WEDNESDAY 13 MARCH 2002

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Members present:

Donald Anderson, in the Chair
Andrew Mackinlay
Mr John Maples
Mr Bill Olner
Sir John Stanley
Ms Gisela Stuart

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Memorandum submitted by The Secretary of State for

Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Examination of Witnesses

THE RT HON JACK STRAW MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, MR PETER RICKETTS CMG, Political Director, and MR JOHN MACGREGOR CVO, Director for Wider Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, examined.

Chairman

  1. May we now open this part of our meeting on Turkey. Mr John Macgregor, Director for Wider Europe, has joined the Secretary of State and Mr Ricketts.
  2. (Mr Straw) I have an opening statement which I will summarise as time is short. Your Committee, Chairman, has just been to Turkey. I greatly welcome the fact that you have made the visit. It is a country which I have been taking an interest in myself. It repays re-visiting. I have been there twice myself in the last five months. We think that there are encouraging signs that Turkey's reforms are beginning to develop momentum but since you and your colleagues have been there more recently than I have and have been able to spend a great deal more time there than I have been able to, I would be very interested to hear your conclusions as well.

    Chairman: That will come out in the wash of the Committee's questions. We are as a Committee most grateful to our Ambassador in Ankara, our Consul-General in Istanbul, who are models of what a Committee could expect from diplomatic representatives.

    Ms Stuart

  3. Foreign Secretary, We are very grateful for the submission of the Foreign Office in relation to UK/Turkey relations. I got no sense, reading through that, of to what extent an assessment has been made by the Foreign Office about whether it would be in the United Kingdom's interests to have Turkey as a full member of the European Union and in particular there are two aspects which I should like you to address in the answer. Following Laeken it became quite clear that in terms of Turkey's application to become a member, even though no formal date has been set, it is no longer regarded as 15 current members, 12 candidate members plus one, but Turkey has a full place which equals the other candidate members. In that assessment there are two aspects. One is, what would be the main areas where Britain's strategic interests would be best served by membership of the European Union by Turkey, and the second is, what is your assessment of at what stage Turkey could make sufficient progress to become a full member? During our visit to Turkey we heard anything from, "Give us a date and we can do it in six months" to, "We can look at ten to 12 years".
  4. (Mr Straw) We have long supported Turkey's membership of the European Union but that has to be on the basis of the criteria set out in Copenhagen in June of 1993, which apply to Turkey as equally as they apply to any of the other applicants. It will be recalled that membership requirements of the candidate country are to achieve stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law for human rights, respect for the protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with the competitive pressures and market forces within the Union. It presupposes the candidate's ability to take on the obligations of membership and adhere to the aims of political, economic and monetary union. Those are the criteria laid down. You will also be aware, Ms Stuart, that in Helsinki it said in paragraph 12 that Turkey is a candidate destined to join the Union on the basis of the same criteria as applied to other candidate states. Turkey, like other candidate states, would benefit from pre-accession strategy to stimulate and support its reforms. That is the basis. We want to see Turkey in. However, we want to see Turkey in on the same basis as any other member and we think that is not only important for the integrity of the Union but also important for Turkey, so it can take a full and confident place at the table. In terms of its status in accession, it is, as I think you know, at the pre-screening stage. Although I think in many other respects it has been treated in a similar way to other candidates who are further down the track, in terms of where it is in timescale it is further back than any other candidate at the moment. You are saying when will they make good progress, when will they be in? I cannot put a date on that. They will come in when they have got through the screening process and when they have been able to show tangible progress on each of the chapters, those chapters have been closed and there has therefore been agreement to their accession. You ask about our United Kingdom strategic interests. Size, geographical position and its neighbourhood, to put it as delicately as that, mean that Turkey is an extremely important ally for us. They have been a loyal, faithful ally of the United Kingdom and the other now 17 members of NATO. They have played, as you know, a very important part in the continuation of the action which has been necessary against Iraq. They have played a key role in the fight against terrorism and we hope very much that they will take over as lead nation on ISAF, the International Stabilisation of Assistance Force, in Afghanistan. Our own judgement is that our strategic interests with them are reasonably well served at the moment but would be better served if they were members of the European Union. For example, under ESDP a lot of the difficulties which they face at the moment would fall away when they were a member of the European Union.

  5. Does the United Kingdom have a position on the question of whether Turkey should be given a date to start the negotiating process? The reason why I ask that is that we very much picked up during our visit that the perception in Turkey was that everybody makes a lot of positive noises but these noises are never followed by real action, that EU membership for those who want to continue their modernisation process in Turkey is an extremely important vehicle, but it could also be potentially destabilising and therefore once dates are given it gives a kind of milestone along which you can manage that process. Hence my question, do we want to give them a date and what is our realistic assessment on which that could be achieved?
  6. (Mr Straw) We have not given them a date yet and I do not think we would give them a date until they have gone past the present pre-screening situation. That is because it has been collectively judged that it would not be appropriate to offer them a date at the moment. For example, if you take their big human rights agenda, when I was there, which was initially at the end of September, these 34 separate constitutional amendments had just been passed through and the President and the Prime Minister and other people I spoke were all very pleased about that, but that was getting agreement in principle to these changes. They have then got to get them through in detailed texts and then they have to be sure that they operate on the ground. That is in a sense a bigger agenda than is faced by most, not all, other accession countries. However, if your Committee were to say that you think that we should consider setting a date, which is not a recommendation I have had put to me up to now, then of course I would pay very careful attention to that.

