mr Lidington: Eleven Foreign Ministers signed a letter calling for a much closer partnership between the EU and Turkey over foreign policy and security policy issues. I think that Foreign Minister Juppé signed that letter too, so even France signed up to that. We will check that, but I think I am right in saying that the French signed that one. Germany certainly shares with us the view that Turkey and the EU need to work more closely together, even if there are hesitations at the top of the German Government about the objective of full membership.

Q223 Sir Menzies Campbell: Can I ask you about an issue that I don’t think we’ve discussed at all this morning? The enthusiasm for the accession of a number of countries that were previously members of the Warsaw Pact, both on the part of the European Union and, indeed, on the part of these Governments-an enthusiasm which also extended to NATO-was in part based on their buttressing their movement from a totalitarian to a democratic form of Government. We know that there is a democracy in Turkey, but you and I have just discussed the deficiencies in human rights and the judicial system and things of that kind. If progress is made on those to the extent that Turkish membership becomes feasible, would there also be a political dimension, in the sense that, having made these changes, they would not be likely to slip back? Remembering, of course, that Turkey is already a member of NATO and guarded the southern flank all the way through the Cold War.

Mr Lidington: Clearly, while one cannot pretend that no such risk exists, there are two things that I would say by way of response. First, although there are functioning democracies in other new member states and in the candidate countries of the EU, there are still areas of life where there is some fragility. There are still problems of corruption in all the Balkan countries, for example, and in some existing EU member states as well, as Commission reports have shown, so work still needs to be done. But secondly-and it relates to that-although the accession process itself is an invaluable discipline in ensuring that the required political and rule-of-law changes are carried through, the requirements of membership and the habit of working together in the EU context mean that you are more likely to cement and entrench those democratic gains than if you say, "Well done. Have a pat on the back, but you are not coming in as part of the club."

Q224 Andrew Rosindell: When we went to Turkey only a few weeks ago, most people seemed to feel that the entire process of Turkey’s accession to the EU was washed up, and they had no confidence that it was going very far, fast. Indeed, we found disappointment everywhere we went. What are our Government doing to unblock this process to try to get things moving because we believe that Turkey should be part of the European Union? What are we doing to get progress under way?

Mr Lidington: We do two things, basically. First, we try to counsel by Council. We try to ensure that there is language in the agreement that looks forward to Turkish accession and recognises the importance of the relationship with Turkey. We are in regular touch with the enlargement commissioner and his team about finding a way forward. We look for opportunities, for example with the Foreign Ministers’ joint letter about co-operation on foreign and security policy, to find other ways of signalling that this is a relationship of critical strategic significance.

Secondly, we recognise that one issue is the obstacle to progress on Turkish accession: the stalemate in Cyprus. Although, as the ex-colonial power, we have to be careful about this-our giving lectures to either side in Cyprus is not likely to be conducive to progress-we do what we can in our conversations with both Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, with the Government in Ankara and with Alexander Downer and his people to look for a way forward.

Q225 Andrew Rosindell: With our new-found determination in Europe to stand up for what we believe is right-the bulldog spirit, if you like, Minister-is this an area in which we should be banging the table a bit harder? If we want to see the European Union develop into a group of nations that is trading and co-operating freely with each other rather than the federal state that some desire, is it not vital that we make it clear that Turkey has to be part of the European family to change the EU’s nature to make it acceptable to all of us?

Mr Lidington: My judgment would be on whether banging the table is going to help us to secure our objective. There is sometimes a case for being very-

Q226 Andrew Rosindell: I think the French tend to do this, don’t they? The Cypriots are doing it by refusing any possibility of Turkey coming in.

Mr Lidington: Well, the French tend not to bang the table; they operate effectively behind the scenes rather than by doing that. The truth is that for any enlargement issue, whether a decision to open a specific chapter or a strategic decision about enlargement at accession, you require unanimity. All it needs is for one country, however small, to simply dig in its heels and say, "No."

