(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Venezuela.
Last week, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets to protest against Nicolás Maduro’s continued presidency, after deeply flawed elections last May and his unmerited re-inauguration earlier this month. Those demonstrations were the latest of many that have taken place over the past two years, and represent what can be interpreted only as a cry for change in a country that has been rendered destitute by Maduro and his cronies. Venezuela is becoming a state that is run by cartels and criminal gangs. We know that it harbours groups such as the ELN—the National Liberation Army—that threaten to destabilise Colombia’s hard-won peace agreement, and increase the threat of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons and drugs. The bomb attack in Bogotá last week was perhaps a recent example of just that.
Last Wednesday, on 23 January, Juan Guaidó, the president of the Opposition-controlled and democratically elected National Assembly, condemned the illegitimacy of Maduro’s regime and declared himself, under the Venezuelan constitution, the interim President. Within 24 hours, regional countries from the Lima group and the Organisation of American States, along with the United States and Canada, had declared their support, recognising Mr Guaidó as the interim President. The EU also issued a statement saying that the voice of the Venezuelan people could not be ignored, and called for new credible elections to take place.
On 24 January, the Foreign Secretary made clear, in a statement made in Washington ahead of his meeting with US Vice-President Pence, that we no longer regard Maduro as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. On Saturday, I attended an emergency UN Security Council meeting in New York, where I said that we believe that Juan Guaidó is the right man to take Venezuela forward and that we will recognise him as constitutional interim President if new elections are not announced within eight days. This is a position shared by the French, German, Spanish and Dutch Governments. On 26 January, the EU also called for the urgent holding of free, transparent and credible presidential elections in accordance with international democratic standards and the Venezuelan constitutional order. We are in close consultation with our EU and international partners on this issue, and the Foreign Secretary will discuss Venezuela with EU Foreign Ministers later this week in Bucharest.
The UK and our partners cannot and will not stand by and allow the tyranny of Maduro’s regime to continue. He has caused endless suffering and oppression to millions of his own people. He has grossly mismanaged the economy for his own benefit, and his regime stands accused of serious crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. Alongside others in the international community, we must urgently help to pave the way to a brighter future for the Venezuela that Maduro has so culpably ruined. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States and other allies in saying that the National Assembly and its president, Mr Juan Guaidó, are best placed to lead Venezuela to the restoration of its democracy, its economy and its freedom.
Venezuela should be one of the richest democratic countries in South America and the world. It has the largest proven oil reserves of any country, with 297 million barrels—more, even, than Saudi Arabia. It also has an educated population and large areas of arable land, yet today there is mass poverty and the economy has collapsed under the rule of the United Socialist party. The daughter of the late President Hugo Chávez, María Gabriela Chávez, is the country’s richest woman, with an estimated worth of $4.2 billion.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation says that there are 4.1 million people with malnutrition in Venezuela. The Catholic charity Caritas says that 41% of Venezuelans are now feeding on waste in markets. There is a shortage of medicines, including vital antibiotics for children, and blood banks are collapsing. Two thirds of buses in Caracas are out of action because there are no spare parts. An estimated 1 million people have sought refuge in neighbouring Colombia.
The economic collapse, as the Minister says, is a direct result of the corrupt, incompetent, kleptocratic regime of Nicolás Maduro. The Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition won the National Assembly elections in November 2015. It is a centre-left alliance, including two Socialist International member parties, the Popular Will and A New Era. It won 112 out of 167 seats, and that should have led to the end of 16 years of PSUV rule, but it did not. Maduro refused to co-operate and doubled down on his repression, and the country continued its economic collapse. The rigged presidential re-election has rightly been criticised by international observers. The decision by National Assembly president Juan Guaidó to be declared interim President is correct—it is a game-changer. So far, as has been said, that has been recognised internationally by many countries, and to that list, I add Australia and Israel, which have also done so recently.