    (Mr Ricketts) Could I just add one sentence, Chairman, just to say that, as the Foreign Secretary says, it is difficult to set a date because in the end it is up to the Turks themselves and the pace of their own economic and political reform programmes which will determine how quickly they move through this process leading to the accession negotiations.

    Chairman

  7. But if they were to do well, if they were to fulfil the criteria, can we take it that they will join, because there is a clear feeling in Turkey that not with the UK but with some EU members there is a hidden agenda, an unspoken nature of objection, which would prevent Turkey for other reasons joining the Union?
  8. (Mr Straw) Yes, is the answer to that. We are completely committed to them joining if they fulfil the Copenhagen criteria. They know that. I accept entirely the implication behind your question, and what was said more explicitly by Ms Stuart, which is that the very process of seeking membership in an active way, which they have been, is obviously acting as a dynamic to the internal politics of the country in Turkey and if that dynamic was stalled, and unfairly stalled, that could have quite a serious adverse effect on the domestic stability of Turkey, and we acknowledge that.

    Ms Stuart

  9. You made reference in the submission about the exchange between British officials and Turkish officials and you yourself said that you had visited Turkey twice in the recent past. Are you aware of any plans of the Prime Minister intending to visit Turkey, because that certainly was something which was mentioned to us on a number of occasions, and secondly (a more administrative question), are you satisfied that the current numbers of Turkish speakers you have access to within the Foreign Office is sufficient to work constructively with Turkey?
  10. (Mr Straw) I will ask Mr Macgregor and Mr Ricketts to comment on the exchange of officials. The Prime Minister's visit programme has a lot of demands on it but it is kept under close review and again I am sure that if your Committee, Ms Stuart, were to say they thought a visit by the Prime Minister was a priority that would be considered closely.

    Chairman

  11. And you would not oppose it?
  12. (Mr Straw) Of course not. I have been to Turkey twice already and I would count it as a very important ally and a very important country with which we should develop already deep relations.

    (Mr Macgregor) There have been regular exchanges between senior officials on a whole range of issues: on defence, Mr Ricketts himself, I think regularly, but there is also normal political dialogue between us. There is also a lot of practical work between us, for instance, through drugs liaison officers and indeed there is a proposal that there should be an immigration liaison officer which we hope will come to fruit this year. There is a lot of practical co-operation between British and Turkish officials.

  13. And Ms Stuart's comment on the language competence of our officials?
  14. (Mr Ricketts) We certainly attach great importance to language competence in Turkey, as elsewhere. You will, I hope, have seen that our current Ambassador could speak good Turkish, that our Consul-General in Istanbul speaks Turkish, and we are making sure that coming up through the ranks there is a sufficient number of Turkish speakers preparing to become ambassador in due course.

  15. We were concerned about the issue so perhaps you could supply some chart of those who are Turkish speakers at different stages of the Foreign Office.
  16. (Mr Ricketts) Certainly.

    Mr Maples

  17. Perhaps we can turn to discuss possible Turkish accession in terms of technicalities, such as how many constitutional amendments they have made, and it is 34, you tell us. There are actually some very big issues at stake here. On the one hand Turkey is an extraordinarily valuable ally, playing a vital part in NATO, and is a bridge to the Middle East. We want to tie it into Europe rather than see it floating in the other direction, and I suspect those are the reasons that were driving policy and trying to help Turkey accede to membership. On the other side, I would suggest to you, there are equally very big issues that people seem very reluctant to discuss, which are that Turkey does have its feet outside the European mainstream tradition in terms of law, of government, of the relationship between the military and the civilian government. It has an enormous and very fast-growing population. I think I am right in saying that the total population will be about 100 million in 20 years' time which would make it 20 or 25 per cent of the population of an enlarged European Union. It has a GDP per head of way below the European average. If this was a small country of eight million people or so it would be easy. If it were Cyprus - and I am not suggesting Cyprus is quite so different - or a country of that size, this is not a problem, I can cope with that, but can the European Union really take in a country of that size with those differences without being seriously unbalanced?
  18. (Mr Straw) I think so, is the answer. We are into the realm of speculation but I think the European Union has shown itself to be an extraordinarily adaptable institution since it started as a very narrow organisation with six Member States, with two at the time hugely dominant, France and Germany. You say that Turkey is outside the European mainstream tradition of law, control of the armed forces and so on, with great respect I do not agree with you. Turkey is different because it is an Islamic country, although it is a secular Islamic country, but if you think about the countries which are now coming into membership or, for example, you think about the state that acceded into membership of the European Union by a different route, namely East Germany, people living in East Germany until 1990 had not enjoyed any idea of democracy for getting on for 60 years, and the armed forces were not subject to proper democratic control. That is also true with different but similar experiences across Eastern Europe where countries like Romania were hardly known as paradigms of democracy before the War and did not have any serious sense of democracy or the beginnings of democracy until the collapse of Communism at the end of the 1980s. And that goes for one country after another. I think Turkey is in a slightly different stage of development but it is not that different from many other European countries. You are furrowing your brow but we, in this country, forget just how recent is the experience of democracy in most European countries. We also forget that even in countries where democracy is now taken for granted across the Western European Union - let us leave aside France and Germany and those counties under German occupation during the War - such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, they all had fascist dictatorships when I went to university, when I left university and for some years after that, yet they are now fully-functioning democracies. I think Turkey's provenance is actually a far better one than those countries which were fascist dictatorships within the lifetime of most people in this room. So, with respect, I am more optimistic than you. It has a growing population but the united Germany now has a figure of 80 million, and my recollection of Turkey's population is that it is 64 million. On GDP per head, in the speech to which again Sir John paid such attention, he will recall there was a series of figures quoted - 23, 20, 4 - where I pointed out that the geographical area of the European Union would increase by 23 per cent with the accession of not Turkey but the current accession states, its population would increase by 20 per cent but GDP increase by just 4 per cent. In other words, the average GDP of countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and so on, is one-fifth of the average GDP of the current 15. When I got those figures, I simply did not believe them, and had them reworked again and again. It is true that if you use exchange rates and purchasing power parities you come to a slightly narrower gap but it is still stark, so if the European Union ends up by being able to cope with the accession of these states, it will be able to cope with Turkey's accession.

