9. Welsh Conservatives Debate: 2023 Eurovision Song Contest

– in the Senedd at on 29 June 2022.

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(Translated)

The following amendment has been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Siân Gwenllian.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 5:22, 29 June 2022

(Translated)

Item 9 today is the second Welsh Conservative debate on the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest, and I call on Tom Giffard to move the motion.

(Translated)

Motion NDM8042 Darren Millar

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Notes the European Broadcasting Union’s statement on the 17 June 2022.

2. Regrets the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest cannot be held in Ukraine due to Russia’s ongoing invasion.

3. Calls on the Welsh Government to engage with the BBC and the European Broadcasting Union regarding hosting the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest in Wales.

(Translated)

Motion moved.

Photo of Tom Giffard Tom Giffard Conservative 5:23, 29 June 2022

Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi, Dirprwy Lywydd, and I'd like to formally move the debate tabled in the name of my colleague Darren Millar, who's had a lot of praise today. Can I begin the debate by placing on record my sadness and deep regret, and that of my group, that the Eurovision Song Contest cannot be held in Ukraine? As ever, our thoughts are with all those impacted by Russia's invasion of the country. So, in that context, I think it's important that we reflect on why the UK's hosting Eurovision and resolve to make the contest, wherever in the UK it ends up being hosted, look and feel as Ukrainian as possible. And I hope that one day in the very near future we'll see Europe's favourite competition return to Ukraine once again.

So, with that in mind, the United Kingdom has been presented with an opportunity to host next year's Eurovision Song Contest, and as Welsh Conservatives, the true party of Wales, we feel strongly that, as the land of song, Wales is the obvious home for the 2023 song contest. Eurovision being hosted in Wales will add to the list of major events taking place in Wales. Things like the recent concerts from Ed Sheeran, Stereophonics, Tom Jones and the WWE event in September as well. These events have brought people from across the United Kingdom and indeed the world, not only leaving an impression of Wales on those who attend and travel here physically, but those who watch the event on their tv screens as well. And with hundreds of millions of people watching Eurovision on tv each year, what a perfect opportunity to show off our great nation to the world. And we want to be ambitious too.

Whilst the Eurovision Song Contest has traditionally been hosted in arenas, and Wales has great arenas in abundance, and it would be remiss of me not to mention the fantastic new Swansea Arena in my region, we know the public in Wales and across the United Kingdom could easily sell out the Principality Stadium, such is their enthusiasm and love for the event. I know that we could sell 70,000 tickets for that event, and I think I know from this Chamber who the first 60 tickets would be sold to. So, while there are obvious transport issues that need to be addressed, which is something we’ve raised in the past, today isn’t a day to sit back and make party political arguments back and forth. Instead, it’s a day to celebrate the Eurovision Song Contest and say that this Senedd stands united and clear in one aim, and that’s doing all that we can, and resolving for us all to work together, to deliver a shared ambition, hosting the Eurovision Song Contest here in Wales, and I look forward to hearing contributions from colleagues.

(Translated)

The Llywydd took the Chair.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 5:25, 29 June 2022

(Translated)

I have selected the amendment to the motion, and I call on Heledd Fychan to move amendment 1, tabled in the name of Siân Gwenllian. Heledd.

(Translated)

Amendment 1—Siân Gwenllian

Add as new point at end of motion:

Further calls on the Welsh Government to also prepare a bid for Wales to take part as a nation in its own right in the Eurovision Song Contest, furthering Wales’s presence on the international stage.

(Translated)

Amendment 1 moved.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru 5:25, 29 June 2022

(Translated)

Thank you, Llywydd, and I thank the Conservatives for bringing this debate forward today and state our support for it. I would also like to echo the comments of Tom Giffard in saying that we agree, that we also regret that this competition cannot be held in Ukraine because of the illegal ongoing attacks by Russia. We don’t want to take advantage of the fact that Ukraine is going through such an appalling time, and we welcome the fact that 2023 should be a celebration of Ukraine, and that should be the case wherever the competition is held. I should also declare that I'm one of those who is not going to apologise for the fact that I'm a big fan of Eurovision. I’m sorry, but I watch annually with the family, like many people in Wales, and I also voted for Ukraine this year.

