HC Deb 20 December 1999 vol 341 cc505-6
1. Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

What arrangements he is making to ensure that rights to free television licences apply for those who are obliged to purchase a television licence covering periods both prior to and after their 75th birthday. [101995]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Janet Anderson)

The Government anticipate that the arrangements for free television licences for pensioners aged 75 and over will incorporate provisions for refunds for unexpired licences. We intend to announce shortly full details of the scheme's operation.

Mr. Barnes

I welcome that reply and the movement towards free television licences for those aged 75 and over. Has not that provision established an important principle—that, in some circumstances, people can get free television licences? We can build on that in future and on the principle of benefits being provided on a universal basis.

Janet Anderson

My hon. Friend is right. The intention of the concession is to help older pensioners who are more likely to rely on television for information and entertainment. They are also more likely to live on low incomes: nearly half the pensioners who are over 75 are in the bottom three income bands. The concession will assist some 40 per cent. of pensioner households.

Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes)

Does the Minister agree that all those who are to get free television licences—a measure that I support—and, indeed, those who are not, are entitled to expect value for money from the BBC? In the light of the report of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which was published this morning, does she agree that the BBC should show that it is eliminating waste before it demands more money? It should seriously consider scrapping News 24 and use the money to support BBC local radio and BBC World, both of which valued services are underfunded.

Janet Anderson

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government are keen for the BBC and anyone else to take steps to eliminate waste. We shall make our decisions on the Davies proposals in January and we shall take account of the Select Committee recommendations.

Angela Smith (Basildon)

Does my hon. Friend know that there are currently concessions on television licences for pensioners in sheltered accommodation, but that when someone who needs sheltered accommodation but is not of pensionable age moves into the same complex, it puts the concessionary television licence in jeopardy for everyone in the complex? My local authority is experiencing increasing problems with that, and I should be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that she will examine the matter.

Janet Anderson

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that continuing problem. The Government were the first to realise that the current system is anomalous and unfair. We are still considering the recommendations of the Davies report on existing concessionary arrangements in the light of responses to the public consultation. An announcement will be made in January.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

Does the Minister agree that it would be ironic if television licences were free for over-75s, while everyone else, rich and poor, was hit by a digital licence fee? Does she realise that, if such a fee were introduced, it would be wholly characteristic of the Government in that it would amount to yet another stealth tax?

Janet Anderson

The hon. Gentleman should not be too presumptuous. As I have already said, the Government are still considering the Davies report recommendations, and we shall make an announcement in January.