In those circumstances, first we must seek to remove the reasons why one or more countries are blocking accession, which is looking for a solution to the stand-off in Cyrus, which is in our national interest anyway. Secondly, we must work with others among the 27 to see if, jointly, we could dissuade what one would hope by then would be a small number of countries from persisting with their opposition to an accession decision. Where I have seen that in action is over the western Balkans process, where I saw with Croatia and Serbia that there is a dynamic to these negotiations. Once you get to a stage where the technical criteria that the Commission has identified have been met, it becomes more difficult for any member state to line up and find good arguments on which to resist agreement to accession being granted. Perhaps, at the end of the day, there is a political deal on a deferment for a period of time or some additional monitoring, which allows collective agreement on accession to take place, but with Turkey I’m afraid that we are a distance from that.

Q227 Andrew Rosindell: Finally, could I ask, Minister, for an assurance from the Government that, as part of this whole process of trying to get Turkey in, we will not compromise our own national interests by sacrificing the British sovereign bases on Cyprus and that they will remain Crown territory and not be given away to cobble together some sort of deal with Cyprus?

Mr Lidington: We have agreed to continue the previous Government’s offer that roughly 50% of the territory of the sovereign base areas would be made available as a kind of endowment to Cyprus in the event of a conclusive settlement being reached. When I have talked to the commander of the British forces there, he has been clear that the territory that we are talking about is not essential for the continued operation of the sovereign bases. We have certainly not gone further than that, and we have no intention of going further than that.

Q228 Andrew Rosindell: So 50% of British territory would be handed away, under a deal.

Mr Lidington: Well, as Mr Rosindell will know from his visits to the bases, a great deal of that area is farmland. It is not land that is being used for operational military purposes.

Q229 Chair: A quick technical question. Does the proposed EU multi-annual financial framework for 2014 to 2020 include any provision for Turkish accession in that period?

Mr Lidington: No, it doesn’t. That means that, in the regrettably unlikely event that Turkish accession took place between now and then, the Commission would have to come forward with a request for some sort of supplementary budget, which would have to be funded within the ceiling set by the multi-annual financial framework.

Chair: That is helpful, thank you.

Q230 Mike Gapes: Getting back to Cyprus and Turkey, given the centrality of the issue and its blocking of the progress on Turkey’s accession, why are the Turkish Government so reluctant to implement the additional Ankara protocol, which would clearly be a way forward and open up a whole number of things? Could this issue not be finessed in some way by some parallel progress? Why are they so reluctant? Is it that they are not really prepared to put their long-term national interests above the Cyprus issue?

Mr Lidington: Mr Gapes is inviting me to act as a spokesman for the Turkish Government, which I am reluctant to do.

Q231 Mike Gapes: Well, I am asking for your assessment of that. I am not asking you to speak for them; I am trying to understand it.

Mr Lidington: The argument that the Turkish Government puts forward, specifically on the additional Ankara protocol, is that it was the EU which refused to implement the direct trade regulation and the Turkish Cypriots lost out on account of that, therefore they were not going to implement the provisions of the additional Ankara protocol.

We have tried, the Commission has tried and others have tried to find ways in which this could be addressed, such as whether there was some kind of deal or some kind of time-limited unilateral initiative that one side or other could agree to, which would lead to some rapid confidence-building measures and then full implementation of both direct trade regulation and the additional protocol. So far, it has not been possible to get to such agreement and each side-both Ankara and Nicosia-have some red lines, which are very difficult to make compatible with each other. Pat, do you want to say anything more on that?

Pat Phillips: I have nothing to add. That is absolutely right.

Q232 Mike Gapes: A number of people have said to us, leaving aside the problem of the EU, which I will come on to, the UK is in a special position; we are the former colonial power, we still have sovereign base areas, and we are a guarantor with Turkey and Greece of the situation, in terms of the relationships, within Cyprus. Why are we not doing more?

