3. Statement by the First Minister: Raising Wales’s International Profile — An update on the Welsh Government’s international relations activity

– in the Senedd at 2:40 pm on 13 June 2023.

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Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 2:40, 13 June 2023


The next item is a statement by the First Minister on raising Wales's international profile and an update on the Welsh Government's international relations activity. The First Minister, Mark Drakeford.

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour


Thank you very much, Llywydd. Wales has long been an outward-looking country with strong international connections. Our history is full of stories of close collaboration with our nearest neighbours. Indeed, one of the most striking features of the Age of Saints is how far, and how frequently, Welsh men and women travelled to other places, with the sea that surrounds us on three sides as their common highway. Hundreds of years later, our leading role in the first industrial revolution drew people from around the globe to Wales for our coal, our iron and steel, and people with Welsh heritage have travelled beyond our borders and are to be found in every part of the world. That strong sense of internationalism is as significant to us today as it was all those centuries ago. It helps us to prosper as a country.

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union has made it more important than ever that we maintain and strengthen our long-standing relationships with regions and countries in Europe, but also with partners around the world. Our international strategy was developed to do just that, and to use all opportunities to build our profile internationally, and in that way to support businesses by opening new markets, supporting them to increase their exports and encouraging inward investment to Wales.


The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 2:42, 13 June 2023

Dirprwy Lywydd, Welsh goods exports surpassed the value of their pre-pandemic level at £20.5 billion in 2022. We will invest £4 million this year in a comprehensive programme of export support for Welsh businesses, including an active programme of trade missions and events. Following visits to Boston and Amsterdam last week, we will be taking businesses to Paris later this month.

Our international work, though, is not simply about trade. It’s an important opportunity to draw attention to the enormous talent that lies within Wales, and the values that are important to us as a nation. The unparalleled global attention focused on the world cup in Qatar provided a platform to promote Wales, to create opportunities for co-operation and business, but also to take every chance to set out the importance to Wales of our commitment to those rights—human rights, labour rights, rights of the LGBTQ+ population—that we believe belong to us all.

Dirprwy Lywydd, sport is of huge interest to many of our fellow citizens. That is why it provides such an important platform for us to tell the story of Wales. Whether that’s the incredible sporting success of our athletes, from world cup finals in Qatar to the women’s rugby team reaching the finals in New Zealand or the six athletes we met in the Senedd last week, before they compete in the Special Olympics in Berlin later this month. Wrexham is now well and truly on the international map, thanks to success on the football field and something the Trefnydd was just saying to me about Hollywood. [Laughter.] And Dirprwy Lywydd, there is much more to come.

In March this year, we launched Wales in France 2023, a key focus for this year, based around, but going beyond, the men’s Rugby World Cup. Just as we did in 2019 in Japan, we look forward to the opportunities to promote Wales by bringing together Government and external stakeholders to work together for Wales. 

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 2:45, 13 June 2023

This collaborative model around sport has achieved so much already that Wales has been invited to the World Congress on Sports Diplomacy to showcase our model in the Basque Country later this year, another part of the world with particularly strong links to Wales.  

Dirprwy Lywydd, sporting success and the international profile of our creative industries—this is, after all, the week of the Cardiff Singer of the World competition—are of special importance to our young people. Last year, I had the privilege of joining Urdd Gobaith Cymru in Oslo, as it delivered its one hundredth consecutive annual message of peace and goodwill at the Nobel Peace Centre.

That sense of a confident nation, our face turned outwards to meet the world and welcoming of others to our shores, lies at the heart of our ambition to be a nation of sanctuary and of our Taith programme for young people. That programme has already done an enormous amount of good in creating opportunities for Welsh participants to experience, at first hand, what the world has to offer, and to welcome young people from around the world to Wales. And the investment we are making in it is repaid time and time again in the reputation that it has reinforced for Wales as a place determined to remain engaged with that wider international community.

