HC Deb 06 April 1967 vol 744 cc431-3
13. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Postmaster-General what loss of revenue occurred in the year to 5th April, 1967, in respect of evasion of payment for radio and television licences what further steps he is taking to improve the position; and whether he will make a statement.

20. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Postmaster-General if he will make a statement on the results achieved in the last two months in the increased numbers of television licences taken out as a result of governmental action; and what has been the amount of additional revenue accruing.

Mr. Edward Short

The loss of revenue was about £10 million.

In January and February, 1967, the last two months for which figures are available, the number of combined sound and television licences in force increased by about 41,000 and 27,000, producing an increase in revenue of about £205,000 and £135,000. I cannot, of course, say how much of these increases resulted from action by my Department, but as the House is aware, I have intensified the existing measures against licence evasion and on 8th March I introduced the Wireless Telegraphy Bill.

Sir G. Nabarro

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that a £10 million loss is a massive sum of money, and that as this approximate rate of loss has been going on for at least 15 years, representing a cumulative loss of about £150 million, the honest licence payers are being very heavily soaked, especially if the licence fee is put up? Can he not stiffen the penalties against licence evasion?

Mr. Short

The Bill which I have put before the House stiffens the penalties as well as doing a lot of other things. The hon. Gentleman is quite correct—12s. of every licence fee is imposed because of people who do not take out licences.

Mr. Hamilton

In view of the very large amount involved through evasion, does not my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a sound investment substantially to increase the number of detector vans on the road? What steps is he taking in that direction?

Mr. Short

We are doubling the number of detector vans, as well as introducing the Bill which I have already placed before the House.

Mr. Bryan

Will the Postmaster-General tell us how the B.B.C. arrived at the figure of 2 million licence evaders? I believe that it is far higher than that. Secondly, in view of the dramatic effect of the introduction of more detector vans, allied to the threat of higher fines, would it not be wise to reconsider the proposal to impose upon dealers this cumbrous, inefficient and frustrating obligation to provide 13-million lists of various sorts to the Post Office?

Mr. Short

The figure of 2 million is the discrepancy between the number of sets sold and let out on hire and the number of licences taken out, so it must be fairly accurate. As for the hon. Member's second point, we have had a great deal of co-operation from dealers. They do not want this system, but they have co-operated. I have discussed the matter with them at great length. We have had their co-operation in drawing up the Bill and their assistance on a great many points.

Mr. Hooley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that part of the difficulty is that for many people the payment of the television licence fee represents the spending of a substantial single sum? Is he examining means of spreading the payment of this sum over a longer period?

Mr. Short

This can be done now. It is possible to obtain a card from any post office and to stick on one savings stamp a week, which will be roughly sufficient for the licence fee at the end of the year. I hope that pensioners, in particular, will make use of this facility. These cards are available in every post office.