HC Deb 08 May 1973 vol 856 cc413-22

1.43 a.m.

Mr. Frank Judd (Portsmouth, West)

At no time during the last two years has this House debated the erosion of democratic standards and the abrogation of human rights in Turkey. Recent statements by various spokesmen on behalf of the Government make me fear that those in Turkey who are actively destroying all serious opposition to its repressive activities will think that they have the support of a country which has a long history of democracy. All those in Turkey, both inside Turkish prisons and outside, who, against great odds, are trying to oppose the régime will be dismayed that their position is being misunderstood or ignored.

I feel it is up to Britain and all Western European democracies to call for the same high order of behaviour as Her Majesty's Government maintained when allegations were made of torture taking place in Northern Ireland.

A brief explanation is necessary of events during the last two years. On 12th March 1971 the military issued a strong memorandum demanding political, social and economic reforms and an end to the unrest of the previous few years. The existing Government fell and were replaced by a Government supposedly above party politics. A month later martial law was declared in 11 strategic provinces. The new Prime Minister declared that martial law was necessary to catch 200 anarchists. Since then the military has used its powers to ban the legitimately elected representatives of the Turkish Labour Party, to ban the teachers' and students' unions, to arrest or detain in prison perhaps as many as 10,000 people, to amend the once liberal constitution beyond all recognition, to impose complete censorship on the Press, radio and television and, by all the evidence available, to torture perhaps hundreds of political prisoners.

Probably the best documentation of the erosion of human rights lies in the amendment to the constitution. By that means the Turkish régime has been able to constkutionalise and legally sanction the abrogation of civil rights and liberties. By these amendments the régime has deprived the universities and radio and television of their autonomy. It has given the police and the military authorities the power to invade the privacy of all Turkish citizens, and it has deprived the judiciary of its independence.

To prevent opposition to the amendments five Turkish professors of constitutional law have been arrested, three of them being those who helped to draw up the 1961 constitution. The seriousness of the situation was well illustrated last summer at a meeting of the Council of Europe at Paris. The Foreign Secretary of Turkey, Mr. Bayülken, was being questioned about the situation and the matters to which I have just referred. He claimed at the meeting, at which I was present, that any academics who had been apprehended were almost exclusively junior members of university staff. He seemed surprised when told that all of us in the West were well aware at that time of the arrest of, for example, Professor Soysul. What seemed rather alarming at that meeting was the cold cynicism which suggested that we need not worry because the only academics who had been arrested were junior members of university staff, and the lack of willingness on the part of the Turkish Foreign Secretary to admit, as we all knew in the West, that more senior members of staff had been taken into custody.

Recently the régime has introduced amendments to the constitution and to many laws. It has ensured that the military would be able to retain most of its powers even if martial law were to be lifted. These serious allegations have all been made by many independent bodies. The World Council of Churches, Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists have all issued reports arguing that the Turkish régime is in the process of destroying effective opposition and that torture has taken place.

Apart from foreign newspapers in Britain, both the Sunday Times and Granada Television's "World in Action" have provided impressive accounts of the horrifying and systematic use of torture on political prisoners. I have seen reports from trustworthy sources that, despite the recent election of a new president and the formation of a new Government, torture is continuing.

I have no desire to make matters worse for those who are trying to resist the anti-democratic forces that are at work in Turkey. I have unlimited admiration for those who are trying to save democracy in Turkey. However, I have come to the conclusion that this House should no longer remain silent. The recent report of Professor Noll on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists and Amnesty International makes the position only too clear. During his visit to Turkey two months ago Professor Noll saw for himself that political prisoners were being tortured and that there no longer exists any real independence for the courts of law. He also became convinced that the dangers associated with the continuation of martial law are far greater than any of the dangers which it was originally claimed martial law was introduced to combat.

These statements and allegations must be investigated. If Turkish protests are to be muzzled, ours must not be muzzled. That surely is the high calling of an open democratic society of which we in this House are a part.

I believe that we have a special responsibility towards Turkey, for Turkey is a fellow member of the Council of Europe, an associate member of the European Economic Community, our ally in NATO and in CENTO, and a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In 1971 United Kingdom exports to Turkey stood at £38.6 million, and since then they have been rapidly expanding. In the first eight months of 1972 exports amounted to £37 million. Since the establishment in 1963 of the Consortium of Aid to Turkey, under the auspices of the OECD, Britain has contributed about £54 million in various forms of aid to Turkey.

