HC Deb 26 October 1982 vol 29 cc893-7 3.40 pm
Mr. Allen McKay (Penistone)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for concessionary television licences for old age pensioners. The Wireless Telegraphy (Broadcast Licence Charges and Exemption) Regulations 1970, as extended—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Will the hon. Gentleman wait for a moment? The House will then do greater justice to his arguments—perhaps.

Mr. McKay

The Wireless Telegraphy (Broadcast Licence Charges and Exemption) Regulations 1970, as extended by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) when he was Home Secretary, provide welcome relief for about half a million senior citizens, to whom television is a necessity of life. It provides entertainment, companionship and a sense of security for people who live alone. It is a way of keeping up with news, both local and national, because the people of whom we are talking often cannot afford to buy newspapers. The existing scheme of concessionary television licences for old people is unfair to the majority of them, particularly those who are isolated within the community, causing animosity and bitterness among pensioners themselves.

We need an equitable system of concessionary television licensing for all persons of pensionable age. Without doubt, the right approach would be to make and maintain an improvement in pensions, supplementary benefits, or other income maintenance. In that way, the recipients could afford to sustain a reasonable standard of living, according to their own choice and needs, having a large enough income to meet the cost of the television licence. However, until that happy time comes, it is necessary to have a concessionary scheme, and that scheme has to be fair and equitable to all.

The present national scheme does not take account of the fact that a large number of old people who, by reason of their accommodation, do not come within that scheme, are living in circumstances which are little different from those of people who are eligible under the scheme, yet they have to pay the licence fee in full. While approximately half a million people receive the 5p licence, 4½ million people have to pay the full cost. Some of those people are in public sector accommodation, but most are in privately owned or privately rented accommodation. Clearly, that is inequitable. It has been a matter of concern to many right hon. and hon. Members and organisations, both local and national, for many years. Some people have had to change from colour to black and white television, and even to dispense with television altogether. The problem may be more acute with the advent of cable television and more prohibitive costs.

There are anomalies in the scheme itself. For instance, in my constituency, where two-tier flats have been built, only the lower tier has been designated for old people's dwellings. I know an 84-year-old woman who has to pay the full cost of the licence, while her daughter, who lives below her, pays only 5p.

Further differences have been caused by local authorities seeking to remedy the anomalies by giving subsidies to old people not receiving the 5p licence. My constituency lies within two district councils, Barnsley and Sheffield. Four years ago, Barnsley gave a subsidy of £7, but because of stringencies and Government cuts, it had to reduce that subsidy to £4.50. The cost is about £70,000 a year. As yet, Sheffield has not provided a subsidy.

It appears that the criteria providing a broad interpretation of who should receive the licence have been tightened. It means that many people who used to receive the 5p licence now do not do so. In one constituency old people living in one type of dwelling receive the 5p licence, while old people across the road, living in the same type of dwelling, have to pay the full cost, simply because the warden who visits them has to cross the road. That is the criterion. People in warden-visited dwellings have the same problem. Pensioners who live on the Barnsley side of my constituency who do not receive the 5p licence get a subsidy, while people who live on the Sheffield side do not receive it.

It would cost about £250 million to protect the existing recipients and extend the scheme to all pensioners. That sum could be raised by increasing basic tax by one third of a penny. That is all that we are talking about—one third of a penny, or increasing VAT by 0.4 per cent. The Government raised VAT to 15 per cent. from 8 per cent., so I am sure that 0.4 per cent. would not be difficult.

However, that would not be the end of the problem, because the national scheme does not extend to disabled and handicapped people who live in accommodation similar to that in which elderly people live and receive the licence. Their social need for a television is just as great. Instances of prosecution of disabled occupants of local authority residential homes for use of an unlicensed privately owned receiver have occurred.

My Bill is a first step in an effort to put the matter right, by providing all old people with concessionary licensing. The Government might find it better to dispense with television licensing altogether, and thus avoid all anomalies. That would cost £670 million—1 per cent. on VAT or 0.7p on the standard rate of tax.

The Labour Government promised to phase out television licences, and I trust that the Labour Party's manifesto this time will include that proposal. If this Government provide the opportunity, they could do the same. My Bill, if allowed to proceed, will provide an opportunity to explore all the anomalies and the means of paying for licences. It will provide a more fair and equitable scheme.

3.48 pm
Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)


Mr. Speaker

Is the hon. Gentleman rising to oppose the motion?

Mr. Lewis

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

I oppose the Bill because, in my opinion, it does not go far enough. Hon. Members, particularly those on the Conservative Benches who have opposed this issue in the past, should have an opportunity to cast their votes. By-elections are pending, and I am sure that the electorate would like to know hon. Members' views on this vital issue. I therefore oppose the Bill because it does not go far enough.

With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. McKay), he is only putting his little toe in the water, instead of jumping right in. He may believe, of course, that putting his little toe in the water is as much as the government will accept. However, both the Government Front Bench and their supporters and the Opposition and their supporters should have an opportunity to vote on that matter. I therefore oppose the Bill in the hope that we shall have a vote.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and Nomination of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 187, Noes 0.

