HC Deb 26 November 1973 vol 865 cc11-3
12. Mr. David Stoddart

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will seek powers to exempt retirement pensioners from the payment of a television licence fee.

14. Mr. Fernyhough

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will reduce the cost of a television licence for retirement pensioners by 50 per cent.

Sir J. Eden

No, Sir. I would refer the hon. Members to the debate in this House on 21st February last.—[Vol. 851, c. 488–577.]

Mr. Stoddart

Is the Minister aware that I had already noted that fact, but is he also aware that his attitude is considered somewhat Scrooge-like by old-age pensioners and many others? Does he appreciate that there is a great deal of resentment among old-age pensioners because there are many people with a shared service who get the benefit of the 5p per annum licence? Has not the time arrived for him to alter his Scrooge-like attitude and let old-age pensioners have this facility free of charge? I am sure that the electorate would approve of it.

Sir J. Eden

I have looked at this matter very closely and sympathetically on many occassions. The hon. Gentleman should take into account, as I have to do, that to provide free licences for this category of people would cost about £30 million a year ; for half-rate licences it would cost about £15 million a year. To give some idea of the effect on other households, an increase of £1 a year in licence fees payable by households not containing pensioners would produce only about £12 million a year. This is a matter which I have to have in mind.

Mr. Evelyn King

Is it not a fact that some retirement pensioners like television and some do not? Therefore, is not the proper way to go about this matter to give retirement pensioners as much money as we can manage and then let them spend it as they like?

Sir J. Eden

I agree with my hon. Friend's approach to this matter. It is right that we should enable people to exercise their own individual choice.

Mr. Fernyhough

Does the Minister understand that it makes a big inroad into the national insurance pension of £7 for a single person or £12 for a married couple if people have to pay for a television licence? In view of what he said earlier about manpower shortages in the postal services, is it not ridiculous that the time of Post Office clerks is taken up in making out licences and issuing reminders and all the rest and that Post Office manpower is also used in the sending out of detector vans? Is it not time that this was made a national service by putting it on the national Exchequer? When the right hon. Gentleman says that in one case it would cost £15 million and in another case £30 million, does he not realise that the Government spent £34 million in subsidising Community butter to the Russians? Could we not have spent that £34 million to better effect on our pensioners?

Sir J. Eden

There is a later Question about alternative methods of financing television. With regard to elderly people, the hon. Gentleman will know that, under Section 45 of the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968, local authorities have power to give assistance for this purpose.

Mr. Marten

I appreciate the sentiments of the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart), but could we not give a reduced rate to old-age pensioners who live alone and are on supplementary benefit?

Sir J. Eden

One of the great difficulties in any variation of that kind is the need to be able to operate it and the cost of so doing. This is why every study so far has concluded that the scheme should be kept as simple as possible.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

Referring to the earlier debate, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that had there not been very heavy pressure from Conservative Members, and had he listened to the views of hon. Members on both sides, we could have given old-age pensioners and others a free licence? Perhaps at this time of the year, when we make such a great deal of giving £10 to old-age pensioners, we might in the spirit of Christmas think of giving them a free licence as well.

Sir J. Eden

These points have been fully debated already and I cannot add to the replies that have been made.