5. Debate on the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations Committee Report, 'International Relations: Annual Report 2022-23'

– in the Senedd at 3:13 pm on 28 February 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 3:13, 28 February 2024

(Translated)

Item 5 is a debate on the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations Committee Report, 'International Relations: Annual Report 2022-23'. I call on the committee Chair to move the motion. Delyth Jewell.

(Translated)

Motion NDM8495 Delyth Jewell

To propose that the Senedd:

Notes the report of the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations Committee ‘International Relations: Annual Report 2022-23’, which was laid in the Table Office on 24 November 2023.

(Translated)

Motion moved.

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru 3:14, 28 February 2024

(Translated)

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. It's a pleasure to be able to open this afternoon's debate on the committee's behalf. As far as I'm aware, this is the first report of its kind in terms of international relations in the Senedd's history. 

The committee's work in this area includes receiving regular reports, scrutinising the draft budget, and an annual scrutiny session with the First Minister. There are a number of different issues that I would like to raise this afternoon.

Now, it's a shame that the First Minister is not present today. It would have been an opportunity for him to put his own words on the record. I'm quite sure that he too would have enjoyed listening to the different contributions. However, we are very grateful to the Deputy Minister, who will be responding on the Government's behalf.

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru

Last week, the First Minister was asked about his international relations portfolio and its importance to him, and he spoke about Dewi Sant, who emphasised the need and the importance of doing the little things well. That is a pertinent and timely analogy, and, perhaps, a lodestar to guide the Government. In that context, I think it would be fair to characterise our committee's wishes as wanting to ensure that the footprint of that international relations work is greater than the sum of its parts, greater than all those vital little things combined, and that there should be a guiding strategy, an ethos and a programme not only underpinning all of those individual actions, but linking and shaping their purpose, drawing out a pattern that can be mapped onto an outline of the world. After all, Wales's relevance to the world, and our relationships with it, will only grow larger and more significant.

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru 3:15, 28 February 2024

There have been areas where we have expected more from the Government. Most notably, we were disappointed that the First Minister decided not to attend draft budget scrutiny in person. That has caused us some difficulties. The written evidence we received contained errors, and we've been unable to consider the figures with confidence. Our committee's frustration on this is testament, I think, to how vitally important we believe these matters to be, how crucial international relations are to Wales, and that is a view I know the First Minister shares. We've recommended that, in future, the Minister with this portfolio should attend budget scrutiny and draft budget scrutiny in person.

To turn to the international strategy, the Welsh Government doesn't report specifically on that strategy, but we as a committee monitor the progress of the international relations activity. We are assisted by our wonderful team in doing this, by using a combination of Welsh Government overseas office reports, ministerial statements, evidence sessions, Senedd business and social media. A lot of diplomatic engagements are announced on social media—that's the world that we live in. In that regard, we welcome steps that have been taken by the Government to increase and improve the information in the public domain.

As the strategy nears its end in 2025, we've also welcomed the First Minister’s offer to discuss the refresh of the strategy with us, and we'd also like to see that invitation extended to a broader group of stakeholders. We’ve also recommended there should be a progress update on both the short and medium-term actions listed in the strategy. In response to that recommendation, the First Minister accepted that, and we look forward to receiving these updates in due course.

The international strategy also sets outs the Government's priority country relationships, the majority of which are in the EU. It is clear to us that UK-EU relations remain a priority both for Government and for stakeholders. We've observed that the absence of a dedicated strategy presents challenges in navigating and providing effective scrutiny of the post-Brexit relationship. Only this morning our committee continued our inquiry into the effects of Brexit on the cultural industries. It is a web with many strands; it's important we have as much clarity as possible, so that we don't become entangled in that web.

To echo contributions made during the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee debate last week, we need to ensure that the four constituent nations of the UK are represented in discussions on UK-EU relations and supported by regular engagement between our countries and the EU. We are concerned that the difficulties faced by stakeholders in attempting to participate in post-Brexit UK-EU structures have led to a reduction in the Welsh voice being heard. Dirprwy Lywydd, we are a nation that is proud of the strength of our voices, both individually and as a chorus. We are concerned that this voice could be further silenced as time goes on. That is why we have recommended that the Welsh Government should produce a dedicated EU strategy. In doing so, we would regain that lodestar I mentioned earlier—a strategy to guide and navigate the post-Brexit relationship, as choppy as those waters can be.

