Turkey: Judicial Services - Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:30 am on 21st July 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 11:30 am, 21st July 2016

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have made any representations to the Government of Turkey regarding the recent detention and dismissal of personnel working for the judicial services.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we are aware of reports of the detention and dismissal of personnel working for the judicial services and the suspension of staff working in government departments in the education sector. While the full details remain unclear, the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and international counterparts have urged the need for calm. Due process must be followed and human rights respected. The Minister for Europe and the Americas is in Turkey today engaged in talks with the Turkish Government. We understand that he is the first western Foreign Minister from the international community to visit Turkey this week.

Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative

I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. The position of an opposition when you have a military coup is particularly difficult. The CHP, which is the successor party to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, has drawn attention to the fact that the judges are,

“one of the last remaining independent organs of the state”.

The mass dismissal of judges and of other public servants is extremely worrying because it is stripping away the last defence against authoritarianism. The imposition of emergency rule effectively allows the President to rule by decree. I hope that the Government can assure me that, in conjunction with our European allies—while we are still in the EU—we will make strong representations on the need to keep an independent judiciary. That is the only body to whom those who may well have been unfairly dismissed can at the moment apply to get their rights reinstated.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank my noble friend. He makes an important point. The backdrop to this, of course, is the state of emergency that has now been declared. But that has been declared under the constitutional provisions of Turkey, in which there are safeguards. On the specific issue of enacting the rule of law, of course retaining an independent and operating judiciary will require judges working to apply the due process of law. That is absolutely essential if we are to see the standards we wish to see upheld in Turkey. These are views that we hold very publicly in the United Kingdom and that we will be reflecting.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

My Lords, does not the speed and scale of the purge of judges suggest that there was a plan pre-existing the actual coup, which has now been put into effect? What does the Minister say about the possibility of the reimposition of the death penalty by the Turkish President, which will be in breach of Turkey’s obligations under the Council of Europe? That is well known to Turkey because its Foreign Minister was a former president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord makes an important point. It is not yet clear who was behind the coup attempt and it is unhelpful to speculate on that. However, in relation to the death penalty, I repeat what I said earlier this week in this Chamber. Suggestions that the death penalty may return are very worrying. The Foreign Secretary and other international leaders have emphasised the need for calm. Let me be utterly clear: UK policy on the death penalty is that we oppose it in all circumstances.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Chair, International Relations and Defence Committee, Chair, International Relations and Defence Committee

Will my noble friend first accept my good wishes on her new role and pass on to her colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, my good wishes that she has become Minister for the Commonwealth, which is assuming a central place in British foreign policy?

On Turkey, will the Minister accept that with all the difficulties that are happening there we need a stable Turkish ally, if only to cut off the one lifeline for ISIS as the allies gradually close in? This is a crucial moment to do that; we must cut off all ISIS linkages along the Turkish/Syrian border. Will she also accept that, although it may sound dim at the moment, for us in Britain the best hope is to work for a dialogue on reform with the present regime because we can be pretty sure that the alternative would be very much worse?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank my noble friend for his good wishes and I shall undertake to be an emissary and convey his good wishes to my colleague and noble friend Lady Anelay. He has made an important point about the position of Turkey. It is of course a NATO ally and a valued partner of the United Kingdom. He also rightly referred to Turkey’s invaluable contribution to the international campaign against Daesh, as a member of the global coalition committed to defeating it. I reassure him of the UK’s cognisance of the important contribution Turkey is making in that respect, and again that will be reflected in all our dialogue and discourse.

Photo of Baroness Hussein-Ece Baroness Hussein-Ece Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Equalities)

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the Turkish public are still reeling from the attempted coup and the implications that it has for them? I am grateful to her for outlining the matter. What consideration is being given to the many Turkish nationals over here on student and work visas, some of whom have contacted me because they are afraid of what might happen if they return to Turkey? Some of them may have been critical of the present Turkish Government. The community over here needs some reassurance that the British Government will have some contact with them.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I must apologise to the noble Baroness because I am not sure that I caught all of her question, but I think that she expressed concerns about Turkish nationals living here who may be returning to Turkey and the plight of other citizens of that country. We in the United Kingdom are very clear on this and have reasserted to the Turkish Government our insistence that we expect human rights to be observed, freedoms to be respected and the rule of law to be applied. This is a fluid and fast-moving situation, but it is very encouraging that the right honourable Minister for Europe and the Americas is in Turkey as we speak and is engaged with the Government. I am sure that the concerns felt by the noble Baroness will be prominent and to the forefront of the discussions taking place.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, because Turkey is our ally in terms of both NATO and the EU, a co-ordinated, positive response of engagement is vital because things are getting worse every day. What talks have been taking place with the Government of the United States as well as the Commissioner in the European Union to ensure that we make a fully co-ordinated response to Turkey?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble Lord for making the point. While I cannot give him any specific information, I can reassure him in a general context that all the western powers are cognisant of the situation in Turkey and clearly are being vigilant and alert to its implications. If he wishes for a more specific answer to his question, I shall write to him.