HC Deb 27 February 2001 vol 363 cc706-7
7. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South)

If he will make a statement on the United Kingdom's bilateral relations with Turkey. [R] [149707]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz)

Turkey is a strong ally of the United Kingdom. It is a NATO member, and a potential European Union partner. Many companies in this country export to Turkey.

Mr. Chapman

Do not the devaluation of the lira and other events underline the need for Britain and other western nations to maintain a close dialogue with Turkey? If Turkey were to switch from secular, democratic and European paths and instead were to follow fundamentalist policies, would not Europe and the whole of the region be the losers?

Mr. Vaz

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work as Chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Turkey. He has developed a close relationship with a number of groups in Turkey. I assure him that we are concerned, as he and others are, about the state of the currency in Turkey, and we are monitoring the situation carefully. As he knows, last year at Helsinki, Turkey was given the status of a candidate country for admission to the European Union. It is considering its accession partnership, which was agreed on a political basis on 4 December last year. We shall ensure that that process continues, and shall give Turkey any assistance that we can. However, the fact remains that Turkey must meet the Copenhagen criteria on human rights issues. We are monitoring that carefully, and we shall continue to work with Turkey as an ally.

Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire)

The question refers to Britain's relations with Turkey. Does the Minister agree that our relations with Turkey will not improve until Turkey withdraws from northern Cyprus?

Mr. Vaz

Relations between Britain and Turkey are very good, and that will continue. The problem to which the hon. Gentleman referred is on-going. He will know that the Government's position is to support the talks taking place under the auspices of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. We urge all parties to be involved in those discussions. The hon. Gentleman will know that these matters cannot be solved overnight. These are sensitive decisions, and there must be careful discussion between all the parties. That will continue until we get a just and lasting solution to the problem.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

As relations with Turkey are so good, can the Minister tell us what pressure has been put on the Turkish Administration to persuade them to cease military activity against Kurdish people in Turkey and over the border in Iraq? What representations have British representatives in Ankara made about prison conditions in Turkey, the large number of people who have been on hunger strike in prison and the continuing violation of the human rights of Kurdish people throughout that country?

Mr. Vaz

I have spoken personally to the Turkish ambassador following an appeal by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) about the situation in Turkish prisons, which has caused concern. It is important that the Turkish Government address that concern, and the ambassador gave me assurance that he will raise the matter with Ankara so that there are improvements.

Mr. Corbyn

What about the bombing?

Mr. Vaz

My hon. Friend asks about the bombing. We have also made representations on a number of other issues and will continue to do so.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

Will the Government do what no British Government have ever done and express regret about the first great genocide of the 20th century—the massacre of the Armenians? No apology has ever been given, but the matter is topical as the French Government have done precisely that. They have suffered the consequences, I know, but they have done the right thing. If we do not express regret, the evil words of Hitler, "Who now remembers the Armenians?" will be borne out as true. Are the Government prepared to express such regret and to express regret at the fact that no Turkish Government have ever given the slightest apology for the first great genocide of the 20th century?

Mr. Vaz

The hon. Gentleman was in the House for the previous Foreign Office questions. I set out the policy then and it has not changed.

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