In Lords Question Time today, there was an exchange about the future of the BBC digital radio channel 6 Music. The Minister replying, Lord Shutt of Greetland, the Deputy Chief Whip (or Captain of the Queen’s Bodyguard of Yeoman of the Guard to give him his proper title), a LibDem component of the coalition, quite properly said this was a matter for the BBC Trust and that the Government was keeping out of it.
I sought – as one does – to widen the scope of discussion by asking about the Government’s attempts – described by Gavin Allen, Executive Editor of BBC1’s “Question Time” programme – to demand a change in the Labour representative on the programme before they would allow a Cabinet Minister to appear.
To loud exclamations and laughter, the Minister described the whole incident as “a strange affair” but that people “get up to ideas like that” when they work in places such as No 10.
The exchange is below:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the BBC regarding the future of BBC 6 Music radio station.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. I am sure that it stems from a desire for the BBC Trust to be seen to be totally independent, but I hope that he does not consider the BBC Trust to be impervious as well as independent. Will he, with his departmental colleagues, ask the BBC Trust to take note of something in the order of 1 million people per week who now listen to 6 Music? With the demise of NME digital radio, it is the only radio station that is showcasing new British music. The destruction of 6 Music, I hope he will agree, would be cultural and economic vandalism.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his supplementary question. There has been consultation about 6 Music over a 12-week period and the BBC is considering this. Anybody who happened to switch on to Radio 4 this morning at about 7 o’clock would also hear about further consultations for Radios 3, 4 and 7 that are taking place. The remarkable thing is that, since the suggestion arose that this particular radio station would cease to be, the listenership has doubled.
Lord Harrison: My Lords, while the noble Lord may wish to retain the independence of the BBC to make these decisions, will he understand and communicate to the BBC that many of us are wedded to the more recondite products of the BBC, including Radio 3 which, as he has just announced, is also receiving invitations from the BBC for commentary? The BBC is the pearl of radio output and it would be a severe loss to this country and culture if it were to be reduced in any way.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I understand exactly what the noble Lord is saying. He will be heartened to know that the listenership of Radio 3 is double that of 6 Music. The BBC will no doubt look at today’s Hansard and note the comments of noble Lords. I am happy to make certain that that happens.
Lord Addington: My Lords, will my noble friend give some thought to the fact that this House is probably not the best place to discuss new, cutting-edge music for the young? We should listen to people outside before we make any decision.
“to inform, educate and entertain”,
and 6 Music is at the “entertain” end of that. I happen to believe that the BBC is for all three objectives. Whether this particular station is to the taste of their Lordships or not, with all the consultation that has taken place, proper regard of the way forward must be taken in coming to a view.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, in his initial Answer, the noble Lord gave a very proper statement about the BBC’s independence and the independence of the BBC Trust. Does he therefore condemn the actions of spin doctors at No. 10 who apparently felt that it was proper for them to tell the BBC who it should invite on to the “Question Time” panel?
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I do not quite think that the decision about who should appear on “Question Time” relates to the business of whether 6 Music should continue. It struck me as a strange affair but people come up with ideas like that when they work in organisations such as No. 10.