Dirprwy Lywydd, that is why, over the last 12 months, we have taken further steps to strengthen our relationship with Ireland—our closest and most important European partner. I was part of a ministerial delegation to Cork and Dublin for the second Wales-Ireland ministerial forum in October. It was very good that the Consul General for Ireland could join us in north Wales for the north Wales Cabinet committee last month, and we will host the third Wales-Ireland ministerial forum meeting in north Wales in the autumn.

Our Wales in Canada 2022 year delivered more than 35 activities across seven provinces in Canada, as well as virtual activities, engaging literally millions of people. The campaign has strengthened and deepened existing relationships and forged new partnerships across Canada and between Canada and Wales. 

Every year, of course, St David’s Day provides us with an opportunity to promote Wales overseas. I visited Brussels, the Minister for education was in Ireland, and the health Minister was in Copenhagen, as together we sought to support Welsh activity around the world—activity in London, and activity in the USA, Canada, China, Japan, India, the middle east and Europe led by our overseas network and bringing Wales to the attention of the world.

Of course, international engagement doesn’t just happen when we travel to other countries. An outwardly focused nation is also a welcoming and inviting nation. Since April last year, Ministers have welcomed more than 40 international representatives here to Wales. Only last week, the Minister President of Flanders was in Cardiff. His primary reason for being here to sign a new memorandum of understanding with Wales, and we aim to sign similar bilateral agreements with Baden Württemberg and with Silesia in Poland over the next 12 months.

While we may have left the European Union, we have most certainly not left Europe, and this Government is determined to use our international strategy to continue to engage with our nearest and most important neighbours. In that context, last year, we hosted an event to highlight the Taith programme in the European Parliament, the economy Minister addressed the regional development committee in the European Parliament, and only last month we welcomed the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions to Cardiff to host its general assembly of Atlantic regions.

Dirprwy Lywydd, this is just a snapshot of the international activity in which this Government has been engaged over the last 12 months as we deliver our international strategy. That strategy celebrates the multinational character of contemporary Wales, proud of our achievements, confident in our own identity, open to opportunities on the world stage, ready to support businesses as they seek new opportunities to trade, and determined that our young people grow up to belong both to Wales and to the world.

Photo of Andrew RT Davies Andrew RT Davies Conservative 2:50, 13 June 2023

Thank you, First Minister, for your statement this afternoon. Obviously, being internationally looking and outward looking is an important part of any modern, dynamic country and we commend efforts to make sure that Wales is at the forefront of those initiatives. The one sporting team that you missed out in praising, First Minister—I’m sure it was an unintended omission—was the Welsh men and women’s deaf sevens team that went out and won the world cup in Argentina, which is something I think we should be commending, because they came home with the silverware and many of them funded that trip out to Argentina from their own pockets, which was no small feat for many of them.

Photo of Andrew RT Davies Andrew RT Davies Conservative

I couldn’t put it better than what Mike Hedges has just put from the backbenches on your side.

When it comes to inward investment, First Minister, it is vital that we secure a fair share of inward investment by being positive and promoting what’s good about Wales and why companies need to locate here in Wales. PricewaterhouseCoopers International's survey of senior managers and chief executives of worldwide companies indicated the UK was still the third most attractive place in the world after China and America to look at for inward investment. Regrettably, the last set of figures that we had come forward, for 2021-22, indicated Wales received the lowest share of FDIs into the UK other than Northern Ireland, but also had the lowest job creation numbers at under 1,800 jobs being created by such projects. Can you outline how the Welsh Government is positively, proactively looking to make sure we increase our share of foreign direct investment, and in particular the jobs that flow from those investments, because, obviously, the job numbers today indicate that unemployment regrettably is going up here in Wales, contrary to other parts of the United Kingdom?

Also, with trade deals very much on the agenda from the UK Government’s perspective, but on all fronts now, whether it’s North American Governments, the EU themselves, which you touch on in your statement—the EU today are out in South America; the president of the Commission is there, negotiating trade deals with Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina that don’t look dissimilar to many of the trade deals that the United Kingdom Government have put in place that have been criticised from your benches—. So, I’d be really pleased to understand how the Welsh Government engages with the UK Government when trade deals are being formulated and discussed, and what support is made available from the Welsh side of the equation. I appreciate more work needs to be done on that relationship, and I do understand the frustrations that Ministers—and I can see Ministers nodding their heads in frustration—but it is a fact that trade deals are going to be very important, going forward, and it is important that there is a good robust relationship on both fronts from the two Governments that are responsible here in Wales, whether that be the UK Government or the Welsh Government.

