I welcome the adoption by Turkey of wide-ranging reforms to improve its human rights performance. I particularly welcome the release of Leyla Zana and three former Kurdish MPs pending their appeal and the first TV broadcasts in Kurdish last week. However, I deplore the imprisonment of the journalist Hakan Albayrak of Milli Gazete and hope that he will soon be released.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Is he aware of the campaign by Amnesty International to stop violence against women and the fact that the situation in Turkey is so bad that Amnesty has issued a country-specific report highlighting the fact that honour killings are widespread, lenient sentences for rape are common and that Turkish authorities rarely investigate complaints by women about rape or murder? Will he do all that he can to persuade the Turkish Government that it is in their best interest to make sure not only that international and regional treaties are ratified but that perpetrators are brought to justice so that violence against women is ended in that country?
I wrote to Amnesty congratulating it on that report, which I hope receives wide circulation in Turkey. The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to it, and it will play a prominent role in discussions in July between Turkey and the UK as part of our human rights dialogue.
My hon. Friend rightly points to the substantial improvement in Turkey's human rights record since the election of the present Government, but he also points out, rightly, that Turkey has some considerable way to go to conform to its existing commitments as a signatory to the convention on human rights of the Council of Europe. Will my hon. Friend make it clear that while human rights are certainly a measure by which Turkey's accession to the European Union will be judged, from Britain's point of view we want Turkey to be a member and one that conforms to proper EU standards, and that those from other partner countries in the EU who seem to wish to impose an arbitrary block on Turkey are heading in the wrong direction?
Quite so. Every human rights representative, lawyer or organisation with whom I have been in contact in Turkey has urged that Europe gives a positive response at the end of the year to Turkey's application to be considered as an EU member. They believe that that will be the second great modernisation of Turkey, after the Ataturk modernisation. They want to see European Union values, ideas and officials, and EU money being spent in Turkey to continue that process of modernisation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if a start date for negotiations is given in December, it will send a positive message that negotiations are to begin with a predominantly Muslim country, which will help us to define our concept of what Europe is?
I agree with my hon. Friend. May I, through you, Mr. Speaker, thank him for raising forcefully in Turkey last month the case of Leyla Zana and other human rights issues in the discussions with the Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul. My hon. Friend was treading in the footsteps of the Prime Minister, who has also made representations on human rights issues directly to the Turkish Government, and he is right, of course, that in our dialogue with the Islamic world, there is an enormous opportunity to see an Islamic democratic state with great problems—I accept that—that is seeking to move in the direction of Europe. The Mediterranean coastline of Turkey lies to the west of that EU member state, Cyprus. Istanbul is a cradle city of European civilisation. I hope all member states will support Turkey's ambitions, if it meets all the relevant criteria.
But is the Minister not concerned by the developing opposition of a number of leading European political parties to the eventual Turkish membership of the European Union? Does he agree that that trend has sadly more to do with populist domestic considerations than with concerns about Turkey's democratic or human rights record?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who is a great expert on Austria, where some of those symptoms manifest themselves. I urge all the Opposition parties, but principally the main Opposition party, to become actively involved in a pro-European way in the European People's party, to enter into a dialogue with the Conservative and Christian Democratic parties of Europe, to drop their ridiculous continuing obsessive hostility to Europe and to become pro-British and pro-Turkish by becoming pro-European.
I am tempted to ask whether that was the message that the Minister got on his pager earlier. Will he use what influence he has with his European colleagues to expedite the announcement of a starting date for the negotiations on accession for Turkey? Turkey is making welcome efforts to conform to the Copenhagen criteria. It has been immensely constructive recently in seeking to resolve the problems of Cyprus, and of course it has been a staunch ally for many years in NATO. Would Turkey not also bring great value to the European Union as a natural bridge between Europe and the Islamic world, as also having historic links with the middle east and having very strong relations with the state of Israel? Does the Minister agree that an early start to negotiations, however long they may take to complete, will give Turkey the encouragement it needs to make progress at this time?
It seems that since Sunday we are making distinct progress. Here is one aspect of European policy on which I can agree with every word the right hon. and learned Gentleman said. I pay sincere tribute to the statements of the shadow Europe Minister on Turkey. There is no division between the Front Benchers on this issue. I would simply say that the Conservatives could be strong advocates for Turkish membership if they were to be active players in Europe instead of being seen, as they are at the moment, to be permanently hostile to Britain's full engagement in the European Union, particularly under the forthcoming constitutional treaty.