But it is a golden opportunity for us here in Wales, and I think the point is an important one: yes, we should be campaigning for Eurovision to come here to Wales. After all, it’s been in the UK eight times previously, seven times in England and once in Scotland, so it’s about time that Wales had the opportunity to host and the international benefits of that. As Tom Giffard said, we have a wealth of music here in Wales to celebrate, and I do believe that we could be exhibiting everything that we’re famous for internationally. It’s a golden opportunity in that regard. Also, if you consider that we will have an excellent opportunity internationally on the international stage with the men’s football team at the world cup, well, why not then celebrate culture in a very different way here in Wales too?

I am going to challenge the Conservatives, however. The 'true party of Wales'? Well, support, therefore, our amendment that Wales should take part in Eurovision as a nation in its own right, because that’s what our amendment states, to ensure that Wales—. Given that we have such huge talent, as has been listed, why shouldn’t we compete too? Why haven’t we heard the Welsh language ever in Eurovision? That’s one of the things that I enjoy most about Eurovision, hearing all of the different languages, seeing all of the different cultures reflected, and I think it’s about time Wales had that opportunity too.

So, I would ask everybody here: why can't we—[Interruption.] I’d be more than happy to take an intervention, Andrew, particularly if you’ll sing it.

Photo of Andrew RT Davies Andrew RT Davies Conservative 5:28, 29 June 2022

I’ve read on the order paper your amendment, but I don’t think, under the rules of the competition, we could enter it, just like the Basque Country couldn’t enter, and Spain is the representative of the Spanish entry to the competition. So, the rules do not permit that amendment to actually be enacted.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

Well, it was possible with Junior Eurovision, and such rules can be changed, because why shouldn’t we celebrate the diversity? There is a call to begin looking at that, because we should be able to compete, and there are ways and means of ensuring that that is possible. If it’s possible with Junior Eurovision, it’s possible to change the rules for us to be at Eurovision too, and I am confident that Wales could win.

So, I’m very pleased to support this, and I would encourage everyone to unite on our amendment. There would be so many economic benefits for us to celebrate Wales internationally through this opportunity, and I very much hope that we can all unite on something that would be very positive for Wales and the Welsh language too, because we may see the Welsh language in Eurovision. So, why not go for it? Thank you.

Photo of Natasha Asghar Natasha Asghar Conservative 5:29, 29 June 2022

Just like many people in this Chamber, I watch the Eurovision Song Contest every year and I have seriously got tired of seeing 'nul points', but it was a delight for me to see Ukraine win this year, and for Great Britain to do incredibly well. Alongside 161 million viewers, I was hooked, and I must say, I was very fortunate to have a head of comms in my team who is a walking, talking Encyclopaedia Britannica of everything Eurovision. So, I am hoping that my contribution today will be a tribute to him and also all Eurovision Song Contest fans out there.

It's a fact that the Eurovision Song Contest is the longest running annual tv music competition. First held in 1956 with only seven nations competing, the contest has substantially grown. The collapse of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s has led to a certain increase in numbers, with many former eastern bloc European countries vying to compete, and now the contest even encompasses Australia. From Dana to Dana International, this cultural festival, with occasional strange song lyrics, bizarre performances and tactical voting, has become a beacon promoting equality, diversity and harmony across Europe and elsewhere, a true, what some may say, brotherhood of man.

Ukraine's victory in this year's contest was rightly seen as a repudiation of Russia's aggression, and an attempt to replace the brave and inspirational President Zelenskyy with Putin's puppet on a string. Events in the east mean that next year's Eurovision is unlikely to be held in Kyiv, a departure from the norm that can at best be described as an aberration. The BBC is now in talks with the European Broadcasting Union to potentially host the contest, something the UK has done a record eight times previously. Should they prove successful, the question arises: where should the venue be? Back comes the answer: wherever there's space, man.

I believe the perfect venue is the Principality Stadium, which can hold 74,500 people. The stadium has a proven track record, as my colleague Tom Giffard mentioned, of successfully holding major music events, as we saw earlier with the Ed Sheeran concert, Tom Jones and also the Stereophonics being held there. Eurovision would also provide an opportunity to market and publicise the attractions of Wales as a tourist destination to an international audience of millions. From the rock bottom of our stunning mountains to the beautiful sandy shores of our coastlines, holding this unique event has the potential to deliver huge long-term benefits for our economy by raising our profile as a nation.

