HC Deb 12 March 1984 vol 56 cc33-51

4.2 pm

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Until I was elected to the House last June, I had never been to Turkey. I was aware only of its enormous strategic importance as a country that straddles the divide between two continents. I was aware of the richness of its history and its culture and the staggering beauty of its countryside, landscape and coastline. I was aware also of the large number of Turkish people who are now my constituents who live in Islington and have a deep attachment to their former homeland.

Last summer, I had the privilege of visiting Turkey to see for my own eyes the country and its countryside and what is happening in terms of human rights and individual liberties. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) and I were profoundly shocked by what we saw. We talked to people who were on trial for crimes that in any western Europe country would not count as crimes. We talked to defendants and their lawyers. We talked to those who had been in prison and their families. We talked also to local and international journalists. What we saw and found did not make edifying learning or experience.

There was considerable evidence of widespread use of torture. I talked to three people who had been tortured by the military authorities. The accounts of conditions in the prisons, especially the military prisons, were deeply shocking. Democratic and trade union rights were frustrated. There was considerable and subtle press censorship. We witnessed the mass trial of DISK trade unionists, 78 of whom were on trial together. That trial was shocking and Kafkaesque. It was nothing more or less than a perversion of traditional British codes and mores of justice.

The trial is still going on. There are 78 defendants herded together in a converted gymnasium outside Istanbul. Soldiers patrol the courtroom. Two copies of the 700 page indictment are available to the 78 defendants. We saw that attempts to intervene during the proceedings to protest at inaccurate information were slapped down by the military judges who were presiding. The lawyer who began the defence was arrested and imprisoned on other charges two days after beginning the defence. The lawyer who succeeded him was subsequently arrested as well. If the lawyers' case in any of the mass trials still continuing is disliked by the military judges, those lawyers are dismissed by order of the court. We, and I hope the Government, would not dream of countenancing in this country what is occurring to justice and human rights in Turkey.

Since last summer, there has been an election in Turkey. That has been heralded by some Conservative Members as a return to democracy or, if they qualify their statement, as a major step on the way back to democracy. The so-called election was a major step of a kind. The election of Özal rather than the favored military candidate General Sunalp was an example of the Turkish people cocking a snook at the military regime which had ruled them until that time. That was a valid expression of some of the Turkish people's wishes in a partly democratic way.

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)

Does the fact that the party favoured by the junta did not win give some sign that the following elections were substantially fair? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Council of Europe has investigated and, on the whole, has given that election a clean bill of health?

Mr. Smith

The facts that General Sunalp received such a derisory and unexpectedly low vote and that Özal won the election is a sign that the people of Turkey have disliked the military regime, whatever their welcome to the military in 1980. It is not a sign that the elections were fair or fully democratic. The reason is that only three parties were permitted to fight that election, and 12 other political parties, which wished to fight the election and which in due time had submitted names of candidates and sponsors to the military regime, were prohibited from participating in the election. In this country, I do not believe we call a democratic process a contest between only those parties and only those candidates of which a military regime happens to approve. A fully democratic choice was not available to the people of Turkey.

Mr. John Corrie (Cunninghame, North)

Surely the hon. Gentleman is aware that only 4 percent. of the people destroyed their papers. If a large number of people had felt that it was not a democratic election, they could have destroyed their papers, but they chose to vote for one of the three parties.

Mr. Smith

They chose to vote for one of the parties because they believed that it was the most effective way of showing their distaste for military rule. By so doing, they did not give credence or justification to the limitation on the number of political parties able to stand. There was not just the prohibition of the 12 parties that wished to contest the election, but the banning of all political parties that had existed in Turkey until the coup in 1980, including the party founded by Ataturk.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge therefore that in the recent elections in Russia only one party put up candidates, and that of the 1,500 candidates who stood for election, 1,499 were elected and one died in the process? Does he equally condemn that?

Mr. Smith

Of course, and I have never sought to advocate Russia as an example of a democratic nation. It is not, and I condemn the fact that it is not. However, I should hope that the hon. Gentleman will also condemn the fact that the Turkish elections were not fully democratic, because it is clear that they were not.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Do we not have the right to criticise Turkey, especially because it happens to be a NATO ally? As NATO is supposed to exist to defend freedom and democracy, is it not ironical, or worse, that there is a NATO country in which there is no freedom and democracy?

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend has, of course, anticipated the part of my argument to which I shall come later. His point is extremely apt. The justification that we in the House and the country traditionally offer for our opposition to the Soviet system of Government is that it is not democratic. The point made by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) is exactly that. Our criticisms of the Soviet system of Government should surely be applied in an unabiased way around the world rather than just of those countries behind the iron curtain.

Quite apart from the fact that the election was not fully democratic and that the choice of parties was restricted, if we study the powers available to the Turkish Government today, we find that the military regime is still in overall control. If one studies the constitution and the powers that are available to the President, who is of course still a military man, to override the Parliament and the Prime Minister, one finds that they are still considerable. If one studies the eight regional centres of military government which have been set up within the past nine months, one finds that considerable powers are available to the military. If one studies the report of a visit by three members of the Motherland party which was arranged by the President of the Parliament, a member of Özal's own party, with the sanction and authority of the Prime Minister, to Diyarbakir military prison in the east of Turkey, one will discover that they were not permitted to visit the prison and that they were not received by the military commander. If that is an example of the degree of control which the supposedly democratically elected Turkish Government have over the operation of the military authorities, it is a sad day for those who wish to claim that democracy in Turkey is on its way back.

