HC Deb 16 February 1998 vol 306 cc745-6
2. Mr. Crausby

What plans he has to reform the rules that concern the issuing of concessionary television licences. [27585]

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. It will include a detailed consideration of licence concessions.

Mr. Crausby

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the concessionary television licence system is both unfair and over-bureaucratic? Does he accept that it would make much more sense to deliver a consistent television licence concession to all pensioners of, say, 50 per cent., or at least to link the system to ability to pay?

Mr. Fisher

I entirely agree. The concessionary scheme which we inherited is full of anomalies, and causes a great deal of frustration and irritation to pensioners and others. I think that everybody would agree that it is highly imperfect and unsatisfactory. The distinct problem is that reforming it would simply create new anomalies and be hugely expensive—anything up to £450 million a year.

Sir Sydney Chapman

Does the Minister agree that the concessionary television licence is a classic example of an exception from which anomalies pour forth? Although that is, of course, nothing to do with the new Government, it is a long-standing irritant to so many people. There must be some review—some ordered, logical way in which to address the problem. I am sure that the Minister would get support from many Members on both sides of the House if he addressed the argument honestly, given that the BBC television licence is the best possible value for the services provided.

Mr. Fisher

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The system is a classic example of a well-intentioned concession leading to enormous unhappiness and problems. The best time to consider the matter will be when we very shortly look at all funding arrangements for the BBC.