  19. You have stated your views on that but I think you concentrated very much on democracy. I would have said that countries like Spain and the eastern part of Germany were very much part of the European mainstream in terms of government, philosophy, religion, art, for hundreds and hundreds of years whereas Turkey has not been. It is more different, far more different, than any of them were. In the case of East Germany, there may not have been very many people alive who remembered democracy but it was certainly part of their being part of a greater Germany and of Europe and part of their history and traditions along with art, philosophy and everything else for hundreds of years.
  20. (Mr Straw) You are on a slightly dangerous ground here, certainly with art, and philosophy and science.

  21. I am not saying it is better or worse, just different.
  22. (Mr Straw) No, but the whole point about Turkey is that it is the fulcrum point between Asia and Europe. Do not forget, it has a Christian heritage as well as an Islamic one, as you will have seen; that is part of its history. If you think about the young Turk movement, yes, they had to break away from what we now describe as an authoritarian, non-democratic past, but there are quite a number of countries around in Europe which had to do that too, and have done it and did it rather late, and then had a long period when, however much the idea of democracy tried to flower, democracy was stalled. But if you think about the development of the young Turk movement, and then of what Ataturk was able to achieve, I think it is a pretty remarkable story, and it stands scrutiny with many other European nations. You said that a lot of these things were rather technical, with every accession state, not just Turkey, we have to ensure the criteria are not just technical but real because we do not do those countries any good or the European Union any good if we say, "Because you have passed a piece of paper which says that human rights will be respected, we know by virtue of that fact they will be respected", we have to be reassured that in reality, on the ground, they will be respected.

  23. I understand that and I hear what you say, I just think the European Union will have enormous difficulty in absorbing Turkey in a way which will not be so with any other country. I want to ask you though one final question, let us suppose this process drags on for a very long time - in one way or another Turkey has difficulty meeting the criteria or circumstances change which postpone the date of Turkey's accession - do you think that would damage our relationship with Turkey as a very valuable ally in terms of both military and foreign policy where we need it, for example some of the things it has done in the Middle East recently? Do you think it might damage that relationship or do you think we are so locked together in that relationship that accession or not to the EU is irrelevant?
  24. (Mr Straw) We are both very firm members of NATO, and that applies to most but not all of the existing other 14 of the European Union. There are strong trade and investment ties between the United Kingdom and Turkey, and, allowing for the dip in trade with every country which occurred after their big economic crises, trade links have been growing and, with luck, if Turkey's application, as it were, ran out, those relationships would continue. I very much hope and the United Kingdom Government hopes that Turkey will become a full member of the European Union, and we are giving every encouragement we can to them. The question of rejection does not arise, it is a question of getting to a position where Turkey is able to go through a pre-screening process and then it takes part in the process that countries further advanced, for example, Poland and the Czech Republic, are in now, and when we get to a position when all the chapters are closed, all the chapters are closed. Of course it is open to the democratic wishes of the people of Turkey at any stage to decide they want to stop that, but I suspect they will not.

    Chairman

  25. Foreign Secretary, in response to Mr Maples you said, and I quote, "Turkey is at a slightly different stage of development from the other countries", is there not this fundamental difference, the role of the military? Traditionally the military in Turkey have been the guarantors of democracy, they have intervened on three occasions effectively after a period to restore democracy. It is an essential part of the Kemalist tradition, which effectively underpins stability in that country. Is there not therefore a potential conflict between the wish of us to receive a modernised, appropriately qualified Turkey into the Union, and the necessity of democratic control of the military, which runs directly counter to the Kemalist tradition?
  26. (Mr Straw) Mr MacGregor has just passed me one of the constitutional changes which was agreed in October 2001, which was to change the composition and functioning of the National Security Council, altering the balance in favour of the civilian government and emphasising its advisory rather than its policy-making role. I have to say that since your Committee, Mr Anderson, spent some time there, this is one of many areas where I would be very interested to have your observations about whether you feel this change, once implemented, will be sufficient.