It seems that Özal is being given his head by the military authorities to deal with economic matters, but everything that relates to civil liberties and matters of security is kept entirely and firmly in the hands of the military who previously ruled in every respect. The abuse of human rights and individual liberty is still manifest and institutionalised even some three or four months after those elections.

The Turkish Peace Association trial decisions were reached on 14 November, one week after the elections that brought in Özal as Prime Minister. Of the Turkish Peace Association, 23 members were condemned to harsh and long prison sentences. Of those, 18 were sentenced to eight years' imprisonment followed by two years and eight months of internal exile. The other five were sentenced to five years' imprisonment, followed by 20 months of internal exile. Their only crime was that they had argued for peace and a nuclear-free future for Turkey. I am not aware, much as Conservative Members may disagree with such a view, that they have ever argued that people should be prevented from advocating such a policy. Those arrested, condemned and imprisoned include Dr. Mahmet Dickerden, former ambassador to India, who suffers badly from cancer, Dr. Erdal Atabek, head of the Turkish Medical Association, two former Members of Parliament, and Mr. Orhan Apaydin, the president of the Istanbul bar association. I do not believe that I shall ever forget meeting Mr. Apaydin in the bar association headquarters in Istanbul. He is frail and elderly, and one of the gentlest people that I have ever met. He and 20 other male prisoners condemned by the same trial verdict are all herded in one cell in Metris military prison outside Istanbul. He faces further trumped-up charges in another trial.

That should be indication enough that human rights have not yet been restored to Turkey. One should also consider what is happening in other prisons. Conditions in Turkish goals seem to be every bit as bad as they were before the election. Since 24 February 1,500 prisoners —a staggering number when one stops to think—have been on hunger strike in Mamak prison in Ankara protesting about the continuing use of torture.

There is substantial evidence that that hunger stike has spread to other prisons. Since January, there has been a major hunger strike in the Diyarbakir prison in the eastern part of Turkey, and seven people have so far died as a result. Those hunger strikes are in protest at the substantial and continued use of torture and the general conditions in the prisons.

The passion that lies behind such demonstrations and the severe pain and suffering that individuals are prepared to undergo should give us serious pause for thought when we consider the general human rights record of the supposedly new Turkish authorities.

The way in which the supposedly new Turkish Government are still responding and reacting to the Kurdish minority in the eastern part of Turkey, and the continuing mass trials of trade unionists, political opponents and the citizens of Fatsa in north Turkey, show us that justice, as we traditionally understand it, is not being administered.

Mr. Wiggin

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for interrupting his speech twice. Will he also address himself to the situation before September 1980, when about 20 people a day were being slaughtered in the streets? More than 5,250 people were killed in the two years before September 1980. How does the hon. Gentleman see that in the light of his speech? Will he compare the two situations?

Mr. Smith

If the hon. Gentleman believes that the only answer to completely unjustifiable activity and political violence on the streets is military dictatorship and repression, he is entitled to his opinion, but I beg leave to disagree. There is ample evidence that the violence that took place before the military coup was widely feared and disliked by the Turkish people, but there is also ample evidence that the Turkish people intitially welcomed the military regime. I would have disagreed with them at the time as I do not think that military regimes are an answer to such violence, but on the whole the Turkish people seemed to welcome that step in 1980.

From talking to many Turkish people, and in the light of the various expressions of dislike and distaste since 1980, I believe that it is also true that the Turkish people rapidly came to believe that the military regime was not operating in their interest. Certainly, by the election in November last year, it was clear that the people of Turkey did not welcome the activities and human rights record of the regime.

One can only go further than that and say that the suffering imposed on individuals and the denial of individual liberty in Turkey should never be justified by reference to any activity that may or may not have taken place before 1980. One must consider such matters against that background, but there is no justification for the denial and perversion of individual liberty. I hope that no hon. Member of the House will ever dream of trying to justify that.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Smith

I shall not because other hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate.

The conclusion that we must reach is that the democracy that has supposedly been returned to Turkey over the past three or four months is no democracy at all. The denial of individual liberty that is continuing —whether Conservative Members seek to justify it —cannot possibly be seen as defensible or justifiable.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)


Mr. Smith

Doubtless the hon. Gentleman is about to attempt to justify it.

Sir Bernard Braine

The hon. Gentleman should not be so impertinent. When he has been in the House a little longer, he will realise that in debate, when one gives way, one listens carefully to the point. No one in the Conservative party would justify the destruction of human rights anywhere in the world. I bitterly reject the suggestion that anyone in the Conservative party would do so.

I was rising to say that the hon. Gentleman should realise that the Turks are a proud nation. If they have had the courage to get rid of a military regime under which, no doubt, violations of human rights took place, they should be praised. If the steps that they have taken so far are, in the judgment of the hon. Gentleman, insufficient, that is his opinion, and he is entitled to say so. For most of his speech, he argued that proposition in a way from which I do not dissent. However, the hon. Gentleman must realise that Turkey has embarked on a democratic course and needs encouragement in that course. The course that he is advocating is not advanced by trying to pretend that there are hon. Members in the House who would justify the violation of human rights in Turkey or anywhere else.

Mr. Smith

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for saying that I thought that he would seek to justify the abuse of human rights. I suspect that some Conservative Members would seek to defend the actions of the present Turkish regime.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's point, I simply say that Turkey may have had an election, and it may have elected a party from among the previous military regime's selection of three that was not the regime's favorite party. Turkey may have elected that party and the leader of it as Prime Minister. However, that is as far as Turkey has advanced towards democracy, and no further. If one considers what is happening, in the prisons where people are being tortured, the actions towards the Kurdish minority, and the fact that the trials are being conducted in as outrageous a fashion as before, if one looks across the board at the record of human rights and individual liberty of this Turkish Government, one sees that it is every hit as bad as the record of the Turkish Government before November last year. That is the crucial point. To claim that fully fledged democracy has returned is both to misunderstand what has happened and to credit the new Turkish Government with more than they deserve.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

I have listened with great care to the hon. Gentleman. Does he say that in general the present Government are an improvement on the previous Government, and are more easy to influence in democratic ways?