I’d also like to try and understand how Welsh Government offices across the world interact with the diplomatic presence that the UK Government has with its embassy network and consulate network, because it is vital that we don’t end up replicating good work that is done by other offices, and we draw on the strength and expertise that exists in many of the embassies and consulates and the access to governments at an international level to support the promotion of Wales.

And finally, if I could ask for an update on the Wales and Africa programme, something that obviously successive Welsh Governments have invested greatly in. But there is a sad fact to this, in that the Ugandan Government has recently passed legislation that is abhorrent, I would suggest—no, I wouldn’t just suggest; I would say it is abhorrent, and it shouldn’t be the people of Uganda that should suffer. The Welsh Government should, on an international front, be highlighting its disgust at this legislation that has been put on the statute in Uganda. Obviously, there’s a rolling programme of investment for the Wales and Africa programme in Uganda. I note the statement this afternoon doesn’t touch on this, so if the First Minister could highlight what representations the Government has made to the Ugandan Government, I think the Chamber would be informed by those answers. Thank you.

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 2:54, 13 June 2023

Dirprwy Lywydd, can I thank the leader of the opposition for those questions? I thank him for what he said at the start of his questions about the importance of international relations for Wales and promoting Wales across the world. I absolutely want to celebrate the achievements of the deaf rugby team. I was very pleased to be able to record some messages for them to promote the opportunities that they were engaged in, and I'm hoping that we will be able to welcome them at some point in the not-too-distant future to celebrate that remarkable achievement.

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 2:55, 13 June 2023

As far as inward investment is concerned, the FDI results for 2022-23 will be published by the UK Government either at the end of this month or early in July. I'm sure the figures will be of interest to the Member. They're under strict embargo, so I mustn't anticipate them, but I expect they will begin to show the emergence from the pandemic period, which was so heavily reflected in the last set of figures, and indeed the figures the year before. I agree with what Andrew R.T. Davies said about the importance of foreign direct investment. We think there are around 1,340 foreign-owned companies here in Wales and they employ over 164,000 people, so they are a major part of the Welsh economy. The USA is our largest non-EU presence, Germany the largest investor from the EU, and our activity in supporting Welsh businesses is very much focused on making sure that potential inward investors are aware of everything that they would get were they to come and invest here in Wales, and we've had some significant successes. The work that my colleague Vaughan Gething led in securing major US investment in Newport in the semiconductor sector is just one example of the way in which the work that lies behind the international strategy turns into tangible benefits for Wales.

I'm less optimistic than the leader of the opposition about trade deals. I see trade deals struck by the UK Government now disowned by people who were Ministers in that Government when those trade deals were struck. What has George Eustace said about the way in which Welsh farmers were sold down the river by the UK Government in its anxiety to demonstrate that a post-Brexit world allowed trade deals in far-flung parts of the world? That's not my view; that's the view of the Minister in charge of the rural economy in England. He's disowned the trade deal that his own Government struck. So, we will be doing whatever we can to influence the UK to strike deals that take a rounded view of the UK economy, that it isn't prepared to sacrifice some parts of the United Kingdom for what turn out to be utterly marginal and probably evanescent benefits in other parts of the world.

The leader of the opposition asked me about the relationship between the Welsh Government offices—21 of them—outside Wales and the offices supported by the UK Government. I'm pleased to say that the relationship is generally a very strong one. Many of our offices in other parts of the world are situated inside UK embassies, and on the ground the support we get from diplomats in other parts of the world is outstanding. They work very closely with us. They regard Welsh Government employees there as part of the team there to support and promote Wales, but as part of that wider effort, and I think we benefit very much from that. We benefit particularly when we have Welsh-connected people. When I was in Paris in the embassy there, and our French representative works inside that embassy team, the fact that Menna Richards is a Welsh person from the Rhondda representing the United Kingdom clearly works for the benefit of Wales as well.

