HC Deb 16 July 1987 vol 119 cc1271-2
9. Mr. Gale

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has for the future financing of sound and television broadcasting, of direct broadcasting by satellite and of cable television in, or received by, the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton)

We accept the judgment of the Peacock committee that the BBC should not be financed through advertising and that for the time being the licence fee should remain the principal source of income. Both cable and direct broadcasting by satellite are able to draw on advertising and subscription revenue. We shall consider whether subscription may have a larger part to play in the light of comments on our consultants' report published last week. We shall consider the future of sound broadcasting in the light of responses to our Green Paper.

Mr. Gale

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the assumption of his new responsibilities for broadcasting?

If subscription payment for broadcast television is to be a realistic possibility, does my hon. Friend agree that that will involve modified television sets? Will his Department therefore take the necessary steps as soon as possible to ensure that all television sets sold in this country after 1990 carry an encription unit?

Mr. Renton

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I fully understand his enthusiasm for subscription, but I think that it would be right now for us to await the comments on the lengthy independent consultants' report, which we have just published, and which goes into the technical and economic feasibility of subscription.

My hon. Friend will, I am sure, take comfort from the fact that British Satellite Broadcasting is this very afternoon signing contracts with the IBA for three satellite channels. I think that the whole House will want to wish the company every success in this exciting new venture. It has already announced that one of the possibilities that it will be looking into is designing home receivers to pave the way for pay-as-you-view television.

Mr. Cryer

Will the Minister assure the House that any changes in financing will not be used for further attacks by the Government on the BBC? In considering financing, will he give the House an assurance that he will seek to remove the anomalies whereby pensioners in warden-serviced accommodation receive free television licences, but other pensioners do not? The House seeks a common low-cost television licence for all pensioners, who deserve at least that advantage from the Government, as they receive no others.

Mr. Renton

I do not believe that there is any politician in the House who does not think at times that he is the subject of unfair attacks by one broadcasting channel or another. We have looked into the question of concessionary television licences, and we have expanded them to include the mentally handicapped and the disabled. We took these steps to improve the system that was introduced by the last Labour Government. At the moment, we see no way of improving it further.