After the visit of Lord Limerick to Turkey last November, the Department of Trade and Industry announced that United Kingdom entry into the European Economic Community and parallel adaptation of the existing EEC association agreement with Turkey should, by the gradual removal of the preferences which EEC countries enjoy against us, improve our competitive position in the Market.

I am concerned that such economic links serve as an implicit sanction of the activities of the armed forces which are determining the limits within which civilian politics may operate in Turkey.

I believe that we should take a hard look at what I have in the past described as the soft underbelly of the NATO alliance and that it is dangerous for an alliance forged to defend freedom and democracy to ignore its involvement with the naked or incipient forces of totalitarianism.

It would be naïve to suppose that there are not at work within the Western community forces which are determined to undermine freedom and democracy as we understand them in this House. But I believe that it would be equally naive to misunderstand the methods and techniques used by groups of this kind. One of the objectives for which they play is overreaction, and overreaction plays into their hands. Because we on both sides in this House have understood this point we have been at pains, against great provocation in our own experience in Northern Ireland, to avoid such overreaction. But the point that we have to recognise about over-reaction where it occurs within the Western alliance is that it forces, compels, frequently moderate opposition to the existing order into the hands of the extremists. In other words, it provokes what it is supposed to be containing.

There is an old adage in British political life: that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is a great deal of truth in this observa-tion and one of the points which we in this House recognise is that allies within the NATO alliance who are totalitarian in their political structure are unreliable allies, because when the alliance collectively comes under pressure such allies are preoccupied to a large extent in containing their internal political situations to such a point that they cannot contribute as effectively as we would wish to external collective defence.

I have said before that I am convinced that democratic institutions in Turkey are little more than a facade disguising the real source of power within that country.

I am not content with the platitudinous and naïve line taken by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Foreign Secretary believes, and has said, that we can help Turkey return to a democracy by offering support to what he describes as "our Turkish friends" who, under the pretence of trying to destroy the forces of anarchy, are in fact destroying the very foundations of Turkish democracy. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong. He should recognise that in Turkey, as in Greece and Portugal, to ignore is to sanction the cold-blooded destruction of those very principles which it has always been argued NATO was created to defend.

1.55 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Anthony Royle)

Whilst I am glad to have the opportunity at this early hour in the morning to address the House and the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) on our relations with Turkey, I confess that I am sad that I have heard so much criticism of our ally from the hon. Gentleman. There are Governments and régimes in the world which, might deserve the kind of attack which we have heard tonight, but I do not believe that the Government of Turkey is one of them.

I should like to stress that Turkey, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is an independent country. It is not for us to try to tell foreign countries how to run their internal affairs. Any appearance of interference provokes justifiable resentment. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman, whom I have known for many years, would justifiably resent other countries trying to tell us how we should run our internal affairs.

Our relations with Turkey, both economically and politically, are, and have for a long time been, close and friendly. We greatly value our co-operation with her in many fields, particularly in the context of NATO and CENTO and through her association with the European Economic Community. As her ally and as a member of the European Community, we have a particular interest to do everything possible to encourage political stability and economic development in Turkey.

Hon. Members should be quite sure of their facts before attempting to condemn an ally such as Turkey. Many—some, anyway—of the accusations which have been made against the Turkish authorities are very serious, and I accept that, but they should not be made lightly or on the basis of unsubstantiated reports.

How can there be a suspension of democracy whilst the Turkish Parliament remains fully operational? In his remarks tonight, the hon. Gentleman implied that there was totalitarianism in Turkey. It is just not true. Every Government and Government programme since the Commanders Memorandum in March 1971 has been approved by the Turkish Parliament. The recent elections for the President of the Republic, when the Turkish Parliament chose a civilian rather than a military candidate, would suggest that power in Turkey is still in the hands of the elected representatives.

A date has been set for the Turkish general elections in accordance with the Turkish constitution—14th October. I can think of many countries which hon. Members have not mentioned in Adjournment debates which have not had general elections for years and are unlikely to have a general election for many years in the future. As far as we know, there is no evidence to suggest that the elections will not be held then.

Mr. Judd

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that when we all recognise that the number of people able to participate in the elections and the number and character of people able to participate within the parliament is decided by the military authorities, with the history which I have outlined, to suggest that this is democratic is a perversion of the principle of democracy as we understand it in this House and this country?

