HC Deb 13 July 1966 vol 731 cc1432-4
7. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Postmaster General with a view to preventing any further increase in the cost of television licences, what other steps he proposes to take to meet increasing costs; and if he will make a statement.

10. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Postmaster General when he contemplates increasing the British Broadcasting Corporation licence fee.

23. Mr. Stratton Mills

asked the Postmaster General if he will make a statement on the proposals put forward by the British Broadcasting Corporation to maintain stability of the licence fee for two years or possibly longer, referred to by his predecessor in the debate on 3rd March.

Mr. Edward Short

As my predecessor explained on 3rd March, the Government are currently studying the B.B.C.'s proposals for maintaining stability of the licence fee for about two years. The Government are also considering what steps should be taken to reduce licence evasion. Progress is being made but I am not yet able to make a statement.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Is it not perfectly clear from a study of the B.B.C.'s accounts that, whatever is done about licence evasion, either the licence fee will have to be increased or advertising revenue obtained? Is it not necessary, if the B.13.C. is to progress, that the right hon. Gentleman should come to an early decision on this?

Mr. Short

I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman. This is the central problem in broadcasting in this country, and it arises from the dichotomy in our television arrangements which the Conservative Government established. Half the system, when it improves its service, makes a greater profit; the other half gets into deficit.

Mr. Dempsey

Would the Postmaster-General bear in mind that any increase in television licence fees bears most heavily on those with fixed incomes, especially pensioners? Would he consider easing the financial strain affecting his Department by reducing some of the extortianate fees paid to mediocre performers on television?

Mr. Short

That is another question. The House must face the fact that, if it wants half the service run on a public service basis, it has to be prepared to pay for it.

Mr. Stratton Mills

As these proposals were referred to as long ago as 3rd March, would it not be possible to reveal to the House what exactly they are? What did the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor mean when he referred recently to the assumptions on which these proposals were made?

Mr. Short

Clearly,if the B.B.C. makes such a proposal, it is based on a number of assumptions, and it is my job to examine these assumptions. It is no good looking at the conclusions unless the assumptions are sound.

Mr. Bryan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the cost of the Selective Employment Tax on the B.B.C. is the equivalent of engaging a thousand extra employees? Can he say how the B.B.C. can face a new factor like that without altering its previous promises with regard to the two years?

Mr. Short

The B.B.C. has assured me that it can still maintain the two-year stability and absorb the Selective Employment Tax.

29. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Postmaster-General, in view of the loss of £10 million this year by the British Broadcasting Corporation in evasion of television and radio licences, what further consideration he is now giving to attachment of the licence to sale of television and radio sets as quasi-emolument to Purchase Tax on such sale, collection authority to be Customs and Excise; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Edward Short

No, Sir. I have considered various proposals for incorporating the licence fee in the purchase price of sets, but have found them all to he impracticable.

Sir G. Nabarro

I recognise the difficulties of any transposition of this kind, but would the right hon. Gentleman say what effective methods he has in mind to quell the rising tide of evasion? Is he aware that about 16 per cent. of all radio and television licence fees are now being evaded and that the figure gets bigger every year and that detection vans are no good? What does he propose to do?

Mr. Short

I answeredaQuestion about this last week. We are actively engaged in discussion with the retail trade which we hope to associate with anti-evasion measures. I hope that it will be possible to bring a Bill to the House after the Summer Recess. We are also doubling the number of detector vans.