Mr. Smith

I would not say so, because all the evidence is that that is not so. The international attempts that have been made to persuade the new Turkish Government to take a stronger stand on human rights and ameliorate some of the activities of the previous Government have all, apparently, failed. If one needs any evidence to the contrary, that the situation may be getting worse than it was, one has only to look at what has happened to the defendants in the Turkish Peace Association trial and what is happening now in the goals in Mamak and Diyarbakir. That gives the worrying impression that things may be deteriorating, far from getting better.

In the face of all that, what is the British Government's response to what has happened and is happening in Turkey? Where are the British Government's protests about human rights violations by a supposed ally? For example, in the Council of Europe, British Conservative Members of Parliament have not only failed to support moves to exclude Turkey from the council, but have taken the lead in trying to frustrate such moves by other European countries. Effectively, Britain is one of only two European nations that offer open and strong support for the Turkish Government. Defence arrangements are progressing, and the Secretary of State for Defence has visited Turkey to improve relations between our two countries. Although the Foreign Office will say in private briefings that it has words of concern and disquiet to say to the Turkish Government, in public it is openly supportive of the regime.

I give credit to the Government for one thing—the strong stand that they have taken on the Denktash, declaration in Cyprus and the pressure that they have openly brought to bear on Turkey about that. On progress towards democracy and human rights in Turkey, however, I fear that the British Government have been far too complacent and silent. The contrast between the outcry that the Government have continually and rightly made about the denial of trade union rights and the treatment of Lech Walesa in Poland and their complete silence or the subject of trade union rights in Turkey and the treatment of Basturk, general secretary of DISK, is eloquent testimony to that. To my mind, the British Government have given credence and support to the human rights record of Turkey through their public silence on the issue.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

The hon. Gentleman should not make wild suggestions. The British Government have not supported the denial of human rights in Turkey, but Conservatives are more indulgent towards a country that has come out of a period of ferocious civil war and is now trying to re-establish democracy. Democracy and civil rights are rare commodities in the modern world and countries trying to establish them require help and support. In two weeks' time, regional and municipal elections are due in Turkey in which all parties will participate. I should have hoped that the Opposition would give Turkey the help and support that it needs to re-establish democracy rather than constantly carping and criticising.

Mr. Smith

I am perfectly prepared to give help and support to those who are genuinely seeking to establish democracy and protect individual liberty. I hope that Conservative Members are, too. At the moment, however, there is little evidence that the Turkish Government are able, because in these matters they are still under the control of the military, to set about the re-establishment of individual liberty and human rights in a meaningful way, especially as it affects anyone who disagrees with the military and what they have done. The British Government must bear responsibility for being so silent on these matters and for not having condemned as vociferously as possible the abuses of human rights in Turkey.

Government spokesmen have argued that Turkey is of crucial strategic importance as a bulwark at the frontier of the NATO Alliance and must therefore be supported. The NATO Alliance supposedly exists to defend freedom and democracy. It is ironic indeed that in order to defend that Alliance we are expected to support a nation that for four years has consistently abjured and abused those very principles. It is twisted logic to suggest that because Turkey is so important strategically for NATO we must tolerate and condone that which we, would not tolerate or condone in countries whose regimes we despise or disagree with because they are on the other side of an ideological divide.

I believe that liberty and human rights are indivisible and that we must protest at their denial wherever it occurs. It is doubly important that we speak out and do not remain complacently silent in countries where we have an influence, especially in a country which is a member of NATO, an associate member of the EEC and still—thanks to the efforts of Conservative Members — a member of the Council of Europe and which owes allegiance to the European declaration of human rights.

It is important also that we speak out because individual people in Turkey are supposed to be protected by the same network of alliances and treaties that supposedly protect our own liberty. For that reason, we must do all that we can to protect the liberties of the Turkish people. That does not mean sitting idly and silently by, acquiescing in the intolerable. I charge the Government with having done just that for the past three years and with continuing to do so. I urge them to speak out much more forcefully and credibly than they have so far on the abuse of human rights and individual liberties that is still taking place in Turkey. I hope that today's debate will give them the opportunity to do so.

4.37 pm
Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

It was a revelation to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). He entirely ignored the enormous difficulties that the Republic of Turkey has been through in the past few years and then made accusations about Conservative Members because we support Turkey's efforts to reintroduce democracy. It is extraordinary that he made no reference to the fact that before September 1980 20 to 30 people per day were being killed in Turkey due to terrorist activity by extreme Left-wing and Right-wing organisations throughout the country. The democratic institutions and the very fabric of the republic were under threat and it was rapidly descending toward not just civil war but the complete breakdown of that country withing the NATO Alliance. To ignore that and to make wild allegations and sweeping generalisations about Turkey today and about Conservative Members is not just naive but extremely dangerous.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

In his apology for the Turkish junta, will the hon. Gentleman tell the House how many people have been executed since General Even came to power and how many more are on death row?

Mr. Hickmet

People in Turkey today can walk the streets freely, in security and safety, without danger of being shot or murdered by extreme Righ-wing or Left-wing groups.

