Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Hylton: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he accept that autonomy might be more acceptable to the Kurdish people compared with integration?

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I hesitate before answering that definitively. Autonomy has many aspects. It can mean a lot or a little. It can be abused or made a positive force. Autonomy just written in and allowed to proceed on its way can lead to more dreadful rather than more friendly results.

8.20 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester for raising this timely question and for his highly informative description of the problems faced by religious minorities in the Ottoman Empire and modern day Turkey. This debate has demonstrated that the promotion and development of human rights in Turkey is an important issue for the UK, the European Union, and above all Turkey itself.

The right reverend Prelate began by asking what the Government and the European Union are doing to assist Turkey in its efforts to improve its internal human rights record. I shall move on to the role of the

25 Jul 2000 : Column 365

Government shortly. But, first, I shall say something about the role of the European Union in the process of reform.

Noble Lords will be aware that each year the European Commission issues a regular report on the progress of candidates towards fulfilling the membership criteria. In its 1999 report, the Commission highlighted serious shortcomings in Turkey's performance on human rights, minorities and the role of the military in civilian life. Although I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Roper, said, I assure him that Her Majesty's Government are robust when they consider those issues and give them due importance. Turkey's task now is to address the European Union's concerns in these areas. The European Union, as well as individual member states like the UK, will continue to offer assistance and advice to Turkey in these areas. But ultimately it is for Turkey to implement its own reforms. There is a lively debate on these issues in Turkey, and the government have publicly committed themselves to meeting the EU accession criteria. Perhaps I may say this to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. It certainly appears that the government are in control and addressing themselves to these issues.

The Copenhagen criteria have been rightly highlighted, most powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. As your Lordships know, all of the candidate countries will have to meet strict membership criteria. I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that no exception will be made for Turkey. At its meeting in Copenhagen in June 1993, the European Council agreed that,


    "Membership requires that the candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities".

At its meeting in Luxembourg in December 1997, the Council also made clear that,


    "Compliance with the Copenhagen political criteria is a prerequisite for the opening of any accession negotiations".

The confirmation of Turkey's candidate status agreed at the Helsinki European Council in December 1999 has given Turkey a clear incentive to bring its laws and practices into line with those of the European Union. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, was right to highlight the importance of those criteria and the importance of Turkey's acceptance of that challenge.

Your Lordships have identified many of the issues which Turkey will need to address in order to comply with those criteria and become eligible for EU accession. Examples have been given by the right reverend Prelate, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, all speaking from personal experience and knowledge. They spoke with passion. And they were right, if I may say so, to raise proper concerns.

I should like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Rea, and other noble Lords that we regularly raise our concerns with the Turkish authorities about torture, prison conditions, treatment of religious minorities and Kurds, restrictions on freedom of expression and the death penalty--an issue which perhaps was not

25 Jul 2000 : Column 366

highlighted today. These are key areas where we wish to see an improvement in Turkey's record. Our approach is one of constructive engagement at both bilateral and EU level. We believe that this is the most effective way of working to improve the human rights of the Turkish population as a whole.

The noble Lord, Lord Roper, raised the annual human rights report and the US State Department report. Many of the problems identified in the State Department report on Turkey are identified also in Her Majesty's Government's annual report on human rights, and the incidence of torture and restrictions on freedom of expression. I have already highlighted that these are matters of genuine concern.

To help Turkey address these issues, the European Union and its member states engage in regular dialogue with Turkey and provide financial assistance targeted among other areas at human rights reforms and the development of civil society. As a result of the decisions made at Helsinki, the EU has been able to resume a constructive dialogue across a wide range of issues. Thus in March of this year the European Union resumed political dialogue with Turkey, concentrating on human rights; and in April this year the EC-Turkey Association Council met for the first time in almost three years. At that meeting, both Turkey and the EU highlighted the importance of adopting reforms sufficient to meet the Copenhagen political criteria. This autumn the EU will draw up an accession partnership setting out reforms to be implemented by Turkey in the run-up to membership. And it agreed to establish a single framework for co-ordinating all sources of European Union pre-accession financial assistance. These developments are important in the context of Turkey's efforts to reform its human rights record. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, that the EU and the UK are vigorous in making sure that the reforms are a reality and not a piece of fiction.

Action on human rights issues will be an important part of the accession partnership's requirements. The funding which the European Union provides is also an important part of the effort to improve standards of human rights in Turkey. The European Union's latest funding proposal, for example, is currently awaiting approval by the European Parliament. It will provide 45 million euro per year for three years. Any projects that it funds will have to promote economic and social development in Turkey and help to promote the defence of human rights and respect for, and protection of, minorities. I welcome this positive and constructive engagement with reform in Turkey.

The noble Lord, Lord Roper, rightly raised the action being taken by the UK. I can assure noble Lords that we are actively engaged on a bilateral level with Turkey's reform process. Last July the then Minister of State for Europe, the right honourable Joyce Quin, announced a human rights package for Turkey worth £500,000. That is funded from the Human Rights Project Fund of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Seven projects have been implemented and are completed or nearing completion. Our focus reflects the concerns raised today. The projects include advice

25 Jul 2000 : Column 367

on prison management; training workshops; policing methods in line with international human rights law; an inter-agency approach to torture in order to increase awareness of legal rights; and a conference on the rule of law and training for non-governmental organisations and criminal justice lawyers in Turkey.

We have a number of issues of concern. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised another. I say to him that there is already an active debate in Turkey on reform of the National Security Council, including greater civilian representation. We have been encouraged by the recent removal of the military judge from the state security court. So change is occurring.

In response to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and his comment in relation to the charter of rights, it is hoped that highlighting and showcasing the existing rights in the European Union will highlight the common values of EU members. We hope that such a charter can make it more rather than less clear to Turkey the standards we wish her to uphold. As the noble Earl is aware, the charter is still at a very early drafting stage. It is important that these issues are clearly set out, debated and that our processes are transparent so that when Turkey seeks to join the EU she fully understands the challenges she has and must meet if she is to satisfy the Copenhagen criteria.

I warmly welcome the unity of vision expressed this evening from all Benches and the fact that all Benches have welcomed Turkey's application. Sensitivity has been shown by all noble Lords in relation to the challenges she faces. That was echoed poignantly by the noble Lord, Lord Howell.

We know the challenges that Turkey faces. She will need a great deal of help to meet them. But she is a partner. She has already demonstrated that she can be an important partner in many different fora. She is an important partner for the reasons precisely set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, making an important contribution as a large state addressed to the Islamic community.

Turkey is also a NATO ally which provided vital support in the Gulf and in the Kosovo crisis. She is a force for regional stability. She is a major market for EU exports. I do not accept the slant that the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, applied in relation to that issue. Turkey has some importance in that regard.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page