Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

1. Questions to the First Minister – in the Senedd at 1:49 pm on 8 March 2022.

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Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 1:49, 8 March 2022


Questions now from the party leaders. Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies.

Photo of Andrew RT Davies Andrew RT Davies Conservative

Thank you, First MinisterPresiding Officer, sorry. [Laughter.] You haven't quite had the promotion yet. First Minister, Russia and Ukraine produce about a third of the world's wheat exports. Ukraine, historically, has been known as the breadbasket of Europe, but because of the awful events that we are seeing unfold in this part of the world, the cost of wheat, for example, has jumped by a third, and forward markets indicate a doubling of the price of wheat. It's not just wheat, but fertilizer and many other fundamental aspects of food production that are going through the roof in their price, and availability is coming short. What work has the Welsh Government undertaken to understand the impact on food production here in Wales, and what actions does the Welsh Government believe it can take to alleviate some of these pressures that we are seeing on a global market?

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour

I agree of course with what the leader of the opposition has said about those wider impacts of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine, between them, provide about 30 per cent of global wheat exports. We're not as exposed directly to that in the United Kingdom as other parts of the world. Indeed, it is the poorer parts of the world that are more directly exposed—90 per cent, for example, of wheat used in Lebanon comes from Russia, whereas we're 88 per cent self-sufficient in wheat. But, global prices will rise in the way that the Member indicated and we will be affected by the impact on production here in the United Kingdom. Forty per cent of the world's supply of potash comes from Belarus and Russia, and significant exports of ammonia, also used in the production of fertiliser, come from the same part of the world.

Welsh Government officials have carried out an analysis of the extent to which Wales will be exposed, not just in terms of food production but other things as well. The price of nickel has doubled this week on the world's market and it's used in industries that are important here in Wales—semiconductor chips, smartphones, electric vehicles and so on, and a range of other things. So, our job, Llywydd, it seems to me, is to carry out the best assessment we can of the impact here in Wales and then to use the opportunities we have to feed that information into the assessment that the UK Government is making. Because the key decisions that can be made in order to try to address some of these consequences will be the responsibility best discharged at a UK level. We continue to have opportunities where we are able to make sure that the best available information and analysis that we can provide from a Welsh perspective is fed into that ongoing process. 

Photo of Andrew RT Davies Andrew RT Davies Conservative 1:52, 8 March 2022

First Minister, the chief executive of Yara, which is the world's largest fertiliser producer, said it's not a case of if we have food shortages, it's more a case of the scale of those food shortages because of events in Ukraine. We have an agriculture Bill coming before the Senedd, being introduced by the Minister in April. The dynamics changed fundamentally two weeks ago when Putin invaded the breadbasket of Europe. Do you see from your understanding of the situation changes needed to be made in that agriculture Bill? It's an agriculture Bill that will be the first agriculture Bill for 75 years, and will guide the direction of policy and incentives that may be available to the agricultural industry here in Wales to make up the difference, albeit in a limited capacity because of the land mass that Wales forms as part of the wider land mass of the global food supply chain. But it is an important opportunity to consider the new world we live in today, and that Bill will be a fundamental plank to make up some of these differences.

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 1:53, 8 March 2022

The agriculture Bill will, of course, support the production of food by Welsh farmers, and the changing nature of the marketplace, the Member is right, needs to be taken into account in that. But, the agriculture Bill will also reward active farmers who produce public goods that the public is prepared to pay for. Both of those aspects of the Bill will continue to be important. Where farmers are able to produce food for which there is a market, the Bill will provide the mechanisms by which that can be supported, but there are other very important things that farmers do that we believe there is a public interest in supporting, and the Bill will provide for those aspects as well.

Photo of Andrew RT Davies Andrew RT Davies Conservative 1:54, 8 March 2022

First Minister, the events of two weeks ago have moved food security to the centre stage, I would suggest, and the whole responsibility of agricultural policy does reside on your Government benches. I do hope that you will consider the new elements that we're facing and the new challenges and opportunities we're facing when that Bill is introduced to us here in April. The Irish Government, some years ago, formed a policy document called 'Food Harvest 2020'. In that document, they pulled together the farmers, the processors and the retailers to build a consensus about how to reach the challenge of producing more food in the Republic of Ireland. Will you, in light of what has gone on in Ukraine, call a food summit of farmers, processors and retailers, so that they can inform the policy development work and outcomes of the Welsh Government so that Wales can play its part in growing its food production base, and play our part in the overall food security goals of this country?

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 1:55, 8 March 2022

There is to be an inter-ministerial group, bringing together Ministers from across the United Kingdom, on 21 March. The Welsh Government has asked for food security to be placed on the agenda of that inter-ministerial group. I'll ask my colleague Lesley Griffiths to discuss with her contacts in the Welsh agricultural industry, with whom she is in contact all the time, when that meeting has taken place, to explore with them whether a meeting of the sort the leader of the opposition has suggested would be of value to them. Of course, the Welsh Government always has to calibrate our proposals in the light of changing circumstances. The agriculture Bill will have a new context with events in Ukraine, but it's had a new context as a result of trade deals struck with Australia and New Zealand as well—trade deals that are hostile to the interests of Welsh agriculture, and also form part of the context within which that Bill has to come forward.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru

Diolch, Llywydd. On this International Women's Day, it's impossible not to think about those many Ukrainian women, many with children, tired, traumatised, desperate, having travelled out of a war zone and across the European continent only to be turned away at Calais by UK Government officials and told they have to go to Paris or Brussels to make an application for a visa. Where is the humanity of the British Government when it does something as risibly cold-hearted as that? Contrast that with the red carpets that were rolled out and the golden visas that were handed out to the Prime Minister's Russian oligarch friends. Contrast that to the situation in the Republic of Ireland, which has already welcomed over 1,800 refugees without visas, six times the number that have been issued visas by the UK so far, a state 10 times the size of the Republic of Ireland. Isn't it time the UK Government showed the sense of moral urgency that a situation of this gravity, the largest refugee crisis in Europe since world war two, commands?

