Select Committee on Welsh Affairs First Report


The Welsh Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



Origins of the inquiry

1. In June 2000, we visited the United States of America—Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Gary, Indiana—in connection with our inquiry into Social Exclusion in Wales.[8] While we were in Chicago, we had a conference call with members of the Wales North American Chamber of Commerce (WNACC), an organisation which seeks to promote business links between Wales and North America. They expressed concern about Wales's low profile in the USA. Most Americans were far less familiar with the existence of Wales than with the other countries of the United Kingdom, or with the Republic of Ireland. Although the reasons for this are clearly complex, some people feel that the problem is the failure of the UK Government actively to promote Wales around the world. On the basis of this, and of our own impressions about Wales's image in the wider world, we decided to conduct a short inquiry into the role of the UK Government in promoting Wales abroad.

2. This is not the first time we have visited this subject. During this Parliament we have conducted inquiries into investment in industry in Wales,[9] broadcasting in Wales[10] and European Structural Funds,[11] all of which have touched at least tangentially on issues relating to the promotion of Wales overseas. In previous Parliaments, the Welsh Affairs Committee has examined Cardiff-Wales Airport,[12] Wales in Europe[13] and the role of the Invest in Britain Bureau in relation to inward investment in Wales.[14] However, this is the first occasion on which we have attempted to get an overview of the full range of areas in which the Government promotes Wales abroad, and the subject is by its nature a nebulous one. Although a number of the written submissions we received focused on quite narrow complaints about the failure of particular public bodies to carry out particular types of promotional activity, we have tried to concentrate on the general lessons which can be drawn out from the evidence, especially those relating to the way in which bodies with responsibility for promoting the UK or Britain abroad can integrate the promotion of Wales more closely into their main work, and work more closely with the bodies with responsibility for promoting Wales.

3. As well as the witnesses listed on page xxx, we held informal meetings with representatives of the National Assembly's Industrial Development Division, International Relations Unit and Economic Policy Division; with representatives of the Wales Tourist Board, the Welsh Development Agency and the Arts Council of Wales; with Mr Conor O'Riordan, Consul-General of Ireland in Wales and with Ms Sonia Tsiros, Welsh Affairs Officer of the United States Embassy. We also spent a day in North Wales meeting representatives of the tourist industry during the course of a programme arranged for us by Mr Dewi Davies of North Wales Tourism. The programme included a lunch at the Castle Hotel in Conwy hosted by Sandra Williams of A Taste of Wales, the Welsh Development Agency's Food Directorate. We are most grateful to all of those who assisted with our inquiry, especially to those who helped to make our visit to North Wales such a success.

Wales's profile abroad

4. The results of a survey published by the British Council in October 2000, Through Other Eyes 2, appear to confirm the impression that Wales has a poor profile in the world.[15] The survey was the second part of a study begun in 1999, which examined the understanding of, and attitudes towards, the United Kingdom of young professionals and postgraduate students in a total of 28 countries (13 in 1999 and 15 in 2000), selected on the basis of their importance to the British Council. One of the questions in the survey was "What countries, do you think, go to make up the United Kingdom?" in reply to which 85 per cent of respondents mentioned England, 80 per cent Scotland and 72 per cent Northern Ireland. Overall, only 67 per cent mentioned Wales. In Hong Kong, it was only 32 per cent.

5. Respondents were then asked to suggest an image that best represented each of the constituent countries of the UK. The responses for Wales were as depressingly predictable as they were inaccurate, out of date or just plain wrong: 20 per cent of people mentioned the late Diana, Princess of Wales, 13 per cent the Prince of Wales, eight per cent the Royal Family, seven per cent castles, six per cent rugby and five per cent "beautiful landscape". Other subjects included football (four per cent), mountains and the Welsh language (three per cent each), sheep, coal mining and the valleys (two per cent each), and Cardiff (one per cent). Respondents in Japan on the whole found it difficult to come up with strong impressions of Wales, which is surprising given the strong economic links between the two countries.

6. In fairness, other countries of the UK also fared badly in the survey: kilts and whisky were mentioned most often in connection with Scotland; violence, religious war and conflict in connection with Northern Ireland; and the Royal Family, football and London in connection with England. Recognition of Wales does appear to be particularly poor, though. For example, it had the highest proportion of "don't know" responses to this question (16 per cent, compared to 10 per cent for Northern Ireland, six per cent for Scotland and three per cent for England). The British Council concludes that "Wales projects the least distinct image internationally of the countries of the United Kingdom".[16]

7. In general, our witnesses agreed with the suggestion that Wales does not enjoy as high a profile overseas as the other countries of the UK, or as the Republic of Ireland.[17] One witness, a Welshman based in the USA, told us that it was a common misconception in the States that Wales was part of England.[18] The National Assembly for Wales (NAW) told us that "the evidence supports the general consensus that Wales does not enjoy a high profile overseas, and certainly a much lower one than Scotland and Ireland. The overseas perception of Wales is often distorted, stereotyped and out of date".[19] The First Minister thought the reasons for this were complex and largely historical, having to do with the Irish and Scottish diasporas and the closer integration of Wales with England in the 18th and 19th Centuries,[20] thought the Secretary of State for Wales thought that a small country such as Wales would inevitably be less prominent internationally than its larger neighbours.[21]