Turkey is one of the most important nations within NATO. It is one of our most important allies, and our relations with it are of paramount importance. Its strategic importance cannot be over-emphasised. It has borders with Bulgaria, the Soviet Union, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Greece. The route from the Black sea for Soviet vessels lies through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. Turkey is the West's south-eastern frontier with the Soviet Union. Without Turkey there is no NATO.

Mr. Allan Roberts

The hon. Gentleman is using exactly the same argument as was used by some Conservative Members before the second world war. They thought that Fascism would be the best bulwark against Communism. The hon. Gentleman is now justifying a Fascist regime in Turkey on the ground that it provides a bulwark against Communism. That shows the hon. Gentleman's real position. He is concerned not to defend freedom and democracy, but at all costs to prevent anything Left-wing from happening in the world.

Mr. Hickmet

That statement is of such naivety that I find it difficult to answer. I am trying to demonstrate the importance of Turkey to the freedom of the West. It is important for us to encourage and foster the promotion of democracy in the Republic of Turkey.

I invite the House to examine a map of the region. The Soviet Union has already occupied Afghanistan. Between Russia and the Indian ocean, which has been its goal for the past 200 years, lies Iran or Pakistan. At present, Iran and Iraq — Turkey's immediate neighbors — are pursuing a war of such ferocity and on such a scale that civilised nations, including Turkey, are aghast. The consequences of outright victory for either side would be grave.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hickmet

The Soviet Union is waiting in the wings to move into Iran from Azerbaydzhan if an opportunity should present itself. NATO would then have to ask itself whether it should take any action. Are Labour Members aware that it would be from Turkey that NATO would have to take action?

Ms. Short

Has the hon. Gentleman not read the smuggled-out letter which Mr. Demirel admits to having written when he was in detention until recently? Mr. Demirel said that, although Turkey has in the past been loyal to NATO, it cannot be assumed that it always will be, and that if the West will not support the Turkish people to achieve human rights and democracy they will not look to NATO. That was written by a Right-wing ex-Prime Minister who was willing to ally himself with Fascist parties in Turkey. Does the hon. Gentleman not understand the danger to NATO's position of having no standard for human rights or democracy for the people of Turkey?

Mr. Hickmet

Again, I am staggered by the naivety of that question. I remind the hon. Lady that when Mr. Ecevit and Mr. Demirel had charge of that country, it slid towards civil war. Of course, they will try to justify the status quo before the military intervened in a bloodless coup d'etat to save the country from anarchy.

The collapse of Iraq will widen the conflict in the region, and involve the Gulf states, Syria and probably even Saudi Arabia. Within that framework, Turkey is the most stable country in the region. It is also the only Moslem country in NATO. It has a new and democratically-elected Government who support a constitution endorsed by over 90 per cent. of the population. I remind Labour Members who refer to the Council of Europe and Turkey's not being ejected therefrom that those elections were recognised by the Council of Europe as being fair.

Viscount Cranborne Dorset, South)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the party that won the elections was not the party that was generally thought to be supported by the generals?

Mr. Hickmet

It is true that the election was won by the party led by the present Prime Minister, Mr. Özal, and that the party supported by the junta came last. That, surely, was a true expression of the democratic process.

Despite Turkey's strategic importance, there has been a move by the International Left — of which Labour Members are such prime examples—to isolate Turkey from Europe. We should do all in our power to welcome Turkey's return to democracy and to encourage the continuation and expansion of democracy there.

I hope that the British Government are aware of the grave consequences not only for Western security, but for the security of the people of Great Britain, if Turkey should withdraw from NATO. Turkey has stated that if its delegates are not allowed to take their places in the Council of Europe, it will withdraw from the Council. Far more seriously, it has stated that it will also withdraw from NATO. Those who believe that Turkey has no alternative but to remain in NATO should be disabused of that notion. As recently as 1980, powerful forces were at work in Turkey. They wished to see that country non-aligned—or even aligned with the Soviet Union. The bloodless coup d'etat of 1980 took place because of the breakdown of the multi-party democracy, under threat from extremist elements.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury has visited Turkey only once. I have visited Turkey nearly every year since my 10th birthday. People there are glad to be free and alive and to know that the country is being run fairly and properly. I ask the Government to ensure that Turkey's delegates are accepted in the Council of Europe at its next meeting in May so that Turkeys return to democracy can be encouraged and the extremists discouraged.

Turkey has its problems—we all accept that it can be criticised—but it is trying to put its house in order. There has been institutionalised abuse of what we would describe as human rights, but Turkey is trying to put that right. Those who talk about prisoners of conscience, the DISK trial and the Peace Movement should realise that people were prosecuted because of the actions that they took — in the view of the Turkish authorities — to undermine the state.

Anglo-Turkish relations cover matters wider than the internal problems of Turkey. Britain must use its good offices to defuse the explosive situation between Greece and Turkey. To the Turks, the rejection of their application by the Council of Europe is an earnest of the West's intention. The Turks are also influenced by Western attitudes towards the disputes in the Aegean and over Cyprus. Should Greece seek to extend its territorial waters around the 3,000 or more Greek islands in the Aegean from the present six miles, Turkey has said that it will treat that as a casus belli. Such a declaration, which the Greek Government have sought to justify, would ignore the rights of riparian states, provided for under the law of the sea.