It is a matter of some frustration that the Government has neither chosen to accept nor reject our recommendations that relate to Wales’s relationship with the EU. There seems to be a creeping approach not to commit to a view on such matters by the Government, which is not always helpful. As I've already outlined, the commitment to a refresh of the international strategy, though, is to be welcomed. It is essential that this refresh includes the EU as a priority relationship. In doing this, as Huw Irranca-Davies said last week, we could use the next year to develop our priorities and engage stakeholders and ensure that Wales is in the very best possible position to set out its views when business returns to normal.

As I have already mentioned, the Welsh Government has a number of priority relationships, including Germany, France, Ireland, the US and Canada, as well as many other parts of Europe. A number of these places have active international bilateral agreements in place with Wales. As a result of our committee's work to date, these are now listed on a dedicated Welsh Government webpage, and we do welcome that greatly. We will continue to monitor these relationships during the remainder of our term.

Dirprwy Lywydd, international relations may not be a devolved matter, but it matters. There is so much good work going on in this sector both within and outside Government, so many of the little things Dewi Sant would have praised. The challenge always, and what we strive to see, is that that work should be greater than the sum of those individual actions. And where good work exists, it should be celebrated. As a committee, we are often surprised by how much of this exciting and valuable work is not captured in regular reporting, and that was one of our key findings from our Wales-Ireland inquiry. Our focus as a committee will continue with this work, and we will, I know, be indebted as ever to stakeholders who engage with our work and enrich our understanding. 

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru 3:21, 28 February 2024

(Translated)

We owe them a debt of gratitude. 

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru

At the beginning of this Senedd, we heard from a number of those stakeholders who were worried that the loss of a dedicated Minister for international relations would mean the topic would lessen in prominence. I think it's fair to say that the prominence of these matters has remained true, though there are still concerns, inevitably perhaps, about how focused this work can be without a Minister whose sole priority is this work. The issue of prominence versus focus will, I'm sure, continue, but as this will be the final international relations debate that will happen in this Senedd where our current First Minister has this responsibility, I would like to pay tribute to his evident delight in these issues and his passion for Wales internationally. Whoever next has control of this vital area of work must, we would urge them, champion our nation and her interests. At a time when the world is getting smaller, the part our nation has to play on its stage will only grow. 

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru 3:22, 28 February 2024

(Translated)

I look forward very much to hearing the views of others in our debate this afternoon. 

Photo of Alun Davies Alun Davies Labour

I'm grateful to the Chair of the committee for introducing this report, and also grateful to the secretariat who have supported the committee in its work. Currently, international relations are the responsibility of the First Minister, and it's always very difficult, knowing that the First Minister has indicated his intention to resign, that this debate doesn't become something of a valedictory debate. But we should, I think, thank the First Minister for the work he's done and how he has represented Wales on the international stage. We know that he's in Brussels today at a St David's Day event, and I also know that his commitment to ensuring that Wales is represented in Brussels and elsewhere has been greatly appreciated by many. 

Much of the committee's recommendations do refer to issues around scrutiny and strategy. I think in terms of how we address the debate this afternoon, it's very much taking stock, if you like, learning lessons, perhaps, and then looking forward. Because what we do know is that in a month's time, we will have a new Minister taking responsibility for these matters, and we'll have a new First Minister who'll be taking forward Wales's place on the international stage. So, I think it's right and proper that this is an opportunity, therefore, for the committee to look back on the past couple of years and to make some, perhaps, thematic recommendations rather than simply each individual recommendation in isolation. 

For me, there are three key areas. First of all, there's the area of scrutiny. In any parliamentary democracy, Ministers are accountable to the Parliament, and it is the Parliament that determines the mode and form of scrutiny, not the Government. The Government will appear in front of committees, and Ministers will appear in order to give evidence when the committees request that they do so. In any democracy, it depends on that relationship, and it is a matter of some great disappointment that we have not had access to the First Minister in the way that the committee would have anticipated and, frankly, expected. It is important in any democracy that we are able to scrutinise the executive. We can only scrutinise the executive if the executive is prepared to appear in front of committees, and I think that is a really key point from this report.