  27. The jury is very much out on that. One can have paper changes but the real balance, the real possibility of intervention, may still be there, and indeed the military, a very proud institution in Turkey, highly respected, are essentially an underpinning of that tradition which we want to continue.
  28. (Mr Straw) Indeed. Do you want to say something?

    (Mr Macgregor) Really just to talk of the slight irony, that of course in that role they have pushed Turkey into a more westward-leaning mode ---

  29. Indeed.
  30. (Mr Macgregor) --- and in a way into a shape which is more like the country that we would like to deal with. But changes nevertheless are on the way, and those constitutional changes of October last year are only the first of what is anticipated to be a series of changes.

  31. May I ask you, Foreign Secretary, can you envisage a time within the EU negotiation timescale when the army in Turkey will have a role analogous to the role of the army in other countries of the Union?
  32. (Mr Straw) I think that is almost explicit in the constitutional change which they have agreed to, so the answer to that must be yes.

    Sir John Stanley

  33. Foreign Secretary, in paragraph 22 of your paper there is one of these wonderfully fork-tongued constructed sentences setting out the Government's position on the accession of Cyprus in relation to whether Cyprus comes in divided or united. The sentence reads: "The UK strongly believes that it is in the best interests of all concerned that a reunited Cyprus should join the EU, but supports the conclusions of the Helsinki European Council, which stated that a settlement is not a pre-condition for Cypriot accession." The question I would like to put to you is this: can the Committee conclude, at least from the second part of that sentence, that the British Government will not contemplate a delay to the accession of Cyprus as it is now, ie divided, on the grounds there has been an apparent resumption of discussions between the two halves of Cyprus and that some form of settlement and negotiations are under way?
  34. (Mr Straw) Actually I thought it was pretty clear. I must say in terms of Government gobbledegook I do not think it is even in the second division, if I may say so. However, our position is literally what was agreed at Helsinki in December 1999, and it is worth me reading that out. "The European Council underlines that a political settlement will facilitate the accession of Cyprus to the European Union." I depart from the quotation there to say that I think everybody understands and accepts that, that it would be better if there were a political settlement. The text then goes on, "If no settlement has been reached by the completion of accession negotiations, the Council's decision on accession will be made without the above being a pre-condition. In this the Council will take account of all relevant factors." I think that is really all one can say about this at the moment. That is the position, it is not a pre-condition but we would prefer it if there was a settlement.

  35. That does not answer my question. The question I asked you was, can you assure the Committee that if there should be a resumption of apparently substantive negotiations towards a settlement, the fact such negotiations are taking place will not be used by the British Government as a ground for delaying the accession of Cyprus in its present divided state?
  36. (Mr Straw) I think it is an answer to the question, with great respect to you, Sir John, because I have just said that we support the position set out here, which is that we want to see a political settlement, but what happens if no settlement has been reached by the completion of accession negotiations, which are separate in any case, and I see no suggestion that accession negotiations should be delayed by the negotiations on a political settlement. "The Council's decision on accession will be made without the above being a pre-condition". Are we proposing to change the Helsinki conclusions? No.

  37. Could I put the question around the other way. Is the British Government's position that the accession of Cyprus in its present divided state should take place at the earliest possible opportunity, assuming Cyprus meets the requirements of the chapters, regardless of whether or not settlement negotiations may be in train at the time?
  38. (Mr Straw) Our position on Cyprus' accession is that Cyprus should be treated in the same way as anybody else in accordance with that text that I read out earlier from Copenhagen from June 1993. So that sets out the template. Cyprus, as you will be aware, has closed more chapters than any other accession applicant. That process continues on a track which is separate from negotiations, if any, about a political settlement. That is where we are.

  39. Do you envisage any other EU Member States might seek to delay the accession of Cyprus on the grounds that settlement discussions are in progress?
  40. (Mr Straw) I am not aware of any. Whether some have tried I cannot say, I can only speak for the British Government.

    Chairman

  41. The Republic of Cyprus is a market economy, a fully functioning democracy, which is in the lead in terms of the closing of chapters, therefore it is likely to be very much in the first wave of those being accepted. If a divided island of Cyprus were to be taken into the Community, the Union, what is your judgment of the effect on opinion in Turkey?
  42. (Mr Straw) Everybody in Turkey I have ever met who takes an interest in these things understands that Helsinki raises the possibility of a divided Cyprus, or part of Cyprus essentially, being admitted to the European Union, that is just a reality, it could happen, it is there in the texts. I do not presume to speak for the state of public opinion or governmental opinion in Turkey about that, and you may have greater insights than I do.

  43. Some of our interlocutors have used words like "catastrophic" in terms of Turkish relations with the Union. Is that a view that you would take?
  44. (Mr Straw) I do not presume to speak for them. We would have to make sure that such an apocalyptic vision did not occur. I think everybody is aware of this, not the apocalypse or the catastrophe but the fact that the Republic of Cyprus, the geographical island of Cyprus, could be admitted to the European Union is a reality and it is a possibility and they have got to work around that.