I call upon the Welsh Government to not waste time making up your mind and bring the world's greatest song contest to the land of song. Let's ensure that we are flying the flag for Wales. Support our motion and do all you can to promote Cardiff and Wales as the perfect host for the Eurovision Song Contest. If you do, I'll be the first one to sing and say, 'Congratulations'.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative 5:32, 29 June 2022

It's a pleasure to take part in this debate this afternoon. My knowledge isn't as good on Eurovision as yours, Natasha, but what I will say is that I wasn't originally down to speak on this, but I'm glad that I finally made my mind up to contribute today.

Eurovision, for those who follow it, evokes a sense of celebration, culture, competition, creativity, camaraderie, all combined into a single annual event. The secret to Eurovision's cross-border mass appeal lies in a curious mixture of camp irony and mild controversy. Other than sporting events, the Eurovision Song Contest is one of the most watched annual international television events in the world, drawing in 600 million viewers each year. Following conversations by the European Broadcasting Union in the 1950s to connect countries within the union during the period after world war two, the contest has been televised every year since its premiere in 1956. 

For now, NATO countries are not directly at war with Russia, but we are in a wartime period, which we must do all we can to support. Against this backdrop, a kindly reminder of how important events such as Eurovision can be has surely been felt. The UK entry into the contest this year resulted in second place, closely behind Ukraine. With many security concerns, ongoing conversations around the logistics of the contest being held in Ukraine have taken place. Understandably, it's been noted that it's unlikely to be safe enough for it to take place in Kyiv or Lviv, or indeed any other Ukrainian city, and I would like to take this opportunity to say that Wales stands ready to facilitate Ukraine as a host nation in this instance. 

Despite the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, the kindness and willingness of the people of Wales has been unwavering towards the people of Ukraine. We've seen the fantastic work of Urdd Gobaith Cymru, who have housed and supported refugees at a handful of their locations across the country. Therefore, while our armed forces remain absent from the battlefields of Donbas, we must look at other ways in which we can carry the Ukrainian message of hope. A Welsh-organised Eurovision could see profits donated to charity, and free tickets distributed to refugees here in Wales. There's a real opportunity that 2023 could mark the year of renewed friendship.

Over the past few months, Ukraine has shown its true determination and grit to be a beacon of freedom and democracy here in Europe. Regardless of where and when the next Eurovision is held, this is another opportunity for us to join in solidarity with its people and send a hard, strong message to Russia. Russia's war campaign on European soil will not go unpunished. Putin and his military generals will answer for the war crimes that they have committed, and Wales and the United Kingdom will stand unwaveringly with their Ukrainian allies until every last tank, soldier, fighter jet and naval ship has left Ukraine for good. I'll finish by quoting Konrad Adenauer, when he said that

'When the world seems large and complex, we need to remember that great world ideals all begin in some home neighborhood.'

The war in Ukraine has truly shown that. Thank you. 

Photo of Rhianon Passmore Rhianon Passmore Labour 5:36, 29 June 2022

I'm very pleased to be able to briefly participate in this debate. I wasn’t down to speak. I would like to actually agree with the opening sentiments of the Members opposite, who started this discussion and this motion today. I absolutely applaud the fact that we have a consensus, I believe—a majority across this Chamber today—in this regard. I think that it’s an absolutely fantastic suggestion that we would look to encourage the UK to be able to participate in this Eurovision Song Contest as we move forward.

In regard to Wales as the land of song, quite frankly, it would be fitting for us at this time to be able to do so, and I would also encourage the Welsh Government to work with the BBC and others to celebrate the fantastic achievements, not only in Wales but also in regard to the tragic and awful circumstances that Ukraine is going through at this moment in time. It is a show of solidarity, and it would be a demonstration of our support. So, I welcome very much this debate. Diolch yn fawr i chi i gyd. Thank you, Llywydd.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 5:37, 29 June 2022

(Translated)

The Deputy Minister for arts and sport to contribute now—Dawn Bowden.

Photo of Dawn Bowden Dawn Bowden Labour

Diolch, Llywydd. Can I thank the Welsh Conservatives for bringing forward this debate? What I would start by saying is that we have a full range of cultural, sporting and business events that are a vital part of the visitor economy. By supporting events across Wales, the Welsh Government, through Event Wales, helps drive positive economic impact while showcasing our world-class venues, spotlighting our cities, towns and communities, and highlighting our wonderful landscapes.

