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Volume 589: debated on Tuesday 2 December 2014

The UK is a prominent supporter of the peace process and we have regular discussions with the Colombian Government. Last month, the Deputy Prime Minister reaffirmed the UK’s commitment when President Santos visited London. We are considering now how the UK can best support the implementation of any peace agreement, drawing further on our experiences in Northern Ireland.

Following the Colombian army’s rampage in a village near Turnaco, in which nine bombs were dropped, machine guns were fired at civilians and two young men were shot dead, one of them later by the army as they took him away pleading for his life, with the army then dressing the men in FARC uniforms and claiming they were guerrillas—that incident does not get reported in the world press—is it not right that we have a bilateral ceasefire and not the unilateral ceasefire that keeps being offered by FARC?

The big prize remains the ceasefire with FARC, which will benefit all the people of Colombia. I have always been happy to discuss the peace process and human rights with Members of both Houses. In October, I met at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Members from the Parliamentary Friends of Colombia, the all-party group on Latin America and the all-party group on human rights. I am happy to do that again to discuss these things, and I am also putting together a meeting, as I promised, with the Colombian ambassador. If the hon. Gentleman wants to come to the meeting with me, he is more than welcome.

Last December, I visited Colombia, with part of the talks being about reforming the Colombian intelligence services—the DAS. Does the Minister agree that for there to be public confidence in the peace process, the Colombian Government need to go further and faster in reforming their intelligence services?

I do not think it is for me to give a running commentary on the intelligence services of Colombia. We assist the Colombian Government in our mutual desire to stamp out the drugs trade—we co-operate closely with them on that. A lot of things need to be reformed in Colombia, not least the perception of impunity for the armed forces, but I say again that the big prize is, first, to secure the peace—then the dividend can be cashed in.

The unlawful killings of innocent people in Colombia continue, as they did even last week. I am delighted that the Minister is arranging a meeting with the ambassador, but may I ask him whether he would invite along the Justice for Colombia all-party group, because the people on it are working at the sharp end and can tell us exactly what is happening in Colombia?

My meeting really should be for Members of both Houses who wish to accompany me, many of whom are expert advocates for Justice for Colombia.

Last week, I met Irrael Solano, indigenous governor of the Zenú community, who is on a death list of the so-called Caribbean coast commando. At least 60 members of his community have been assassinated, so he takes that threat very seriously. Will the Government urge the Colombian Government to do whatever they can to protect Señor Solano and other human rights defenders along the Caribbean coast?

Indeed, and I think the hon. Gentleman is a perfect candidate to come with me to raise these matters personally with the ambassador in January. We are concerned about human rights defenders, as I have made clear, including when I was in Bogota. I hope that the Colombian Government will realise how keen an interest this House takes in both the peace process and the wider case for justice for all in Colombia.

The Minister is aware that a number of Northern Ireland Members have engaged both with the Colombian Government and the FARC negotiators in Havana. Is he also aware that we are particularly concerned that the democratic opposition in Colombia, which is not represented at the negotiations, should have its position affirmed because it, along with civil society groups, has a key role to play in taking the peace process forward—a peace process for which it has fought so long?

All have a role to play in gaining peace in that country, which has been ruined by the civil war with FARC. When I was recently in Cuba, as the first British Minister to visit in 10 years, I raised this matter with Cuba, which is playing host to the peace process. I say again that these negotiations with FARC are quite a long way through and what we need to see is a final settlement with FARC—we have just seen the release of the brigadier general and the others who were taken by FARC within the last month or so. That remains the big prize and everybody should have a say in the peace that will ensue from that.

Land grabs have been a predominant feature of the conflict, and restitution of land is a key part of the peace discussions. With the Government promoting business opportunities in Colombia, will the Minister say what guidance they issue to UK companies on forced displacements and what safeguards they insist on to ensure that the UK is not supporting economic projects using illegally acquired land?

All British companies anywhere in the world are issued with guidelines on ethical investment, and those operating in Colombia are no exception. I am delighted that in 2013 we met our £1.75 billion bilateral trade and investment target for Colombia two years ahead of schedule. We have now set a revised target of £4 billion by 2020. Growth stood at 126% from 2009-12. Ethical investment is important, but so too are investment and bilateral trade. We are a Government who believe that increased trade is the sea on which all ships rise together. That benefits all in Colombia, even the poorest.