Mr Lidington: We are acting in a way that we consider will be best to deliver the right outcome. Because we are the ex-colonial power and because we are one of the guarantee powers under the Cyprus treaty, yes, we have special responsibilities as guarantor power, but we are also in a situation where too up-front a position from the UK can risk being counter-productive in certain cases. At the moment, there is a process. It is a Cypriot-led process with UN facilitation that offers the best way of moving forward. Downer has been engaged in proximity talks between the two leaders and negotiating teams. He is confident that some progress has been made, although some gaps on the key dossiers still remain. Ultimately, this has to be an agreement that is reached by Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders. The UK coming in and saying, "This is the way we want you to fix the deal"-I simply do not think it is going to stick.

Q233 Mike Gapes: Okay. You have referred to these UN-sponsored talks, which as I understand it, are coming to what could be the endgame in January.

Mr Lidington: The Secretary-General has certainly said that he regards the January meetings as a critical moment.

Q234 Mike Gapes: The key then is that if there is to be progress in January, would you expect a settlement before Cyprus takes over the presidency of the European Union Council in July?

Mr Lidington: We would hope so and we have said very clearly to both the Turks and the Turkish Cypriots, and to President Christofias and his team, that we think it is in the interests of Cyprus and all communities in Cyprus that a deal is reached before its presidency.

Q235 Mike Gapes: My question was not whether you hoped, but whether you expected.

Mr Lidington: If I looked at the history and said that this has been going on since 1974 or 1963, depending on whose narrative you follow, I would be depressed, but we have to act positive and optimistic, even if the history so far would lead you to be gloomy.

Q236 Mike Gapes: If there is no agreement, what is the knock-on consequence for the EU and the workings of the European Council from July onwards?

Mr Lidington: Well, the European Council continues to function as normal. Turkey has said that she would not recognise the Cypriot presidency, but we do not know what that means in concrete terms.

Q237 Mike Gapes: They haven’t told you?

Mr Lidington: They have chosen not to go into-

Q238 Mike Gapes: We certainly heard quite a few things from people when we were in Turkey.

Mr Lidington: They have chosen not to go into detail about this and I think that is good, because it is better for people not to take up positions in public that it is then difficult to move from. I do not think it is in the interests of the EU or Turkey that there is some kind of freeze, even if it is just for six months.

Q239 Mike Gapes: But will it be for six months, or will it then be the end of the process?

Mr Lidington: No. Turkey is still receiving funding, for example, under the instrument for pre-accession. Nobody is suggesting that that comes to a halt. Nobody is suggesting that the accession process is formally discontinued. I would hope that we can avoid the sort of stand-off over Cyprus that clearly is a risk at the moment, but that does depend on what progress is made in the meantime.

Q240 Rory Stewart: Just to move back to an earlier answer you gave, 25 members of the Foreign Office have passed the extensive exam in Turkish, but only one of them is deployed to the embassy. Are you proposing to move from having designated Turkish-language slots-but in practice only half those slots are filled by Turkish-language speakers-to a situation in which speaking Turkish becomes a requirement for the slot, and you ensure that some of those remaining 24 people who speak extensive Turkish are forced to serve in Turkey, as opposed to going to other slots?

Pat Phillips: Yes, this is an issue with a lot of languages that are spoken only in one or two countries. We have a lot of people who can speak those languages who have served there in the past and who are likely to return there in the future, but who are not necessarily in that country right now. Clearly, Turkish is spoken only in Turkey and northern Cyprus. I have two Turkish speakers in my team now in London, and one of the Foreign Secretary’s private secretaries is a Turkish speaker, so they are in London dealing with Turkish issues. They have served in Turkey in the past and they are likely to return there in the future.

Q241 Rory Stewart: If this was a private company and 24 out of 25 speakers of a language were not in that country, you would do something about it. You would directly push them through personnel practices to get into that country. Am I right that there are no proposals for reform of the Foreign Office to ensure that those people go into that country? All you are doing is giving them the option, but you are allowing them to serve all over the world. Regardless of the fact that they are receiving money every year from the British Government for having passed an extensive examination in Turkish, you are not compelling them to go to Turkey.

