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2.49 pm

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I am impressed by, and grateful for, the efforts of the hon. Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones). Despite my disappointment at not being able to pound the streets of Southwark and Bermondsey, I am greatly consoled by finding myself in such auspicious company, surrounded by Welsh Members and by the would-be Welsh Members on the Conservative Benches.

Wales's role in the world has been a subject for debate ever since the Romans were given a fright by the axe-wielding Queen Boadicea. It seems that the centurions considered the Celtic fringe too much trouble to bother with, so they built the A5 and used it to drive home. We had to wait nearly 2,000 years for the completion of the harbour development in Holyhead—and, for that matter, for any real improvements to the A5.

Apart from some castle building in the early middle ages, there has not been much macro-political investment in Wales by London's political classes, so it is hardly surprising that Wales still seeks to define its role not just in the United Kingdom and Europe, but in the world. That has given us political opportunities to argue among ourselves about the Welsh national identity, but it also gives us a significant opportunity to sell Wales as the great undiscovered territory, the "big country" in the United Kingdom, in terms of both tourism and economic development.

There is a problem with the Welsh identity. Wales is not yet entirely confident about its own nationality: it is not sure how it wants to project itself. The strengths are well known to us—gentleness, depth of character, a traditional commitment to communities and, very important, a willingness to look out for each other that has, I think, been lost in other parts of the United Kingdom. Those strengths, however, constitute a weakness in a sense. The clarity of identity that we must have if we want a confident international image has yet to be fully developed.

Along the eastern border of Wales, for instance, many people do not even regard themselves as being part of the nation. They tune their televisions into Central Television. I do not criticise them for doing that, but we should acknowledge that we have not yet made the Welsh identity so attractive that people feel comfortable, even proud, in associating themselves with it.

Hywel Williams: I am relieved to hear the hon. Gentleman refer to some of the structural difficulties that have arisen in the construction of Welsh identities in the past. Perhaps he would like to explore those, rather than ascribing problems with the Welsh identity to individual Welshmen and Welshwomen.

Lembit Öpik: That is what I was trying to do. I was not suggesting that any individual, or indeed Plaid Cymru, was responsible for either abusing or failing to define the Welsh identity. Indeed, I accept that Plaid Cymru has had a healthy and diverse internal debate in seeking to define itself.

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As the hon. Gentleman implies, in some respects the issues are structural, and are underlined by interesting debates engaged in by the Welsh nationalists. The lesson is not that we should condemn Plaid Cymru for grappling with those issues, but that if the nationalists are grappling with them, it is hardly surprising that Wales as a nation is doing the same. All parties here, and in the National Assembly, have an opportunity to try to identify the essence of Welshness that can sell the nation in the United Kingdom, Europe and the world.

Other countries have managed successfully in that regard, and we can learn from them. Members have mentioned Ireland's success in defining itself very clearly. I know the Irish experience well, because I was brought up in Northern Ireland, but I can give an even more interesting example, that of Estonia. Some claim that Wales is too small to sell itself viably on the international circuit, but Estonia has had many more serious problems of the same nature and has nevertheless succeeded in doing so. Its population is less than half that of Wales, and until recently it was not well known; but in the last 10 years particularly, it has been singularly successful in achieving the kind of profile that Wales, too, has an opportunity to achieve.

Public recognition of a nation's achievement is not always necessary. Members who have bought products from Ikea may be surprised to learn that those products are likely to have been built and designed in Estonia. For a time, there was an item of furniture that shared its name with my brother Endel. There are close family ties with Ikea's product lines. Estonia has also done what Wales could do in terms of music. I am sure that many Members have heard the music of Arvo Part, a very successful classical composer. That shows what can be done with a clearly defined identity.

Talking of music, Estonia is host to the Eurovision song contest. My only slight regret is that, had things been different, I could have won the contest last year. As things are, I must content myself with my harmonica.

My final example from Estonia relates to its football team, which made a very successful visit to Wrexham—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. May we return to the subject of the debate, which is "Wales in the World"—interesting though the hon. Gentleman's comments are?

Lembit Öpik: I apologise if I was digressing too much with reminiscences of my genetic past. I was about to mention Wrexham, the venue for the last international game in which the Estonian football team took part.

Mr. David: Has the hon. Gentleman any plans to move back to Estonia?

Lembit Öpik: That is always an insurance policy in my back pocket lest things turn bad in Wales, although I am sure that I shall not need to avail myself of it.

Let me now deal specifically with Wales, and explain my brief digression into the Baltic states. My point was that if a small nation such as Estonia can achieve this kind of international profile, there is no justification for suggesting that there is a barrier to Wales's achieving it. The report is very clear about the opportunities available to us in, for instance, tourism, culture, language, sport and, of course, trade and industry and investment.

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According to the report,

Members who have spoken have made that clear as well. The argument is almost circular, but it highlights the fact that we have a great opportunity to sell Wales to other countries and potential visitors. It is not that those visitors have positively decided not to visit Wales; they are simply not aware of the opportunities. I pay tribute to the Wales Tourist Board for its "big country" campaign, which is an innovative way of trying to advertise—certainly in the United Kingdom market—for more internal tourism. It may provide some pointers on what can be done internationally as well.

Earlier, I suggested to the Minister that we had an opportunity in the United States. Ireland has clearly taken full advantage of its opportunity there. Our opportunity is less than that of the south of Ireland, but we could bring about a manifold increase in our links with the United States. I have often thought that there could be a Celtic tour involving Scotland, Ireland and Wales, with an historical package that would be very attractive to tourists from the United States. If we can pool our resources with those of Scotland and the south of Ireland, we shall be working with successful groups that would themselves stand to benefit.

The report suggests that we promote Wales as a first-choice destination, and it is in that context that we would be most successful. As the hon. Member for Clwyd, South implied, tourism is a tremendously important part of our economy, producing £2 billion per annum—£5 million a day—and employing about 95,000 people. We must recognise tourism as a serious economic opportunity. Even a small percentage increase in turnover will lead to benefits. In addition, tourism tends to be important in areas that are perhaps less successful economically than Cardiff and other large areas. The money can be disproportionately effective in stimulating local economic development.

Jenny Randerson, one of the Liberal Democrat Assembly Members, has worked hard on this issue, and is a member of the Britain abroad taskforce. I am pleased that we are working in partnership with other parts of the United Kingdom to stimulate such development.

On culture, language and sport, we need to choose our branding. We need to decide how to identify ourselves clearly with the products that we most want to push. The list in the report shows that, left to their own devices, would-be visitors to Wales are not necessarily latching on as clearly as we would like to key selling points.

Again, there are lessons to be learned from Ireland, which has chosen some key products that are now internationally identified as brand names not just of the companies that produce them but of Ireland. An obvious one is Guinness. Who can deny the success that Guinness has had in branding Ireland as well as its product?

Chris Ruane: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there are Welsh products with international recognition, including Ty Nant water?

Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We have started on that path. We are beginning to be quite successful with various cheeses: Caerphilly cheese stands to be an internationally recognised brand.

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Everything is there, which is why achieving the kind of success that Ireland has had will not be such a big leap. Ty Nant water could be the Welsh equivalent of Guinness, but I am sure that there will be even more successful brands.

From a cultural perspective, we could start to brand Wales as a centre for performing arts. The international Eisteddfod has not yet been mentioned.

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