The people of Venezuela do not need the weasel words of a letter to The Guardian, from assorted Stalinists, Trotskyists, antisemites and, apparently, dead people, and also from members of Labour’s Front Bench. What they need is our solidarity with the legitimate, elected, social democratic president of the National Assembly: interim President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó. The European Union has called for credible elections, but Nicolás Maduro has already rejected that. What humanitarian assistance will we give to people in Colombia? What steps will we take within the UN? What further action can we take with the European Union? And when will our Government recognise Juan Guaidó as the President of Venezuela?
Order. These are most serious matters. I know that the hon. Gentleman will take it in good heart when I say that he is deeply versed in the history of Stalinism and Trotskyism, as many Members of the House can testify, because they have heard him expatiate on the subject, usually one to one, over many years, but I notice that he did manage to include in his oration two or three questions right at the end. The normal form in an urgent question is to make a brief commentary followed by a series of inquiries. I have a sense that he was perhaps slightly more interested in what he had to say to the House than in what the Minister might have to say to him, but we shall see.
May I profoundly thank the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) for enabling this urgent question to be discussed today in the House? I also thank him for his knowledge about, and passion and concern for, Venezuela, which we admire. They are, I can tell, widely shared across the House, except in some corners of it, which is, I think, to be deplored.
The hon. Gentleman is right that Venezuela should be pretty well the richest country in Latin America. It used to be, and it could be still. He painted an accurate picture of the human misery that has been caused by what he describes as the corrupt, incompetent and kleptocratic regime of Nicolás Maduro.
The National Assembly, which was elected, is legitimate, but as soon as it won and had a majority against Maduro, Maduro trumped it with the fake election of a Constituent Assembly, which he deemed, against the words of the Venezuelan constitution, to be more powerful than the National Assembly. The world knows that the National Assembly is legitimate, and the Constituent Assembly, and hence the subsequent flawed election of Nicolás Maduro, is not legitimate. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, we should all be saddened that, in our midst, there are people who still seem to have sympathy for the regime of Nicolás Maduro despite what it has done to poor people. It has made them not just poorer but destitute, and, in many cases, has forced them to flee. Let the signatories of that letter in The Guardian today be pinned on every wall as a list of signatures of shame.
I pay enormous tribute to my colleague on the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), whose voice of clarity in this House has been missing for some time on the question of Venezuela. I also pay tribute to the Minister, whose work at the United Nations in co-ordinating a joint response against tyranny has been so essential. Does he agree that those Members who side with the despots and the dictators against the democrats and the free people should be ashamed of themselves? This is appeasement. This is wrong: it is a crime and it cries out for justice. Thank God we have the Minister in his place, and no one else.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he has been following the situation closely, as have all members of that Committee. I am pleased to say that I am not the only one who is doing what he says. The entire Government are, and I sense that our view is shared by many Opposition Members.
We have clear opinions about what the plight of the Venezuelan people is, but some say that our concern is based on a colonial mentality. It most certainly is not; it is based on genuine concern for the plight of millions who have had their faces driven into the dirt by Maduro. The steps that may have to be taken are based on law, and we are looking at the legitimacy of their Government, not just our view of the state of the people.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) for securing it.
Last Saturday, I condemned Venezuela as one of those countries where democracy has ceased to function in any meaningful way. Sadly, what we have seen over the past week has simply confirmed what I said then. The political, economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is totally dire and will get ever worse as long as the Maduro Government continue to ignore human rights, free speech and the rule of law. What the Venezuelan people need instead is a Government who respect the rule of law, and uphold human rights and democracy—a Government who understand the scale of the crisis they face and who have a clear plan to resolve that crisis. Judging by their record in recent years, the Maduro Government fit none of those descriptions.
I also believe that it is a mistake in such situations simply to think that every problem will be automatically solved by changing the leader, let alone the kind of US-led intervention being threatened by Donald Trump and John Bolton. Instead, if we all genuinely believe in resolving the crisis in Venezuela and in restoring peace, democracy and stability, I hope that the Minister will agree that our chief priorities should be encouraging all parties to engage in dialogue, working towards a peaceful resolution and, ultimately, allowing the Venezuelan people themselves to decide the way forward through the holding of new free and fair elections.
