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Volume 773: debated on Monday 13 June 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the prospects for civil liberties and democratic governance in Turkey.

My Lords, Turkey is a democracy with multi-party elections whose Government have been democratically elected. In some areas, progress has been made on fundamental freedoms in recent years but, as the European Commission has highlighted, there has also been significant backsliding. As a friend and ally, we strongly encourage Turkey to continue work towards the full protection of all civil liberties, and will continue to do so.

Turkey is a much-valued member of NATO and a much-valued ally of this country. It is vital to any solution to the crisis in the eastern Mediterranean. Will the Minister join me in condemning as shameless and irresponsible lies Vote Leave’s assertion that Turkey is joining the EU, and that the EU is about to be flooded with Turkish criminals? Is not the best way of engaging Turkey on civil rights and democratic governance precisely through the EU membership negotiations?

My Lords, I certainly support the noble Lord in his wish to put the record straight, which he has done. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister made it clear yesterday that although we continue to support Turkey’s accession process, at its current rate of knots it is not going to achieve accession until the year 3000—and along the way every single other member of the European Union, which includes us at the moment, has the right of veto.

My Lords, can representations be made about the increasing authoritarianism we see in Ankara these days, in particular the threats to the HDP which arise from the recent lifting of parliamentary immunity? Can the Minister also confirm that things are not helped when it seems that confidential telegrams from our embassy in Ankara are leaked to the press? Will the Government review the level of security governing the telegrams going to and from Ankara?

My Lords, my noble friend is right to draw attention to the issue of lifting parliamentary immunity for MPs. I understand that President Erdogan signed that measure into law last week, and it is a matter of concern: after all, in any modern democracy a candidate for EU accession should be expected to undertake legal processes transparently and to fully respect the law. I hope they do so in these cases. Regarding leaks, in this particular case, of course, it was a selective leak. The fact is that if the rest of the material had been published—I do not encourage that because these are confidential matters—it would have shown that the Government’s policy is and will remain to maintain current visa requirements for all Turkish nationals wishing to visit the UK, regardless of what arrangements other member states in the Schengen area may make for Turkey. Diplomatic telegrams, by their very nature, are a way in which our experts overseas advise the Government here of what is happening in the Governments there—it is not about UK policy.

My Lords, does the Minister acknowledge that many of us who still support Turkish accession believe that the policies of the present Government in Turkey—particularly on press freedom, the treatment of their critics and the immunity of opposition Members of Parliament—have set the process back a long way and that that setback makes complete nonsense of this idea that Turkey might join in 2020?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. It is a matter of concern when one sees that Turkey is 151st out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index. That is not the sign of a country that is serious about wanting accession.

My Lords, following on from the last two questions, clearly, big decisions are being taken about Turkey’s relationship with the European Union, especially on the granting of visas. Are the British Government making representations to other member states saying that the granting of visas should not happen until things such as the lifting of immunity have been properly considered? It is outrageous that elected Members of Parliament are being hounded out of Parliament.

My Lords, we certainly make representations to Turkey on the importance of maintaining human rights, and point out that any attack on human rights sets back its progress towards any hope of access to the European Union, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, set out a moment ago.

My Lords, will my noble friend acknowledge the plight of many Turkish citizens who will find that the requirements of our conventions of human rights conflict in many ways with their ideal of how their society should be constructed and operated?

My Lords, it is important that any state that wishes to be a member of the European Union abides by generally accepted norms of human rights. That is something I fight for not only as a Minister but as a human being.

I have not met a single Turk who believes that they are going to be joining the EU in 2020—I do not think anyone in Turkey believes that. However, the progressives who want reform want the EU to support the accession process, in order that Turkey should reform. The Minister will be aware that only one chapter out of 36 has been completed since 1987. In 1979, on her second day as Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher was told in a memorandum:

“If Turkey abandons her Western orientation, a number of strongly adverse military consequences would follow for the West”.

Is that still the case?

My Lords, we certainly view the progress that Turkey can make if it opens chapters and successfully closes them as important for its progress not only towards becoming a member of the European Union, but as a stable state on the eastern edge of the European Union. Turkey is in a significant security position; it is a valued member of NATO and has the second-largest armed forces in NATO. The process of aiming towards European Union accession encourages democratic government and stability.