HC Deb 20 April 1998 vol 310 cc462-3
2. Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

What plans his Department has to introduce further television licence concessions. [37405]

The Minister for Arts (Mr. Mark Fisher)

The Government's agreement with the BBC provides for a review of future funding arrangements prior to March 2002. That review will include a detailed consideration of licence fee concessions.

Mr. Hawkins

I thank the Minister for his answer, but the House will be aware that, before the recent Budget, there was much floating of a trial balloon by the Government in relation to suggestions that there would be free television licences for all pensioners. Will the Minister confirm that the trial balloon was shot down because the Treasury simply refused to sanction the proposal?

Mr. Fisher

No. The trial balloon was floated by the media, not by the Treasury. The hon. Gentleman, having been parliamentary private secretary to the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley), the previous Secretary of State, will know the difficulties surrounding the concession scheme. It is probably full of anomalies and imperfections. Our Department receives more correspondence about this matter than almost any other. It is genuinely a difficult matter. To extend the existing concession scheme to all pensioner households would cost, at latest figures, £471 million. That is a considerable sum, which we shall have to examine carefully when we come to the review.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is my hon. Friend aware that on 16 January 1987 my private Member's Bill was voted down by 21 votes? Tory Cabinet Ministers were chauffeured from across the road to the House to vote down a Bill that would have given tremendous help to many pensioners. Does he agree that concessionary television licences should be introduced when it is possible to do so, because, as he says, so many elderly people want and need them? Such licences would be fair and a form of justice, and I shall continue to press for them to be introduced as early as possible.

Mr. Fisher

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding hon. Members of his 1987 Bill. He will recall that those who voted against it included the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) and the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude)—their opposition says it all.