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House of Lords

Tuesday, 2nd April 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell.

Colombia: "Decertification" by US

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,

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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

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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.

UN Response to Emergencies

2.45 p.m.

Lord Rea asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress is being made with the reform of the United Nations' response to complex humanitarian emergencies.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the United Kingdom was instrumental in the creation of the Department of Humanitarian Affairs to strengthen the co-ordination of humanitarian emergency assistance of the United Nations. The creation of the DHA has led to a number of improvements in the way in which the UN system responds to complex humanitarian emergencies.

Lord Rea: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer, which certainly sounds appropriate. Does she think that the present structures of the United Nations could work better if they were better resourced? Or does she feel that further structural reforms are necessary in order to get an effective early warning system so that the United Nations is ready to prevent crises before they actually erupt?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I believe that the present structure could be made to work better. It is not simply a question of increased resources. It is actually a question of the better use of existing resources. Further reforms are needed. One of the things the Department of Humanitarian Affairs, based in Geneva, has in good measure is its early warning system. It is now in a position to give good information to other UN agencies and to call upon other UN agencies to deploy their resources in the most effective way. That is not always easily acceptable to other UN agencies because it causes a feeling that someone else knows how to put the job together. But increasingly the United Nations must look at the

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deployment of its varied resources and find ways of making the maximum use of them, particularly for preventive work.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, as one of the great criticisms of the DHA is that it has been under-resourced, does the Minister really believe that it has adequate resources to carry out its job?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, it is rather difficult to tell at this moment, particularly when we are in the midst of a considerable amount of debate on UN reform. Whereas we have had much more emergency spending over the past five years, that has now bottomed out. That may give the Department of Humanitarian Affairs the chance to deploy its existing resources still better. In my discussions last week with Mr. Akashi, the new Under-Secretary General in charge of the DHA, I made it quite clear that the existing resources could be better deployed. We are in deep discussion about how that should be done.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, although it is important to increase funding if necessary, does my noble friend agree that it would be much better to concentrate on those members of the United Nations who do not pay their subscriptions?

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