The Minister will be aware that, across the Caribbean sea in Honduras, there were similar violent protests this weekend against another repressive, authoritarian Government who abuse human rights and jail their opponents. But our Government do not criticise them; instead, they sell them arms and surveillance equipment. Only two months ago, they sent them what the Foreign Office boasted was
“the most senior British trade mission in…years”.
Will the Minister tell us why this double standard exists and why the Government are not consistent in their condemnation of all Governments who abuse human rights?
May I, at the very least, welcome the right hon. Lady’s condemnation of the Maduro regime? In that, at least, we find common ground, which I hope can be shared across the House. I am only sorry that it is not even shared across her own Front Benchers, as it is quite clear that the sympathies of the shadow Chancellor are at odds with the tone of her contribution to these proceedings.
This is not just about changing the leader, as the right hon. Lady put it; it is about applying the proper constitution of Venezuela, which is why the legitimate claimant to the presidency has been very careful to describe himself as the interim President, which is exactly what is stated in the constitution. On the back of that he, like every right thinking person, is calling for prompt fair and free elections so that the people of Venezuela can properly elect the leader they want to govern them.
The catastrophe that has befallen Venezuela under Maduro—cheered on, incidentally, by the Leader of the Opposition, his chief lieutenant and various other Poundland Lenins—has led to the ruin of a nation. Does the Minister agree that we must take the greatest care that such ruin never happens here?
I certainly share the opinions of my right hon. Friend in all senses. The sympathies of the Leader of the Opposition with the likes of Maduro are very distressing. Clearly, in terms of his sentiment, he finds himself more in line with Cuba, China and Russia than he does with all democrats across the world.
I thank the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) for bringing this urgent question to the House and the Minister for his statement.
We would like to reflect the calls of the Minister and of Federica Mogherini that democracy cannot and should not be ignored. There is a desperate need for free and fair elections. We condemn the violence and we condemn the regime carrying out the violence. That has also been condemned by Amnesty International, and we would do well to reflect on its remarks. Venezuela should be a wealthy country, yet so many people have been left in dire poverty.
Let me say to the Minister—I am glad that he reflected on this, as did the hon. Member for Ilford South—that we cannot ignore the humanitarian situation and the millions of refugees, with 1 million, as the Minister rightly said, in Colombia alone, which is going through its own peace process at the moment. How are we working with our European partners, in particular, and what is our long-term strategy in terms of free and fair elections and standing up to this regime? Will the Minister set out his response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis, as some humanitarian organisations are concerned that that has been lagging a little bit in the past?
May I thank the hon. Gentleman for—if I may put it this way—the responsible nature of his questions and observations? I had a very extensive conversation on Friday evening with High Representative Federica Mogherini on exactly his question. We obviously want to see the maximum possible unity between the views of the Lima Group, the Organisation of American States, the United States and the EU. The EU, of course, has many citizens living in Venezuela and therefore has a direct interest in the plight of that country.
As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, those who have left Venezuela are in staggering numbers: well over 1 million have gone to Colombia; well over 1 million to Peru; nearly half a million each to Ecuador, Argentina and Chile; and 180,000 to Brazil. This is the biggest movement of population we have ever seen in Latin America, certainly of those caused by one person’s bad government rather than some kind of drought, famine or natural disaster. As I said, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Minister will speak at length to EU colleagues in Bucharest on Thursday, when he will be at the Gymnich meeting, and we will do all we can to make sure that there is unity of approach should the eight days not be met with a promise of having elections from President Maduro.
Our thoughts must be with the people of Venezuela at this extremely difficult time, and they must also be with our embassy staff. Caracas is already a very dangerous capital. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that everything will be done to ensure their safety? Furthermore, will he look at reinstating the Foreign Office budget that allowed regional ambassadors to meet in the region at least twice a year so that they can come up with a better co-ordinated response? This budget was cut and I believe that that should be revisited.
