HC Deb 03 November 1983 vol 47 cc987-9
8. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about free television licences for pensioners; and if he will make a statement.

9. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any plans to abolish the television licence fee for retired pensioners; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hurd

During the past six months we have received representations from four hon. Members and 10 members of the public about free television licences for retirement pensioners. We have no plans to introduce concessionary licences for pensioners generally, which would put up substantially the cost of the licence to others.

Mr. Skinner

What justice is there when top people can live most of the year in posh hotels and not pay a penny piece towards the licence fee while pensioners, who have been robbed and cheated by the Government over the past four years, have to pay the full £46? The Minister of State should not give me any of that nonsense about the BBC not having any money, because only the other week it agreed a contract with David Dimbleby, that anti-NUJ man who works for the BBC, for a £12,000 payment— [Interruption.]

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman's proposal would deprive the BBC of about one-third of its revenue. That would mean that the present fee for a colour licence for non-pensioners would increase to about £70 a year.

Mr. Dormand

Is the Minister aware of how important television is to many retired people, many of whom find considerable difficulty in paying the licence fee? If the argument is—as it seems to be—one of cost, how does he reconcile saving what can only be described as peanuts with the astronomical sums that are being spent on the Falkland islands and will be spent on Trident?

Mr. Hurd

There are people, particularly old people, who, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, find it difficult to pay the lump sum of £46. That is why there are various schemes to make it possible for them to pay by instalments. However, if one is talking about taxpayers' money, most pensioners would probably prefer it to he used to buttress the value of the existing pension, which they can spend on anything they choose.

Mrs. Currie

Does my right hon. Friend agree that nothing causes more resentment among pensioners than the fact that most of them must pay the full licence fee while a small number living in warden serviced accommodation pay only 5p a year? Does he further agree that while concessions of this kind may look very nice when they are granted, ultimately they cause more trouble than they are worth?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and those who in 1969 devised the present concessionary scheme could not have had any idea of the difficulties to which it would give rise; but it is not easy to improve it.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Is the Minister aware that more than the number of pensioners he gave in his main answer have made approaches to me, and that there have been petitions on behalf of pensioners seeking a concessionary television licence?

Mr. Hurd

Naturally all pensioners would like to benefit from a concessionary fee, but the figures I have given illustrate the difficulty of going that far.

Mr. Cormack

Has my right hon. Friend any idea of how much would be involved if pensioners were allowed to have free licences for black and white sets?

Mr. Hurd

Obviously it would be much less, but I doubt whether that is what they want.

Mr. Wigley

As nearly every household has television, has the Minister seriously considered abolishing licences and getting the revenue from general taxation, particularly from progressive taxation, so avoiding the bureaucracy involved in the issue of licences?

Mr. Hurd

That idea has often been considered but it would undermine, and perhaps destroy, the independence of the BBC, which is one of its main assets.

Sir Anthony Grant

Will my right hon. Friend take into consideration the interests of pensioners in my constituency and elsewhere who pay their rates and taxes who cannont stand the beastly television, who do not have it and who resent paying for other people to see it?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend has raised an important point.

Mr. James Hamilton

While the Minister talks about the licence having to be increased by about one-third if old-age pensioners received concessionary licences, will he note that point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that, without exception, each hotel, with colour television in every room pays for only one licence? Is he aware that if the Government really had a desire to help old-age pensioners they could raise the necessary money to provide them all with concessionary licences?

Mr. Hurd

No, the sums do not add up that way, but we are looking at the hotel problem.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it does not follow that because somebody is a pensioner he or she is necessarily unable to afford the licence? Is he further aware that it would be unacceptable for those who find difficulty in paying their colour licence fee and who are not pensioners, to be penalised at the expense of those pensioners who can?

Mr. Hurd

That is right, and if we adopted the proposal of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), hon. Members in all parts of the House would be deluged with complaints from the people referred to by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Denis Howell

Will the Minister accept that there are so many anomalies in this area, particularly between the cheap availability of television in five-star hotels and the 5p concessionary scheme, that it should be reviewed? Does he understand that all the arguments he adduced today were exactly the arguments used against the introduction of free travel for old people years ago, a step which has proved to be a great social benefit to the country as a whole? Is he aware that the responsibility in this case should be not that of licence holders, but of the entire nation in the interests of old people, for whom an increasing number of people wish to see the provision of concessionary licences?

Mr. Hurd

We are not responsible for the 1969 scheme, which is causing so much difficulty. We are looking at the matter all the time, and we may be able to make some minor improvements before too long.

Back to