The second point is that of strategy. There are a number of recommendations referring to strategy in this report. We’ve looked at different areas of work the Welsh Government has undertaken in this field. There is a common thread running through all of those, and that is that the Government is more prepared to report on what it has done rather than to tell us what it wants to do, why it wants to do it, and what it seeks to achieve by doing so. But it is only by setting very clear objectives and measurable targets that we can actually scrutinise the executive and determine whether it has achieved its objectives or not. Without the strategy at the beginning, there’s no purpose to a report at the end. The Welsh Government has repeatedly shied away—and not just in this area, either—from setting out its objectives, setting out what it seeks to achieve, setting out how it expects to achieve its objectives. I think, if there is a learning point for me, we do need the next Minister, the next Government, to ensure that it does set out very, very clear objectives for its work.

Those priorities for me must include the European Union. There’s no question of the Welsh Government’s commitment to EU relations, and no question of the First Minister’s personal commitment to that, and the work that Derek Vaughan is continuing to undertake in European Union institutions is first class. But we heard this morning in committee, as the Chair outlined, some of the appalling situations that are facing the arts and culture sector. We heard about the impact of Brexit on us. Six witnesses spoke repeatedly, one after the other, about the negative effects right across the board of Brexit and the loss of opportunities. People are saying that they can’t find work, they can’t get people here, the costs have increased, the administration has increased, there's the loss of freedom of movement, too much red tape, too many issues with permits, too many issues with carnets, it's too time consuming, and there's no increase in activity outside the EU. Everybody said the same, and even poor Tom Giffard, who I felt very sorry for, I have to say, in trying to find any silver lining, found none at all. So, we do need to focus in on the European Union.

I hope, in replying to this debate, the Deputy Minister will also look at the other areas the Welsh Government has prioritised. The health Minister, I think, is in India at the moment. It would be useful for us to understand what are the objectives of that work, and what she seeks to achieve in this visit.

I’ll finish on this point, Deputy Presiding Officer. I come to this Chamber very often to speak about Tredegar in Blaenau Gwent, but there’s also, of course, another Tredegar, in Richmond, Virginia. I think it’s important that, when we look towards building links across different countries, we look—and the work Rhun ap Iorwerth has led on the international all-party group has sought to do this—towards bringing people with Welsh links together. I hope that, in replying to the debate—

Photo of Alun Davies Alun Davies Labour

—the Deputy Minister will also encourage me in my efforts to create links between Tredegar and Tredegar. Thank you.

Photo of Rhun ap Iorwerth Rhun ap Iorwerth Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

Thank you very much to the committee for all of its work on this issue. I'm grateful for the opportunity to speak about international relations this afternoon. I am proud that we, through the work of this committee, have made an effort to position ourselves in the world. Our Senedd has been designed to be transparent and visible so that people can look in upon us and see what we are doing here, but all of that glass, too, is a means for us to look out, and not just look at Wales. We need to look out at the world, and for me, that is crucially important. 

Last week I was in Ireland, and the discussions I had there with stakeholders on trade, energy and politics have demonstrated clearly to me once again that we could and should be doing far more to build on our international relations, and that closest and most important one, in accordance with the conclusions and recommendations of this report and the committee's previous work on links between Wales and Ireland. One thing that stood out to me, by the way, was the level of interest in the cross-party model of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales as a means of discussing political, economic and constitutional issues in an informed and constructive manner—something that is particularly pertinent on the island of Ireland. And we could and should, always within the international community, be seeking ways of sharing good practice, and that naturally works both ways.

Photo of Rhun ap Iorwerth Rhun ap Iorwerth Plaid Cymru 3:30, 28 February 2024

Of course, Wales's relationship with Ireland forms a key part of our wider relationship with Europe, and to which this report we’re debating today draws particular attention. Indeed, the report calls for clearer, more deliberate, thinking about Wales’s relationship with the EU. Welsh Government currently lacks, I think, a strategic approach on post-Brexit EU-UK relations, with the renegotiation of the terms of this relationship by 2025. I think this gap needs to be addressed urgently.