    (Mr Ricketts) It would clearly be a much less satisfactory outcome for Turkey, but also for the EU and for Cyprus, than the accession of Cyprus reunited at the end of successful settlement negotiations. That is what we are bending all of our efforts to achieve in the remaining months.

  45. You must surely accept that there would be very negative consequences for Turkey's relationship with the Union?
  46. (Mr Straw) Turkey would have to make different decisions about what it then did. It would not stop its request to become a full member of the European Union. Mr Ricketts said, and it is implicit too in the conclusions of Helsinki, it is a less than satisfactory outcome, less than the outcome we want, but it may be the outcome that is inevitable if there cannot be a political settlement of Cyprus.

  47. And in the happy event of an agreement between the parties some time after the discussions between the leaders of the two communities, President Clerides and Mr Denktash, would you expect the Union to be able to respond very speedily to prepare the north of the island for accession?
  48. (Mr Straw) I think they could respond speedily, it depends what was agreed. What I am not going to do, with great respect to this Committee, is get into speculating about the current state of discussion which is taking place between the different parties in Cyprus, between Clerides and Denktash, on which your question is based.

    (Mr Macgregor) The EU has said that it will accommodate a UN settlement, in other words that it will be flexible about it. It has already indicated a degree of flexibility.

    Ms Stuart

  49. Can we turn to the issue of human rights. It was quite clear on our visit to Turkey that quite a number of legislative changes have been made and it would be very easy to gain the impression that these changes are significant also on the ground. The evidence we heard was that laws have been changed when it comes to treatment in police stations but very little seems to have changed in relation to provisions for prosecution, torture, and when you look at the evidence of how many prosecutions are successful that is not happening. I would be interested to hear to what extent the Foreign Office is monitoring not only what happens at the official level but what actually happens on the ground and to what extent you work with NGOs and other organisations to really determine what the reality of the protection of human rights in Turkey is?
  50. (Mr Straw) I will ask officials if they have got anything to add, but if you look at paragraph 24 of the memorandum that we submitted you will see that we really made a similar point to yours that what matters is what happens on the ground. Obviously changing the text is a precondition, it is necessary but by no means sufficient. We have got a large number of human rights projects with Turkey and examples from 2001 include translation into Turkish of the FCO Handbook on Prevention of Torture, a training programme for senior prison administrators, independent monitoring of prisons in Turkey, development of prisoner education and recreation programmes, training for the Jandarma, who are the military policy, in custody, detention and public order policing, and forensic science training for the Jandarma. Also this year we are seeing the launch of the Human Rights Dialogue at senior official level between the United Kingdom and Turkey. (Mr Macgregor) I am the leader of the Human Rights Dialogue on the British side and we are intending to arrange a first meeting probably in May of this year. Before going forward into that meeting we shall be consulting the Human Rights Sub-Committee of the House and also NGOs to ask what points they make. To go back to your own point, Ms Stuart, about do we try to keep in touch with the situation on the ground, the answer is we certainly do and, indeed, I think it was through us that you were able to talk to the NGOs you did talk to in Istanbul. We go to hearings where there are leading human rights cases, we are in court whenever we can be. We also, I think, learn a great deal through police exchanges by having our police in Turkey, by them coming here. No-one is pretending that this is going to change things in a night but I think it is making some real progress. Similarly, the booklet on torture translated into Turkish, it will not itself prevent torture immediately but it is a start.

  51. The Committee in its Report on Human Rights congratulated this initiative and we asked people on the ground whether they found that helpful and we were told that it was. In relation to torture we drew the analogy during the visit that just as we introduced the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in the early 1980s in Britain which made acceptable what is to happen in police stations and what is not, there is nothing similar at this stage which starts to define what torture is and what is acceptable and what is not. I just want to press you a little bit further because on the human rights issue, when it comes to issues like freedom of expression I think there are real difficulties when you go into the Kurdish language and it becomes contentious. Even the Turkish Government accepts that torture in all its forms is totally unacceptable.
  52. (Mr Straw) Yes, it is.

  53. Should we not focus much more on intensifying activities to deal with this issue which is accepted by everyone that more needs to be done but it needs to be done on the ground at every day level in the police stations not at a governmental level?
  54. (Mr Straw) If you take changes in police practice which have occurred in the last 25 years in this country, and some of us will remember that they were a bit by and large before the implementation of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and a lot more has come out more recently about what needs to happen, we had to change the law in this country and then there had to be a big programme of training and really winning the minds of police officers. I remember when the Police and Criminal Evidence Act was going through the House, and it was aborted before the 1983 election and had to come back, there was a lot of hostility by police officers about the idea that their freedom was going to be undermined by the introduction of what was alleged to be a set of bureaucratic rules. So there had to be a training programme but also taking people through the benefits to the police of, for example, interrogating people in conditions in which the integrity of the interrogation could not be challenged, which is a situation which we have now achieved. I noticed in one of the telegrams reporting on your visit, Ms Stuart, you referred to the parallel of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and I think that is something where we should do some work and where, as both you and Mr MacGregor are saying, we need to ensure the advice is given police officer to police officer. That is extremely important. The other thing I would say on human rights is that Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe and subject to the European Convention of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights, and they have signed up to it, and if we are going to ensure there is a reality of human rights on the ground in Turkey we need to ensure the Council of Europe at a political and ministerial level and every other level is engaged with Turkey in a very active way.