Sir Bernard Braine

Nothing in Europe at the moment is more delicate than the relations between Greece and Turkey, both of which are friends and allies of the United Kingdom and essential to our defence. When two proud nations have had—and still have—misunderstandings, I hope that my hon. Friend will not, in his defence of what is happening in Turkey, seek to criticise Greece in any way. I hope my hon. Friend agrees that those two countries will not happily accept arbitration or pressure from outside, but must come together to solve their own problems and, in doing so, strengthen their relations with us. In defending Turkey, I hope that my hon. Friend will not criticise Greece. Somehow or other the friends of both countries must exercise patience, tolerance and understanding.

Mr. Hickmet

I hear what my hon. Friend says. He has a wealth of experience in these matters, which I am bound to respect.

The relations between Greece and Turkey are extremely dangerous for NATO and the Western Alliance. It behoves Britain, because of our special status as an ally of Turkey in NATO and as a partner of Greece in the European Community, to use our good offices to improve relations between the two countries. If we do not, there is a real danger that one or other country will withdraw from NATO.

We know that, just as Greece has established military forces in some of the Aegean islands, Turkey has established an Aegean army based at Izmir. That is dangerous and could lead to conflict unless we are careful. Diplomacy is not an art or an end in itself, but it has a purpose. The British Government are uniquely placed to use their good offices and diplomacy to promote peace and friendship between Turkey and Greece. I urge Britain and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to use aggressive diplomacy to defuse the explosive situation.

Dr. Glyn

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that Britain has agreed that there should be a conference between the protective powers. Does he agree that that could be one of the first stages towards agreement?

Mr. Hickmet

It is true that the British and Turkish Governments recognise that the resolution of the problem in Cyprus depends on the inter-communal talks. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, in his winding-up speech, will say that the British Government will use their best endeavours to ensure that a resolution of that dispute evolves from the inter-communal talks.

Of course, those who are versed in the yah-boo politics that are practised in inner London councils will try to criticise the Republic of Turkey, but not the Soviet Union. However, Diyarbakir is not Islington, South and Finsbury and eastern Turkey is not north Kensington. Turkey is an underdeveloped country that is progressing towards democracy and freedom under the law. We should do all within our power to help and foster that process.

4.53 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

The House has been treated to a disgraceful series of apologies for the violations of human rights in Turkey. It is offensive to have to listen to the mealy-mouthed hypocrisy that we have just heard from hon. Members who have tried to defend——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly on this subject, but he must not use phrases such as that. I am sure that he can find a phrase that is within the normal conventions of the House. Will he please withdraw the phrase?

Mr. Corbyn

The normal conventions of the House force me to say "mealy-mouthed double standards" that Conservative Members are trying to apply to human rights in Turkey.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I know that the hon. Gentlman is trying to take my point, but that phrase will not do either.

Mr. Corbyn

It is difficult to know what phrase would be suitable on this occasion. Perhaps I might stick to the basic point that Conservative Members have tried to apologise for the actions of the Turkish Government. Those of us who are involved in politics in inner-city areas should not have to apologise for such activities or for the fact that the councils in the areas that we represent have tried to declare solidarity with people who suffer the effects of abuses of human rights in Turkey.

I had the privilege of visiting Turkey last September, some time after my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). I was able to see at first hand the conditions under which trials took place. I also heard at first hand of the terrible tortures that are being perpetrated against people who are held in Turkish prisons.

The basic point on which Conservative Members have been lecturing us is that the Turkish Government have good democratic credentials and are set on a path of freedom and greater democracy. I entirely reject that argument. I remind Conservative Members that, since the coup by which the military Government took over, there have been two fraudulent elections. The first was a plebiscite on the introduction of the new constitution. Before the vote, no one was allowed to criticise or campaign against the constitution. Propaganda in support of it was the only permitted propaganda. Moreover, there was a compulsory ballot, which many people did not regard as secret. In those circumstances, it is not surprising that the Government got a majority.

Conservative Members have also mentioned the 1983 elections and claimed that they were free and democratic. I draw their attention to a statement that several Labour Members made in The Times the day before those elections were held. We said—and we stand by what we said: The Turkish military regime, under the leadership of former General Kenan Evren, has vetoed 12 of the 15 parties, which wished to take part in these elections. It has also vetoed 40 per cent. of the candidates of the three parties permitted to participate. Of the 483 independent would-be candidates only 55 received the military's permission to stand. Notably, none of these are from the Kurdish areas. Moreover, all former democratically elected MPs and leaders of political parties have been banned for five to 10 years, not just from participating in these elections, but from taking part in any political activities. Nobody refuted the statements that we made then and no Conservative Members are trying to refute them now. It would therefore appear that the argument that the elections have been free is fallacious. There are no free elections in Turkey. Political control rests with the military junta, as it has ever since the coup, and the junta has no plans to change that. The elections were between several Right-wing parties which differed little on any policy. That is what we face, and if Conservative Members want to apologise for it that says far more about them than anything else.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Conservative Members are not claiming that the elections were perfect, free and fair, and we criticise abuses of human rights where they occur, but we are saying that the elections were a great deal better than no elections and that three parties are a great deal better than no parties. Could the hon. Gentleman be a litte more positive in his criticism and stop abusing and criticising mythical statements by Conservative Members?

Mr. Corbyn

It is not possible to change my line of criticsm of what Conservative Members have said, because the basis of their argument is that there have been free elections in Turkey and that it is moving towards democracy. There were not, and it is not. I do not see how we can call Turkey a free country that is moving down a path towards democracy when it has so many political prisoners and people on trial for political offences, and when so many people have been executed since the junta came to power.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury mentioned the trials that are now taking place. I spent a day witnessing one of them. The defendants were accused of membership of an organisation called Dev-yol and the trial took place in an enormous courtroom in Ankara. Several hundred accused were lined up together on benches, and an armed military guard changed every 20 minutes. Two lawyers represented all those people and a panel of high-ranking military officers sat in judgment. One by one the accused were brought forward and asked whether they stood by statements they had made or whether they wished to retract them. In virtually every case they said that if they had made a statement admitting guilt, it was made under torture or duress. The trial went on and on for days and days and continued for several more months.

