HC Deb 05 August 1975 vol 897 cc148-50W
Mr. Madden

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans exist to extend the scheme providing concessionary television licences to the retired.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

During the debate on 21st February on the Second Reading of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) to give free television broadcast receiving licences to all elderly and disabled people my hon. Friend the Minister of State indicated that the Government had set in train a study into the possibility of providing cheap licences for black and white television reception—not colour reception—for pensioner households. I am now able to report the results of this study, and my conclusions.

Television is, of course, especially valuable to pensioners and disabled people who are housebound or live alone. Successive administrations have nevertheless taken the view that it is preferable to help such people with cash benefits, which individuals may spend as they like, rather than to give benefits in kind which some people may not need or want.

This general conclusion is reinforced by other considerations. The study which has been undertaken has shown that it is impossible to produce an administrative scheme for a licence concession for anything less than the totality of pensioners which would not be highly complicated and in some ways unfair. Any further licence concession which covered black and white licences for all pensioner households would, it is estimated, cost at least £26 million a year. It could only be paid for by (a) a cut in BBC income, (b) higher television licence fees or (c) Government finance.

There are clear disadvantages in each of these possibilities. The BBC has already had to restrict its services, and any further reduction in its income would mean further cuts in output. Television licence fees were substantially increased only as recently as April of this year. I do not think that it would be possible in present economic circumstances to justify the increased public expenditure which a Government subsidy would involve.

I conclude that we should make no change in the system, at any rate for the time being. But the Annan Committee's inquiry into the future of broadcasting provides an opportunity to consider this matter in that general context, and I am therefore drawing it to that committee's attention.