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Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 23rd May 2016.

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Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru 9:00 pm, 23rd May 2016

My Lords, I too shall focus on the EU. I declare my interest as a board member of Britain Stronger in Europe. But first, on the impending Wales Bill, I hope that the Government will legislate for the Silk commission’s unanimous recommendation of devolving the police service since, following the recent elections, all four police commissioners in Wales—two Plaid Cymru and two Labour—support such a move. I also urge the Government to do everything to improve our relationship with Argentina since, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, stated, a historic opportunity has arisen following the elections there last autumn.

Plaid Cymru urges the people of Wales to vote to remain in the EU. Leaving would have many negative consequences for Wales and the UK. I am four years younger than the noble Lord, Lord Soley—although many of his arguments are ones we must come back to—and my generation is blessed by having enjoyed comparative peace. My parents lived through two bloody world wars. It was to avoid our continent ever again being torn apart that motivated the founders of the European Union. Over the past 70 years we have benefited from the longest period of peace between EU nations in 400 years. The Brexiteers claim that NATO, not the EU, has prevented war. While such a mutual defence treaty is a key military factor, even more important is the building of understanding and mutual trust between peoples and between nations that is facilitated by the European Union. That generates attitudes that make war unthinkable. Peace is not just the absence of armed conflict, it is something much more substantial: it is the forging of friendship and practical co-operation, finding ways to compromise and mutually acceptable ways forward. If we allow the EU to collapse, we start dismantling the infrastructure of peace in our continent and our grandchildren could pay an awful price.

For Wales, the financial and economic factors are clear-cut. We get more by way of direct financial benefit from the EU than we pay to the EU. Over the period to 2020, we shall receive £2 billion from EU structural funds. Other beneficiaries include our farmers. Direct payments benefit 80% of Welsh farmers and the CAP provides 55% of UK income from farming. Economically there is huge benefit from being in a market of 500 million people—here, clearly, I dissent from some comments made a moment ago. More than 90% of Welsh sheep and beef exports go to the EU. More than 200 American and 50 Japanese manufacturing companies have located in Wales specifically to sell to EU markets. If we had not been in the EU, they would not have come to Wales. Companies such as Toyota, Siemens and Airbus have stated that being outside the EU would hamper their long-term interests, and the knock-on effect would hit dozens of small companies in their supply chains.

When we ask Brexiteers what trading arrangement they propose with the EU, we get widely different responses. Some initially cited Norway as their model. Some cited Switzerland. But as it became apparent that those two models contradict other Brexit arguments—such as avoiding all payments, escaping regulations and reducing immigration—they have retreated, it seems, to espousing general international trading treaties, whereby our EU exports would face tariff barriers. This would add between 14% and 70% to our farm export prices, undermining their competitiveness.

As the Brexit case collapses, many Brexiteers retreat to their core motivator—immigration—and in doing so can trigger extremely dangerous attitudes among a minority of the population of the UK. Myopic prejudice against foreigners is not just evil, it ignores the question of what would happen to our hospitals and hotels without immigrant staff, and what would happen to the 2 million Brits living in other parts of the EU.

The European Union has pioneered employee and family rights, particularly the rights of disabled people. EU legislation shaped the UN convention on disability rights. Students continue to get help from the Erasmus programme, and our tourism benefits from EU environmental initiatives.

The consequence of Brexit are stark. What if French authorities no longer restrain those wanting to leave Calais for the UK? How do we control the land border which the UK has with the EU—do we build an iron curtain between the north and south of Ireland? How does quitting the EU enable us to deal with Turkey? As a member state, we have a veto on Turkey’s accession; outside, we have no such voice.

Of course the EU has its faults. But surely, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, stressed, the better role for Britain is to be in there, arguing our case and giving leadership, where appropriate, to build a more democratic, more decentralist Europe, rather than sulking on the fringes.

There are deeper reasons for remaining in the EU. Much of our heritage goes back to ancient Greece and Rome. Our culture and Christian values are pre-eminently European. We are part of Europe and to retreat into a blinkered, offshore island mentality is a disservice to future generations. I am proud that Plaid Cymru is an outward-looking internationalist party, which totally rejects racial nationalism and welcomes people to Wales whatever their language, colour or creed. As such, we campaign for Wales and the UK to remain in the EU, which on all key criteria is overwhelmingly in our nation’s interest.