My right hon. Friend was a very distinguished Minister for the region when he was himself in the Foreign Office, and he knows an enormous amount about the subject. I can assure him and the House that I have been in regular contact with our excellent ambassador in Caracas, Andrew Soper. I am confident that, certainly at the moment, their wellbeing is fine and that they are not under threat. That must remain the case, of course. In terms of the budget, we are of course looking at where we will be when we leave the European Union, and Latin America is a very important focus for many of the bilateral and regional relationships that we want to develop and enhance.
I was appalled by the letter in The Guardian this morning, but more importantly, it was factually incorrect. America still buys 500,000 barrels of oil a day from Venezuela and props up the economy. It could withdraw from that, but has declined to do so because it would have an impact on the Venezuelan people.
I am concerned about the 4 million migrants, half of whom are children. I think that Members will be deeply concerned about their welfare, because they are destitute and struggling in the countries that the Minister has named. I have written to him many times since we came back from the summer recess about what the United Kingdom is doing. We are organising nothing; we are not involved in anything. Ministers come to the Dispatch Box with warm words, but it appears from the replies that he has given to me that our aid programme is no more than £10.2 million. When are the Government going to step up to the plate and look after these vulnerable people whom we should be looking after and caring for?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his concern for those who have fled. We have to recognise the extraordinary generosity of the neighbours of Venezuela, who have had to take these people on. Our scope to do an enormous amount is limited, in that we have to work largely through multilateral organisations, as this is not an area in which the Department for International Development has had much historical involvement. We cannot just turn that on a sixpence, as I well know from my time in DFID, but the UK always steps up to the plate when it comes to helping people who are in trouble. Most of all, we should applaud countries such as Colombia that have welcomed well over 1 million refugees and ensured that they have been able safely to escape the perils of remaining in Venezuela.
Though frightful for Venezuelans, this does serve as a powerful object lesson, does it not?
In many respects, indeed it does. One always has to be aware of my right hon. Friend’s very short and pithy questions. It is always better to just say, “Absolutely, yes; he is quite right.”
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) on securing the urgent question. Maduro is presiding over a corrupt regime after rigged elections and is inflicting misery on his own people. He has no legitimacy. While the shadow Foreign Secretary suggests that recognising the democratically elected president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, would be interventionist, does the Minister agree that these exceptional circumstances merit such an approach if no free and fair elections are forthcoming, not least because of the intensity of the human tragedy that is unfolding and the rigged elections that the presidency of Maduro is based on?
I totally agree with the hon. Lady. What the Venezuelan people have had to suffer at the hands of Maduro is beyond contempt. Across the Floor of the House, we all believe that it is very important to champion human rights. I remind those who think that it is appropriate to support Venezuela at the moment on the one hand, and then on the other believe that they are also champions of human rights, that it is Venezuela’s neighbours who have referred not only the person but the entire state, for the first time ever, to the International Criminal Court, citing 8,000 extrajudicial executions, 12,000 arbitrary arrests and 13,000 political prisoners in custody. If people want to champion Venezuela, they are also championing that, and they should be ashamed of themselves.
I have been listening carefully to these exchanges because I visited Venezuela quite frequently until about 10 years ago. I remember it as a very attractive place with a rapidly emerging economy and a reasonably democratic constitution. Does my right hon. Friend share my slight trepidation and sense of powerlessness about exactly what the United Kingdom and our various allies are going to do? When he is consulting with the United States and the European Union, will he advise against just imposing more economic sanctions, which will cause even more poverty to the population of Venezuela, probably without moving the Maduro Government unduly? Will he consider targeted sanctions aimed at shifting the military elite, who are obviously solely responsible for keeping this dreadful Government in power? Will he consult not only the European Union and the United States, but friendly countries in the rest of Latin America? Governments such as that of Colombia will be the best guides to what might be done to change something in this completely failed and disgraceful regime.
