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BBC 6 Music

Volume 719: debated on Wednesday 16 June 2010


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the BBC regarding the future of BBC 6 Music radio station.

My Lords, the Government have made no representations to the BBC. This is a matter for the BBC Trust.

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.

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.

Will my noble friend the Minister report any progress on the Live Music Bill, which so nearly became law in the past Parliament and would have given licensing exemption to small venues, thus encouraging musical performance, especially for young musicians?

My Lords, my noble friend may well be right about that. I am afraid that I have no news about any timescale for such a Bill.

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.

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.

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.

I am well aware that the BBC is there, as Lord Reith said,

“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.

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?

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.

Does the Minister feel that the BBC may have become distracted in concerning itself with the future of its music radio stations by the fact that it has been paying inflation-busting pay increases to the great majority of its employees?

My Lords, I have not seen the payroll so I am not able to comment. I know it is of concern to many people that they should get value for money. It occurs to me that value for money is a good way of looking at this. Nevertheless, the BBC is looking at this as it looks at all radio stations—on a five-year programme. As I mentioned earlier, it is now reviewing other programmes and we will see what it comes up with, but it is the BBC’s affair. The BBC Trust makes the decisions once it has the ideas from the BBC executive.