HL Deb 02 April 1996 vol 571 cc133-5

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they agree with the "decertification" of Colombia by the United States.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, how to achieve a reversal of the US decertification of Colombia is a bilateral matter between the United States and Colombia. The criteria for certification are set out in legislation and discussed with the Colombians at the start of each year.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, that may well be so. But surely we should be supporting a country which has made such determined efforts and is so successful in bringing so many drug barons into custody. Does my noble friend recall that when President Gaviria visited Britain in 1993 it was clear that we had a long-standing and warm relationship with Colombia? The bilateral relationship is extremely important in as much as we have considerable trading and investment interests in Colombia. Is my noble friend prepared to make representations in Washington concerning that arbitrary measure? It may well damage Colombia's status in international circles as a major trading nation.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I believe my noble friend knows that this whole issue is a matter for the United States Administration. We have excellent relations with Colombia and have long believed that close co-operation is absolutely vital in the international fight against drugs. I can certainly confirm to my noble friend that Colombia has had some spectacular successes against drug traffickers in recent times since President Samper took office, particularly the arrest of six of the seven kingpins of the Cali cartel and a number of other instances where the authorities did all that one could possibly believe necessary. I note my noble friend's point in regard to representations. We enjoy a warm and important trading relationship with Colombia. We work well with them and they are working well with us in terms of drug interdiction.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, can my noble friend enlighten my darkness and tell me exactly what is meant by the terms "certification" and "decertification" in this context?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, when my noble and learned friend asks a difficult question, I take careful note. I understand that the United States' legislation allows that country to take a specific attitude with those they believe have not taken adequate action against drug trafficking. At the present time there are accusations against certain members of the Government of Colombia, but they are only allegations. The Colombian authorities are investigating those allegations. I believe that they came to light as a result of the Colombian Government putting vastly additional resources into tackling the drugs problem. However, it is one of those matters where the terms of the Foreign Assistance Act 1961 require the US Administration to certify annually those major drug-producing countries which have co-operated fully with the United States in the fight against drugs. Because of the accusations I described, it is considered by some in the United States that there is not the full co-operation that there needs to be.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, given what the Minister has just said and the fact that investigations are now being carried out in Colombia into the actions of President Samper and some members of his government who, it is said, have been involved in using drugs money for political campaigning, was it not inevitable that the US Administration would take action to decertify Colombia? Do the British Government support the US Administration in taking that decision, at least for the time being?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, this is a difficult situation. I should underline that these are only allegations; they are not proven. I underline also something that I said just now to my noble and learned friend. It is as a result of the Colombian Government tackling this problem so energetically that many of the possible takers of drug money have come to light. Until the issue is resolved by the Colombian authorities nobody can gainsay one way or the other. It may be, because of the "black and white" nature of the Foreign Assistance Act, that that action was inevitable. However, we take the view that it is more important to work in support of Colombia's counter-narcotics policies than to have such legislation on our statute book.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a recent report by the international drug control committee of the United Nations categorically states that Colombia is doing all that can reasonably be expected of it? Why therefore should the United States consider decertification?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, first, I am aware of the report; secondly, the United States may consider decertification because of the Foreign Assistance Act.

Lord Richard

My Lords, perhaps I may congratulate the Minister on treading the decertification tightrope without falling off.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is the increasing demand for these drugs, particularly in western societies, which causes their supply? Does she further agree that it might be advantageous if the United States were to look at the deep-seated problems within its own society that cause this demand, a demand which exists in other western societies including our own, and treat those problems with the same vigour that they recommend the Colombians should adopt?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, on this occasion I think my noble friend is absolutely right. I commend to him the work of my right honourable friend the Lord President of the Council in another place because the work now being done by the United Kingdom in terms of counter-narcotics policy with foreign governments and in terms of trying to suppress demand for drugs in this country is second to none.

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