As usual, my right hon. and learned Friend offers the House some very wise advice and guidance, and I am able to say yes to pretty much everything he said. First, when it comes to sanctions, it is important to target individuals rather than cause increased pain to the citizens of Venezuela. On the other hand, most of the money that goes in gets stolen anyway and goes to the elite, so although one might think that sanctions would in normal circumstances often cause more damage to the country, they in fact do more broadly target the elite.
When it comes to talking to Venezuela’s neighbours, that is exactly what we in the Government and I personally have been doing for well over a year. The Lima Group, which is championed, as the name suggests, by the Foreign Minister of Peru, have been acting very closely together, and they are the ones that have been very tough on Venezuela—in some cases, removing ambassadors and calling for early elections and the removal of Maduro—and we are talking to them. It is from Venezuela’s regional neighbours that we perhaps take our most detailed steer and guidance in knowing how to approach this very difficult issue.
The Maduro regime has clearly been a disaster for the people of Venezuela, with the humanitarian catastrophe, as we have heard, and the appalling abuses of human rights documented by Amnesty International and others. I agree that pressing for fresh, free and fair elections must be our priority, but may I urge the Government to tread carefully in how we get there? Let us be honest, United States interference in Latin American countries has a pretty tragic and troubled history. Surely it is best for us to pursue the correct objective of seeking fresh elections via negotiation and mediation first.
Yes, I think pressure is also needed to bring about those elections, which is why countries across the world are working very closely together. I think the unity of opinion among such a broad collection of different regions—America, including Canada; the EU; and the immediate neighbours—has the same view. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should be cautious, because the narrative of US interference in Latin America can stir up counterproductive voices. At the moment, what we want to do is solve the problem, rather than relive some of the difficulties of decades ago.
It is only two weeks since the BBC 2 film “Revolution in Ruins”, on the legacy of Hugo Chavez, was broadcast, previewing what became worse with Maduro. Will my right hon. Friend invite the socialists who had the letter in The Guardian to come and see him to get them to explain whether they think things went wrong because of the personalities of Chavez and Maduro, or because of the policies and practices followed by those two Presidents?
Tempted though I am by my hon. Friend’s suggestion that I should meet the signatories, it is a temptation I will choose to resist. Instead, I might send them the speech I gave in Chatham House last November about Venezuela so that they can learn a little bit more about history than they could perhaps impart to me.
Put it in the Library, if it is not there already. [Interruption.] Very good.
When I visited Venezuela in 2009, I was shown around a theoretically brand-new hospital, which was meant to be fully operational. Those showing me around must have thought I was a complete and utter idiot because every ward I went into had exactly the same patients—they were scurrying around from one ward to another. The truth is that the Venezuelan Government have lied for years and years to their people and to the outside world, particularly Russia and China, and the people who are feeling the damage are the poor children on the streets and the parents who are unable to feed their children because there is nothing in the shops.
My biggest fear is what this may do to Colombia, however, because the peace process is very tender and Iván Duque’s election is not necessarily moving towards restabilising it. Could the Foreign Office in this country perform a very useful function in working with the Spanish Government to try to bring security and stability to Colombia, which is facing such an enormous influx from Venezuela?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. One of the reasons why the United Nations is interested is that this is not a domestic issue for Venezuela; it has regional and therefore international implications. One of those implications, as I said in my opening response, is that Venezuela is harbouring some of the elements who would undermine the peace process in Colombia. He is absolutely right, and he has a long-standing interest in and has supported the Colombian peace process. We need to understand that process fully and to realise that these matters are linked. Therefore, solving the problem in Venezuela can significantly help with the challenges, which are increasing, in Colombia.
It is seven weeks since one of my hon. Friends wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the chairman of the Bank of England about the gold being held on behalf of the central bank of Venezuela. I followed that up with letters to the Governor, the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the first letter sent to a foreign Head of Government by interim President Guaidó was to the Prime Minister on 26 January about the gold being held on behalf of the central bank of Venezuela? The president of the central bank of Venezuela is unconstitutionally appointed, because he has not been approved by the national assembly. What are our Government going to do?
