asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress he has made in his examination of the possibility of relieving pensioners of part or all of the cost of television licences; and if he will make a statement.
As I stated in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend on 19th March, we hope that this study will be completed before the Summer Recess.—[Vol. 888, c. 457.]
Does my hon. Friend realise, however, that unless he can speed up this study, many pensioners—and they are the people who are hardest hit by the present inflation and economic stringency—will have to give up viewing television altogether? Cannot he come forward quickly with some scheme, even if it is only for half-price licences for black and white sets, to enable those most in need to carry on enjoying one of their very few remaining pleasures?
As I indicated in the debate that we had on my hon. Friend's Bill, we are very conscious of the burden that falls on elderly people, and we are doing our best to see whether there is a way of relieving it. We are at present studying all the alternatives.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that two or three years ago, when a Bill was introduced to help elderly people with television licences, and his party was in opposition, it expressed great support for the idea and indicated that it would do something about it when it was in office? What is the hon. Gentleman going to do about it now?
That is one of the reasons why we are having the review.
Will my hon. Friend accept that while the increase in the licence fee itself is a cause of great hardship, the very fact that the fee has been increased while a small minority of pensioners pay only the 5p because they are in sheltered accommodation has resulted in an increase in bitterness? This cannot be a healthy situation, particularly among old people. Will my hon. Friend contact his right hon. Friend in the Department of Health and Social Security to see whether something can be done about this matter when the next pension increase takes place?
Of course, it is this anomaly which has caused much of the dissatisfaction. The anomaly was created by a concession that was made by the previous Labour Government in response to just such a demand as has been echoed here today. It points the difficulty about making any further extension.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the fact that within sheltered housing communities for old-age pensioners, one television licence may cover 25 sets? If he accepts this principle, does he not agree that it would be a good idea to extend it outwith, into the community as a whole, thereby allowing old-age pensioners' societies to buy, perhaps, one television licence to cover 25 or 30 sets which are in the households of old-age pensioners?
We are considering all the possible ways in which an extension could be granted, but I suspect that that one would he more anomalous than some of those we have under consideration.