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Volume 774: debated on Tuesday 19 July 2016


My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall repeat as a Statement the response to an Urgent Question given in the other place by the right honourable Sir Alan Duncan MP on the developments in Turkey. The Statement is as follows:

“As Members on both sides of the House will have seen from events unfolding on their television screens, it became clear on Friday evening that a military uprising was under way in Turkey. In plain terms, it was an attempted coup, which we condemn unreservedly. This was ultimately unsuccessful, and constitutional order has been restored. However, 210 people have reportedly been killed, and some 1,400 injured. I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing our sympathies and condolences to the people of Turkey on this tragic loss of life.

Her Majesty’s Government have, of course, been closely engaged throughout the weekend. Foreign and Commonwealth Office consular staff worked tirelessly through Saturday and Sunday to support British nationals affected and they continue to do so. We have thankfully received no reports of British casualties. Our advice to British nationals remains to monitor local media reports and to follow FCO travel advice, including through our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister spoke to President Erdogan on Monday evening. She expressed her condolences for the loss of life and commended the bravery of the Turkish people. The Prime Minister underlined our support for Turkey’s Government and democratic institutions, stressing there was no place for the military in politics. The Prime Minister underlined the importance of our co-operation on counterterrorism, migration, regional security and defence.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was regularly updated by officials as events unfolded. He also visited the teams in the FCO’s crisis centre responding to Nice on Friday morning and then again for Turkey on Saturday morning. He spoke to his Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavusoglu, on Saturday to express our concern and our support for Turkey’s democratic Government and its democratic institutions; to urge calm; and to encourage all parties to work to restore democratic and constitutional order quickly and in an inclusive way. Her Majesty’s ambassador in Turkey has been in constant touch with his Turkish contacts. I spoke to him yesterday, in particular to express our concern for the welfare of embassy staff and plan to visit Ankara tomorrow.

The Foreign Secretary attended the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday and participated in a discussion of Turkey. There is a strong sense of common purpose between us and European partners. The Foreign Affairs Council has issued conclusions strongly condemning the coup attempt, welcoming the common position of the political parties in support of Turkey’s democracy, and stressing the importance for the rule of law prevailing and its rejection of the death penalty.

The Turkish Government now have the opportunity to build on the strong domestic support they gathered in response to the coup attempt. A measured and careful approach will sustain the unity of purpose which we have seen so far and which was so clearly evident on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara. The UK stands ready to assist Turkey to take forward the reforms to which it has committed itself and to help the democratically elected Government to restore order in a way that reflects and supports the rule of law”.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her appointment and welcome her to the Front Bench, and I thank her for repeating the Statement. I welcome the steps that the Government have taken and their communications to the Government of Turkey, and I certainly welcome Sir Alan Duncan’s intention to visit Ankara. However, what happens next to this vital ally, partner and friend is critical. Two million UK citizens enjoy holidaying in Turkey. Will the Minister ensure that clear and speedy advice is given on an ongoing basis to those individuals and families so that they can continue to enjoy their holidays in Turkey, which is so vital to the economy of that country? As to next steps, will the Minister also reassure the House that in the necessary, ongoing discussions and dialogue, the importance of upholding the rule of law and due process will be stressed? Specifically, will they make clear representations against the reintroduction of the death penalty?

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for his kind remarks. He has made three very important points. On the matter of the many British nationals who visit Turkey and, as he rightly identifies, are so important to the Turkish economy, there is advice available. The situation is calm. There remains the prospect of perhaps some further turbulence, but flights are returning to normal and travellers should follow the advice of both Turkey’s own local authorities, monitor travel advice, take advice from their own travel operators and, of course, continue to take advice from the FCO website.

On the issue of nationals currently in Turkey, common sense, I think, is the order of the day. Travellers should be alert to their surroundings and remain vigilant in crowded places that are popular with tourists. On the very important issue of respect for democracy and rule of law, I think the entire Chamber would echo the noble Lord’s sentiments. These are also sentiments that have been reaffirmed and re-impressed by both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Turkey, of course, is not just a valued partner of the UK; it is a NATO ally. In that sense, the rule of law is fundamental to parts of the NATO values agenda. So, in that respect, it is clear just how much this is prized and what importance the UK sets on it, and that importance has been conveyed to Turkey.

I also welcome the noble Baroness to her new post and wish her well, and thank her for repeating the Statement. It is clear that none of us can predict what will come next—which is the important factor. Just today, there have been reports that 14 navy ships, along with the admiral and commander of the Turkish Navy, have gone missing. Nobody seems to know what has happened. Every day there are purges of judges and other personnel across Turkey, which is destabilising the civilian population and bringing greater divisions.