Finally, in relation to Wales and Africa, the actions of the President of Uganda are abhorrent. We will have nothing at all to do with them. We've expressed those views in the strongest terms, as has the UK Government as well. Sometimes we have to make a distinction between political leadership and the people in those countries that we are trying to support. Our very modest Wales and Africa programme works not at a governmental level, but most often with young women in parts of Africa who are trying to find new ways in which they can generate economic activity to support themselves and their families. That's absolutely true of our activity in Uganda. In Mbale, where we have sponsored millions of trees to be planted to create a new industry in that part of Africa, it is young people, and young women in particular, whose livelihoods we are safeguarding and supporting. I don't think anybody here would want us to put those things at risk because of the abhorrent—and I echo the word the leader of the opposition used—actions of a particular Government at a particular moment in time.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru 3:00, 13 June 2023

One of the key objectives of the Welsh Government's international strategy is for Wales to achieve its aspiration of being a globally responsible nation, and to do so in a way that aligns with the best of our progressive values. As Uganda has been mentioned already and we're in Pride Month, I think it's important to recognise the extent of what we're talking about here. The Bill that has now been enacted in Uganda is the most egregious example, throughout the entire Commonwealth, of discriminatory legislation in relation to the LGBTQ community. It not only criminalises the so-called promotion of LGBT communities—it actually involves the death penalty under certain circumstances. Ugandan LGBTQ+ activists have called on governments across the world now to pause all aid to Uganda while this statute remains in place. That was the strategy that was effective 10 years ago when an almost identical Bill was passed. The US Government under the Obama administration stopped some aid immediately, they threatened to pull all aid, and, in a matter of months, the Act was annulled. So, will the Welsh Government join this international campaign to pause aid to Uganda in response to the calls from Ugandan LGBTQ activists?

Turning to Qatar, there was criticism, as the First Minister knows, obviously, of the ministerial visits to Qatar, partly because of their record in terms of LGBTQ+ rights, and also in relation to migrant workers and other aspects of human rights. I know that he has said previously that he didn't regret Ministers accepting hospitality from the Qatari Government, but would he accept that it would be better, in future, to have a clear and simple rule that Welsh Government Ministers and officials travelling on official business representing Wales should do so based on Welsh Government expenditure rather than accepting travel and accommodation hospitality from other Governments, to avoid even the perception that that, in some way, compromises the independence of our representatives abroad?

You mentioned the Nobel Peace Centre and Wales's tradition of peace and internationalism, so could I raise with you Welsh Government participation in the DSEI arms trade fair that is going to be held again in London this September? The Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has said that the fair’s presence in London is insulting to people who have escaped violence, and he has asked for it to be cancelled. So, can you give a commitment that no Welsh Government officials will attend this event and no public money will be used in supporting any Welsh organisation to attend either? Many countries of concern, to use the official phrase, are invited to this arms trade fair. Scandalously, among them is Saudi Arabia, a country that is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in Yemen. Surely, our claim to be a nation of sanctuary is pretty hollow if we are, effectively, tacitly supporting the very wars that are creating refugees when we say we're committed to supporting them.

Can I turn to the Brown report on devolution, which actually called for an amendment to the foreign affairs reservation in the relevant Scotland Act to allow the Scottish Government to join international bodies? I think, First Minister—correct me if I'm wrong—you've said that you would like to see that applied to Wales as well. In preparation for that, could the Welsh Government conduct a review of the kinds of international bodies that we could effectively join, the ones that accept sub-national Governments—that's the technical term; we are a nation, of course—either as full members or associate members? UNESCO, the International Maritime Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and even, I believe, the European Broadcasting Union now allow countries without full member state status to join. So, could we have a study of that?

