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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister met the Turkish Prime Minister, Mr. Yilmaz, for an hour of talks on 9th December. The discussions focused almost exclusively on Turkey's relationship with the European Union and the likely outcome of the Luxembourg European Council with regard to Turkey's application for membership of the EU.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, did the Prime Minister find out exactly what it was that Mr. Yilmaz objected to in the European strategy for Turkey, which was subsequently established by the Luxembourg Summit? Has the Minister noted Mr Yilmaz's statement yesterday that Turkey will withdraw its membership bid by 12th June if the EU does not change its position? Will the Government confirm that adherence to international obligations, including the UN Charter, the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN international covenant on civil and political rights, the Geneva conventions and all the OSCE instruments on human rights are essential pre-conditions for any country before entering into negotiations to join the European Union?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Prime Minister's discussions with Mr. Yilmaz concentrated on a number of concerns about democracy, human rights and relationships with Greece, as we would expect. In relation to the noble Lord's point about Mr. Yilmaz's possible position with regard to withdrawing an application, the Prime Minister has written to Mr. Yilmaz to commend the European Council outcome as a balanced but necessarily conditional approach. The Luxembourg Council recognised Turkey's eligibility for European Union membership, but Turkey's candidacy has to be considered against the same criteria as apply for all other applicants. Turkey's human rights progress is essential to that, and Turkey has a long way to go to reach European standards. However, the UK is committed to working with Turkey to tackle these problems and we shall be doing so during our presidency. We have offered practical assistance to help the Turks fully to meet their international obligations, but that will be within the context of what was agreed at Luxembourg.
Lord Rea: My Lords, could not the Government ask Turkey, as a first step and as a sign that it is moving in the right direction towards improving human rights, to free Leyla Zana and the three other members of parliament who are at present held in prison for what most human rights advocates throughout the world feel are inadequate reasons? As another indicator of
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have made a number of representations to the Turkish Government about the imprisonment of the Kurdish former Democracy Party members of parliament, including Leyla Zana. We have repeatedly stressed that the conviction of elected politicians for non-violent expression of their opinions can only damage Turkey's international standing. In addition, Her Majesty's Government have also made clear our views of the unacceptability of the ban on the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, travelling within Turkey.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her replies. Do the Government believe that the action taken by Turkey in northern Iraq last month was commensurate with any threat perceived by Turkey? If not, what lead are the Government taking to ensure that Iraq's territorial integrity is preserved?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we must accept that Turkey has a right legitimately to protect its borders, but we have made it clear to the Turks that we have concerns about the extent of its military involvement which we believe went beyond self-defence and was a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and Iraqi territorial integrity. My honourable friend Doug Henderson raised our concern about this issue with the Turkish Foreign Minister in Ankara on 13th October. That was followed by representations from the Chief of the Defence Staff and our embassy in Ankara to the Turkish military. However, we are pleased that a ceasefire was declared as of 26th November following, we believe, substantial pressure from ourselves and others. The next step will be to encourage the parties to resolve their differences through dialogue and reconciliation. We are working with the United States to bring the two parties together to the negotiating table.
Lord Monson: My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether Cyprus was discussed at the meeting and, if so, does she agree that under the terms of the Zurich treaties, which are binding in international law, there is no way in which Cyprus can join the European Union without the consent of Turkey?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I take it that the noble Lord is referring to the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of Turkey. I have already mentioned that Cyprus was discussed during that meeting. The terms for the accession of Cyprus will be discussed at a meeting to be held in March, which will involve the foreign ministers. The points which the noble Lord has raised will be dealt with in detail then.
Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare: My Lords, may I join the noble Lord, Lord Rea, in asking the Minister to continue to press the case of the four elected members of parliament who are in gaol at the moment?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that I have already made it clear to all Members of your Lordships' House that we are pressing the Turkish Government on what we believe to be the wrongful imprisonment of those members of parliament to whom the noble Lord refers. I have also stressed to the House that it is Her Majesty's Government's view that Turkey has a great way to go on a number of different human rights issues. That is why conditionality was attached to the Turkish request for membership. I suspect that that is why the Turkish Prime Minister has expressed the disappointment that he has, but it is also why we must continue to discuss with the Turks the ways in which they can improve their human rights position before any accession.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that some of us are delighted and feel refreshed by the views which have been expressed by the other side of the House since those of us who were involved in debates in Strasbourg on Turkey were never assisted by Conservative Members at that time?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that we are all delighted if the House is able to speak with one voice on this important question. I am extremely pleased that the Opposition have been so supportive on the issue.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the Minister also make representations to the Turkish authorities about the banning of Jonathan Sugden, the Amnesty researcher on Turkey, and on the need for greater transparency in admitting international human rights organisations to evaluate the human rights situation? Will the Minister also ask the Turkish Prime Minister as a matter of practical assistance whether Turkey will invite the OSCE to send a delegation to Ankara to see what help the OSCE might provide in solving the conflict in south-east Turkey, as it has assisted in conflicts everywhere else in the region?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the OSCE human dimension implementation meeting in Warsaw in November gave us the opportunity to examine how members states are implementing existing commitments. As I am sure the noble Lord is aware, there was widespread criticism at that time about Turkey's failure to honour a number of international commitments. Much of that criticism came from the United Kingdom Government. The United Kingdom Government will continue to press Turkey on all the issues where that is appropriate in terms of human rights and transparency in that country on human rights.
Lord Rowallan: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend the Mental Health Act 1983 to provide greater access to hospital accommodation for mentally ill people; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.