§ 43. Mr. Dance
asked the Postmaster-General whether, following the recently announced rise in the cost of television licences, he will make arrangements 1356 for the public to be able to arrange for sets to be made incapable of receiving British Broadcasting Corporation television and sound broadcasts, and that, on presentation of a certificate to this effect, they will not then be called upon to pay any fee to him in respect of the British Broadcasting Corporation licence, in view of the fact that many viewers, particularly retired pensioners, will find that independent companies' broadcasts fulfil their needs.
§ Mr. Benn
No, Sir. Successive Governments have for many years maintained the principle, currently embodied in the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1949, that if a broadcast receiving set is installed or used at all, a licence must be held. Moreover, the value to the general public of the services of broadcasting provided by the B.B.C. would be put at risk if the hon. Member's proposal were acted upon.
§ Mr. Dance
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if a farmer drives a tractor on his own farm, and does not go on to the highway, he is not called on to pay for a Road Fund licence? Is he further aware that if the farmer uses a gun for the purpose of keeping down vermin, and if he does not shoot game, he need not pay for a game licence? Why on earth should members of the public have to keep paying for a service they cannot and do not wish to use?
§ Mr. Benn
This principle has been accepted since the beginning of broadcasting—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not change it?"]—that a licence is a licence to receive wireless telegraphy programmes and broadcasts. It would also be technically impracticable to satisfy oneself that sets were available only for viewing one type of programme or another. It would involve legislation. The problem of policing would be so great, and on every ground it would be quite impracticable.
§ Mr. Lipton
Is not this Question another miserable example of the extent to which an hon. Member can be driven by anti-B.B.C. animus? Will my right hon. Friend continue to resist this niggling and pernickety campaign which is being continued in all sorts of ways by hon. Members opposite?
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
Is the Postmaster-General aware that in parts of the West Country B.B.C. reception is appallingly had? Would he consider making a deduction in the cost of the licence?
§ Mr. Benn
We have considered the possibility that a licence should be rated according to the quality of reception, but when one considers what this would involve, and the various factors contributing to poor reception, including a poor aerial and different weather conditions, one realises that it would be impossible to introduce such a proposal.