in the second session of the fifty-second parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the seventh day of may in the forty-sixth year of the reign of





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House of Lords

Monday, 26th April 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.

Turkey: Progress towards EU Membership

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What developments they perceive to have taken place since December 1997 to bring Turkey into alignment with the conditions set for entry into the European Union accession process by the European Council's declaration, A European strategy for Turkey.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we share the analysis in the Commission's November 1998 report on Turkey's progress towards European Union membership. The report noted that Turkey had most of the hallmarks of a market economy but still needed to address shortcomings in the areas of human rights, treatment of minorities and the lack of civilian control over the army. The report stressed also the need for a peaceful solution to the problems in south-east Turkey.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the noble Baroness recall that in the Luxembourg Declaration, one of the most important conditions was the alignment of human rights practices and standards in Turkey with those in force in the European Union? In the light of the reports on the missions of the UN rapporteur on torture and the working group on disappearances, does the Minister agree that Turkey is still a long way short of meeting those standards? Does she agree with the opinion expressed in the working group's report that until a

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solution is found to the conflict in the south east, we can never expect that Turkey will attain the standards required for accession to the European Union?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right that that is what was said at Luxembourg. But quite a lot has happened since then and it behoves the noble Lord to consider also what else has been said. The Cardiff European Council endorsed the European strategy for Turkey. That strategy is extremely important because it aims to prepare Turkey for membership of the European Union. That agreed to annual reports on Turkey's progress towards a readiness for European Union membership.

It is important to remember that Turkey receives MEDA funding which is worth some 375 million ecus for projects in the areas of human rights, democracy and civil society. Therefore, I believe that the European strategy has moved us on from Luxembourg and that considerable effort is being made to ensure that Turkey meets international standards on human rights.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, does the Minister accept that Turkey faces a problem, which we know, only too sadly, is common in the world, in that a large section of its population refuses to accept the legitimacy of the government? Therefore, does she not feel that the European Union could help to mediate and persuade the Kurdish population to accept the legitimacy of the Turkish state and persuade the Turkish state to face its responsibilities? Rather than attacking the Turkish state, we should try to help it.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the two strategies are not mutually exclusive. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded us, we have a duty to point out to Turkey where it is falling short of standards on human rights. But the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, is right that Turkey suffers from a good deal of terrorism within its boundaries. We know about the threats of the PKK. I make a distinction between that and the difficulties with the Kurds. But the European Union is doing all it can, both in relation to the funding, to which

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I referred, and the plans which we are trying to discuss now on ways to take forward Turkey's candidature for EU membership.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that since 1982 no fewer than 14 political parties have been disbanded by the state? Is that not nearly 1 per year? Does that not make rather a mockery of normal political life and parliamentary institutions as we understand them?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the problems as regards organising political parties in Turkey are matters of record. But it is the case also that Turkey has recently held an election. Questions have been raised about that election. We last discussed that matter in your Lordships' House on 22nd February when we discussed the role of the OSCE in monitoring that election. The Government now look forward to working with the Turkish Government on the important questions that we have been discussing in relation to European enlargement and the important question of human rights.

Lord Rea: My Lords, now that the Turkish elections are over and the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, is facing trial, will the Government urge Turkey to release the leaders of the legitimate HADEP party who are facing charges at present? It seems that the charges may not withstand legal scrutiny.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord is right that the difficulties of the HADEP party are great. We are aware of the reports of 500 HADEP supporters and officials being arrested in the wake of the detention of Mr. Ocalan. Our embassy in Ankara is in regular contact with HADEP officials. We are extremely concerned by the reports of continuing raids on HADEP offices and the detention of its officials. Our ambassador in Turkey raised with the Prime Minister's office the report that 3,000 HADEP members and officials were detained in November. We condemn strongly the systematic attacks on a legal and democratic party.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I welcome the Minister's statement. Will she accept that HADEP, which is a pro-Kurdish party, does not preach violence; that it denies any connection with the PKK; but that there is an unprecedented level of harassment of that political party in terms of arrests, detention, police harassment, buses not being able to reach rallies and so on? Therefore, will the Minister make it clear that unless the record of the Turkish state and government improves in relation to human rights, Turkey will have no place in Europe?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that I have made clear the views of Her Majesty's Government on the arrest of the HADEP members, both those who were arrested last year and those arrested more recently. We repeatedly raised the

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question of the imprisonment of the four Kurdish former democracy members with the Turkish Government. We stressed that the conviction of elected politicians for the non-violent expression of their opinions can only damage Turkey's international standing. Therefore, I believe that we have raised these issues both as they affect a number of HADEP members in general and where they affect the individual members of HADEP who are also in parliament.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, will the Minister encourage her colleagues to give support to those trying to promote and train in civil society a real sense of democracy in Turkey? This matter has never been tackled properly. It could be done well by both this country and our partners in the European Union. Will the Minister support that?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hoped that I had already made that quite clear. The money which I referred to a moment or two ago--the MEDA funding from the European Union--is to be used not only for projects on human rights; the noble Baroness will be pleased to know that it will also be used for projects on democracy and civil society. Therefore, EU money is already going in that direction. I hope also that some of the European strategy money, which will be worth some 50 million euros over a three-year period, will be used to strengthen such institutions within Turkey.

Civil Justice Reforms

2.44 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Wirral asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that all necessary systems and resources are in place for the introduction today of Lord Woolf's civil justice reforms.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, through new unified Civil Procedure Rules which come into force today throughout all our courts, civil justice will be transformed. There will be a major shift in the control of litigation from lawyers to the courts through a system of hands-on case management by judges, and by bearing down on excessive delay, cost and over-manning by lawyers. From today there are systems and resources in place to ensure immediate benefits for court users. The development of fuller IT systems over time will benefit from developing experience in the new working methods and processes which start today.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor aware that although there is widespread support for the way in which he has continued the crusade started by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and spearheaded by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, for these tremendous reforms, the most important for over 100 years, there are some continuing concerns? The

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complicated IT system is not yet in place. There are a number of deputy district judges not yet trained in the new rules, and last week some further amendments to the rules--69 altogether--were announced, including six new practice directions. Bearing that in mind, and the desire to achieve fairer and faster justice, will the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor institute a careful system of monitoring so that we can ensure that such rules and changes will produce the desired effect?

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