HC Deb 12 February 1997 vol 290 cc188-9W
Mr. Wilshire

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if she will make a statement about the television licence fee regulations. [15562]

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

I have today laid new consolidated television licence fee regulations before both Houses. These will:

  1. (i) bring into effect the licence fees for the year commencing 1 April 1997, as announced on 18 December last year columns 591–92—the colour fee will be £91.50 and the black and white one will be £30.50;
  2. (ii) extend coverage of a television licence to permit the installation and use of television in any mobile home, static or touring caravan, or other vehicle or vessel used by members of the household, subject to certain provisos; and
  3. (iii) fulfil the Government's undertaking to stop sheltered housing schemes from being disqualified from the concessionary television licence arrangements simply because a small number of units within them have been purchased under the right-to-buy provisions of the Housing Act 1985.

The basic principle of the TV licensing system has always been that a TV licence is required for any place, vehicle or vessel in which TV is installed or used. The changes summarised in the following paragraph are designed to sustain the integrity and enforceability of the licensing system, to protect the BBC's income and to be fair and reasonable in applying the basic principle to the increasing use of television outside a household's main place of residence.

Hitherto, the regulations have permitted a household's TV licence to cover all the TV sets at one place, vehicle or vessel, but no sets elsewhere, except in the comparatively rare case where such sets are powered by their own internal batteries. The regulations I have laid today extend the coverage of a TV licence in a number of ways:

  1. (a) A household with a licence for its main residence may also, under that licence, receive TV in a vehicle, touring caravan or vessel. None of these is commonly used as a residence for any substantial period of time. Households which do use them as their main residence will continue to need a TV licence.
  2. (b) Similarly, any TV set in a mobile home or static caravan which is not in use as a main residence will not require a separate licence, provided that there is no simultaneous use there and at the household's main residence. This qualification reflects the fact that mobile homes and static caravans are more likely to be used for lengthy periods as a household's main place of residence. Use of television in other, fixed, second homes will continue to require a separate TV licence.
  3. (c) Commercially operated caravan sites where caravans with TV are provided will continue to benefit from the concessionary hotel licence offered to establishments which provide units of overnight accommodation on a single site. The regulations extend this concession to units of entertainment, such as boxes at sports grounds or suites at conference centres.

The Government undertaking concerning the impact of the right-to-buy legislation on the concessionary television licence scheme—under which qualifying households pay only £5 for a TV licence—was made during the Commons Committee stage of the Broadcasting Act 1996, on 18 June 1996, Official Report, columns 749–51. The new regulations will enable residents of sheltered housing schemes which meet all the other qualifying criteria to benefit from the TV licence concession, provided that not more than 25 per cent. of the dwellings in the scheme have been purchased under the right-to-buy provisions.

The consolidated regulations will also incorporate other changes made last year, by separate amending regulations. These relate to deregulation of the previous requirements for TV dealers to register with the licensing authority and to hold a separate TV dealer demonstration licence and the introduction last August of a new cash instalment payment scheme aimed at making it easier for those on low incomes to pay the licence fee.