HC Deb 07 February 1973 vol 850 cc439-43
6. Mr. Charles R. Morris

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications whether he will make a statement indicating when he hones to complete his review of the Government's policy in respect of concessionary television licences for the elderly.

9. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, having regard to representations from the Malvern Old Peoples Welfare Committee, a copy of which has been sent to him, whether he will introduce a flat rate broadcasting licence fee, confined to a maximum of £2.00 per annum for every senior citizen, producing retirement pensioner documents; and what would be the annual cost in terms of revenue lost, accounted from 1st April 1973.

20. Mr. David Clark

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he is now able to make a statement on his review of television licence concessions for retirement pensioners.

Sir J. Eden

The cost of a £2 licence for all pensioners would be about £20 million a year. After the most careful consideration I have come to the conclusion that it would be wrong to allow licence concessions for pensioners. There is no way of extending the scope of the present special licence for old people's homes without creating other anomalies.

Mr. Morris

Will the Minister accept that the statement he has just made will be greeted with dismay among not only the nation's elderly but also among reasonable people in every section of the community? Will he accept that to elderly people particularly television is a great aid in combating the serious problem of community living—the problem of loneliness? Will he initiate a public referendum on this question? I am convinced that the result would be that the nation would demand that this concession be provided.

Sir J. Eden

Of course I recognise that the decision I have announced will bring disappointment to many people. I regret that that should be so. I had to take into account the effect on other categories of making a change of this kind. Having considered that very thoroughly, I concluded that it was right that we should continue to look after the needs of retired people through the means of the social security system and that that is the best way to do it.

Sir G. Nabarro

I am on record over many years as refusing every kind of special emolument for pensioners, including radio and television concessions, but inflation has made this position vastly worse. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the cost of broadcasting licences for the elderly ranks as such a large part of their individual income that these people merit special help at the expense of the rest of the community? Why does not my right hon. Friend evolve a scheme for increasing the cost of the licence by perhaps £2 a year over the whole field, to give the elderly a special concession of the kind I have described and reduce their contribution to only £2 a year?

Sir J. Eden

Because regard must be had to the position of those who are not old-age pensioners but may be in as difficult circumstances as an elderly person. Many young couples cannot afford a television set, let alone the licence.

Mr. Clark

Does the Minister realise that the trends of modern life are working against old people, especially the curtailment of bus services and the increasing cost of entertainment other than television, due to be increased with the introduction of VAT? Will he not think about this matter just once more? Does not he recognise that most people think that the Government's refusal to grant a concession which would cost £20 million is meanness compared with the total Government expenditure?

Sir J. Eden

I am of course aware of the points to which the hon. Gentleman refers. It was because of these various points that I went into the matter as thoroughly as I did. This is a decision which has been inherited by this Government. The creation of this anomaly arose out of the establishment of the special licence scheme for certain old people's homes. The question to which I have been addressing my mind is whether, in trying to get out of the anomalies that this situation has created, there are not worse ones in other directions. I have concluded that there are, and that the best way to proceed in helping all elderly people is through the social security system.

Mr. Tom King

If it is possible to give any help or benefit in kind in this form, will my right hon. Friend note the view that it should not be confined to old-age pensioners with television sets? There are many people in my constituency who are not in possession of a television set or who cannot receive television because of reception difficulties. Any benefit should be spread widely throughout all old-age pensioners and not confined to one group.

Sir J. Eden

My hon. Friend is right to highlight some of the difficulties of making a move in the direction hon. Members have pressed on me.

Mr. David Steel

Will the Minister take account of the representations received from representatives of all parties? Is he aware that his analogy with other deserving people who cannot afford sets is inaccurate? We are concerned with a distinct category many of whom depend greatly on television as a regular part of their daily life, and it is these people we want to help.

Sir J. Eden

I have taken account of all the views which have been represented to me.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

We all appreciate the difficulties involved in making any concession. We also appreciate the interests of the various groups concerned. Reverting to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Charles R. Morris) about a referendum, there is no doubt that if there were a referendum amongst the Members of the House of Commons there would be strong pressure on the Minister to make a concession of this kind. This should be done in the short term, because people need this badly. If the Minister finds it all that difficult, perhaps he should look at the whole structure and financing of the BBC and at the position of the licence fee within that structure.

Sir J. Eden

I take note of the hon. Gentleman's last point, which raises much wider issues.

27. Mr. Edward Taylor

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications what organisations he consulted in the course of his review of Government policy regarding the granting of television licence concessions to the elderly.

Sir J. Eden

None. But in reaching a decision I have taken into account the views expressed to me by the National Federation of Old-age Pensions Associations.

Mr. Taylor

Now that the Minister has decided that it would not be practicable to make concessions for pensioners, will he consider as an alternative recommending to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in his forthcoming Budget he should announce the abolition of the black-and-white television licence? Since 90 per cent. of all households in Britain have such a licence, has it not become a kind of poll tax, and would it not help administration, remove anomalies and save a great deal of money if it were abolished, and if the sums were raised by general taxation?

Sir J. Eden

My hon. Friend is raising the wider question of the way in which the revenue of the BBC shall be secured.

Mr. Skinner

In his review, why did not the Minister consult other organisations, apart from the old-age pensioners? Why did he not consult the Reform Club, where several hundred people may watch television for the payment of one licence fee, or, perhaps, the Serjeant at Arms, since 630 Members of Parliament may watch television for the payment of one licence fee? If they can get it for the payment of one fee, why should not 8 million old-age pensioners get it at the same rate?

Sir J. Eden

Those old-age pensioners who are resident in homes which qualify——

Mr. Skinner

I know all that.

Sir J. Eden

—for registration for this purpose certainly get the 5p licence.