Now, the findings of this report echo and build on those of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee’s recent work on UK-EU governance, which highlighted a clear lack of influence for Wales on the frameworks governing post-Brexit EU-UK relations. And I am unequivocal about this: whenever decisions are being taken that affect the people of Wales, those that represent them should be in the room. And at the moment, on key decisions, by the Welsh Government’s own admission, this is not the case when it comes to EU-UK governance.

Now, Wales has been locked out of critical governance forums. We’ve played no part, for example, in the renegotiation that led to the Windsor framework, despite its implications for Ireland-Wales trade—something that’s particularly relevant in my own constituency of Ynys Môn. And this, to put it plainly, is entirely unacceptable. And I’d ask what steps the Welsh Government, and in particular the two candidates to be the next First Minister, propose to take to address this glaring democratic deficit.

Now, we in Plaid Cymru are clear and have been for a long, long time, on what we believe is the optimal position for Wales in our relationship with Europe. Wales’s future, from our point of view, is as an independent nation within the EU, but we’re also determined, of course, to strive for the very best for Wales in the here and now, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. And everything possible should be done to overcome the challenges that Brexit has created for our economy and for our relationships with our closest neighbours. To me, this means the UK as a whole looking to rejoin the single market and customs union. I think we should be making that case strongly—a view, we know, that is shared by at least one of the contenders to be the next First Minister. But I would ask, as a final point today, for the Welsh Government to join me as a whole in calling for this and to outline how we might work together to achieve that.

Photo of Carolyn Thomas Carolyn Thomas Labour 3:33, 28 February 2024

Wales has much to offer the world: our language, culture, sport, engineering and so much more. The Welsh Government and the Senedd have an important role to play in promoting our values, solidifying economic relations and sharing best policy practice. Many countries are very interested in our Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Welsh language.

The devolved responsibility we have for areas such as research and sustainability give a strong basis on which to work with partners across Europe to learn from one another’s experiences, whilst focusing on tackling our biggest threat, the climate emergency.

I welcome the Welsh Government’s commitment in its programme for government to increase Wales’s presence in Europe and to retain an office in Brussels. The presence is to ensure the European Union remains our strongest partner and will allow us to work together on our shared values and policy ambitions. It will also enable the Welsh Government to support businesses to trade as efficiently as possible in the future, which is really important post Brexit.

I’ve been disappointed to discover how Wales is often left out of conversations by the UK Government, and when I visited Ghana for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference, I discovered that there were two tiers.

We heard evidence this morning from the creative sector that there have been no gains since leaving the EU, only costs and bureaucracy that have put us at a disadvantage to other countries. More guidance and consistency is needed, not just for those who are travelling, but also for those who are actually working in border control.

The loss of access to funds has also been significant. Creative Europe has just had a massive injection of funds that we can no longer access, but the creative industries do not have UK Government recognition of their importance and value, unlike in Europe. I agree with the First Minister that the current UK Government's handling of Brexit has been wholly unsatisfactory, to say the least, and we need a new Labour Government in Westminster to rebuild co-operation and trust with our European partners on a UK-wide level, particularly when it comes to economic and cultural relations. Wales needs to continue networking to provide opportunities for dialogue and information sharing. They offer a platform to raise Wales's profile and set out our distinct approach and values to an international audience, whilst strengthening relationships with our priority regions and contacts, with whom Wales not only shares membership, but has also co-founded many networks. And as well as promoting Wales on the global stage, we also have a duty to the international community to do what we can to support them, including those facing persecution. 

We have now passed the two-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, and I'm proud that Wales is a nation of sanctuary, offering refuge to those who need it. I'd also like to commend the Welsh Government for creating Academi Heddwch Cymru, the first peace institute that aims to extend Wales's long-standing tradition of peace making and peace promotion, by bringing together the best academic minds and expertise to build a better world through peace-rooted approaches to global challenges. 

I'd like to thank the committee clerks for putting together the report, and to the Chair for introducing it. I look forward to continuing to monitor the Welsh Government’s progress towards the recommendations put forward, as well as focusing on the Government's international strategy implementation. Diolch. 

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru 3:36, 28 February 2024

(Translated)

May I echo the thanks to the committee for its report? I hadn't realised, until the Chair's opening remarks, that this is the first time that we've had a debate on this important matter on the Senedd floor. And I would say that the international awareness of Wales is greater now than ever before. I remember travelling in my twenties in Europe and having to explain to people where Wales was. The awareness of Wales wasn't very high internationally. But this has changed entirely. You can travel all over the world now and people will be aware of Wales, primarily due to the success of our sporting teams. 

