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Lord Avebury: My Lords, the Minister says that village clearances have virtually ceased. But does she appreciate that in 1998, according to the IHD--the foremost Turkish human rights organisation-- 30 villages were demolished? Does she agree that the Home Office figure of 500,000 people being displaced by these clearances, which was quoted in the assessment used by the Home Office for immigration and asylum purposes, does not stack up with the 3 million mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and endorsed by such British authorities as David McDowall? Is the displacement of these people who are now living in shanty towns outside Diyarbakir and in the slums of western Turkish cities the reason why the Turkish authorities did not invite the OSCE to monitor their recent elections, knowing that it would discover that all these people were disenfranchised?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope I have made clear in robust terms to the House the views of Her Majesty's Government on these village clearances. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury--as did the noble Lord, Lord Hylton--quoted the figure of 3 million. I am given to understand that the figure was some 500,000. I do not want to bandy figures with noble Lords. These are enormous numbers of people. This was a lamentable piece of policy. The recent rulings of the European Court of Human Rights confirmed that position and Her Majesty's Government have no hesitation in criticising that record. As I understand it, there was a considerable slow-down of village evacuations after 1996 and the current position is that the Turkish Government are encouraging those who were evacuated from the villages--that is, the Kurdish population--to return to those villages. We are doing our best to encourage them in that endeavour.
Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that many of us are encouraged by the robust terms in which she has replied to this Question? Indeed, we should like to congratulate the Government on the firm stand that they are taking. However, if NATO is to have increasing responsibility in making an effective stand for human rights in various parts of the world, does my noble friend
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I understand why there is an implicit suggestion--I put it no higher than that--in my noble friend's Question that there is an analogy, if I may put it that way, with the situation in Kosovo; namely--and I paraphrase what my noble friend said--that for one of our own allies to have been in this position does not bear a great deal of scrutiny. When looking at this Question I, too, raised that issue. But having looked at what has actually happened, I really do not believe that the comparison stands up. It is not sustainable to argue that the Turks have pursued what might be described as a "Serbian-style policy" of ethnic cleansing against the Kurds. They have not sought to expel ethnic Kurds, who are Turkish citizens, beyond their borders; nor has there been any attempt, since the clearances, to re-settle ethnic Turks into the villages which were evacuated. However, nothing in that detracts from the robust criticisms that Her Majesty's Government have made of these village clearances or our continuing criticisms of Turkey's record on human rights.
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister tell us what difference the exchanges in your Lordships' House this afternoon have made to the Government's attitude to Turkey's application to join the European Union?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government always listen with very great interest to the wisdom that your Lordships are able to bring to bear on a whole range of different issues. However, the Government have pursued the right policies in encouraging our friends in Turkey to improve their record on human rights. Her Majesty's Government do that not only through our contacts in relation to the European Union; indeed, we have also done so through a series of practical measures of help on human rights issues--for example, helping to establish an independent police complaints authority, a young lawyers' exchange scheme, and a pilot on citizens advice bureaux. We shall shortly be announcing a further package when my right honourable friend Miss Quin visits Turkey later this month. We listen; of course, we do. However, it is also important that noble Lords should be aware of the measures that are going forward to try to help Turkey improve.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the Highways Agency plays no part in the authorisation of abnormal loads. The movement of most such loads is authorised by the police, who can vary the date, time and route of the load. The movement of certain extremely large loads must be authorised by the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions. An operator who is lawfully using a vehicle to carry an abnormally wide load on a motorway will, in the absence of negligence on the part of the driver, not normally be liable to pay compensation to other users of the motorway.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for that reply. My Question arose after mine was one of probably about 5,000 cars which were delayed for an estimated two hours on the M.25 one Saturday morning. Can my noble friend tell me why the police do not require these vehicles to travel at night when the motorways are much less congested? Although the operator may not be paying compensation, I should point out that that is not the case with the railways. If you are delayed for two hours when travelling on the railways, you might even get some compensation. I suggest that that should, perhaps, be looked at.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I realise the apparent attraction of moving all abnormal loads at night. However, that would mean the concentration of a scarce police resource within the eight to 10 night-time hours. Very often routine and major motorway programmes, in terms of repair and rebuilding, are planned during night-time hours. Essentially, this has to be something within the discretion of the local chief constable.
Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that over 1.5 million movements of wide loads in England and Wales are noted by the police each year, and that 10 per cent of these require police escorts? Moreover, I gather that the cost involved must be borne by the police. Surely that cannot be right. What is the view of the Home Office on the matter?
Further, before my noble friend jumps up to the Dispatch Box to reply, can he tell us what are the Transport Association's views on night movements only? Has the association made representations to the Home Office? Similarly, has the Police Community Liaison Committee done likewise?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there is a vast number of abnormal load movements using the motorway network. Of course, these movements are necessary to enable manufacturing industry and other industrial sectors to carry out their work and thereby provide employment and produce profit. In response to my noble friend's specific question, I can tell him that we have put out a consultation document relating to proposals to introduce private escorts for abnormal loads on motorways. That document was produced in the latter part of last year. The report has been circulated
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, bearing in mind the unfortunate episode experienced by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is the Minister aware that the M.25 and the M.23 are essential for many travellers to Heathrow and Gatwick airports who have to take flights and travel some distances? Is he further aware that the kind of delay that his noble friend mentioned could have meant that a great many people missed their flights?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I sympathise with people in those circumstances. Indeed, speaking from recent, bitter personal experience, I am well aware of the delays on the M.25. Obviously, these are matters which chief constables must take into account. By and large, bearing in mind the general picture painted by my noble friend Lord Mason, I think that they do this remarkably well.
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