Because of the vital role of events in Wales, in order to combat the worst effects of the pandemic, the Welsh Government did provide further support of £24 million to more than 200 sporting, cultural and business events, and technical suppliers, via the cultural recovery fund, and continued to provide leadership, advice and guidance to the industry during this challenging time. Currently working under the auspices of a major events strategy for Wales 2010-20—which was launched in 2010, obviously—we’re now about to launch a renewed and refreshed events strategy for Wales. This seeks to capitalise on the new level of collaboration and consultation that the Welsh Government has developed with the industry during the pandemic. We are going to reassess Wales’s reputation as an event nation on the world stage, where events support the well-being of its people, place and the planet. It identifies clear ambitions to ensure an all-Wales approach, maximising existing assets and supporting a geographical and seasonal spread of indigenous and international events across sports, business and cultural sectors across the whole of Wales.

We are already supporting a wide range of events. The most recent examples include the Welsh language festival Tafwyl; In It Together in Neath Port Talbot; the Gottwood festival in Ynys Môn; the Merthyr Rising; and the Out & Wild festival in Pembrokeshire. We are looking forward to the World Heart Congress; and England versus South Africa T20 in Cardiff, shortly; the Love Trails festival; the Para Sport festival in Swansea; and WWE, as has already been mentioned, will be coming to Wales in September. We are well versed in successfully hosting international events—WOMEX, NATO, the Ashes test, a Ryder Cup and a Champions League final, just to name a few.

We remain alert to new and exciting event hosting opportunities. For example, we are of course part of the UK and Ireland bid for the 2028 Euros. We are always open to discussions about bringing exciting major events to Wales. These opportunities can, as has happened with Eurovision, emerge unexpectedly, and it's vital that we respond to these appropriately and make a full assessment of the likely costs and benefits before progress with any potential involvement. Such an assessment involves full engagement with partners and a full consideration of the detailed technical specification issued by the event organisers.

The Eurovision Song Contest, as others have already pointed out, represents one of the world's most high profile event hosting opportunities, and provides the host nation, city and venue with a chance to build significantly on its reputation and secure a sizeable and positive economic impact. As winners of the 2022 contest, Ukraine won the right to host the 2023 edition, and whilst the European Broadcasting Union, who hold the rights to the competition, have now indicated that they do not think it will be possible to host a safe and secure event in the country next year, we note that Ukraine remain committed to hosting the event, and have suggested that now is not the right time to start discussions with cities in the UK, until they have held further discussions with the EBU. The UK Government has also indicated that Ukraine should be given the opportunity to host the event if they can. So, no decision has yet been taken on whether the UK will host, but in the event that we do agree to host, the BBC will then run a selection process for the host city, and it is at that point that input will be sought.

Can I say, Llywydd, that we reiterate our unequivocal solidarity with the Ukrainian people in the face of the Russian invasion of their country? We fully respect Ukraine's continued ambition to host the Eurovision Song Contest. Until the position has been fully resolved, we will not proactively pursue a bid for the event. Should, however, Ukraine be unable to host the event, we recognise that, as runners-up in the 2022 contest, the UK represents the alternative option for the EBU.

We recognise that Wales's successful track record in hosting high-profile events in Cardiff at the Principality Stadium, which we understand would be the only venue in Wales capable of meeting the specifications for the event, places it in contention for providing a home for the 2023 edition of Eurovision, if it cannot be held in Ukraine. Both Cardiff Council and the stadium have indicated their interest in staging the event, and if the event cannot be held in Ukraine, we would hold further discussions with both, and the BBC, in terms of the detailed specification and the potential costs, which we understand are likely to be multimillion. We would also be looking at the benefits and the potential contributions from those partners, the UK Government, and of course international partners.

Finally, if I can address the Plaid amendment. Should we be successful for any bid for this great event, we would fully honour the EBU's commitment to ensure that the 2023 event reflects Ukraine's win this year, and any entry would be a UK entry, because Eurovision is a competition held amongst broadcasting networks, and entries are from the main public service broadcasters of each country, and for the UK this is the BBC. The BBC would therefore need to withdraw from being the UK's Eurovision broadcaster before Wales could be allowed to compete in its own right. A devolved Government does not mean separate participation.

