HC Deb 17 June 1980 vol 986 cc1374-6 4.56 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for pensioners living by themselves to receive concessionary television licences in line with the concessions already available in old people's homes and warden controlled accommodation. I wish to bring in a Bill to legislate on the need to introduce a concessionary television licence fee for retired pensioners who live on their own, in their own homes. Previous attempts have been made to bring in such legislation. Whether or not my present attempt succeeds, I remain confident that sooner or later the concession will be provided. No one is likely to contradict the fact that many retired people want this concession.

At present, some elderly people live in communal or sheltered accommodation and pay only 5p for their television licence. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) was Home Secretary he extended the concession and allowed the communal facilities to be outside the boundary of a group of dwellings. The ground floor of a block of flats for the elderly may contain accommodation of a communal type. On that floor, the pensioners would pay only 5p. However, those living in other flats in the same building would have to pay the full television licence fee. Those retired people who do not share that facility or concession are not critical of the concession, but wish to share it. I believe that it is right that retired people who live in their own homes should be eligible for such a concession.

The present television licence fee is not excessive. One must consider the amount of programmes that are provided and the need to ensure that the BBC does not have to rely on advertising. I am not criticising the amount of the licence fee.

Mr. Tim Eggar (Enfield, North)

Why not advertising?

Mr. Winnick

I do not wish to discuss that issue. It was debated last December, and I expressed my views at that time. Although the amount of money involved in licence fees for colour televisions and for black and white sets may not seem much to us, it represents a large amount to pensioners who live on small fixed incomes. Pensioners, in the main, rely on their pension and on supplementary benefit. After they have paid for food, rent, clothes and fuel they are left with a very small sum of money. I do not understand why they should pay the same amount for their television licence as the rest of the community does.

It may be argued that it is more important to increase pensions than to provide concessions. However, we already provide concessions. I do not believe that any hon. Member would argue against the existing rebates or against travel concessions for the elderly. Such concessions are welcomed. Unfortunately, the majority of pensioners, and future pensioners, will have to rely on a small income for a long time to come. It is not right to argue that instead of providing such a concession we should increase pensions, when both are necessary. As the pension goes up, so does inflation.

There can be little doubt that television plays a significant role in the lives of many elderly people. This is particularly so with people who are in their 70s and who do not get out much, especially during the long winter months. Television provides them with their only form of entertainment. Moreover, for many elderly people television is a link with the outside world. So many elderly people are lonely and do not have many relatives or visitors. Their television set provides them with companionship and a link with the outside world.

I have had a letter from Help the Aged, and its director has authorised me to quote from that letter, he says : Help the Aged welcomes the move towards the provision of a television licence for a nominal payment … The high cost of the television licence—very high when seen against the incomes of many elderly people whose income is harshly reduced by retirement—is causing hardship. Therefore, Help the Aged supports this kind of measure.

The sorts of hotels where rather poor people stay—the Savoy, Claridges, the Ritz, the Hilton and the Dorchester—all pay a single television licence fee. My constituents living at home on limited incomes have to pay the same fee. Hotels which have hundreds of guests need only pay a single sum of £34. Some might argue that such hotels might be able to afford a little more.

I do not wish to be controversial, but In the Labour Party manifesto last year we gave a clear pledge that if we were returned we would phase out television licences for old-age pensioners in the lifetime of the next Parliament. Some cynical Conservatives Members might say that was just an election pledge and that we would not have carried it out had we been returned to office, but we know the reaction that would have resulted from pensioners had we not implemented our pledge. Many of us are determined that the same pledge will go in the next Labour Party election manifesto.

I am asking for simple justice for elderly people. Our senior citizens are making a modest enough demand and I hope that this concession will be provided for the vast majority of those who are retired and who live in their own homes. They should have the same concession as those who live in the other kinds of accommodation that I have described.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Winnick, Mr. Jack Ashley, Dr. David Clark, Mr. Frank Dobson, Mr. William Hamilton, Mr. Roy Hughes, Mr. William McKelvey, Mr. Michael Meacher, Mr. Laurie Pavitt, Mr. James Wellbeloved and Mr. Frank R. White.