I am aware of the letter, and, for the benefit of Members, if they do not know already, I confirm that the Bank of England holds a significant amount of Venezuela’s gold under a contract. The answer to my hon. Friend is that this is a decision for the Bank of England, not the Government. It has to make the decision on this, and no doubt when it does so it will take into account that many countries across the world are now questioning the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro and recognising that of Juan Guaidó.
Why does this matter to the streets of Harlow? It is because 50% of cocaine shipments come through Venezuela. If there is a new regime there, will the Government work with it to stop cocaine reaching our shores and affecting the millions of people on hard drugs?
My right hon. Friend is right. This has significance across the world because large amounts of drugs are trafficked through Venezuela. Of course, one cannot tackle that problem with the Government of Venezuela because they are party to that inappropriate drug trafficking themselves. Therefore, the solution for the streets of Harlow when it comes to Venezuela is to deal with a legitimate Government who are prepared to tackle the problem head-on in Venezuela.
After a proper ballot and, hopefully, the election success of Juan Guaidó— whose party, incidentally, is a member of the Socialist International—Venezuela will still face an existential crisis, with the Maduro legacy of economic meltdown, a collapsing oil industry, hyperinflation, food shortages and 3 million citizens in exile. Should not the UK, the EU and the international community be preparing a Marshall plan for the reconstruction of Venezuela?
One of the tragedies of Venezuela is that it has massive resources of its own. If only they were properly used, invested in and managed, no Marshall plan would be necessary in the way the right hon. Gentleman suggests. The country would be able to take advantage of having some of the greatest oil reserves in the world.
The hon. Member for North West Leicestershire is poised like a panther about to pounce. Let us hear the fellow.
It is the only way to be noticed, Mr Speaker.
I welcome the urgent question. For too long, the House has stood by and watched Venezuela, which should be a prosperous country, slip into tyranny and destitution. Did my right hon. Friend hear the comments made on the radio by Ken Livingstone, the former Labour Mayor of London? He said that the reason for the problems in Venezuela was that the Marxist regime, when it seized power, did not execute enough people.
This is all very well, and I look forward to hearing the Minister of State, but it is fair to say that he has no responsibility for the pronouncements of Mr Livingstone, and is probably pleased not to have.
It is always a pleasure not to even have to let the name pass my lips. However, it allows me to echo what I said earlier today—those who support the regime and make excuses for it, instead of focusing on the absolute degradation of human life that it has created, bring shame on themselves.
The Venezuelan economy has been crippled by US sanctions. The first UN rapporteur to visit the country for 21 years is quoted as saying that US sanctions on the country are illegal and could amount to “crimes against humanity” under international law. Former special rapporteur Alfred De Zayas said that the US is waging “economic warfare” against Venezuela.
The issue is that there is a real danger. Venezuela is divided. There is no doubt about that. The truth is that millions support the Maduro Government and there is huge opposition to it. Intervention from the United States could precipitate a civil war and lead to a humanitarian catastrophe. Will the Minister explain why there are the double standards? Is it that he wants to facilitate another humanitarian catastrophe, as we are seeing in Yemen with British arms? Does he want to see the same in Venezuela? Does he not support the self-determination of peoples around the world, rather than intervention from western powers?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) referred to “Poundland Lenins”. I have just seen in this House one who is not even worth a penny, let alone a pound. I recognise when I see it, as do Members on the Opposition Benches, unreconstructed ideological nonsense—he is a throwback and he brings shame; indeed, I am astonished he has even been prepared to show his face in this House today. If he wants self-determination I can offer it to him: it comes from legitimate elections in Venezuela when the Venezuelan people can determine who shall run their Government.
It takes a special kind of socialist incompetence to turn a country with the largest proven oil reserves in the world into one where 90% of the population live in poverty and 3.5 million citizens, 10%, have fled to neighbouring countries. The Minister has quite rightly insisted that there be full, fair and free elections in that country. What role will the United Kingdom play in ensuring that the elections are fair?