In summary, Llywydd, what I would say is that we should await the final decision on which nation will be hosting the Eurovision Song Contest, and if that turns out to be the UK then we will fully participate in the process of seeking to host the event.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 5:44, 29 June 2022

(Translated)

Tom Giffard now to reply to the debate. 

Photo of Tom Giffard Tom Giffard Conservative

Diolch. [Interruption.] I won't be singing, I'm afraid. Can I thank Members, first of all, from across the Chamber for their contributions in the Welsh Conservative debate today? I'm delighted to be closing this debate as well as opening. As Members who take a keen interest in Eurovision will know, it's normally only the winner that gets to perform twice, so read into that what you will.

I think the general consensus from the debate is that all of us across the Chamber, from whatever party or whatever part of the country we represent, are united in the idea of bringing the Eurovision Song Contest here to Wales. Can I just rattle through some of the contributions from Members? I’ll come back to the Plaid amendment at the end, but Heledd Fychan started by saying, 'Mae’n hen bryd'—it’s about time that Wales hosted the Eurovision. Absolutely right. We heard from a number of contributors about the role that Ukraine would play, and I’m grateful as well to the Deputy Minister for pointing out Ukraine’s continued ambition to want to host Eurovision if that is possible, but obviously, the EBU has made that decision that the UK should step in if that is not possible, and we feel very strongly that Wales and Cardiff should be that place where that is hosted.

Gareth Davies talked about how this has been a welcoming country to Ukrainians that have fled here, and if it is not possible to host it in their home, we should really be hosting it in Wales, which has now become obviously a temporary home for a number of Ukrainians as well.

Dawn Bowden, the Minister, at the end there talked about the cultural support over the pandemic, but I didn’t quite hear her full support for the ability to host Eurovision. I understand there is a cost-benefit analysis to be done, but I wish that the Deputy Minister would show 'Ooh Aah...Just a Little Bit’ more ambition. [Laughter.]

Can I just touch briefly on the Plaid Cymru—[Laughter.] I’ll move on. Can I just touch briefly on the contribution from Heledd Fychan and the Plaid Cymru amendment? And as we heard, I understand Plaid Cymru’s continued ambition to see Wales compete as an independent nation at the Eurovision—I understand that—but as we heard from the Deputy Minister and from Andrew R.T. Davies, that simply isn’t possible. And as the Deputy Minister said, the BBC would have to withdraw as a host broadcaster for the event. Unfortunately, Plaid Cymru are using this debate to drive their usual wedge of separatism between what they think and what the Welsh public really feel.

Photo of Llyr Gruffydd Llyr Gruffydd Plaid Cymru

I didn't catch your description of the Welsh football team as 'separatism'.

Photo of Tom Giffard Tom Giffard Conservative

Well, we’ve got a wonderful debate coming up next—I’m sure you’ll stay behind—on Welsh football. But Plaid Cymru’s short-sighted suggestion may be one of the Conchita Wurst suggestions I’ve heard in this Chamber. No, that one didn’t land. Okay. [Laughter.]

I just wanted to finish by saying I saw little bit of nonsense on social media earlier today asking why we were using some time today to debate this idea, that we should be talking about bigger issues that are facing Wales, and discussing it was a waste of time. And for all the reasons we’ve heard today from across the Chamber, whether that be that huge economic impact, an unparalleled opportunity to bring people into stadiums in Wales, put eyeballs onto our country, or even just growing our national identity and who we are as a people, establishing that Senedd-wide consensus that the Welsh Government should work with the BBC and the EBU to bring a major event like Eurovision to Wales isn’t a waste of anybody’s time. So, I ask all Members from across the Chamber to back our motion today. Thank you.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 5:48, 29 June 2022

(Translated)

The proposal is to agree the motion without amendment. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Yes, there is objection. Therefore, we'll defer voting on this item until voting time. 

(Translated)

Voting deferred until voting time.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 5:48, 29 June 2022

(Translated)

We've now reached voting time. We'll take a short break to prepare for the vote.

(Translated)

Plenary was suspended at 17:48.

The Senedd reconvened at 17:51, with the Llywydd in the Chair.