As Alun Davies has given a plug to Tredegar in Virginia, may I also give a plug? It was wonderful for me to be in Cardiff, Maryland, at the end of January, and talking in Welsh to people who've never been here, and people's enthusiasm for Wales, and for our language and culture, was infectious. 

I'd like to raise two issues in this debate, Dirprwy Lywydd. First, one of the most powerful arguments, in my view, in favour of Senedd reform is that it will improve scrutiny of the Government. I agree with the culture committee's recommendations, and Alun Davies's comments, on the need for in-person oral evidence sessions. We often hear in this place fair criticism, in my view, of Westminster Ministers for refusing meetings with Welsh Ministers and Senedd committees. I'm sure that we can all agree that giving evidence solely via written statements is not the best means of scrutiny. Often, it isn't the pre-arranged questions that draw the most informative responses, but those supplementary questions that follow naturally in a question and answer session. So, failure to engage in such sessions could set a poor precedent for our Senedd, and could harm its scrutiny function. 

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru 3:38, 28 February 2024

Finally, I'm concerned by the Welsh Government's response to recommendation 8, that it's approach to the review of the trade and co-operation agreement will be determined by wider political developments. I read into that that they mean they want to wait for a favourable UK general election result. The clear implication is that they're waiting for a change of Government at Westminster before making a decision. The Welsh Government should not be basing its position on how to make the trade and co-operation arrangement work effectively and on how to improve engagement with the UK Government on who happens to be in Government at Westminster. This is not sustainable. We cannot base this on the long term. We should not be relying on other Governments to act before Wales does. 

Our view on international matters are so important they should not be dependent on the point of view of whoever happens to be in power at Westminster. Logically, this position of waiting to see what happens at Westminster would mean that Wales will always lag behind other countries in terms of our international presence. The Welsh Government should not be waiting for the results of a UK general election, but act proactively to ensure Wales’s voice is heard clearly on the international stage and that we do have a place at the table. Diolch yn fawr. 

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 3:40, 28 February 2024

Many people have remarked already on the importance of promoting the social, cultural and economic links of Wales internationally, and that is absolutely true. And in case anybody hasn't mentioned it, can I be the very first to congratulate, in that field of international relations, Jess Fishlock and our other players, last night, on their victory in the republic, with apologies to my Irish cousins? But it's part of our international relations, I have to say, what we do on the sporting field as well—wins and losses—going forward. It does matter. But, Dirprwy Lywydd, it's a real pleasure to speak on this today, and it is something of a milestone. 

If we reflect back on where we began as an Assembly all those years ago, and there are a couple of Members who were here at that time, the idea that we'd be having full debates on international relations would probably be unthinkable at that time. But this is quite a milestone, so I really congratulate Delyth and the culture and international relations committee on the production of this first annual international relations report and the debate here in the Senedd. It is something of a milestone, and it's probably a reflection as well of where we are in the post-Brexit landscape, withdrawing from the EU. It's also, I have to say, probably something of a reflection of the maturity and the willingness of this Senedd to not only debate these matters, but to make sure that Welsh Government and the Senedd and all our relations speak very loudly for Wales.

Now, as noted in the debate on the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee report last week on UK-EU governance, both of our committees are agreed on a number of key issues in this area, and it demonstrates significant cross-party consensus on these matters. So, for example, both committees agree that the Welsh Government needs to set out clear, strategic priorities for its future relationship with the EU and to engage with stakeholders in Wales on Wales-EU issues, and that's very good to see. And both committees agree that the Welsh Government's role in the governance of UK-EU agreements must be strengthened.

And we note the First Minister's response in relation to the upcoming review of the trade and co-operation agreement—confirmation that the Welsh Government is focusing on making sure that the TCA works as effectively as possible and focusing on inter-governmental relations on UK-EU matters. So, there is a consistent voice here, coming out from the Senedd and from Welsh Government. Can I say as well, we particularly welcome the commitments secured by the culture committee for the Welsh Government to include its analysis of the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement in relevant legislative consent memoranda? This transparency is really welcome. 

