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Volume 795: debated on Thursday 7 February 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to assist Venezuela in holding a free, fair and democratic presidential election.

My Lords, on 4 February my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary announced that the United Kingdom recognised Juan Guaidó as the constitutional interim President of Venezuela until credible presidential elections can be held. The United Kingdom, alongside its international partners, is committed to working to secure a peaceful solution to this crisis and prevent the risk of further violence. Our focus is on supporting the democratically elected parliament of Venezuela to resolve the current crisis to the benefit of the Venezuelan people.

My Lords, I commend the Government for joining Germany, France, Spain and others in Europe in rejecting the failed Administration of Maduro. As soon as possible, will the United Kingdom Government provide aid for the humanitarian crisis facing that country? Furthermore, when we get a democratically elected Government, will Her Majesty’s Government make representations to the IMF and other international lenders to get the huge debt that will be inherited from the failed Administration renegotiated? Lastly, have the Government had any indication that the leader of the Opposition in another place has had a change of heart, or does he continue, along with Russia and China, to support the failed Maduro Administration?

My Lords, first, on the issue of humanitarian aid, I think we have all watched pictures on the television showing the desperate plight of the Venezuelan people. I assure my noble friend that DfID is working very closely with my right honourable friend the Minister for the Americas, Sir Alan Duncan. We are already working through UN agencies to provide essential funding, particularly to the more than 3.2 million people who have fled Venezuela since the crisis began. On his second, very pertinent question, on the IMF, I assure my noble friend that we recognise that reconstruction in Venezuela will require support from international financial institutions and that, when the time is right, the UK will work closely with those and all like-minded international partners with the aim of getting Venezuela’s economy back on track.

On my noble friend’s final question, on the position of Her Majesty’s Opposition and, in particular, the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, while I have not heard directly from him, I followed the speech of the shadow Foreign Secretary, who answered a question on Venezuela yesterday. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, is taking note—

I will, but I am answering the question first. I was struck by the fact that the shadow Foreign Secretary said that we should be led by the countries of the region. Well, the countries of the region who have recognised the interim President—let us leave the US and Canada aside—are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. If she wants to follow the lead of the region, I suggest that Her Majesty’s Opposition look at that list very carefully.

I really must intervene. The noble Lord has used this Question as a Statement. The Statement is not being repeated in this Chamber. Let me make it absolutely clear: the position of the Opposition is that democracy has failed in Venezuela and the sooner we get free and fair elections, the better. We want from the Government, as the noble Lord said, a clear commitment to work with the international community to ensure that the humanitarian and economic crisis in Venezuela is addressed, because we know that Trump will not address it.

I ask the noble Lord again. We are addressing it and I have given a clear indication of what the Government are doing, but the Opposition need to step up to the mark. If you ask the people of Venezuela one question—what is the freedom they are fighting for?—they say they want free and fair elections. Maduro has not given them; it is time that Her Majesty’s Opposition recognised the interim President.

My Lords, given that Maduro has not given up and that the army has not deserted him, what action can we take to warn him to respect the right of the Venezuelans to demonstrate peacefully without risk to life and limb? Can the Bank of England take action to hold Venezuelan funds, which Maduro is apparently trying to access at the moment?

The noble Baroness raises an important point about the Bank of England. I am sure that, with its independent role, the Bank will abide by all rules and is looking at the situation in Venezuela very closely. She raises a very pertinent point about peaceful resolution. That is why, along with like-minded nations including leading European nations, we believe that recognising the interim President is an important first step, and we now call for Maduro to step aside and announce the appropriate date when presidential elections can take place.

My Lords, I remind the Minister that I have some related unanswered Questions, which he will no doubt answer in due course. Can he confirm whether gold assets are being held by the Bank of England on behalf of the central bank of Venezuela? Has there been any request to effect a transfer of any part of those assets? Are the Government empowered to block future requests for anything other than a proven legitimate reason?

With any matters relating to the Bank of England, it is appropriate for the Bank of England, in terms of confidentiality, to respond. The noble Viscount’s point is important. In making a request for a client, I am sure that the Bank of England would look at the appropriateness and legitimacy of both the client and the request.

My Lords, like others, I welcome the decision of Her Majesty’s Government to support other allies and democracies in support of Juan Guaidó. Does the Minister accept the urgent need to encourage all democratic parties—across parties; this is not a party issue—to condemn the socialist despot, Mr Maduro, and his pitiless Administration? As a democracy, surely all parties in this nation should roundly support that cause.

My noble friend makes an important point. As I said, along with other nations in the region and our European partners, we have asked Maduro to step aside. In terms of the economy and the suppression of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, the current situation in Venezuela is dire. That needs to be recognised, and all parties in this House and beyond need to recognise the interim President.