The final line of the Statement said that:

“The UK stands ready to assist Turkey to take forward the reforms to which it has committed itself and to help the democratically elected Government”.

What does that involve? Would it involve, for example, working closer with our EU foreign affairs partners who have a greater relationship vested in Turkey because of the talks they have previously held on Syrian refugees and on visas? What can we do here to influence that and to promote greater democracy, bearing in mind that all the opposition parties, including the Kurdish HDP, came out and opposed the coup and showed support for the ruling AK Party and the President? How can we capitalise on that and promote greater democracy?

I thank the noble Baroness for her kind remarks. She raises an important point. Her question highlights that, at the end of the day, Turkey is a constitutional democracy. The United Kingdom respects that, as I said in my earlier response to the noble Lord, Lord Collins. There has been repeated reaffirmation of our expectation that democracy will be respected in Turkey and that the rule of law will be not just respected but applied. In the end, it is for the Turkish people to determine their system of government, but we would want to see any constitutional change carried out in line with democratic processes. As I say, that includes respect for the rule of law.

We have also strongly encouraged Turkey to continue to work towards the full protection of fundamental rights, especially in the areas of minority rights, freedom of religion and freedom of expression. As the noble Baroness indicated, both within the EU community and certainly in the UK, there is a strong desire to keep reaffirming and reasserting the importance of these issues and our expectation that Turkey will honour these matters.

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness on her appointment and I share the deep regret expressed by Her Majesty’s Government at the loss of life in Turkey. Is the Minister aware that on Saturday the three leaders of the main faith communities in Turkey—Jewish, Christian and Muslim—released a joint statement condemning the attempted coup and urging peace? Many religious minorities in Turkey opposed the coup. I welcome what the Minister has said about religious liberty, but what conversations are Her Majesty’s Government having with the Turkish Government to encourage them to resist using these events as an opportunity to curtail basic human rights and the right of freedom of religion and belief?

I thank the right reverend Prelate not only for his kind remarks but for raising an important issue. It is the case that at the forefront of all the diplomatic discourse and dialogue currently taking place not only between the UK and Turkey but also between other countries and Turkey, there is a desire to emphasise the need to protect these fundamental rights of freedom of religion and freedom of expression, and that will continue to be prominent in all the diplomatic discourse and exchange.

My Lords, is there a concern about who is expected to replace the many thousands who have been arrested in Turkey, who, on the face of it, should be neutral?

Again, clearly these are matters for Turkey itself and I think it would be wrong for us either to intrude upon or to encroach on that territory. These are matters which a democratic regime must determine.

I congratulate my noble friend on her new post and I wish her well. What is the Government’s attitude towards the President’s severe clampdown and, given that the right reverend Prelate has just mentioned fundamental rights, to what happened in June when thousands of people were arrested at the entrance to Taksim Gezi Park?

I thank my noble friend for her kind remarks. We strongly encourage Turkey to continue to work towards the full protection of fundamental rights. In relation to the specific issue she has raised, once again it implies the need for respect for democratic freedoms and the application of the rule of law.

My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Baroness on her appointment. I would ask her to draw a distinction between the rule of law and human rights. Law can be changed, as indeed Mr Erdogan has eloquently demonstrated in recent times. Human rights, on the other hand, are fundamental and some might say immutable. It is therefore essential that in our dealings with Turkey and the present Administration we should draw that distinction, and in particular emphasise the latter.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, for his kind remarks. He makes an important point and I am absolutely clear that in all our exchanges with Turkey, we in the United Kingdom will indeed be indicating our feelings on these issues.

My Lords, I want particularly to intervene to join in the thanks expressed to my good friend the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, on her well-merited promotion. Perhaps she could clarify the position on the death penalty, because from what she said I am not clear about it. We must make it absolutely clear that there must be no suggestion that the death penalty can be reintroduced. I say that as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The assembly would have grave concerns if there was any suggestion that the death penalty was to be reintroduced.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, for his kind remarks—or as Alex Salmond used to call him, Lord “Fookes”; I know that the noble Lord took great exception to that. He raises an important point and in fact I should apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, because that was the final part of his question which I omitted to answer. The suggestions that the death penalty may return are very worrying. The Foreign Secretary and other international leaders have emphasised the need for calm, but let me make it crystal clear that the UK policy on the death penalty is that we oppose it in all circumstances, and we shall reiterate that view.