HL Deb 30 November 1995 vol 567 cc698-700

3.33 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the purpose and outcome of the discussions between the Prime Minister and the Turkish Prime Minister, Mrs. Tansu Ciller, on Wednesday, 22nd November.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the main issue discussed was the prospective customs union between Turkey and the European Union. The Prime Minister confirmed his support for it; Mrs. Ciller reiterated her commitment to continuing democratic reforms in Turkey.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does not taking a decision on the customs union now forgo our leverage over Turkey to encourage her to improve human rights? Does not the noble Baroness agree that that leverage is manifestly necessary? For example, tomorrow Yasar Kemal, the foremost writer in Turkey, comes before the State Security Court on charges which will carry a long sentence of imprisonment for an article that he wrote in Der Spiegel. Hundreds of cases are being brought before the European Commission on Human Rights, which is beginning to criticise the Turkish regime for intimidation and harassment of litigants and witnesses, including recently the murder of one of the litigants. Also at this time four of the Members of Parliament who support the Kurdish cause remain in prison for long sentences.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord's interest, involvement and concern in this issue are well known. However, the most effective way of helping to make progress on human rights in Turkey is to encourage closer ties between Turkey and the West. That is why we strongly support the completion on schedule of the customs union between Turkey and the European Union. It is part of the process of deepening the dialogue between Turkey and the western institutions. Some significant reforms have been passed by Turkey in the past six months. I know that they are not enough to please the noble Lord. But amendments to Article 8 of the anti-terror law last month have had early practical results: 123 people have been released from prison. More needs to be done. But it is taking steps in the right direction.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, the vote on the customs union between Turkey and the European Union is on the December agenda of the European Parliament. It has to be ratified by the European Parliament, as do any of the new member states. Are we making sure that all 87 of the British MEPs support our Government on this matter?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend is very tempting, but I do not believe that either members of our own party in the European Parliament, or indeed members from parties opposite, would ever take kindly to a whip from the Government on how they should vote in the European Parliament. As your Lordships know, they are a law unto themselves on many occasions. I shall do what I can to see that common sense prevails. However, rather like in another place, sometimes it does not do so in Strasbourg either.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be wrong to allow Turkey to join a customs union as long as a Turkish army continues to occupy Northern Cyprus?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord knows very well that we condemn unreservedly the Turkish incursions into Northern Cyprus. However, as I said in answer to the first question, we have to encourage closer ties. We have been working hard to make sure that Mrs. Ciller, who stated quite clearly that she intends to continue the process of democratisation, is encouraged to do so. What my right honourable friend the Prime Minister agreed with her was that Turkey could exercise a positive influence on Mr. Denktash, and that we are encouraging her to do.

Lord Rea

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware—she does not appear to be—that the practice of torture in interrogation centres and places of detention in Turkey is alive and well according to the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture in this country and its sister organisation, the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights? Should we not receive evidence from those organisations that that practice is ending before we admit Turkey into closer unity with the European Union?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, of course I am aware that torture takes place in Turkey and in far too many other places as well; and of course we deprecate it. But I have to say this to the noble Lord. I do not believe that postponement of this customs union is a viable solution. The people who would like to see Turkey separated from the West are the very people who are perpetrating some of the worst abuses in Turkey. That is why making co-operation with Turkey an important part of our policy towards getting rid of human rights abuses must be continued. Postponement is not a viable solution.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, if the customs union between Turkey and the European Union goes ahead, as perhaps it should, will the Minister tell the House how the Government intend to continue to put pressure on the Government of Turkey to make further improvements in their human rights record?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, by continually reminding them what the world and the European Union expect of them.