And, Dirprwy Lywydd, both committees also believe in the importance of direct contact between devolved Governments and legislatures with EU insitutions, and, I have to say, the wider European network as well. We may have left the EU, and that means we have to work doubly hard, but we also are part of that wider family of European networks as well, and I think that's been part of our discussion about the need to reach out to EU institutions, but also way beyond that as well—points that had been made, actually, by Adam Price in the debate last week. 

If I can turn as well to international obligations, which are a key part of our devolution settlement, the Welsh Government frequently tells our committee how crucial the role of the Senedd is in international matters, and, of course, we agree. One of the things that's been touched on today, though, is the benefits, but also the challenges, of having the First Minister being the lead and the face of international relations. There are distinct benefits. He is out there today, flying the flag for Wales. The Deputy Minister sitting here has also done that as well. But in terms of getting, then, accountability in front of committees, it has proven to be a bit of a challenge, and whoever is sitting in that seat in future will need to think this through about how we have real accountability here within the Senedd on a more regular basis. It's not that he's been unwilling, in terms of our committee, but it has proven to be a bit of a challenge, partly, I think, because of the workload that the First Minister has as well. 

Now, our LJC committee is responsible for considering the constitutional impacts of legislation on Wales's international legal obligations, of course. So, we welcome the focus that Delyth's committee has brought to this. The culture committee approaches scrutiny of legislation from a different direction, and it scrutinises its impact on international relationships. But, actually, we are twinned on this, we're allies in this important task. In many regards, our committees are partners, two sides of the same coin. So, we really would like to thank the culture committee for this important work in this field and we look forward to opportunities for further engagement and indeed collaboration between the two committees on the important issues. It may indeed be something that both of our committees want to revisit when there is a new First Minister in place, and I welcome this as a milestone for these debates today.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 3:45, 28 February 2024

(Translated)

I call on the Deputy Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Dawn Bowden.

Photo of Dawn Bowden Dawn Bowden Labour

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Can I say at the outset that I welcome the annual report and the committee's dedication to work alongside Government to support our international ambitions and to see Wales's profile grow on the world stage? It's been very good to hear all the contributions from Members today. I'm certainly pleased that, since the committee was established, it's brought forward a series of recommendations and proposals that have improved transparency and reporting procedures.

It's probably incumbent on me at this point to acknowledge the point that a number of Members have made about the appearance or the non-appearance of the First Minister in relation to giving in-person evidence. The First Minister had made it clear—he's been very clear and consistent in his communications with the committee—that he is unable to make multiple appearances at the committee due to his additional FM scrutiny commitments throughout the year, but that he would commit to taking an annual in-person scrutiny session after the publication of the annual report. I think that it's those additional scrutiny sessions in other arenas that are the restricting factor, which I think is a point that Huw Irranca-Davies acknowledged, but any decisions, of course, about future scrutiny will of course be a matter for the incoming First Minister. 

The Welsh Government's Brussels office and our network of offices across Europe, in France, Germany and Ireland, are central to supporting our trade and investment activity and delivering on our commitment to European engagement. We work with partners in Europe on our shared values and policy ambitions and we support businesses to trade as efficiently as possible. With the UK's exit from the EU resulting in additional barriers to trade, it's more important than ever to have a presence across Europe to promote Wales as an investment destination and to support businesses who want to trade with our largest partner, and we must work harder to remain present and relevant to our European partners. To emphasise that point, as has already been recognised, the First Minister is currently in Brussels to mark St David's Day, and his programme includes a reception for VIP guests from EU institutions, from embassies and European regions, as well as meeting with institutions and key partners around renewable energy, research and innovation. 

Now, the Welsh Government has shared policy goals, of course, with the EU on many key issues and challenges such as sustainability, the environment, biodiversity, climate, innovation, equality and social affairs, amongst others, but the Welsh Government at the moment does not agree that a separate EU strategy is needed at this time. Our focus is very much on delivering the international strategy, which includes our relationship with Europe, and the retention of our office in Brussels and the creation of a dedicated representative for the EU affirms our commitment that Wales places a high value on our relations with Europe and the European Union. The focus and the foundation of any development to the relationship with the EU should be around recreating an economic relationship that works for both sides. So, we will begin the work on reviewing and refreshing the international strategy, and our relationship with Europe will form part of that strategy. 