Division No. 326] [3.50 pm
Abse, Leo Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Allaun, Frank Forrester, John
Alton, David Foster, Derek
Anderson, Donald Foulkes, George
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Freud, Clement
Ashton, Joe Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Golding, John
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd) Gourley, Harry
Beith, A. J. Graham, Ted
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Bennett. Andrew(St'kp't N) Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)
Bidwell, Sydney Hardy, Peter
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Bottomley, Rt Hon A.(M'b'ro) Heffer, Eric S.
Bradley, Tom Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Home Robertson, John
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W) Homewood, William
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Hooley, Frank
Buchan, Norman Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Callaghan, Jim .(Midd't'n & P) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Canavan, Dennis Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Cant, R. B. John, Brynmor
Carmichael, Neil Johnson, James (Hull West)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Johnson, Walter (Derby S)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)
Clarke, Thomas (C'b'dge, A'rie) Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Cohen, Stanley Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Coleman, Donald Kerr, Russell
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Lambie, David
Conlan, Bernard Lamond, James
Cook, Robin F. Leadbitter, Ted
Cowans, Harry Leighton, Ronald
Crowther, Stan Litherland, Robert
Cryer, Bob Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cunliffe, Lawrence Lyon, Alexander (York)
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n) Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)
Davidson, Arthur McCartney, Hugh
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L 'lli) McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) McKelvey, William
Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd) MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Deakins, Eric McMahon, Andrew
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) McTaggart, Robert
Dewar, Donald Marks, Kenneth
Dickens, Geoffrey Marshall, D (G'gow S'ton)
Dobson, Frank Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Dormand, Jack Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Dubs, Alfred Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Duffy, A. E. P. Maxton, John
Dunnett, Jack Meacher, Michael
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Mikardo, Ian
Eadie, Alex Milian, Rt Hon Bruce
Eastham, Ken Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E) Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're) Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)
Ennals, Rt Hon David Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Evans, loan (Aberdare) Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)
Evans, John (Newton) Morton, George
Ewing, Harry Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Fitch, Alan Newens, Stanley
O'Neill, Martin Stott, Roger
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Strang, Gavin
Palmer, Arthur Straw, Jack
Park, George Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Parker, John Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Parry, Robert Tinn, James
Pavitt, Laurie Torney, Tom
Pendry, Tom Urwin, Rt Hon Tom
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Race, Reg Wardell, Gareth
Radice, Giles Wainwright, E.(Dearne V)
Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Wainwright, R.(Colne V)
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW) Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)
Rooker, J. W. Watkins, David
Roper, John Wellbeloved, James
Rowlands, Ted Welsh, Michael
Sandelson, Neville White, Frank R.
Sever, John Whitehead, Phillip
Sheerman, Barry Whitlock, William
Sheldon, Rt Hon R. Wigley, Dafydd
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Short, Mrs Renée Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)
Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Skinner, Dennis Wilson, William (C'try SE)
Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark) Winnick, David
Smyth, Rev. W. M. (Belfast S) Woolmer, Kenneth
Snape, Peter Wrigglesworth, Ian
Spriggs, Leslie
Stallard, A. W. Tellers for the Ayes:
Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles) Mr. Allen McKay and
Stoddart, David Mr. Alec Woodall
Tellers for the Noes:
Miss Sheila Wright and
Mr. Arthur Lewis.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Allen McKay, Mr. Joseph Ashton, Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse, Mr. Edwin Wainwright, Mr. Alec Woodall, Mr. David Winnick, Mr. Peter Hardy, Mr. Michael Welsh, Dr. Edmund Marshall, Mr. Derek Foster and Mr. Dennis Skinner.


Mr. Allen McKay accordingly presented a Bill to provide for concessionary television licences for old age pensioners; And the same was read the First time.

Mr. Speaker

Second Reading, what day?

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I am sorry, that is not allowed.

Mr. McKay

Tomorrow. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must abide by the rules of the House.

Bill ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. [Bill 180.]

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Under Standing Order No. 39, it appears that you have the discretion to decide whether the word "now" should be included in the reading of the Bill. If that is the case, and given the overwhelming vote for the measure, in spite of the hard-hearted Government not supporting it, there is an opportunity for us to deal with the legislation now. Under Standing Order No. 40, there is a provision to take the Committee stage without further notice. In view of the demands by pensioners for this facility, I believe that that is the way the House should proceed.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. McKay) has now given notice that Second Reading will take place tomorrow.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I cannot remember an occasion when after a Division there has been a unanimous vote such as this. I am sure that the Leader of the House has taken note of this important expression of opinion. Would it be proper for the Leader of the House to make a statement now and to inform the House that he is prepared either to expedite the Bill's passage this Session or, if he cannot do that, at the very least to give an assurance that it will be contained in the Gracious Speech next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Alas, I can give none of those assurances, and I am innately so conservative that I would not wish any radical innovation in our procedures to take place within the last 48 hours of the Session.

Sir Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the last 10 minutes, there has been a slightly unsavoury episode in the House. After the Bill was moved and presented, it was quite obvious that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis), an old colleague of mine, was having fun and indulging—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I must interrupt him. I do not think that is a point of order. The hon. Member for Newham, NorthWest (Mr. Lewis) was exercising his parliamentary right. We would be well advised to proceed to the next interesting item which is a money resolution.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the word "unsavoury" has been used by the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Sir A. Fell), is it not unsavoury for a situation to develop—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Where I come from the word "unsavoury" means something different from what the hon. Gentleman is thinking. That is not a point of order, and I believe that we should now continue with the next business.

Mr. D. N Campbell-Savours (Workington)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall not take any more points of order on this subject.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

On something entirely different?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

It was indicated to you that you had some discretion. Is it not significant that over the last year those of us who have attended many Second Readings and Report stages have noticed that Government legislation and resolutions have gone through on majorities substantially less than the majority that this Bill gained—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot reopen that question now. It has been settled by a ruling that I gave a short while ago.