    Chairman: Foreign Secretary, I am afraid we have to suspend the sitting for ten minutes and we will come back as soon as possible.

    The Committee suspended from 5.27pm to 5.37pm for a division in the House

    Chairman: Everyone is here so we can start. Sir John on human rights.

    Sir John Stanley

  55. Foreign Secretary, have your Department found a greater difficulty in trying to get the Turkish Government to address the human rights issue since 11 September?
  56. (Mr Straw) I have certainly not in the discussions I have had. It has to be said that both visits I have made to Turkey have been post-11 September but at the one I made at the end of September, by definition within a fortnight or so of 11 September, it was the first item that the President raised with me when I saw him, and he is actually very proud of what he has achieved in getting through these constitutional amendments. I have had no sense of that, I do not know whether any of my colleagues have.

    (Mr Macgregor) No.

  57. I ask because, as you will be well aware, around the world fundamentally non-democratic or only marginally democratic regimes have seized on the war against terrorism to pursue some extremely repressive policies and actions which, in some cases, are very undesirable in human rights terms. I wondered whether you might find it that much more difficult to get firm attention to making progress on human rights in a country like Turkey, which, you could argue well, is facing terrorist threats from within, on the grounds that the United States is saying everything has to be now subservient to the war against terrorism.
  58. (Mr Straw) I understand the point you are making but it has not been my experience nor that of the officials who are with me. Turkey has had a terrorist problem and it had one which pre-dated 11 September. We have a terrorist problem. When I was Home Secretary I proscribed the DHKP-C, one of a list of 21 non-Irish terrorist organisations which I proscribed, which decision was endorsed by Parliament in February a year ago. I know obviously there is a fair degree of co-operation on the anti-terrorist and counter-terrorist front between our law enforcement agencies but I have to say I have had no experience myself that their attitude or approach has changed. At a senior level, the impression I have had is that the Government of Turkey is as committed post-11 September to its human rights agenda as it was before.

    Chairman

  59. Foreign Secretary, you have just said that you have put on the proscribed list two organisations, the PKK and the DHKP-C. They are not, of course, on the EU list. Are we pressing the EU to include those on the list? What are the prospects of them being so included?
  60. (Mr Macgregor) There are two arguments. One is about these two organisations, another is about eight more. The Turks are lobbying in favour of ten altogether. In our view, the chances are better to pinpoint the two to start with, and I do not think there is any reason to be negative about the hopes for eventually agreeing those two.

  61. That is wonderfully circumlocutory.
  62. (Mr Straw) That is circumlocutory, unlike paragraph 22!

  63. Sir Humphrey would be pleased with that. Can I ask a straight question?
  64. (Mr Straw) You may not get a straight answer!

  65. If pressure were solely restricted to these two, would there be other than bureaucratic objections or would there be objections in principle from other partner Members?
  66. (Mr Macgregor) I know of no objection in principle.

    (Mr Straw) There you are, a straight answer.

  67. That is much better. Let us move then to economic assistance. Foreign Secretary, you know we found it very useful to meet Mr Leigh, who works with Commissioner Verheugen on enlargement and in respect of Turkey, and he endorsed the idea that the United Kingdom Government should establish a central fund for bilateral assistance to Turkey, just as the Know-How Fund was set up for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and proved indeed so successful in respect of those countries. Why is there not currently such a fund analogous to the Know-How Fund in respect of Turkey, and would you consider setting up such an initiative?
  68. (Mr Straw) I would certainly consider it.

  69. So if the Committee were so to recommend, it would be an open door?
  70. (Mr Straw) It is not a blank cheque.

  71. No.
  72. (Mr Straw) It could be an open door but you never know which room you are walking into. Of course.

  73. May I say that the Committee was impressed with the success of the Know-How Fund in respect of the other countries and the possible extension therefore to Turkey.
  74. (Mr Straw) I am looking forward to your report.

    (Mr Macgregor) Could I just add, although it is modest - I do not know quite what figure the Committee considers modest - we have allocated 150,000 in the current year to a series of projects which we label under our EU Action Plan for Turkey, which is similar to action plans of about the same dimensions ---

  75. You say "the current year", that is the financial year ---
  76. (Mr Macgregor) The current financial year coming to an end in March.

  77. Has that been disbursed?
  78. (Mr Macgregor) These are actual projects in the year 2001-02. We can let the Committee know what the level of disbursement is.