When it comes to elections, we often offer very substantial advice and assistance to ensure that electoral registers are properly drawn up, and that the conduct of elections is properly monitored and financed. In this case, I hope it will be far more than just the UK taking an interest. I hope there will be a global effort to ensure that, together across the world, we can help to rescue the country from the tyranny it has been facing from Maduro.
Does the Minister not agree that the hundreds of thousands taking to the streets in Venezuela and the millions fleeing that country are not doing so because of some grand Trump-oil conspiracy, but because they are starving? They are starving and they are suffering because of Maduro’s corrupt communism. Would it not be better if those who have been hailing that discredited ideology took this opportunity to apologise and admit they were wrong?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his good sense and for his sense of humanity in analysing what is going on in Venezuela. I noticed that, as he said what he said, he cast a glance at his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson). It astonishes me that some of those who are so unreconstructed, who are nothing more than throwbacks to an old communist era, bleat about the poor and are then happy to support someone who has done nothing other than make poor people poorer.
Is my right hon. Friend as shocked as I am that the average Venezuelan lost 10 kg of their bodyweight in 2018 as a result of this regime?
As the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) said, there are very many in Venezuela who are absolutely starving. This could be the richest country in Latin America, yet it has been reduced to poverty and destitution by the regime. Many are starving and many of the Venezuelans who are not are those who have managed to escape the country and go to generous countries next door.
May I start by putting on the record my disgust at the fact that Baroness Massey, my friend who sits in the other place, had her name wrongly attributed to the letter in The Guardian this morning? That is a disgrace, as indeed is the letter. Every right-thinking Member of this House should unite in condemning the Maduro regime and call for his removal. Once that has happened, we will need significant support for Venezuela to organise free and fair elections. I know the Minister addressed this point earlier, but will the UK take a lead in ensuring that all necessary global support is given to Venezuela? It will be one of the biggest challenges faced by a country coming out of a dictatorship for many, many years.
The Government absolutely recognise that Baroness Massey’s reputation is intact. We fully acknowledge that her name was wrongly put on that letter, and we in no way associate her good reputation with the other signatories.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that it will take a lot of international effort to replace the corrupt electoral practices with ones that can be trusted. I will speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, and it will be absolutely central to the Foreign Office’s policy for Venezuela that we do all we can to assist in the holding of free, fair, trustworthy and properly democratic elections as soon as possible.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) on securing this urgent question, and I support the Minister’s words.
Since the 1530s, the indigenous nations and peoples of both Americas have suffered untold cruelty due to the political elites that have ruled them. When a legitimate, democratic Government returns in the future, will the UK Government, through the United Nations and other support agencies, support the immediate return of those indigenous peoples to Venezuela and ensure that the land that is rightfully theirs is given to them?
One of our hopes is that most of the many millions who have fled to neighbouring countries will want to return. Venezuela is not like Syria, where the infrastructure has been completely flattened by conflict. We will design plans with our allies and partners, and I hope that many of those millions will want to and will return to their homes and livelihoods in Venezuela.
I thank the Minister for his very strong answers and his determined stance on TV last night—well done! We all endorse that. A Venezuelan teacher who was fleeing across the border was interviewed on the TV news last night, and she said that her teacher’s wage could buy only 12 eggs because of the inflation under a communist regime. Does the Minister agree that that is indicative of the shocking state of Venezuela? Shame on Sinn Féin for its unsurprising, disgraceful support of a system that put President Maduro in place with no hint of a democratic process! This House must send a strong message, and that dictator must not be endorsed.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is one of those rare moments in history when a country’s inflation must be measured in millions of per cent. It is almost impossible to get one’s mind around that extraordinary statistic.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about my appearance on television. Normally, I appear much more on foreign television screens, and therefore am much better known and popular abroad than at home.
We are grateful to the Minister and all colleagues, led by the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), in this important matter.