Page last updated at 11:36 GMT, Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Profile: Wales

Map of Wales

Wales, a part of the United Kingdom, has retained its distinctive culture and has enjoyed a degree of autonomy since 1999.

It includes a heavily industrialised south, a largely-Anglicised and prosperous farming east, and a Welsh-speaking, hill-farming North and West.


Wales' devolved government - home rule - is now acquiring more powers and its economy is refocusing on light industry, tourism and financial services, but a small population and poor transport infrastructure continue to make development uneven.

Welsh flag
1282 - Last native prince ousted
1400-15 - Owain Glyndwr rebellion
1536 - Annexed to England
1964 - Welsh Secretary cabinet post created
1999 - Own National Assembly opens

Welsh identity and the Welsh language have received a boost from an enlivened popular culture scene in the 1990s, and from the devolution of power from the central government in London to the Welsh National Assembly in Cardiff. But Wales's rural hinterland is still experiencing an influx of mainly English professionals that some see as a threat to Welsh culture.

Wales is a large peninsula in western Britain, divided from England by major rivers and mountain ranges.

It steadily fell under Norman then English rule in the Middle Ages, with the last native prince ousted in 1282. Despite the brief uprising by Owain Glyndwr (Owen Glendower) in 1400-1415, Wales was eventually annexed to England by the Laws in Wales Acts of 1535-1542, which abolished the Welsh legal system.

Wales re-emerges

Graham Price
Graham Price, icon of the national sport, represented Wales and the Lions internationally

The country remained a relative backwater in Britain until the 19th century, when the south and north-east were heavily industrialised and coal and steel exports provided the basis for a substantial manufacturing industry. At the same time Wales underwent a major Methodist revival, which entrenched the Welsh language through a voluntary religious schools system.

The rise of organised labour in the late 19th century made Wales an important centre for the trade union movement and the emerging Labour Party, which has dominated Welsh political life ever since.

The break-up of empires after the First World War saw a revival of national consciousness in Wales as elsewhere. And after the Second World War, this began to translate into institutional change, with Wales being officially defined as legally distinct from England in 1967.

In 1962 the Welsh Language Society (Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg) formed in response to fears that the language was entering a period of rapid decline through the spread of English-language media and rural depopulation. It organised high-profile civil disobedience campaigns to win the Welsh language legal status, thereby both mobilising and alienating sections of society.

Anthony Hopkins
Wales has spawned many stars, including actor Anthony Hopkins

Nationalism received a boost over the flooding of the Tryweryn valley in 1965, which drowned the village of Capel Celyn to create a reservoir for Liverpool in England. The following year nationalist party Plaid Cymru won the Carmarthen seat at a by-election, and the inauguration of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales prompted a campaign of bomb attacks by the Free Wales Army and Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (Wales Defence Movement) on water pipes and government offices. These presaged the Meibion Glyndwr (the Sons of Glendower) campaign to fire-bomb holiday homes in rural areas in the 1970s-1990s.

A referendum to set up a devolved assembly with limited powers for Wales in 1979 was heavily defeated in the highly polarised political atmosphere of the last days of the Callaghan Labour government. The subsequent Conservative government closed down much of Wales's loss-making heavy industry and tried initially to renege on an electoral commitment to set up a Welsh-language television channel.

This perception that Conservative rule took too little account of Wales led to a broader consensus in favour of some measure of self-government, which led to the narrow vote in favour of a similar assembly in 1997. Analysts at the time attributed the victory to a first-time alliance between "Welsh Wales" (the Welsh-speaking north and west) and "Radical Wales" (the industrial south), against anti-devolution "English Wales" (the affluent rural east).

Unlike the Scottish Parliament, the Assembly was not initially able to pass primary legislation, which has to go through Parliament in Westminster. A new Government of Wales Act of 2006 delegated power from Parliament to the Assembly, allowing it to pass "Measures" - specifically Welsh Laws - from May 2007.

It also provided for a referendum to grant the Assembly further powers. The referendum was held in March 2011, at which a large majority granted the Assembly law-making powers like those in Scotland.

Most of the powers of the Secretary of State for Wales were transferred to the Assembly in 1999, although the Secretary continues to ensure Welsh interests are borne in mind by the central government, represent the government within Wales, and oversees Welsh legislation through Parliament.

After the 2011 referendum, Assembly presiding officer Lord Elis-Thomas called for the Welsh Office to be closed down as an irrelevance.

Wales has 40 MPs out of the total of 646 in Parliament in Westminster.


  • Status: Semi-autonomous part of United Kingdom
  • Population: 2.9 million (2001 census)
  • Capital: Cardiff
  • Area: 20,779 sq km (8,022 sq miles)
  • Languages: English, Welsh
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Monetary unit: 1 pound sterling = 100 pence
  • Main exports: Sheet metal, auto parts, electronics


Head of State: Queen Elizabeth II

Prime Minister: David Cameron

First Minister (Prif Weinidog): Carwyn Jones

The Government of Wales Act set up the National Assembly, which opened in 1999. Of the 60 members, 40 are elected under the First Past the Post system, with an addition 20 elected through a proportional Additional Member System of regional lists in five regions. The First Minister of Wales heads the executive Welsh Assembly Government, to which the Assembly delegates most of its powers.

Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones
Carwyn Jones became First Minister in 2009

Labour, the largest party in Wales since before the Second World War, has led all governments since 1999 under Alun Michael, Rhodri Morgan and Carwyn Jones, either ruling alone or in coalition with the Liberal Democrats or Plaid Cymru.

A Welsh-speaking barrister born in Swansea, Mr Jones has represented industrial Bridgend in the Assembly since 1999, and took over the important agriculture portfolio the following year. He became minister of education in 2007 and leader of the House in the subsequent coalition with Plaid Cymru.

When Rhodri Morgan stepped down as first minister and Labour leader, Mr Jones convincingly saw off two other challengers for the posts in December 2009.

His confident stewardship of the coalition and success in winning the referendum on greater powers were rewarded with a surge in support at the May 2011 Assembly elections, leaving Labour only one seat short of an overall majority.

Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats suffered losses, widely attributed to the compromises they made in the coalition governments in Cardiff and London respectively, and the Conservatives became the second-largest party for the first time.

Mr Jones said he would form a minority government without Plaid or Liberal Democrat ministers, although both parties indicated their willingness to cooperate with Labour issue-by-issue.


Wales has one daily newspaper that aspires to national coverage. An edition of the Liverpool Daily Post caters to North Wales. There is also a lively weekly Welsh-language press, especially at the level of "papurau bro" (local newspapers), as well as one heavyweight.

UK television and radio networks cover Wales, as well as BBC and commercial stations of local appeal. A largely Welsh-language TV channel called S4C broadcasts in the UK Channel 4 slot. It is partly commercial and partly funded by a UK government grant. The BBC contributes some programming to it. The BBC has two dedicated radio services for Wales, one in English and the other in Welsh.

The press



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Compiled by BBC Monitoring



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