HC Deb 01 February 1999 vol 324 cc577-8
1. Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West)

If the BBC funding review panel will consider the range of concessionary arrangements. [66758]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson)

The terms of reference for the review panel currently considering the future of the BBC licence fee after 2002 include consideration of the current structure of the concessionary licence scheme and whether a suitable alternative structure could be available.

Mr. Salter

Is my hon. Friend aware of the growing support, especially in my constituency, for our campaign to secure a fairer system of concessionary television licence fees for pensioners and others in need? Is she further aware that there is a powerful case for free television licences to be provided to the housebound—as is the case in Ireland, Austria and Germany—because for many people stuck at home the television is their only source of entertainment and contact with the outside world?

Janet Anderson

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the campaign in his constituency. The pensioners of Reading, West are very lucky to have a Member of Parliament who takes their concerns so seriously. I assure him that the Government accept that the current structure of the concessionary licence scheme is imperfect and unsatisfactory. The current review will include a detailed consideration of the arrangements and possible alternatives, but we cannot make any promises that the review will lead to a general concession for all pensioners or other groups, because that could lead to substantial increases for all other licence fee payers.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

As BBC funding is under review, may I draw the Minister's attention to an important article in The Times today by Roger Boyes about the possible decision by the BBC next week to close down the German service? May I urge her to make her best representations to the BBC not to take that step, given that the German service still has a following and an important role to play, especially in the former east Germany?

Janet Anderson

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that that is a matter for the Foreign Office, but we will see that his views are made known to those concerned.