And finally, if I can test your patience—

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 3:06, 13 June 2023

You've already gone past your time.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru

I was going to pray in aid the late Steffan Lewis in one of his great ideas, which was the creation of a Celtic development bank, building on the bilateral discussions with Ireland, bringing in possibly Scotland as well, to look at the possibility of joint infrastructure projects where we have so much common interest across the Celtic sea, and in other ways as well. Could we possibly look at creating that institution? Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour

In relation to the first point that the Member makes, I think it's a complex argument and it's possible for reasonable people to come down on different sides of it. The actions of the Ugandan Government are absolutely to be criticised, and they are absolutely to be held to account by the international community for those actions. Pausing all aid would mean that the small projects in which we are involved to improve the health of mothers in the part of Uganda in which we're involved would be paused, and there will be people giving birth during that time who will not see the benefit of those projects. The very small start-up businesses that we are supporting, again animated by women in that part of Uganda, would lose that opportunity to get off the ground and to start to make a difference in the lives of some of the poorest people with which we are engaged.

I understand the argument that unless you're prepared to do something, then the message to the Ugandan Government isn't heard as loudly as it would be. At this point, our conclusion is, as I said in my answer to the leader of the opposition, that we have to distinguish between the people we are trying to support and the temporary Government that has put into law the abhorrent piece of legislation that everybody in this Chamber would condemn. I've had the opportunity to meet young people from Uganda who have come here—Jenipher's Coffi, other people who we have been so proud to support. I don't believe at this point that putting their welfare in peril would have the impact of changing the mind of the Government, and everybody would be worse off and nobody would be better off as a result.

As far as hospitality in Qatar is concerned, the Welsh Government would have much preferred to have secured our own hospitality in the normal way. It was made absolutely clear to us that if we did we would not be able to find anywhere to stay inside the zone where all the activities in which we were able to make the points that Members in this Senedd were keen for us to make would be held. So, we would have gone there and we would have not been able to do any of those things that we regarded as important, and were powerfully supported across the Chamber. So, while it was definitely our preference, sometimes local organisers have an ability to shape the terms in which you participate in a way that you cannot overcome.

As far as the arms trade fair in London is concerned, there will be no Welsh Government stand or direct presence in that way. I can't give an absolute assurance that no public money would not have found its way into the pockets of businesses that will be represented at that fair, but there will be no direct Welsh Government representation at it.

The Brown report quite definitely does encompass Wales alongside Scotland. Anything that is devolved to Scotland can be devolved to Wales, the report says—a really important principle where Wales would wish that to happen. It was the basis of my own visit to UNESCO, when I was in Paris at the end of March, to explore with them the terms on which sub-national Governments are able to participate in that organisation. I'm looking forward to a return visit from senior officials of the UK at UNESCO, who are going to come to Wales to continue that conversation in the coming weeks. There are many other bodies; Adam Price identified some of them. I've spoken quite a lot in my statement about the importance of Taith to us. I'd much rather we were using that money as the entrance fee to Erasmus+. As good as Taith is, as important as it is to us, wouldn't it be better for young people in Wales to enjoy all the benefits that come from participation in that? We were prevented from doing so by the UK Government; the Gordon Brown report would open the door for us to do that again.

I'm happy to provide an assurance to Adam Price that, in our discussions with the Scottish Government, but certainly with the Republic Government in those inter-ministerial exchanges, the idea of mutual investment across the Celtic sea in those nascent industries has been part of that conversation, and I'm quite sure it will continue to be so.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 3:11, 13 June 2023

This item has actually reached the end of its allotted time and there are six speakers still to contribute. I intend to call them all, hopefully, but I do ask them to keep to their time limits. They know their time limits, and the first one who's going to do exactly that, I'm sure, is John Griffiths.

Photo of John Griffiths John Griffiths Labour 3:12, 13 June 2023

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. First Minister, I'm pleased that you were able to visit the Basque Country in March and look to strengthening our memorandum of understanding and this key relationship. In Newport, of course, we have CAF as a train manufacturer from the Basque Country, with good-quality engineering jobs, and I hope that, in the future, we will see that economic co-operation between Wales and the Basque Country resulting in increased production and hopefully increased jobs at that CAF factory in Newport. I wonder if you could say a little bit about that.