It struck me that most of the people on trial were very young and that all of them had been held since the coup without charge until last summer. They had been held for several years in bad prison conditions, many had been beaten up and tortured, they had been denied proper legal representation and then been brought to trial. Is that the sort of democracy with which we wish to be associated? Is that the sort of democratic institution which we wish to applaud and describe as moving down a road to democracy? If hon. Members had seen such trials, they would have been shocked and appalled at the conditions under which they took place.

Since the junta came to power there have been about 1,000 executions. Is that a country that is moving down a democratic road? Should we be applauding and supporting it? Many more executions are due and many more people will be condemned.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ray Whitney)

I am reluctant to delay the hon. Gentleman further, but I am advised that, at most, 50 executions have taken place, not 1,000. Will the hon. Gentleman advise the House from where he obtained his information?

Mr. Corbyn

I quote from information made available to organisations that are working to defend political prisoners in Europe. The information is freely available in Europe from sources within Turkey. The number is their estimation. If the Minister and Conservative Members choose to believe the Turkish Government, it is up to them. The figures they quote are far below the number of deaths, and far below the number of people threatened with execution and charged at present.

The organisation Turkey News and Views, which reports events in Turkey, estimates that 200,000 people are in gaol at present, 45,000 of whom are said to be political prisoners. Those figures were quoted in the United States Senate. Conditions in the prisons are appalling. If the Government were seriously concerned about the position in Turkey and in the countries with which it has relations, they would have protested about those prison conditions and the way in which the trials are conducted.

I hope the House recognises that Turkish people throughout Europe feel strongly threatened by the situation in Turkey. In most cases they are guest workers in European countries and, therefore, regularly face the possibility of deportation to Turkey if no work is available — depending on the law of the country concerned. Many of them would be at great risk as soon as they left the aeroplane, if they were deported to Turkey. When the Minister replies to the debate it would be helpful if he would tell the House about the Government's attitude to applications for political refugee status from political exiles from Turkey and what action the Government are taking to ensure that people do not get deported to Turkey.

The Government should tell the House their attitude about a further two specific areas of policy. The first is the sale of arms to Turkey. Britain has had arms deals with Turkey, and we may well have more in the future. When arms are sold to a country, British Government policy requires that an undertaking is given that the arms will not be used for external aggression or internal repression, but will be used as part of the country's defence network. Will the Minister assure the House that arms sold to Turkey in future will not be used in the war in Kurdistan, or against political dissidents who do not fit in with the political system? I should have thought that the British Government would not wish to sell arms to a country that would use them against its own people. At present, there is a major war in Kurdistan. Will the Minister assure us that no British arms are being sent to the Government side in that war to murder Kurds?

The second area concerns Cyprus. Earlier in the debate hon. Members mentioned the inter-communal talks that have been taking place in Cyprus. Clearly, what happens in Turkey and the attitude of the Turkish junta to Cyprus is important to those negotiations. Under the 1960 treaty that guaranteed independence for Cyprus, the British Government have a role to play in preserving the integrity and independence of Cyprus from invasion and foreign aggression. The Turkish Government have played no part in that, but they promoted the invasion in 1974 and have now recognised the bogus state of UDI of northern Cyprus. What serious efforts are the Government making to ensure the withdrawal of foreign troops from Cyprus? What pressure are they putting on the Turkish junta to achieve that? The House has debated the terrible circumstances in Cyprus on a number of occasions, and we should continue to debate the issue. An answer from the Government is urgently needed.

While we speak, people are dying in prisons in Turkey because of mass hunger strikes. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said that hundreds of prisoners are reported to be on hunger strike in Diyarbakir prison, many of whom are Kurdish and have been on hunger strike for 53 days. Seven prisoners have already died, according to official reports, and I believe that many others are likely to die in the near future unless something is done about them. If the British Government are serious about their relations with a country which they claim is moving down a path to democracy, what are they doing about the many violations of human rights there?

I should have thought that in reply to this brief debate about Turkey the Government might say that, because of the violation of human rights and the aggression of the Turkish junta against the Kurdish people and those who do not fit in with its political system, all arms sales to Turkey will be stopped until the political prisoners are released, that they will oppose the continued membership of the Council of Europe by Turkey because it denies human rights to its citizens, and that they will oppose its membership of the European Community.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

The hon. Gentleman has spoken at length about human rights. Is he aware that figures accepted after official studies by the Council of Europe show that before the suspension of democracy three years ago 2,000 people a year were being murdered, because of the chaos before the military temporarily took over? Is not the most important human right the right to stay alive?

Mr. Corbyn

The hon. Gentleman says, "before the military temporarily took over." There is no sign that the military are planning to leave power in Turkey. The job of the British Government is to start campaigns for an end to the violations of human rights in Turkey, to end arms sales to Turkey, to stop apologising for the regime and to stop bolstering its image abroad in the way that they have. If they value Turkey as a member of NATO, as they do, should they not at least condemn the present violations and show some concern about its overflowing gaols? Indeed, the only economic development in Turkey is the building of new prisons.

The House deserves an answer from the Minister on all those points.