  79. And the nature of the projects please.
  80. (Mr Macgregor) I have a list here of the ten projects.

    Ms Stuart

  81. Can I move on to the relationships between the United Kingdom and Turkey in terms of the exchange of students and also in terms of visa applications; the two are almost directly related. First of all, a straightforward question: from the information we have there has been a halving of the money allocated to Turkey for the Chevening Scholarships, and I would be very interested to know what the justification for halving that was, given there is an acceptance that we need to work more with Turkey. The second issue relates to the starting of the SOCRATES programme, which will allow Turkish students access to institutions of higher education in EU countries. Given it would appear that many students and perfectly straightforward business people are finding it very difficult at times to get their visas processed, (a) how is the Government preparing for the SOCRATES programme and, (b) what do we intend to do to speed up the process of visa applications? It was not a very happy sight in Istanbul to see queues and queues of people and a perception that Britain was being far more difficult than other EU countries, which really created a very negative impact and impression of Britain.
  82. (Mr Straw) I am going to ask Mr MacGregor to comment on the Chevening Scholarships and the SOCRATES programme. On the issue of the visa section's work flow, as you will have seen principally in Istanbul, much less in Ankara, we are concerned about the time which has been taken to process visa applications. The position has been reviewed by JECU, the Joint Entry Clearance Unit, and measures implemented include a 20 per cent increase in throughput, increased staff levels and allocation of duties, improved workflow, making better use of accommodation, extra interviews and improved lines of management and section objectives. I am very happy, Chairman, if you wish, to write to you setting out in more detail the actions that have been taken and I am glad you have raised it. I should also say, however, that I know from my own constituency experience that there has been a pattern of some really very difficult and contested settlement cases, particularly for marriage - it is best if I provide information in confidence to the Committee about those - and that has increased the level of scrutiny of some of the applications that have had to be made.

    Chairman

  83. Indeed, but we did hear about one case where a Chevening scholar wished to return for some form of reunion or graduation ceremony and in spite of her being accepted for Chevening was refused.
  84. (Mr Straw) Without going into the merits of that case, and I will happily look at it to find out exactly what happened because it obviously is of concern, Mr Macgregor?

    Ms Stuart

  85. You have not answered the Chevening point yet.
  86. (Mr Straw) No, Mr Macgregor is going to answer. I finished answering visas. I will write to the Committee about the detailed changes that have been made. I will write to the Committee, if it wishes, about some of the problems that have been encountered. If I am given some information about this Chevening scholar, in other words some identification, I would like to follow that up personally as well if it is unsatisfactory.

    Chairman

  87. I am obliged.
  88. (Mr Straw) Now Mr Macgregor is going to give an answer to Ms Stuart's questions about SOCRATES and Chevening.

  89. The spotlight is on you, Mr Macgregor.
  90. (Mr Macgregor) I shall try to be brief and straight. First of all, as you rightly point out, there was something of a general crisis on the matter of visas at the end of last year. That is acknowledged by us and we have done something about it. It is still not in a wholly satisfactory position but it is better than it was at the turn of the year. Obviously all visa applicants have been caught in this same situation. If the waiting time is, as it is now, around about 75 days that affects students as much as it affects anybody else. Although we try to make special routes for people who have specific dates they need to go on, it is actually quite difficult to run such a large operation on that basis. Secondly, in the year 2001 we had a very considerable increase in the number of refusals and refusals are usually on the basis of interviews and that whole process of refusing inevitably slows down, which is why we have posted new officers in order to try and do something about that. Perhaps it indicates that there has been something of a wave of what I would call opportunistic visa applications, perhaps in response to the economic crisis. In other words, students are affected like all visa applicants. In fact, the percentage of student applications refused is higher than for the rest of the applications. I will not try to interpret why that is but it is about three times the rate. With the help of the post we can perhaps seek to illuminate the background of the generality of cases to show why. On the question of Chevening scholars, which is quite different from all this, this is simply a hard choice we are having to make in straitened budgetary times between a variety of very worthy countries. In the area for which I am responsible, which is the whole of Europe including Turkey, we have to decide on Russia, which is obviously a very high priority, there is Central Europe, there are countries like Turkey. In the new allocation it is true that Turkey has considerably fewer than it had before. I am sure Ministers will be happy to receive the views of the Committee as to whether we have the right priorities. Perhaps we could let you see the various countries where we do have Chevening scholars in Europe and you can help us to make that rather hard judgment. Your point is taken that there is a limitless market for these. The SOCRATES point, am I correctly understanding it, that these are students who have SOCRATES grants through the EU to go to a British university and are caught up in visa queues?

    Ms Stuart: No. SOCRATES is only starting to become fully operational within Turkey, so I would expect when you go back and look at the reasons why you have half the Chevening Scholarships now I would not be surprised if the starting of SOCRATES may have been one of the reasons. The two are very much related. If our processing of visa applications is not improving, not only may we not be prepared for SOCRATES in the United Kingdom but even those we want to take will not come here but will go to other European countries and we will essentially miss a very valuable opportunity. Maybe you would want to write back to us and show the combination, the interrelation between the two, but also more to the point how you are preparing for SOCRATES so we can get the full evidence on that.

    Chairman

  91. Would you do that?
  92. (Mr Straw) Yes.

    Chairman: I am obliged.