But, through our work at the Brussels office, our European representatives, and our relationships with the European nations and regions, we are re-establishing and reinforcing our connections with EU institutions and partners in a way that reflects the new post-Brexit arrangements. We work with a range of European networks covering a wealth of areas, and these networks raise Wales's profile within Europe, providing detailed analysis to EU policy proposals, and support the building of consortia for inter-regional collaboration. There has been a significant engagement with priority regions in recent years. We've negotiated a new memorandum of understanding with Flanders, a new shared statement with Baden-Württemberg, re-signed our MOU with Brittany and signed an international friendship pact with the city of Birmingham in Alabama. And last month the First Minister was in Poland to sign a new MOU with Silesia, extending a friendship that began more than two decades ago.

Wales has hosted several international partners this financial year, including a delegation from our priority regions at Wales Tech Week. And the delegations included representatives from Silesia, Catalonia, the Basque Country, Flanders, Ontario, Baden-Württemberg and Quebec. And it has been committed to the committee that the Government will provide monthly respective reports on the international visits that take place.

Now all of this, of course, takes place against a backdrop of engagement with Ireland, which has already been referred to as well, which was examined in detail by the committee last year. And 2023, of course, saw us celebrate our relationship with France. This followed Wales in Canada in 2022. And whilst we are still evaluating the outcomes of those, I can share that we delivered more than 40 events, with a mixture of diplomatic, trade, education and cultural outcomes. We also saw engagement with 400 key French stakeholders across Paris, Lyon and Nantes, and new partnerships were formed across media, music, culture and education.

We also used the year in France to promote a globally responsible and inclusive Wales, with a programme placing Welsh values at its heart, featuring young, diverse, female and LGBTQ+ voices, the Welsh language, and maintaining our commitment to net zero, with an extensive programme around decarbonisation and green energy. A central pillar of the Wales in France year, of course, was the men's Rugby World Cup. And we used this to raise Wales's profile and develop Welsh expertise in sports diplomacy.

In 2024 we celebrate Wales in India, and I look forward to the opportunities that will bring the Government and external stakeholders working together again for Wales.

As a former First Minister frequently reminded this Chamber, you cannot promote Wales from behind a desk. And this remains true. Last year, Ministers visited Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Denmark, the Basque Country and the USA. Every year St David's Day provides us with an opportunity to bring Wales to the world. As mentioned, the First Minister is in Brussels again, and the Minister for Social Justice will be in Ireland, and the Minister for Health and Social Services will travel to Mumbai and Kerala to launch Wales in India and take part in a wider programme of meetings and events. The rural affairs Minister will be joining the US ambassador at the US embassy in London tomorrow for her St David's Day event and to celebrate the strong links between Wales and the USA.

But international engagement, of course, doesn't just happen when we travel to other countries. An outwardly-focused nation is also a welcoming and inviting nation and in 2023 we welcomed international representatives to Wales from across the globe. The German ambassador recently visited Wales to discuss our bilateral agreement with Baden-Württemberg and the wider relationship. And the First Minister has also ensured that he has visited ambassadors in London whenever the opportunity has arisen.

We continue to work closely with our strategic partners, including arts and sports organisations, the future generations commissioner, our global diaspora and our priority regions and countries to support the delivery of our international strategy.

The international strategy, as we've heard, runs until 2025 and this year is the chance to review the work that has been delivered so far and to consider our future international work. But the review will very much be a matter for the new First Minister.

Photo of Dawn Bowden Dawn Bowden Labour

I've got just a couple more points to make, Chair. 

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour

No, you need to conclude now, Deputy Minister.

Photo of Dawn Bowden Dawn Bowden Labour

Okay. The international profile of Wales continues to rise. Our nation's success in sport and culture, our innovative approach to policy means that our demand for international engagement is high and increasing. And despite challenging budgets we will use the achievements from the last four years to build on raising Wales's profile in the future. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour

(Translated)

And I call on the committee Chair, Delyth Jewell, to reply to the debate. 

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. I think the fact that so many Members have wanted to take part in this debate today is a testament to how important the subject is.

