EU Membership

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 14th May 2014.

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Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 11:30 am, 14th May 2014

What assessment he has made of the net benefits to people in Wales of the UK’s membership of the EU.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

What estimate he has made of the level of trade undertaken by businesses in Wales with countries in the EU.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Whether he has recently discussed the importance of UK membership of the EU with leading employers in Wales.

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales

The EU remains a vital export market for Wales, together with countries outside the EU, but Wales and the UK would benefit from a renegotiated position within Europe, which is why the Prime Minister has committed to negotiating a new settlement in the European Union, to secure jobs and growth and to enable the EU to become more competitive, flexible and prosperous.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Given that 191,000 jobs in Wales are directly dependent on the EU, that £1 billion came to Wales last year from the EU, and that firms such as Ford in the south and Airbus in the north are committed to maintaining our relationship with the EU, will the Secretary of State join me in saying that the EU is good for Britain? The uncertainty that he is creating should be stopped.

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales

I certainly agree with the right hon. Gentleman that membership of a free trade area is extremely good for Britain. Where I disagree with him, I think, is on the level of intervention and top-down meddlesome interference by the EU. The people of this country clearly want a referendum on Europe and only the Conservative party can and will deliver that referendum.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

What Welsh business leaders want from their political leaders is certainty about our future in the European Union. Why is the Secretary of State so reluctant to say that being a member of the European Union is good for Wales? Is he personally committed to this country’s future membership of the European Union?

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales

As I have just made clear to Mr Hanson, I believe that membership of a free trade area is extremely important for Britain, but what the people of this country want is a say on whether they should remain part of the sort of Europe we have at the moment. It is interesting that the Labour Party is not anxious to deliver a voice to the people of Wales.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am rightly reprimanded, Mr Speaker. I must pay attention.

On the basis that the head of European operations has made it clear that to threaten exit from the EU would be cutting off our nose to spite our face, and that 14,000 jobs in Ford Bridgend and in Dagenham would rely on our not leaving the EU, will the right hon. Gentleman say that he, as the Secretary of State for Wales responsible for protecting those jobs, is personally committed to keeping Wales within the UK and the European Union?

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales

I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the director of operations for Ford’s manufacturing operations in Europe, Mr Steve Odell. Mr Odell also said:

“there are absolutely some rules and regulations…that are difficult to take”.

We agree with Mr Odell on that and that is why we want the people of this country to have their say on their future in Europe after renegotiation, which only the Conservative party can and will deliver.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many people in Wales are deeply concerned about the extra powers that have been given to the European Union, largely by Labour Members, and that it is absolutely right that this coalition Government should seek to renegotiate our position in the European Union and put the results of that negotiation to the people of Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom?

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales

My hon. Friend is entirely right. This Conservative party intends to renegotiate our position within Europe and to put that renegotiation to the British people in a vote by the end of 2017. We think that that is democracy and it is a shame that the Labour party does not share that view.

Photo of James Wharton James Wharton Conservative, Stockton South

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend that we need to renegotiate and get a better deal from the European Union, but does he not also agree that it is about time we ended the uncertainty and that the only way we can do that is by giving the British people, not just in Wales but across the UK, a say in an in/out vote?

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales

My hon. Friend is right and I applaud his sterling efforts to try to achieve that. We intend to give the people of this country—the whole country—a vote on Europe and we are the only party that can and will do that.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Clearly, one opportunity offered by the European Union is that of greater investment in the energy supply in Wales and potential exports to the EU. What conversations has my right hon. Friend had with his colleagues in the European Union on the opportunities for such investment?

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales

The energy sector is very important for Wales and the Government are investing heavily in energy, including giving support for the new nuclear power station at Wylfa Newydd. The market between this country and Europe is extremely important—a two-way flow—and our energy interventions will ensure that our energy sector is supported.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

We know that this Government are out of touch, but listening to the Secretary of State this morning I fear that he is completely out of touch with the views of Welsh business about the European Union. Has he spoken to Ford, GE, Hitachi, Citibank, BMW or Airbus, which are all companies that have expressed their concerns? If he has not, does he know how many jobs in Wales are reliant on our membership of the European Union?

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales

I speak regularly to Welsh businesses—I dare say more frequently than the hon. Gentleman does. What is absolutely clear is that although Welsh businesses value their engagement with Europe, they feel that there is too much regulation and too much meddlesome interference from the European Union. We need to strike a proper balance. That is why we intend to renegotiate our position with Europe and at the end of that process hold a referendum.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

I doubt that the Secretary of State is actively talking to those businesses, because when I talk to them, what I hear are their grave concerns about the uncertainty that he is creating. He did not answer the question. In truth, one in seven jobs in Wales is now reliant on EU trade. Does he not accept that the attitude of his Government and the attitude of a Secretary of State who has referred to Europe as “a basket case” is jeopardising those jobs, and does he not realise that it is only Labour who will secure them? That is why a Labour vote next week is a vote for jobs in Wales.

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales

What I recognise fully is that the Labour party is reluctant—in fact, it is refusing—to give the British people a vote on this important issue. So far as business is concerned, the hon. Gentleman ought to understand that 72% of companies interviewed in north America for the Ernst and Young attractiveness survey thought that reduced integration in the EU would make the UK more attractive as a foreign direct investment location. He does not understand that; we do, which is why we can and we will give the people of Wales and Britain a vote on their future in Europe.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

With 300,000 people in Wales being paid less than the living wage, what impact does the Secretary of State consider uncontrolled immigration from the EU is having on wage levels in Wales?

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales

These matters will of course have to form part of the negotiation that we propose. We believe that by and large our membership of the EU has been beneficial for Britain, but clearly the form that we have at the moment needs renegotiation.