    Sir John Stanley

  93. Foreign Secretary, after the months of tortuous negotiations with Turkey on its position on ESDP and access to NATO assets, the issue was finally resolved at the end of last year. I wonder whether you could share with the Committee your view as to what was the factor, or factors, which finally enabled the Turkish Government to bless the compromise solution?
  94. (Mr Straw) A degree of finality was achieved with Turkey in the Berlin-plus text. It is not an issue that is closed so far as the Government of Greece is concerned. I will ask Mr Ricketts, who was directly involved in the negotiations which were US-UK-Turkey, as you will recall, to offer his view about this. This is the $64,000 question. Why does a party to a negotiation finally decide to come to an agreement? Because they think it is in their interest. A lot of work was done in the room and behind the scenes as well, a good deal of reassurance offered to Turkey. It is my belief that our negotiators, Mr Ricketts and his colleagues, for the US Mr Bradtke, and Turkey, did a very good job between them and the text is one that protects Turkey's interests but also happens to protect Greece's interests as well and I hope very much that it is acceptable to the Government of Greece. Mr Ricketts?

    (Mr Ricketts) I agree with the Foreign Secretary, as always.

    (Mr Straw) Only ever in public I should say, as always.

    (Mr Ricketts) During the negotiation where Turkey did have concerns, they were explored and we were able to give reassurances within the scope of the Nice European Council conclusions which set out the EU position on participation by countries like Turkey. We had a lot of help from the United States who made it very clear that they attach a lot of importance to Turkey coming to an understanding with the EU which would allow Turkey to participate in EU-led military operations. I think in the end they took an overall judgment against the background of the reassurances and clarifications that they had that it was in Turkey's interest to take a positive view towards participation in ESDP on the terms set out. That was very welcome to us but there was nothing beyond what was discussed over the negotiating table, I think.

  95. Foreign Secretary, I thought the answer that you might be offering to me was bilateral US pressure on the Turkish Government.
  96. (Mr Straw) I am sorry that it was not. They came to their view is the answer. Obviously they made a strategic decision in the round. I think we are all aware of the sensitivities of both the Turks and the Greeks about this issue and I genuine believe, having got parts of the text, particularly paragraphs two and 12, embedded in my brain, that it is in the interests of Turkey, it is in the interests of Greece, it is in the interests of both NATO and the EU. Greece and Turkey and the US and the UK are allies who all subscribe to the NATO treaties.

  97. I am well aware of that.
  98. (Mr Straw) I know you are.

  99. And well aware that sometimes it has to be repeated to be believed when one sees what happens on the ground occasionally. Do you think it will be possible to have the Greeks on board on this issue without once again losing the Turks?
  100. (Mr Straw) I can only say I hope so. The discussions on this continue. Palpably, if there is to be a conclusion, a closure of this issue, we have to secure a situation where both the Turks and the Greeks are on board.

  101. It is a matter, you would agree, of the highest priority, both from an EU standpoint and a NATO standpoint, that this issue is resolved.
  102. (Mr Straw) Yes.

  103. Can you give the Committee any indication what steps the UK and US Governments are taking now to actually finally close it, so we can establish a proper working relationship between NATO and ESDP?
  104. (Mr Straw) Yes, it is of importance. I will ask Mr Ricketts to add some detail. We continue to discuss it and offer reassurance by turn to Turkey and then to Greece. I am sure it will be discussed in the margins at Barcelona.

    (Mr Ricketts) We have now made clear in our Laeken EU Council Declaration last December that the ESDP is able to take on some crisis management operations. That makes it all the more important and urgent, as you say, Sir John, that we get the right EU-NATO links in place. As the Foreign Secretary says, I am sure the issue will continue to be discussed around the Barcelona European Council this weekend.

  105. With urgency, I hope.
  106. (Mr Ricketts) Certainly.

    Chairman

  107. Foreign Secretary, a final question. Turkey applied to join what was then the European Economic Community some 40 years or so ago, it will be sometime before Turkey is clear as to whether it will be able to join the European Union, what are we able to do to keep the connection to ensure there is not a disillusion or a feeling within Turkey that they are being excluded?
  108. (Mr Straw) A lot. Develop the relationship, which is what we are seeking to do. This is not just soft-soap, but I think that visits by senior parliamentarians like yourselves are very important, and the fact that, reading the telegrams, you appeared to spend four days there, which is a lot of your time, in that the two visits were to population centres, is very important. By definition, in the time I have been doing this job, most countries in the world have not been able to visit at all, I have visited Turkey twice however and I regard the relationship we have with the Government of Turkey as very important. The closest one is the one I have with Ismail Cem, who is the Turkish Foreign Minister, but I also regard the relationships I have, we have, with Prime Minister Ecevit and the President as important as well. We need to continue to develop and underpin the diplomatic/political relationship. We also have to ensure there is a sense of momentum on negotiations with the EU and, something we have not discussed but which is of profound importance, ensure that the support which has been given successively to Turkey through the IMF for its economic reform and recovery is successful because there is in any country a direct linkage between people's sense of economic well-being, their willingness and ability to be involved in democracy and their readiness to look forward rather than backwards.

  109. That is very helpful. Thank you, Foreign Secretary and your colleagues, for your contributions.

(Mr Straw) Thank you.