8. Others argued that Wales does enjoy a high profile in specific areas. The Rugby-playing world is an obvious case,[22] and witnesses from S4C told us that Wales is prominent in the international media world, partly as a result of the work of that channel.[23] Many were nonetheless irritated by the stereotypical images of Wales portrayed overseas (and within the UK) but some, such as the Chief Executive of British Trade International (BTI), argued that Wales could turn these images to its advantage in creating a strong, easily identifiable image. As a former Ambassador to Japan, he pointed to successful attempts to exploit the "strong body of sentiment and affection for Wales" which exists in the Far East, especially among those who have lived and worked in the country. Such attempts are apparent in the "branding" strategies of the Wales Tourist Board, for example in their recent "Land of Nature and Legend" campaign,[24] but it is worth noting that the campaign also includes some efforts to stress the modern and forward-looking aspects of the country: its modern cuisine and nightlife, the attractions of its cities and the establishment of the National Assembly.

9. It is clear that Wales does not generally enjoy a high profile overseas and it appears that the reasons for this are multiple and complex. It may be inevitable that a small country such as Wales is less prominent internationally than its larger neighbours, but it is nonetheless a source of concern if it means that Wales is losing out on the cultural and economic benefits which widespread international recognition brings.

The role of the Government and the National Assembly

10. Both the UK Government and its associated public bodies, and the National Assembly and its sponsored public bodies, have responsibility for promoting Wales abroad, although the responsibilities of the Government relate primarily to the promotion of the UK (or Great Britain, in some cases) as a whole, whereas those of the NAW relate to the promotion of Wales specifically.[25] However, the international promotion of Wales depends not only on direct overseas promotion, but on other factors. Macroeconomic policy, transport links, housing, environmental protection, broadcasting and telecommunications all have an impact on investment and trade, including invisible exports such as income from overseas visitors. It is not our intention to examine these areas in this Report, but we draw attention to them to highlight the fact that the answer to the question of who does what to promote Wales abroad may not be as simple as it first appears.

11. The relationship between the Government and the Assembly, including their respective responsibilities for international relations and EU negotiations, is codified in the Memorandum of Understanding and supplementary agreements between the UK Government, Scottish Ministers, the Cabinet of the NAW and the Executive Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly; and by a series of concordats between the Assembly and individual Government departments.[26]

12. Witnesses representing bodies of the UK Government invariably took the view described above: that their role was to promote the UK as a whole and that it was up to the Assembly and its sponsored public bodies to promote Wales. Some of them argued that promoting the UK necessarily involved promoting the distinct identity of each of its constituent parts,[27] while others suggested that their job was to promote the UK as a single entity. Although many of our witnesses seemed comfortable with the distinction, we find it difficult to disentangle the promotion of the UK as a whole from the promotion of its constituent countries. For many outside the UK (and, indeed, some inside it), "Britain" means England. It is therefore important that, notwithstanding the existence of bodies with a responsibility for promoting Wales specifically, United Kingdom bodies acknowledge and reflect the distinct identity of each constituent part of the UK in their activities.

8  See the Third Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 1999-2000, HC 365, Social Exclusion in Wales. More details of the itinerary for the visit are included in the Annex to the First Special Report of the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 2000-01, HC 81, The Work of the Committee Since Devolution.  Back

9  Fourth Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 1997-98, HC 821, Investment in industry in WalesBack

10  Second Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 1998-99, HC 48, Broadcasting in Wales and the National AssemblyBack

11  First Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 1999-2000, HC 46, European Structural FundsBack

12  First Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 1990-91, HC 166, Cardiff-Wales Airport (February 1991). Back

13  Fourth Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 1994-95, HC 818, Wales in Europe (October 1995). Back

14  Minutes of Evidence taken before the Welsh Affairs Committee on 3 June 1996, HC 247, Session 1995-96. Back

15  Through Other Eyes 2: How the World sees the United Kingdom, British Council, 2000. The Report is available on the World Wide Web at (February 2001). For a discussion of the Report with witnesses from the British Council, see Q. 97. Back

16  Ibid, pp. 49-52. Back

17  See, for example, QQ. 177, 202, 221-222 & 263. Back

18  Ev. p. 125. Back

19  Ev. p. 1, paragraph 2. Back

20  Q. 2. Back

21  Q. 263. Back

22  QQ. 122 Back

23  Q. 148. See paragraph 43. Back

24  Wales: Land of Nature and Legend, Wales Tourist Board (in conjunction with the British Tourist Authority), 1999. Back

25  Some bodies have responsibility for the UK as a whole, while others have responsibility only for Great Britain. Hereafter, we will use terms such as "UK bodies" to describe both types of body. Back

26  Ev. p. 81, paragraph 2. The full text of the MOU and concordats are available on the NAW's website at: (in English) and (in Welsh). 

27  For example, the Director General of the British Council (Q. 101) and the Chairman of the British Tourist Authority (Q. 219). Back

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Prepared 27 March 2001