HC Deb 02 April 1973 vol 854 cc4-7
5. Mr. Edwin Wainwright

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications how many old persons' homes licences have been issued for each of the past three years; and how many elderly people have benefited from this scheme.

Sir J. Eden

In December 1972 there were 7,994 licences in force, under which 172,075 retired people benefited. I will, with permission, circulate the figures for the two previous years in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Wainwright

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his reply. Have the Government any intention of extending the concessionary television licence to every old-age pensioner throughout the country? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that there is tremendous dissatisfaction amongst those old-age pensioners who do not qualify for this concession? Will he take a progressive step forward himself and, as a temporary measure, grant to married couples living on their pensions a licence at 50 per cent. of the present rate and to the single pensioner living on his own a licence costing not more than £2 a year?

Sir J. Eden

As the hon. Gentleman will recollect, the Government's view on this matter has already been announced. Although there may be a degree of satisfaction in moving in the direction which he has suggested, to exempt all old-age pensioners entirely from paying licence fees would cost about £25 million.

Mr. Tom King

Does my hon. Friend recognise that many old people, particularly in my constituency, would appreciate, as much as a reduction in the fee, the chance to receive the service of their choice? Are we to read my right hon. Friend's proposal for a commission to study this matter as a delay in any efforts to resolve the territorial problems of frequencies?

Sir J. Eden

My hon. Friend is asking a question about another matter.

Following are the figures:

Number of licences Number of retired people benefiting
December 1970 7,493 145,658
December 1971 7,563 155,314

6. Mr. Moate

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications what further steps he has taken to give publicity to the reasons for his decision not to alter the present system of television licence fees.

Sir J. Eden

None, Sir. The reasons for my decision are well known.

Mr. Moate

May I remind my right hon. Friend that on 12th March he said that he would try to give further publicity to the fact? Does he not agree that what the present system needs is not more publicity, but reformation? Is he aware of the widespread dissatisfaction at the present television and broadcasting licensing system, and will he not take the initiative and put forward some proposals for an alternative system?

Sir J. Eden

I have no proposals to put forward at present. I recognise that the present system gives rise to a number of difficult situations, particularly affecting special categories of persons. I am sure, however, that my hon. Friend recognises the need to devise a system which is not too expensive to collect and is reasonably simple to operate.

Mr. Whitehead

Will the right hon. Gentleman now accept the reservation of many hon. Members that the regressive nature of the licence fee system generally and not all this beating about the bush about pensioners is at the root of the problem? Will he set up a departmental inquiry to consider the question of the funding of public service broadcasting, which in itself is relevant to questions like the destiny of the fourth channel?

Sir J. Eden

Notwithstanding the last part of the hon. Gentleman's observation, I recognise that this is in itself an extremely important matter, and, as I explained in answer to questions a few days ago, there is no reason why this should not be separately considered.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Will my right hon. Friend make clear that he has not closed his mind to the abolition of the black and white television licence fee and the collection of the revenue in some other way?

Sir J. Eden

My mind is certainly not closed.

Mr. Marten

My right hon. Friend did not exactly answer the question put to him by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) who asked whether there was a departmental inquiry—I think that is what he said— into the whole question of the abolition of the licence fee? May we have an: assurance that such a thing is being done and that he is working towards the abolition of the licence fee and the raising of revenue in another way?

Sir J. Eden

I must refer my hon. Friend to the debate that we had on this subject a short while ago.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the dissatisfaction that was expressed in all sections of the House during the course of that debate, and that the victory on that occasion was due more to the Whips than to the force of argument presented by the Government Front Bench? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is still considerable feeling in this House that something ought to be done about licence fees for old people? Secondly, will he do as many have suggested and hold a general inquiry into the whole system of financing the public sector of broadcasting? Such an inquiry would be greatly welcomed by both sides of the House.

Sir J. Eden

The views of the Government were clearly expressed during that debate, in which the position held by previous Governments was reiterated, namely, that it is better to attend to the needs of elderly people by payment in cash rather than in kind. So far as that question was invoked in the context of the overall financing of the BBC, I think the hon. Gentleman will accept that there is no doubt where the Government stand.