One other matter, First Minister, very quickly. I was lucky to go to Uganda with PONT this year, to see the Wales and Africa programme and PONT's activities in action. It's a long-standing 20-year relationship between PONT and Mbale in Uganda, and it's community to community. While I was there, I actually saw some of these attitudes towards homosexuality from the Ugandan Government challenged by people involved with the PONT charity. It's community to community, and it's about getting the right understanding and attitudes as well as the general work.

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 3:13, 13 June 2023

As far as CAF is concerned, I was very pleased, when I was in the Basque Country, to meet the head of CAF. They are very positive about the factory that they have established in Wales, with the quality of the workforce, the welcome they've had here, the support they've had from the Welsh Government. The 77 new trains that CAF are providing, trains made in Wales for use in Wales—that contract is nearing its completion. CAF are having to divert work from other contracts in Europe to that factory to sustain it while they wait for the outcome of the paused contracts that the UK Government has responsibility for. They were expecting those contracts to be awarded, they've been suspended by the UK Government pending a review, and the danger for CAF is that they may not be able to sustain their workforce—their very highly skilled and trained workforce at Newport—pending the arrival of those contracts. So, we have written to the UK Government, urging them to resolve that matter, so the successful investment that CAF has made in the Welsh economy can be secured for the future.

I very, very much agree with what John Griffiths said about the community-to-community influence that comes from our Wales and Africa programme. And it's not just one way, Llywydd; I met the vice-chancellor of the University of Namibia yesterday. He was in the university in Cardiff reinforcing links between the two universities, amazingly grateful for everything that Wales did for Namibia during the pandemic in the supply of equipment, expertise, protective clothing, and so on. But the point I made to him—and it's the point John Griffiths was making—was these are reciprocal relationships. We benefit every bit as much as we put into the relationships we have with those parts of Africa where Wales plays its own small part. 

Photo of Jane Dodds Jane Dodds Liberal Democrat 3:15, 13 June 2023

Good afternoon, Prif Weinidog. Here I am, a broken record, having been the lone voice in the Senedd criticising your Government's decision to send a diplomatic delegation to Qatar, and I want to pick up just that particular issue. Last month, two Qatari lawyers, Hazza and Rashed bin Ali Abu Shurayda, were handed life sentences behind closed doors for exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly. And in March 2023, there was a further report that migrant workers in Qatar are actually suffering deteriorating conditions, and that any positive improvement has actually ceased. An ethical trade policy for us in Wales would mean not only seeking profitable investment, but also seeking partners who respect liberty and democracy. Therefore, could I ask you please to update us here in the Senedd on what you and the Welsh Government have done to enhance human rights records in Qatar and how you are monitoring that, because, sadly, reports suggest that they're actually deteriorating? Diolch yn fawr iawn.  

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 3:17, 13 June 2023

Llywydd, nobody here in the Senedd would be prepared to support the sorts of actions that the Member has outlined, and nor should a visit to a country be taken as an endorsement of the standards of that country, and they never were during our visit to Qatar. In every single interview that I gave and in every single meeting that I attended, I took the opportunity to make clear the values and the beliefs that will be important to people here in Wales. And could I gently say to the Member that that's not a one-way street either, because there are aspects of Welsh life that people in Qatar would not find acceptable either? We don't have a monopoly on moral superiority in our dealings with any other country in the world. What we have done is to pursue those relationships where we feel we can make a difference.

So, when I was in Qatar, one of the things I was able to do was to visit the Museum of Islamic Art, a wonderful museum headed by a woman, the senior management team almost exclusively made up of women in positions of leadership in that part of Qatari life. And to agree for a delegation of young museum curators from Qatar to come to Wales, partly to see the way things are done here, but also to help us to make sure that our museums faithfully reflect the experience of Muslim people here in Wales. And I think if you were to go into many of our museums, you would not find the contribution of Muslim communities in Wales accurately or extensively celebrated there.