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru

Alun voiced his own thanks to the First Minister for the First Minister's passion for Wales internationally. He characterised our report as 'taking stock', though he did voice to our disappointment, of course, about the lack of access that we have had to the First Minister, maybe not as much as we would have liked. I think that our committee would all agree that the EU must be a priority for the next First Minister. And the point about having measurable targets—that's something again that we would all support. Alun often talks about Tredegar. It was wonderful to hear about the other Tredegar too, and I look forward to hearing much more about the two Tredegars in future months.

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru 3:55, 28 February 2024

(Translated)

Rhun spoke about the importance of the fact that we locate ourselves in the world. He spoke about transparency and glass. As the poem on the Wales Millennium Centre reminds us, creating truth like glass is the challenge for us. Rhun mentioned Ireland—which is close to our hearts as a committee—and the fact that Wales needs to be in the room for discussions with the European Union. There is a democratic deficit emanating from the fact that we aren't around that table. I think that we, as a committee, would agree, in terms of a number of the findings that we have come to.  

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru 3:56, 28 February 2024

Carolyn set out more Wales's role in the world, and what we offer to the world. She alluded to her experience in Ghana, how at times we might be seen from the outside. Carolyn spoke about some of what we are uncovering again in our inquiry relating to Brexit and cultural institutions, which Alun had also referred to. Wales has led the way as a nation. The global footprint of Wales, the global challenges that we face together, like climate change, the many wars and struggles facing our planet—they are, vitally, something where Wales has to have that part.

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

Rhys spoke about the high degree of awareness of Wales internationally. He said that this was partly because of sport, perhaps, but he also spoke about the diaspora community in Maryland. It's fascinating to hear about how we, as Welsh people, are seen, and how the Welsh language is being spoken worldwide. Rhys expressed his concern about the poor precedent that could be set by the fact that we don't always receive the ministerial access in this area that is needed.

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru 3:57, 28 February 2024

Thank you as well to Huw for speaking in this debate. I'm sure that we would all join you in congratulating Jess Fishlock and the team. Thank you for your kind words. I do think that this is a milestone for our committee. It's an important one, and we do really wish to work together with your committee on this. We intend this to be first of annual reports on international relations work. I hope that it will mean a legacy of annual debates on this too.

There is, I think, a great deal of commonality between our committees, particularly on UK-EU relations, of course. You referred to our committee as allies, and we are indeed allies, and I hope very much that we will be able to look at these issues together. Particularly, you had set out, Huw, I think, the benefits and the challenges of having the First Minister as the Minister with this responsibility, and that may be something that we could look at in the future. This is something that came up in the Deputy Minister's contribution as well.

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru

We do appreciate the commitments, of course, on the First Minister's time. As Huw had said, we don't believe that this has anything to do with a lack of willingness. I think that it comes back to that challenge of the prominence given—the added prominence given—to international relations by being in the First Minister's portfolio, the prominence versus the focus. That is a duality, and I think that it's something that our committee, alongside the LJC committee, will need to keep an eye on.

The work going on in Brussels is to be welcomed—everything that the Deputy Minister was setting out. We would argue that a separate strategy would aid that greatly. There would be no better way, diplomatically, of sending that message to the EU that we want to engage with them than to have that strategy.

I would welcome so much of the good work, and the really exciting work, that the Deputy Minister was setting out. I think that that reiterates the point that there is so much of this vital stuff that is going on that isn't being captured in the regular monitoring, or what is sent to us. So, I really hope that that can be addressed, because we want to celebrate the good stuff too. We want to be able to take delight in, and champion, all of the wonderful things that are happening, as well as pointing out where we would like to see more.

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru 3:59, 28 February 2024

(Translated)

Now, in a few weeks' time, we will have a new First Minister. Whoever becomes the next First Minister, we as a committee want them to ensure that international relations are not neglected, or put on the back burner of Government. Rather, it's a golden opportunity for the new Cabinet to be in the vanguard when it comes to prioritising international relations. We as a committee are determined to play our part to ensure that the world continues to learn about our historical, beautiful, unique and modern nation. Our hope is that the Welsh Government will do everything within its power to do exactly the same, and to tell a story that St David himself would be pleased to hear.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:00, 28 February 2024

(Translated)

The proposal is to note the committee's report. Does any Member object? No. The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

(Translated)

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.