Pat Phillips: Just on that minor point, they do not receive the allowance in perpetuity; it falls away after a certain number of years. It is the same with Japanese and Chinese speakers, because those languages also take a long time to learn but they are spoken only in one or two countries. The pattern tends to be that people will make that an anchor to their career, but they are not expected to serve in that specific country for their whole career.

Q242 Rory Stewart: I am not asking for them to be expected to serve there for their whole career; I am merely asking whether you are prepared to move to requiring them to serve there.

Mr Lidington: I think that is a good point, which I will pass to the Foreign Secretary and the permanent secretary. I think our expectation would be that somebody who chooses to learn Turkish in London would do so with a view to seeking a posting in Turkey at some stage in the relatively close future of his or her career.

Q243 Rory Stewart: I do not want to hammer the point too hard, but at the moment 24 out of the 25 people who have passed extensive examinations in Turkish are not in Turkey, which seems to have some kind of message. Whatever kind of expectation you might have, the structure is not driving them into Turkey. In fact, empty slots that require Turkish-language skills are not being filled in the embassy in Turkey, while 24 out of 25 of our Turkish speakers are not there. That, presumably, is about how we bid for jobs and how the personnel process operates.

Mr Lidington: As I said earlier, we have got a requirement now for the new slots for UK-based staff-which means diplomatic service staff, wherever they are stationed-in Ankara and Istanbul. The new posts being created there will carry a Turkish-language requirement as part of the job description.

Q244 Rory Stewart: Not simply a designation but a requirement-in other words, you would be unable to get one of the speakers’ slots unless you spoke Turkish, whereas at the moment half the speakers’ slots are not filled by Turkish speakers.

Mr Lidington: We are going to have a new officer covering primarily military counter-proliferation issues in Ankara, a new deputy consul-general covering commercial diplomacy and economic issues, and a C4 officer also doing commercial diplomacy and economic issues in Istanbul. All those three newly created slots are going to carry a Turkish-language requirement. It is going to take more than a few months to deliver what the Foreign Secretary wants in getting more British diplomats overseas to know the language of the country to which they are posted, but that is his very definite, clear political commitment.

Q245 Rory Stewart: Finally, there is a very interesting European Union initiative, which you have referred to, in terms of formalising the involvement of Turkey in a foreign policy partnership. Turkish officials have traditionally resisted creating formalised structures at a senior level for Turkey to engage with EU foreign policy. What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of that proposal, and what are the obstacles you would have to overcome to achieve it?

Mr Lidington: I would be a bit cautious about the term "formalising", if by it you mean some new institution, such as the NATO-Russian Permanent Joint Council. What we want to see is for there to be routine dialogue and co-operation between Turkey and the EU. In part, this is born out of frustration at the deadlock in getting effective NATO-EU co-operation on security and defence matters, which again derives from Cyprus. It is only in Bosnia and Herzegovina, under the Berlin-plus arrangements, where you have the seamless co-ordination that we would like to see. This is one of the things that bedevil efforts to get an effective common European structure to address defence and security issues.

When I talk to Ministers from other EU countries, whatever view they take on Turkey, there is this sense of frustration that we are not able to get ourselves organised in terms of NATO-EU co-operation. Therefore, we are looking for things like trying to involve Turkey just in dialogue with Foreign Ministers, whether in Gymnich meetings or as an add-on to Foreign Affairs Council meetings. Are there ways in which Turkey can be associated with the European Defence Agency, and so on? Pat, is there anything you want to shove in?

Pat Phillips: I have nothing to add.

Chair: Mr Lidington, thank you very much, indeed. I think we have covered a pretty broad range of topics there, and it has been very helpful in informing us. We appreciate your coming along-and you, Mr Saward and Ms Phillips. Thank you very much, indeed.

Mr Lidington: Thank you very much.

[1] See Ev 73

[2] See Ev 73

[3] See Ev 73

[4] See Ev 73

Prepared 2nd April 2012