Now, I'm pleased to say that that delegation has been back to Wales; I met them when they were here only a few weeks ago. I think that their visit here to Wales will have enriched their understanding, and it certainly enriched ours. And it's by that sort of activity that we are able to make small differences in areas where the things that the Member pointed to would absolutely not be acceptable to us. Do we make a difference by only talking to people with whom we agree on everything, or do we make a decision sometimes to find ways of engaging with places where there are profound differences between us, but where dialogue and exchange can make a difference? 

Photo of Sam Rowlands Sam Rowlands Conservative 3:19, 13 June 2023

First Minister, can I associate myself with the desire to see Wales open to business from across the world? And I'm sure you will recognise that an important part of that international relation is the welcome we provide to international visitors, as well. Indeed, last year it was encouraging to see that we were able to welcome 680,000 international visitors to Wales, who were spending around £391 million.

But it strikes me that, in Scotland, there were 3.2 million visitors there, who spent £3.1 billion—about 10 times the amount of spend in Scotland from international visitors that we see in Wales. I’m sure, like me, First Minister, you recognise that Wales is not just perhaps a more accessible place to get to, but we have such a worthy heritage, culture and natural beauty that should be explored and celebrated. So, I wonder why you think we don’t see the number of international visitors come to Wales that go to some of our Celtic counterparts, and I wonder how you’ve been able to use your recent engagements to see this important and lucrative international market thrive here in Wales.

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 3:20, 13 June 2023

Llywydd, I definitely agree with what the Member has said about the importance of attracting visitors to Wales and disrupting some of the more traditional patterns that we've seen in the past. Wales is now a cruise destination in a way that it hasn't been in the past, and to give Sam Rowlands just one example of how the activity I reported in my statement leads to change, when I was in Japan, I met there with leading Japan tourist organisations. We talked particularly about Japanese visitors to north Wales. There is a new relationship between parts of Japan and Conwy, a part of the world he will be very familiar with, designed to increase the number of people who travel to Wales. Also to promote the castles that exist in Japan as well, and there's activity happening this season, this tourism season, to make sure that new flights from Manchester directly to Japan, which bring visitors into a part of the United Kingdom very convenient to visit north Wales in particular, that we draw more of those visitors to see the fantastic things that north Wales has to offer. 

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru 3:22, 13 June 2023


Thank you for the statement, First Minister. I wanted to ask specifically about St David's Day. Clearly, I was pleased to see all of the engagement that there's been by Ministers this year, and we also saw the importance of that and the positive response in those nations where celebrations have taken place. But perhaps we should look at what we're doing here in Wales, where we still tend to be led by a number of volunteers across Wales. Clearly, the UK continues to refuse us a bank holiday on St David's Day, something I would hope the next Westminster Government would change, because we have seen the benefits, and the economic benefits, of doing that when nations such as Ireland celebrate St Patrick's Day. Now they're bringing forward another festival to celebrate the life of a woman, too. So may I ask whether there is an intention to look at what more we can do here in Wales in terms of celebrating St David's Day and promoting the international benefits of that, and also making the Welsh language central to that?

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 3:23, 13 June 2023


Thank you very much to Heledd Fychan for the question. I focused in my statement on the things that we do overseas, but of course, it is true to say that part of the international things that we try to do is to advertise and promote the things we're already doing in Wales to the wider world. And that is important on St David's Day, but to use one other example, when we prepare for Wales in France during the world cup in the autumn, one of the things that we're trying to do is not just to focus on things that we're going to be doing over in France, but also to create events and other things here in Wales where we can draw the world's attention to those things that we're doing here as part of the relationship that we are forging in that context, and to do that in the context of St David's Day, and to do it with other nations, where we can share those experiences, and there are many things that Ireland has to celebrate with us, saints and so on. That's part of the strategy, and what we are trying to do more of in future. 

