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Turkish Peace Association

Volume 81: debated on Tuesday 18 June 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations Her Majesty's Government have made to the Turkish Government regarding the prosecution of members of the Turkish Peace Association.

We have been in close touch with the Turkish authorities about a range of human rights issues, including the Turkish Peace Association trials. They can be in no doubt about our opinions. I spoke personally to the Turkish Foreign Minister on these issues when I met him in Lisbon on 6 June.

I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for his answer and for the continuing attention which he is obviously giving to this important matter. Quite apart from representations on the specific issue of the Turkish Peace Association prisoners, what pressure does the Secretary of State believe can be brought to bear on Turkey, which, after all, is a NATO ally, to try to change its ways regarding the serious limitations on personal freedom, which many people in this country would consider inconsistent with the type of free society which NATO is supposed to be defending?

I think that the measures that can be taken include, beyond exhortations of the kind that the hon. Member has just indulged in, encouragement and acknowledgement of progress when it has been made. It is important to note that not only have there been the national elections in 1983 and the local government elections in March 1984, but there has been a steady reduction in the number of areas subject to martial law. When I visited Turkey in February of this year about half the provinces were still subject to martial law. Since then, 17 provinces have been freed from that. It is important, therefore, not only to bring matters to the attention of the Turkish Government, but to acknowledge progress when it is made.

Is there any limit to the extent to which her Majesty's Government might seek to interfere and intervene in the internal affairs and judicial systems of other countries? What would my right hon. and learned Friend's reaction be were the Head of Government of the Soviet Union, South Africa or Turkey to approach him with representations on what we should do about our judicial system?

My hon. Friend is not as perceptive as he customarily is. He must acknowledge that questions of this kind are a matter of natural discussion between, for example, fellow members of the North Atlantic Alliance or of the Council of Europe. Indeed, progress by Turkey towards securing fuller recognition of its position in the Council of Europe is one of the matters that Turkey understands and discusses with us. In that context, we welcome the changes that I have described. We welcome, for example, the transformation from a scene in which there were 20 political killings a day—which was the situation that the Turkish Government had to grapple with—to one in which the number of people in military gaols dropped from 43,000 in 1981 to 8,000 in February 1985. It is in that context that we welcome and encourage progress towards democracy by a fellow member of the North Atlantic Alliance.

Does the Foreign Secretary not think that there will have to be a considerable improvement in the human rights situation in Turkey, particularly in relation to the treatment of trade unionists and opposition political parties, before a Turkish application to become the 13th member of the Common Market could be favourably considered?

I think that the general validity of observations of that kind has been acknowledged by the Turkish Government throughout the years that we have been talking about. It would be helpful in this context if some hon. Members who are always ready to criticise the Turkish Government were equally ready to give encouragement and approval when steps are taken in the right direction.

The Foreign Secretary cannot level an accusation at me for not giving encouragement to the small, tentative steps that have been made back towards Turkish democracy. But surely it is unacceptable that 8,000 people should still be held in military prisons by a fellow member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and that some of the curtailments of martial law should be accompanied by the suggestion of new, repressive laws. Surely that that must be met with more forthright economic sanctions from the EEC, rather than mere pious words of hope that democracy will return to Turkey.

All these matters have to be looked at in perspective, against the situation with which the Turkish Government was originally called upon to deal. It must be recognised, for example, that some of the changes that the hon. Gentleman has been talking about have been the subject of vigorous debate and analysis in the Turkish Parliament and press in a way that would have been quite unimaginable some years back. So, progress is being made. It is right for us to keep a watchful and interested eye on this and leave the Turkish Government, as I made clear in my original answer, in no doubt about our concern.