Mr. Royle

This is where the hon. Gentleman and I move very far apart. It is not possible for us in the Mother of Parliaments to expect that every other country will carry out its affairs or run its democratic arrangements precisely as we do. Societies are very different in those countries. One must remember that democracy can be effective in a country which does not exactly follow our system. The Turkish armed forces have traditionally played an active rôle in Turkey. It is they who have been pressing for economic and social reform.

As for martial law, it has been approved, again by an overwhelming majority, in the Turkish Parliament at two-monthly intervals since its inception in April 1971. Earlier this year, in view of the improved situation in parts of Turkey, four of the 11 provinces placed under martial law were restored to civilian control.

In earlier speeches in the House I have stressed that Turkey is passing through a difficult phase. As I said in answer to a question only recently in the House, the Turkish authorities have had to deal with a serious terrorist problem. The terrorist victims have included two British and one Canadian technicians, murdered just over a year ago.

As for political prisoners, I am aware that people have been arrested since the declaration of martial law, but it is a cardinal principle of international relations that countries do not interfere in one another's internal affairs. I understand that all the sentences passed against the university lecturers and professors the hon. Member mentioned are subject to appeal, and, without knowing the facts in each case, it would be foolish for me to criticise the sentences.

Allegations have been made that torture is being used in Turkey. Again, it is always difficult to know whether this kind of allegation has any foundation. As I have said before, again in the House, we have no evidence of a consistent pattern of violation of human rights, but after all, it is the Turkish people who, through their democratic institutions, are best placed to investigate this kind of allegation.

Mr. Judd

Many of them are not allowed to participate.

Mr. Royle

The fact is that in Turkey today there is a democratic system in existence and working. I have said that this system is not precisely the same as ours—

Mr. Judd

Come off it.

Mr. Royle

As the hon. Member underlined in the important second part of his speech, Turkey makes a valuable contribution to the Western defence effort and plays a full part in the integrated military organisation of NATO. Turkish membership of NATO is necessary for the stability of the whole southern flank. Any weakening on the southern flank of NATO would be particularly unfortunate in present circumstances. Soviet military presence in the Mediterranean has added a new dimension to the problems inherent in the area.

Western Governments are already involved in preparatory talks in Helsinki with the Eastern European countries and the uncommitted countries of Europe on a possible conference on security and cooperation in Europe. I am very hopeful that this conference will take place and will be successful. There are also exploratory talks in Vienna on mutual balanced force reductions. These developments are important and welcome, but, while we continue to work for a lowering of tension and improved relations throughout Europe, Her Majesty's Government believe that the solidarity and cohesion of NATO remain of paramount importance to these areas as well as in their own right. Although it has happened in the past, we do not think that it is appropriate for the internal affairs of member countries to be discussed in the NATO forum.

A great many changes have taken place in Turkey over the past 50 years under the guidance of successive Governments inspired by Ataturk's aim of transforming the former "sick man of Europe" into a dynamic Western society. The task has been great. Both political and economic policies have been realigned in order to bring Turkey into a constructive partnership with Western Europe. Turkey's considerable achievements in this respect demand our admiration. Turkey will continue to require our help and support and that of other Western countries for some time. A negative attitude to her problems can only endanger that consolidation of the Western way of life which I know the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West wants as much as I do, and that is something we should help to promote and not hinder.

Mr. Judd

The Minister keeps referring, as do his colleagues, to consolidation of NATO as a way of bringing a Western way of life. Surely the Western way of life and what NATO was created to defend stand contrary to the things which are being done now in Turkey in terms of limitation and deprivation of human rights. I do not see how we can protect the things in which we believe if we are to allow a slipping away from the highest standards to go unchallenged.

Mr. Royle

I hope I can carry the hon. Member with me on this. I do not think these things are protected by damaging them by attacking them. Because Turkey and because other countries—and I do not refer necessarily to Turkey, because many countries in the world cannot reach the high standards which the hon. Member sets for what he sees to be democracy—cannot reach that high standard, surely that is no reason for attempting to undermine the standards which they have reached and are carrying out effectively.

The alliance that we have with Turkey is immensely valuable to us in the West and at all times should be safeguarded and not undermined.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at seven minutes past Two o'clock.