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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have mentioned Objective 1 and defined it. Most of Wales is presently covered by Objectives 2 and 5(b). Objective 2 covers regions seriously affected by industrial decline and Objective 5(b) covers rural areas. The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, about internal comparisons are extremely valid. Those are considerations which I know my honourable friend Mr. Hain has very much in mind and which he has constantly pressed in appropriate quarters.

Turkey: Human Rights

3 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we have been working with the Turkish authorities, in particular following the entry into force of the Customs Union in January 1996, to secure significant improvements in Turkey's human rights record. We welcomed the announcement by the

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Turkish authorities in March 1997 of the reduction in detention lengths before charging detainees, and the Turkish government circular to police authorities of December 1997 reiterating that torture is prohibited by the Turkish constitution. We are monitoring progress on implementation. We nevertheless remain concerned at the continuing reports of torture, extra-judicial killings and "disappearances". Turkey still needs to make substantial progress in the field of human rights before meeting the standard criteria for EU membership.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I asked the noble Baroness whether there had been any improvement. She has pointed me in the direction of a statement that Turkey would reduce the incidence of torture. That statement has been made frequently in the past by Turkish presidents and prime ministers. Did not the European Commission's annual report on relations with Turkey state in March that there had been no substantial progress as regards human rights and the democratic reform process? Will the Government make it clear to the Turks, before handing over the presidency to the Austrians tomorrow, that the Luxembourg criteria for Turkey's entry into the accession process are not negotiable, and that Kurdish and Islamist parties, their leaders, newspapers and broadcasters, must be allowed to operate freely, particularly in the period leading up to the general election next April?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Luxembourg criteria remain, of that I can assure the noble Lord. Cardiff made clear that all countries pursuing candidature for EU membership, including Turkey, will be judged by the same criteria. Each should proceed at its own pace, depending on its own efforts. The noble Lord asked what has been done. As I have said, we welcomed the 4th December announcement of the Turkish Government about the treatment of detainees. Of course there is still a long way to go. We also welcome the lifting of the state of emergency in some of the eastern provinces. We look forward to early visits by the UN special rapporteur on torture and the UN working group on enforced or involuntary "disappearances" which the Turkish Government have already agreed, and about which we have spoken a number of times in your Lordships' House.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, in view of the fact that Cyprus is within the first group of candidate countries seeking accession to the European Union, will the Minister consider the possibility of inviting the authorities in the northern part of Cyprus to meet with authorities in the southern part of Cyprus to consider whether together they can reach some understanding about human rights in the island, which might be a first step to introducing Turkey to the necessary conditions of membership of the European Union?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we and others favour the accession to the EU of a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation from Cyprus. We believe that the UN process must stay on track. We look to Turkey and others concerned to support this. Mr. Clerides has offered

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some discussions to Mr. Denktash. They have not so far been taken up but they remain on the table and enjoy the support of the presidency.

Lord Monson: My Lords, when speaking of human rights, is the noble Baroness aware that within the past fortnight the Turkish Supreme Court has ruled that adultery should no longer be a crime for women? It has never been a crime for men. Does the Minister agree that this is a bold and commendable move, given that Islamic sentiments are still quite strong in Turkey, particularly in the rural areas?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, that is much to be welcomed. However, there are still a number of outstanding issues, as I have already rehearsed to your Lordships, such as extra-judicial killings and other such incidents. The Prime Minister spelt out clearly to Mr. Yilvmaz in December that one of the major obstacles to Turkey's relationship with the European Union is still its record on human rights. Although there has been some improvement in some limited areas, we still expect there to be further improvements.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, further to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is it not a condition of Turkish entry to the European Union that the illegal military regime in northern Cyprus should be dismantled and cancelled altogether?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not know whether that is a precondition. I shall write to the noble Lord with an answer to that question.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, given that Turkey refused to attend the European conference in March on the grounds that its remit was cosmetic and artificial, what assessment have the Government made of Turkey's threat that it will not stand by quietly and will withdraw its application to join the European Union if it is not included in the list of candidate states? Although the Minister said that Turkey would be judged by the same criteria, given that Turkey is a valued member of NATO, what assurances have the Government given Turkey that her candidacy for membership will be judged by the same objective criteria as any other country?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope I have made it clear that Turkey's application will be judged by the same objective criteria. In that respect Cardiff reiterated the Luxembourg position. I am glad that Turkey regards the Cardiff position as a step in the right direction, particularly the recognition of Turkey's candidature for EU membership and the EU's endorsement of the European strategy as a principal plank of the EU/Turkey relationship in the future. Her Majesty's Government believe that the top priority now must be for the Austrian presidency and the Commission to carry forward the work on the strategy in close consultation with the Turkish authorities. We hope that Turkey will attend the next European conference under the Austrian presidency.

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Fireworks Bill

Read a third time, and passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill

3.7 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

I am glad that many noble Lords with knowledge and experience of life in Northern Ireland are present and have put their names down to speak in the debate today. I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has sought the views of many noble Lords on matters relating to Northern Ireland and always welcomes the advice she has received. I, too, will listen to their contributions with care.

I am also glad that there are many noble Lords here today who have worked constructively for a political settlement in Northern Ireland. Such a settlement has been the objective of both this Government and the previous government. While in opposition we gave our full support to the previous government in their policies on Northern Ireland. I believe that that support was welcome and helped to establish the conditions in which political progress could be made. I would hope that the noble Lords who sit on the Opposition Benches would today give their support to this Bill which implements the Good Friday Agreement. It is an agreement which I know many in your Lordships' House support, and indeed some, such as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, through their support, helped to make it a reality.

The purpose of the Bill is to implement those parts of the Good Friday Agreement that relate to the release of prisoners. Under the agreement both governments gave a commitment to:


    "put in place mechanisms to provide for an accelerated programme for the release of prisoners, including transferred prisoners, convicted of scheduled offences in Northern Ireland or, in the case of those sentenced outside Northern Ireland, similar offences".
The reference is to page 25, paragraph 1 of the agreement.

I know that many noble Lords are uncomfortable with this legislation. I share that discomfort. Prisoners who meet the conditions set out under the Bill will be released from prison early, in some cases years ahead of their original release date.

Many people in Northern Ireland and Great Britain have suffered greatly at the hands of the terrorists, including some noble Lords who are here today. The security forces who have pursued the terrorists with vigour have also paid a high price over the years, in many cases with their lives. People have said that those who have committed such terrible crimes should not receive any special consideration at this time.

I acknowledge and have sympathy for that sentiment, but it cannot be allowed to determine the issue. The release of prisoners is part of the price to be paid for long-term peace in Northern Ireland. That prisoners

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would be part of the settlement was recognised in the negotiations that led to the conclusion of the Good Friday Agreement.

The people of Northern Ireland were asked to consider the agreement--


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