HC Deb 01 February 1995 vol 253 cc1077-8
12. Dr. Goodson-Wickes

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last consulted his Colombian counterparts to discuss co-operation over control of drug trafficking.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tony Baldry)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary last discussed co-operation to control drug trafficking with the Colombians when he met the Ministers of Finance, of Mines and Energy, and of Foreign Trade on 30 January.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes

My hon. Friend will acknowledge the excellent relations that exist between this country and Colombia. Will he join me in giving his whole-hearted support to any ventures to combat the evils of drug trafficking? To that end, when he meets Colombian Ministers later this year, will he strongly support the positive British input into the new police-army units that I have seen in Colombia, in which British expertise in security and technology plays such an important part?

Mr. Baldry

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Clearly, tackling the drugs trade concerns us all. The Government of Colombia are committed to eradicating coca and opium cultivation throughout Colombia. We should not underestimate the scale of that task. We continue to support the Colombian Government in tackling the drugs trade. We have made available almost £13 million of assistance since 1989 and at present we are supporting a three-year programme of rural anti-narcotics training for the Colombian anti-narcotics police. Customs and Excise has been providing training for drug enforcement agencies. I am pleased to have my hon. Friend's endorsement of the work that we do there.

Mr. Miller

Would it not be more helpful to the Colombians if we gave greater support to communities in this country? Should we not tell the Colombians that we shall strengthen our Customs and Excise and police activities, rather than, as is happening in my constituency, closing Customs and Excise operations, so that there is no longer a single police officer engaged in drugs traffic work?

Mr. Baldry

It is important that we tackle demand as well as production as part of any international drugs strategy. That is why we have a substantial programme of domestic action to tackle drug misuse, which costs more than £500 million each year and includes vigorous law enforcement, education and prevention measures.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Does my hon. Friend agree that drug trafficking is one of the most horrific problems facing the world today? There are growing millions of drug addicts in America, in Europe and in the Commonwealth countries alone. The gross annual turnover from drug trafficking in some countries exceeds the gross domestic product of a country like the United Kingdom and many countries are politically totally in the hands of the drug mafia. We can deal with the problem only through urgent and intensive international co-operation. Will the Minister, on behalf of the United Kingdom Government, do everything possible to ensure that such co-operation occurs?

Mr. Baldry

My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. The drugs threat is a many-headed hydra. It is an international problem which requires an international response. All countries must encourage international co-operation to combat the threat, and that is why we take a leading role in the United Nations drug control programme.

I am pleased to inform the House that we are the second largest contributor of funds to the programme. We also provide substantial amounts of development aid to other countries to allow them to play their part, as was illustrated in an earlier answer about Colombia. I agree with everything that my hon. and learned Friend has said and he can rest assured that the United Kingdom is determined to play a leading role in tackling international drug trafficking.

Forward to