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EU Membership

Volume 593: debated on Wednesday 4 March 2015

2. What recent discussions he has had with business representatives in Wales on the importance of membership of the EU to the Welsh economy. (907769)

Membership of the European Union’s single market is good for businesses in Wales. However, businesses tell me that the burdens and costs imposed by the European Union are making it harder for them to grow. This Government are determined to renegotiate our membership with the European Union to get a better deal for Wales and for UK businesses, and to put that to the people.

How many tens of thousands of jobs in Wales does the Minister think would be at risk if the UK left the EU?

A renegotiated European Union provides greater opportunities for businesses in Wales. I know that the hon. Gentleman shows great interest in Airbus, which says:

“Regardless of which decision the UK will make, we are strongly committed to our operations in the UK”.

The British Chambers of Commerce also supports that position. I am absolutely confident that the growth in Wales will contribute to more jobs and provide more of the certainty that people want.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue of British membership of the EU is indeed of concern to the people of Wales, who have not had their say on the issue for 40 years? Does he further agree that the only way they will get that say is with the return of a Conservative Government, because Labour will not give it to them?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We cannot pretend that this debate is not happening. We need to make the arguments for what the CBI wants—a reformed European Union of which the UK is a part.

I am intrigued. The Minister said earlier that businesses had told him various anti-EU things. Can he name a single business across the length and breadth of Wales—north, south, east or west—that has told him it would like Wales to leave the EU?

I am happy to point to the survey by the British Chambers of Commerce which showed that 77% of businesses support a referendum on EU membership, and said:

“British businesses remain determined to see a recalibrated relationship between the UK and the rest of the European Union, with more powers exercised from Westminster rather than Brussels.”

I hope that the hon. Lady supports that comment from the British Chambers of Commerce.

Does the Minister agree that businesses do not always speak with one voice on this issue? While big businesses are often the most able to cope with the bureaucracy sent to us from Brussels and might want to stay within the European Union, very often small businesses do not?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Many of the people who are scaremongering now are the same people who wanted to join the euro all those years ago. It is this party that stands up for the British economy and stands up for businesses, exactly as the British Chambers of Commerce, the CBI and Airbus say in the quotes I have given.

13. [907780] In 1998, I was successful in persuading my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) to accept Denbighshire and Conwy into the bid for objective 1 European funding. In that time, Denbighshire has had a quarter of a billion pounds of private sector and public sector funding from Europe. If Britain pulls out of the EU, my constituency and my county will lose £100 million over the next seven years. What does the Minister feel about that?

May I remind the hon. Gentleman that European structural funds are aimed at the poorest parts of Europe? It is no mark of celebration to say that his constituency succeeded in winning that money. This Government have a long-term economic plan to turn the economy around for the longer term rather than depending on the grants and handouts for which he makes the case. He also needs to be reminded that that is our money coming back with conditions attached.

Does the Minister agree that the reforms that the CBI and others are recommending for the single market, and for the European Union in general, are absolutely right for Wales and absolutely right for Britain, and that that should be a consideration for the referendum?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Opposition Members talk about some sort of so-called uncertainty, but that so-called uncertainty has given us the fastest-growing economy in the G7 and has made Wales the fastest-growing part of the United Kingdom, which we should be celebrating and marking.