Photo of Alun Davies Alun Davies Labour 3:24, 13 June 2023

I'm grateful to the First Minister for the statement. I very much welcome the fact he rooted his statement in the age of the saints. We visited Ireland as a committee some months ago, and we heard there first hand about the work that's going on through the Welsh Government's offices, and we should thank the Welsh Government for the welcome we received from the office in the embassy, and also congratulate the Welsh Government on the work that's being done. I should also congratulate the Welsh Government on the work that it did in Qatar. I was in Qatar as a member of the red wall, as a supporter of our team. There were many of us there who welcomed the work that the Welsh Government did in raising the profile of Wales.

But my question is about Ukraine. I will remind the former leader of Plaid Cymru that the people of Ukraine need bullets, they need missiles, they need guns, to defend themselves from Putin's violence. They don't need warm words and flannel. And I will say this as well: I'm grateful to the Welsh Government for the work that they have done already in supporting the people of Ukraine. I'm grateful also to Mick Antoniw, the Counsel General, who has led much work, not only in this place but across Wales, in responding to Putin's invasion.

Will the Welsh Government, First Minister, continue to support the work to support the people of Ukraine, and also, particularly, the work that's being done now to promote the legacy of Gareth Jones, who first brought the suffering of the people of Ukraine in the 1930s to the attention of the world? There is considerable opportunity now for us to use the legacy of Gareth Jones to build those links between this country and the people of Ukraine.   

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 3:26, 13 June 2023

I thank Alun Davies for those really important points. I mentioned very briefly in my statement our ambition to be a nation of sanctuary, and nowhere have we lived out that ambition more vividly in the last 15 months than in our attempts to offer a warm welcome to people from Ukraine who look to rebuild their lives by coming here to Wales. The Welsh Government's participation in that through our welcome centres has been a huge effort in partnership with our local authorities and the third sector. Thousands of people from Ukraine are now welcomed here in Wales. They bring with them, as Alun Davies has said, a new sensitivity to the longer history of that country.

I was very pleased to be able to take part with my colleague Jane Hutt in the Holodomor event, which happened outside Cathays Park, brought to the attention of the world by Gareth Jones, and so vivid in the history of those people from Ukraine who participated in that event. As I have tried to say a couple of times, Dirprwy Lywydd, when we are able to welcome people from other parts of the world to Wales, they bring with them a new richness that contributes to our understanding of that wider world—our linked history through a Welsh person in Gareth Jones, but certainly a history that those people who have come from Ukraine bring with them, and remind us of its significance to them, but also then to us. 

Photo of James Evans James Evans Conservative

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. First Minister, it is very pleasing to hear of the work that the Welsh Government is doing about driving inward investment into Wales. I know that, in response to the questions posed by my leader, Andrew R.T. Davies, you said that it is very important that people have the appropriate services that they need when they come to work in Wales. What we have seen is that we don't have adequate consular services here in Wales when people come to work in our country. So, I would like to know: what work is the Welsh Government doing with the UK Government to increase the number of diplomatic consular services here in Wales, similar to what they have in Edinburgh? 

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour

Well, Llywydd, I wish that we had more consular services here in Wales. In some ways, our geography is a bit against us here. I, myself, have met over 20 ambassadors in Wales in the last six months or so. They all point out to me that Wales is a great place to make such a visit because, two hours on the train and you can have a full day's work here, and you can be back in London two hours later. So, in some ways, the fact that we are so close to London tends to argue against a full-time consular presence here in Wales.

But I did meet, only a couple of weeks ago, with the head of the UK consular service. I met him with the current Chair of the honorary consul group that we have here in Wales, and they do fantastic work. They would say to you themselves that they wish there was a full consular service. But if you can't have that, at least you can have an active, engaged, involved honorary consul, speaking up, for example, on behalf of Polish people here in Wales. Our efforts have been directed more to supporting the work of that group of honorary consuls, making sure that they play a more prominent part in our international work, that they're engaged directly with the efforts that the Welsh Government makes, that, if an ambassador comes from that country, they always come with them, and we recognise the work that they do. So, until the day when we are able to attract larger numbers of full-time consular staff to Wales, working with our very committed and, in many instances, very effective honorary consuls, is a way we can try to fill that gap.