5.9 pm

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

The Turks are a brave people. Turkey is a key member of NATO, and is strategically sited between the middle east and Europe on the southern borders of the Soviet Union. The dilemma to which hon. Members have drawn attention is the weight, in terms of British foreign policy assessment, to be attached, first, to those strategic considerations and, secondly, to the human rights violations which are very evident. Following the referendum and the elections in November last year, how will Britain react to the new overtures by the Turkish Government to normalise their relations with the West, especially their bilateral relations with several countries, and their relations with the Council of Europe and the European Community?

Our general criticism of the Government is that they are ever ready to give excessive weight to the security consideration, and to give to the Turks the benefit of every doubt on human rights violations. We note especially that the Government have refused to back those countries which in July 1982 referred human rights violations by Turkey to the European Commission of Human Rights. The Government have opposed the removal of Turkey's vote in the Council of Europe, and welcomed without reservation the flawed and authoritarian constitution of November 1982 and the elections of November 1983. There was clear evidence of intimidation during the referendum, and there are repressive features, including the ban on political activity by trade unions, and the press censorship that was buttressed by the new press law introduced at the end of last year.

In the elections, which were so lauded by Conservative Members, the parties and candidates were vetted, and older politicians were banned from political activity for several years. At first sight, the fact of the elections after three years of military rule is a positive development in what has been the most repressive regime in the Alliance. However, it clearly erects a civilian facade in front of what is still a militarised state. I refer hon. Members to the decree of 4 October last year, which divided the country into eight administrative regions, controlled by appointed governors, which coincide with the army commands in the country.

Public security in Turkey is still under military control and, as my hon. Friends emphasised, the British Government refused publicly to criticise the gross human rights abuses that remain there. Torture and show trials continue. On 15 November last year leading members of the Turkish Peace Association were sentenced to five to eight years' imprisonment, including the president of the Istanbul Bar Association and the president of the Turkish Medical Association. The trial of the trade union —DISK—continues, with people in fear of life sentences since their trials began in 1981. The indictment in that trial shows peculiar reasoning: that because DISK and its members support state initiatives to end unemployment, and because the Communists want such state intervention, ergo, DISK is a Communist organisation.

Harassment of Turks abroad continues, and we know of the hunger strikes in Turkish gaols because of continuing torture and abuses. We criticise the fact that the Government have provided Turkey with a disproportionate amount of bilateral aid, so that in August last year, when the Turkish Foreign Minister returned from London to his home capital, he expressed appreciation for what he called the consistent support and understanding Britain has given Turkey for the past three years. The Labour party's position is different. Labour Members are not one-eyed in relation to human rights abuses. Today I have written to the Soviet leadership in respect of the trial of Olga Medvekova, a peace campaigner in the Soviet Union, and pointed out the violation of human rights in that country. At the same time, the Labour party points out the harassment and imprisonment of those who campaign for peace in Turkey. We do not adopt the one-eyed approach of Conservative Members, who criticise human rights abuses only when they occur behind the iron curtain or in countries which they do not favour.

Labour Members stress the limited significance of the November 1983 elections, which legitimised military rule in Turkey; but we concede that the local elections, which will take place later this month, might have a greater significance because, although only three parties were allowed to participate in the elections last year, a much greater spread of parties will take part in the local elections.

Therefore, the Labour party suspends judgment on Turkey. I know that there are clear pressures by the American Administration on the Government to normalise relations with Turkey. The German and British Governments are likely to accede to that pressure, although only on Wednesday last week the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives insisted that, before further aid is given to Turkey, the President must certify that there will be progress on human rights. Although it is likely that the British and German Governments will yield to pressure from America solely, here, as elsewhere in the world, looking narrowly at security, it is good that the Governments of France, Denmark and the Netherlands are withstanding such pressure.

If we try to normalise relations bilaterally, or within the Council of Europe and the EC, before there is fundamental evidence of changes in human rights — including an amnesty for political prisoners in Turkish gaols—we shall ignore the cries of those in prison, tortured or on hunger strike, and the appeals of those courageous families who are seeking to press the cases of their relatives imprisoned, tortured and abused in Turkey today.

5.19 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ray Whitney)

I start on a note of happy congratulations to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) for his good fortune in coming top of the ballot and in choosing the subject of Britain's relations with Turkey.

We have had a useful debate, although it is regrettable that there have not been many hon. Members in the Chamber, particularly Labour Members, to contribute to the debate. However, that is about as far as I can go with the hon. Gentleman, because, contrary to what I take to be his hopes when he talked about relations between Britain and Turkey, in general those relations are in good repair, as befits a relationship that has lasted for over four centuries. The 400th anniversary of relations between England and Turkey was celebrated only last year. It is right that we should have good relations with an ally in NATO, a fellow partner in the Council of Europe, a member of the OECD and a country with which we share membership of the United Nations.

I come now to what might be called the civil war of Islington, between the hon. Members for Islington, South and Finsbury and Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), to see who can most misrepresent the position of Her Majesty's Government with regard to Turkey. I have to tell the House, and particularly Labour Members, that Her Majesty's Government have consistently made clear to the Turkish Government our concern about the violations of human rights in that country. That has been made clear time and again from the Dispatch Box, to the Turkish Government and at the highest level.

Mr. Anderson

But never publicly.

Mr. Whitney

If the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) does not consider this to be a public declaration from Her Majesty's Government, his grasp of parliamentary procedure is rather less than I took it to be. The last important occasion on which we made our view known was when my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear yet again our concern to the Foreign Minister of Turkey in Stockholm on 19 January. We have made clear our concern about the general abuse of human rights, the problems of Turkish trade unions, the restrictions on the press and the problems in the universities.