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 1:57, 8 March 2022

Every time I meet with UK Ministers in relation to events in Ukraine, they assure me that the UK Government wants to do everything it can to make provision for people who will want to make their way to this country because of the desperate situation they face there. What we desperately need is to see those intentions translated into services on the ground that those people can use and can use in a way that recognises the circumstances that they now face. The accounts of what has happened in Calais have damaged the reputation of this country around the world. When the Home Secretary said that she was sending a 'surge team' to Calais to help people, it turned out to be three people with a box of KitKats and crisps. How can the UK Government possibly think that people in those circumstances are going to be able to make their way across the continent of Europe to yet further capitals? If they get to Brussels, they've not only got to get there, but they've got to get there on the right day, because the service available is only open for half the week. This is absolutely not what people in this country expect their Government to be doing. The level of generosity shown here in Wales and across the United Kingdom to people who now need our help is absolutely striking, isn't it? They expect their Government to respond in the same way. They do not expect people who live in this country already, who are British citizens already, to be turned away at Calais and told that they don't have the right piece of paper and now have to make their way elsewhere. I really think this is the day where the things that UK Ministers say have to be turned into the effective actions that are needed to make sure that those people who need our help can be confident that they will get it.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru 2:00, 8 March 2022

First Minister, in May 1937 hundreds of Basque children fleeing fascism were welcomed in Wales as part of a concerted effort organised voluntarily—again, in the teeth of inaction from the British Government at the time. Is this something that we can seek to emulate now, not in the hundreds, but in the thousands? The UK Government talks about a humanitarian pathway involving sponsorship by local authorities or private individuals or companies—a wholly unnecessary bureaucratic hurdle in our view. But given they have placed that obstacle there, could we help minimise it by creating a nationally co-ordinated Welsh sponsorship scheme, and could you update us on the potentially very positive discussions that are ongoing in relation to the use of our national airport as a receiving entry point for Ukrainian refugees?

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 2:01, 8 March 2022

I thank Adam Price for that. I have already raised with UK Ministers ways in which we could do things differently here in Wales, using the experience we have of working with our local authorities, with our third sector organisations, so that we have a simple, swift, safe and legal route for people wanting to make their way to this country. There are further discussions to be had this week, and what I've asked the UK Government to do is to give us the flexibility that we would need here in Wales to be able to do things in the most effective way, because we are simply better placed to be able to do that closer to where those decisions need to be made than somebody sitting in Whitehall trying to devise a further bureaucratic solution to the humanitarian crisis.

And if we are able to play a part through the offer that Wizz Air has made, and Members here will know about it—Wizz Air offering to fly, at its own expense, 100,000 people to the United Kingdom, particularly from those countries that have already absorbed hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people into their communities while we struggle to get a handful of people into the United Kingdom. So, Wizz Air has made that offer. Cardiff Airport could be an important part of making that happen. We of course are in conversations with the chief executive and others in the team at the airport. They are on standby right round the clock to be part of any further discussions. There will be more meetings later this week to see whether or not playing a part in that way could become part of the way in which the United Kingdom discharges our moral obligation, as the leader of Plaid Cymru said—our moral obligation to do everything we can to help.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru 2:03, 8 March 2022

Turning, First Minister, to the situation facing women here in Wales on this International Women's Day, Chwarae Teg's annual 'State of the Nation' report showed that in 2021 Wales's gender pay gap, already significant, increased further. Women remain four times more likely to cite looking after the family or home as the reason for not engaging in the formal paid economy, and we see larger gender gaps emerge in terms of pay, employment and average hours for older women who are more likely to have caring responsibilities. Inequality in the economy will only be eradicated when women are able to enter and progress in work in the same way as men. With this in mind, do you agree that free universal childcare for every child, at the very least over the age of 1, should be a policy goal that we should set in Wales as part of our commitment to achieving genuine gender justice?

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 2:04, 8 March 2022

Well, Llywydd, childcare services clearly are a fundamental part of ensuring that there can be equal participation in the workplace, and equal pay as part of that deal as well. We are committed through our co-operation agreement to extend free childcare to children from the age of 2 onwards. That is a significant financial commitment, but as I know the leader of Plaid Cymru knows as well, it isn't just money—you have to have in place the trained workforce, you have to have in place the premises that you need, and a great deal of work is going on to make sure that we can have all of those components in place to move that further, next and important step on that journey.

Later this afternoon, my colleague Jane Hutt will be making a statement on the floor of the Senedd to mark International Women's Day, and I know that she will have more to say on childcare, on violence against women, on providing the real living wage in social care, and a range of other policy initiatives that this Government is taking and that we are very keen to highlight today.