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House of Lords

Tuesday, 3rd July 2001.

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

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Wakefield.

Lord Temple-Morris

Peter Temple-Morris, Esquire, having been created Baron Temple-Morris, of Llandaff in the County of South Glamorgan and of Leominster in the County of Herefordshire, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Williams of Mostyn and the Lord Richard.

Lord Grocott

Bruce Joseph Grocott, Esquire, having been created Baron Grocott, of Telford in the County of Shropshire, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Evans of Parkside and the Baroness Boothroyd.

Several Lords--Took the Oath.

Turkey: Human Rights

2.48 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In the Turkey Accession Partnership formally agreed between Turkey and the European Union, what commitment is required of Turkey to improve its human rights record and, in particular, its treatment of religious and ethnic minorities.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the EU/Turkey Accession Partnership is an important step forward in Turkey's EU candidature. It makes clear the wide range of political and human rights reforms that Turkey will have to carry out in order to meet the Copenhagen political criteria, including reforms related to freedom of conscience and of expression. We fully support Turkey's EU candidature and look forward to early implementation of the reforms set out in the accession partnership and in Turkey's own national programme.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how the ancient Christian communities of Tur Abdin and of the Phanar, as well as the newer communities of Izmir and Istanbul, are faring? Is there any improvement in their condition?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, officials from our embassy are in touch with all the Christian communities which the right reverend Prelate has mentioned. They are not only in touch; they have visited them all. We have raised individual

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cases where we have felt that there has been harassment of those communities in the past. We welcome the Turkish Prime Minister's recent statement instructing public bodies to ensure that the Syrian Orthodox communities' rights are respected. We look forward to continued progress by the Turkish authorities in bringing about the necessary reforms to comply with the Copenhagen political criteria.

I am assured that our officials stand ready to take up particular cases which are brought to their attention. We have done so in the past with a measure of modest success.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, has the Minister noted that in the European Court of Human Rights there have been 160 findings against Turkey, plus 30 friendly settlements; and that a further 2,700 cases are pending consideration by the court? Is it the requirement of the European Union that Turkey will comply fully with the judgments of the European Court, including the return of 300,000 people who were displaced from their villages in the south-east? Has the noble Baroness also noted the pending case of the Kurdish MPs who were sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for thought crime? Is it not essential that those MPs should be released if Turkey is to bear any resemblance to a genuine parliamentary democracy?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, yes, on the latter point, those who have been properly, democratically elected should expect to enjoy the freedoms that we would expect elsewhere in the European Union if a candidature is to go forward. Of course, we expect compliance with the courts.

It is worth pointing out that under the Copenhagen criteria we are talking about a wide spectrum of issues. The right reverend Prelate concentrated on freedom of religion and of expression. But there are issues about prison conditions and freedom of expression and association which we might associate rather more with political life in Turkey. We expect Turkey to make progress on these issues. We shall have a further opportunity of assessing the progress made when the European Commission is able to consider what has happened this year in Turkey's progress on these matters. It is due to do so in November.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Turkish Government are currently in the process of considering a large number of constitutional and legal changes? Will the noble Baroness join me in congratulating the Turkish Government and in encouraging them to press ahead with those reforms?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is important that we look not only at the demands made on Turkey by the accession partnership, but also at Turkey's response, contained in its national programme for the adoption of the acquis, which I mentioned in my initial Answer to the right reverend Prelate. Turkey is making some of the reforms that the noble Lord referred to. The issue is whether those

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reforms are making a real difference on the ground. That difference will have to be assessed when the opportunity arises in November this year.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the defence of Europe depends to some extent on Turkey, which is surrounded by most of the world's potential crisis points. Will the Minister assure us that Turkey will have a proper part to play in the new rapid reaction force and the new defence arrangements for Europe and will not feel excluded or humiliated?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I strongly agree with what the noble Lord says about Turkey's contribution to the security of the region. I also join him in the emphasis that he puts on Turkey's value as a partner in NATO. Together with all the other NATO allies, Turkey signed up to supporting the ESDP at the alliance's 1999 Washington summit. To that end, we are working with Turkey to gain agreement to proceed with the detailed implementation of the Washington summit decisions. We believe that the ESDP will enable Turkey to work effectively with the EU on defence matters, but the noble Lord is right--and I do not disguise the fact--that there is a great deal still to discuss. Those discussions are progressing.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, the Minister mentioned prisons. Does she accept that there are 10,000 political prisoners in Turkey, many of whom were convicted before military tribunals? Will the Government do their best to ensure that there is detailed monitoring of the change from communal cells to individual cells because of the strong fears of victimisation as a result of the change of regime?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we remain concerned about the conditions in Turkey's prisons. We are concerned, for example, about the recent arrest of 18 women and one man for making allegations about torture, and particularly about rape, during periods when they were in custody. That has worrying implications. We continue to monitor that case and other cases of alleged abuse in Turkish prisons. The noble Lord makes a point about military courts. It is important to note that the accession partnership urges Turkey to align the constitutional role of the national security council as an advisory body to the government in accordance with the practice of other EU member states. By pressing forward on that point, we are looking at the role of the military in Turkish courts.

Lord Elton: My Lords, who decides whether Turkey has met the Copenhagen requirements and by what means will this country be able to ensure that they are met?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there is an annual assessment of how Turkey is complying with the detailed specifications put forward

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in the partnership agreement. That is done every year in November. It will be done again this November. It will be a matter for the Commission in the first place--I look to my officials on that point--which will then advise member states. It is important to remember that the Copenhagen political criteria are the starting point for all the candidates for EU membership. In that respect, Turkey is no different. Turkey is not being asked to cross any particular hurdle that current EU members or other states currently going through the acquis process have not had to cross. The annual assessment is the important point.


2.57 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

    By what means they intend to restore profitability to British agriculture.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, these are difficult times for British agriculture and the Government are working hard to help the industry tackle the challenges that it faces. We have already introduced measures worth £1.35 billion. However, in addition to the difficult process of recovery from foot and mouth disease, further changes will be necessary in farming and the food chain and on the framework of the CAP to achieve a sustainable long-term future. The Government will shortly announce a policy commission on the future of food and farming.

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