However, unlike the hon. Members for Islington, South and Finsbury and for Islington, North— we were not privileged to hear from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), but we have read her effusions after her eight-day visit to Turkey with her hon. Friend —we are more balanced. We have heard a great deal about one-eyedness, but we have never had a more one-eyed view than we have had on Turkey from the Opposition Benches below the Gangway. I commiserate with the hon. Member for Swansea, East. I understand how difficult it is to speak with only a little coterie of his hon. Friends from below the Gangway present on the Opposition side of the House. It was interesting to note the nuances—perhaps they were more than nuances—of the differences of perception between his understanding of the realities of Turkey and the figments of the fevered imaginations of the Left-wing group below the Gangway.

We look at our relations with Turkey in the round and in the interests of the country. We have had some talk about the relationship of the Turkish people to the military Government, but I am glad that all of my hon. Friends who have been able to speak have made it clear—not to those impervious to reason on the Labour Benches, but to all who have listened to this debate and will read it—that the position in Turkey before September 1980 was dreadful, with 20 killings a day, and that about 5,000 Turks were killed before the Turkish military moved in.

We have to understand, and perhaps even in their eight-day visit the Labour Members were instructed, that there is a special tradition in Turkey stemming from the history of Kemal Ataturk and the Turkish military. There was an intervention by the Turkish military, which even the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury was prepared to accept was welcomed by the Turkish people at the time, to put a stop to the dreadful problem. That regime set itself a timetable to return to democracy, to which it has adhered. It conducted a referendum in November 1982 with a 92 per cent. vote in favour and then conducted the elections on 6 November 1983.

We agree that these elections were less than perfect demonstrations of democracy. Here, too, we have explained and expressed our concern about this restriction to the Turkish Government. Nevertheless, unlike those who refuse to see progress, we recognise the progress that has been made. At least the hon. Member for Swansea, East had the integrity to recognise that the municipal elections that are to take place on 25 March are unrestricted and are therefore yet another welcome step on the way back to democracy being taken in Turkey.

My hon. Friends have made it clear in the House that the choice that was exercised by the Turkish people, in a high turnout last November. was real. It was not a perfect choice, and it was not complete, but it was against the strong recommendation of the military regime and it was as a result of a clear expression of the will of the Turkish people that the Motherland party was elected.

The new Government have become heavily involved with the serious economic problems that face Turkey. We hope that soon they will be able to make yet more progress in improving human rights. I hope that even Labour Members will recognise that the present Government have said that they are opposed to any action aimed at reducing basic human rights and freedoms. I hope that there will soon be a recognition by Labour Members— perhaps that is a forlorn hope—of this improvement and some welcome from them that in certain provinces martial law has already been lifted.

We have heard a great deal from the hon. Member for Islington, North about the number of executions. When I challenged him about his number of 1,000 he took refuge in vague references to certain organisations. I hope that he will have the courtesy to write to me and give me stronger support for his extraordinary assertion that there were 1,000 killings in Turkey. Our information, which is carefully and properly assembled, as befits an effective and professional diplomatic service, is that fewer than 50 executions were carried out. and they included executions for common crimes as well as executions for terrorism. It is my understanding that the present Government have conceded that they will not use capital punishment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will study that.

The farrago that we heard tonight from the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury was based on his first visit to Turkey, as he admitted. He speaks no Turkish and spent only eight days in Turkey being escorted by a carefully selected group of friends.

Ms. Clare Short

It would be interesting to know when the Minister last visited Turkey and how long he spent there. Is he aware that people who visit a country are also capable of reading reports? The Governments of France, the Netherlands, Sweden and other countries in Europe are convinced that human rights violation in Turkey is such that it needs to be reported to the European Court. The Minister's dismissive and belittling attitude shows how much regard he has for human rights in Turkey.

Mr. Whitney

I have the privilege of speaking on 79 countries from the Dispatch Box, and therefore it is not possible for me to visit every one. However, I have the privilege of relying on a well-informed diplomatic service and I react most strongly against attacks launched on the members of the diplomatic service, and in particular on two officers who have had 20 years' experience, who both speak Turkish, and who, unlike the hon. Lady, have no axe to grind. They gave a clear assessment, on which my remarks are based.

Mr. Chris Smith


Mr. Whitney

The hon. Gentleman entertained the House for a good 40 minutes and, given the time that is left, there is no possibility of my allowing him to intervene.

Progress has been made. We attach great importance to the municipal elections that have been announced for 25 March and to the fact that no restrictions are to be applied on the political parties or, as I understand it, on the candidates participating in the elections. The Government therefore applaud the efforts that have been made and hope that progress will continue. Those who are friends of Turkey believe that what Turkey needs is not the carping, one-eyed criticism that we have heard from the Opposition Benches today, but support and encouragement. We believe that that would be good for Turkey and good for NATO.

Time does not permit me to deal with the whole of the Cyprus problem. Another debate would be necessary for that purpose. All I shall say on the subject is that Her Majesty's Government, as has been made clear on a number of occasions, believe that at this stage the best opportunity to make progress is for the United Nations Secretary General to proceed with his efforts. We strongly support those efforts, and look forward to co-operating with him in making further progress.

Difficult problems, of course, face Turkey. There are social and economic problems, but in our opinion the new Government have demonstrated their determination to get on with that job. Those of us who claim to be friends of Turkey, who are allies of Turkey, owe it to our friends —it is in our own interests, too, in that we share the interests of NATO—to take a constructive approach to Turkish problems, to acknowledge when progress is made, and not to fall into the trap which was so conspicuously opened up, with singular lack of success, by the hon. Members for Islington, South and Finsbury and for Islington, North.