HC Deb 20 February 1985 vol 73 cc1019-20
3. Mr. Michael Brown

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on relations with Turkey in the light of his recent visit to that country.

Mr. Luce

My right hon. and learned Friend visited Turkey from 11 to 13 February. He met the President, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and other leading Turks, including representatives of the Opposition parties. These talks covered a wide range of issues and we are confident that the visit will have helped to develop our relations with Turkey. These relations are based on firm foundations, including our shared membership of NATO, the Council of Europe and OECD.

Mr. Brown

When my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary visited Turkey, did he have an opportunity to raise with the Government recent reports that the Greek Government are to ask the United States to remove its bases from the Mediterranean? Did my right hon. and learned Friend also discuss the possibility that Turkey might be able to fill the vacuum that could occur in those circumstances?

Mr. Luce

My right hon. and learned Friend's principal aim in his discussions with the Turkish Government was to express the hope that, in the greater interest of the strength of NATO, Greece and Turkey would reconcile their differences and have bilateral discussions to overcome their problems.

Mr. Boyes

The Minister mentioned the interests of NATO, but did the Foreign Secretary have an opportunity to raise the interests of members of the executive of the Turkish Peace Association, who are languishing in a lousy, stinking jail, so described in a pamphlet that is in my possession? Did the Foreign Secretary make strong representations to the Turkish Government to the effect that our relations with them will not improve until human rights in Turkey are improved and the peace prisoners are set free?

Mr. Luce

Turkish leaders have been made aware on a number of occasions of the anxieties and views of hon. Members, the British public and the Government on human rights. However, the hon. Gentleman ought to acknowledge the progress that Turkey has been making in recent months towards the restoration of democracy and the strengthening of human rights. There is no shadow of doubt about the fact that considerable progress has been made. The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that before 1980 there were an average of 20 political murders a day in Turkey. There has been a considerable improvement and we ought to encourage that process.

Mr. Hickmet

Does my hon. Friend agree that Britain's relations with Turkey are at a post-war high, and should we not capitalise on that fact by increasing ECGD cover and aid to Turkey, thereby helping to restore its economy? Would that not do more than any other single measure to secure a lasting return to democracy in Turkey, which is a member of NATO?

Mr. Luce

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is in all our interests to encourage trade between Britain and Turkey. The ECGD restored cover for Turkey in 1983 and agreed, for example, to provide cover for the important Bosphorus bridge project. We are doing everything that we can to encourage trade.

Mr. George Robertson

Is it not true that only last week Amnesty International published reports showing that there is still widespread official torture in Turkey and that thousands of Turks are facing the death penalty in Turkish gaols? In that light, what conceivable justification can there be for the Foreign Secretary to offer his help in unblocking the EEC aid which is the one effective means by which Turkey has been brought closer towards democracy? How does the Foreign Secretary think that that sort of support given in Ankara to the Turkish Government will help the prisoners who are languishing in the gaols of our NATO partner?

Mr. Luce

As I have said, we are well aware of the allegations that have been made over many months about the abuse of human rights. We should acknowledge the facts in Turkey today. Martial law has been lifted in 33 of the 67 provinces and the military prison population was reduced from 43,000 in 1981 to 16,000 in 1984. If the hon. Gentleman is referring to allegations of brutality, I point out that more than 100 police officers have been convicted of ill-treatment of prisoners. It is absolutely wrong to turn our back on a country which is responding to representations from the Western world that it should improve its human rights treatment. On the contrary, we should give encouragement, and that is why we support the releasing of European Community aid to Turkey.

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