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Television Licence

Volume 300: debated on Monday 10 November 1997

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What representations he has received concerning the television licence. [13430]

We have received nearly 500 letters from hon. Members and members of the public about the television licence. In addition, there have been 12 questions on the subject from hon. Members. The majority of those representations have been about television licence fees and licensing requirements for specific individuals or groups.

I am grateful for that reply. Since pensioners are still reeling from the news that they will get no support with their energy bills as regards the wind chill factor, does the Secretary of State agree with the early-day motion tabled by some of his colleagues just three years ago—some of whom are now Ministers—urging the Government to take urgent action to facilitate free television licences for pensioners? Is it not the case that Labour Members support pensioners when in opposition but betray their trust when in government?

It is a bit rich for Conservative Members to talk about doing down pensioners. I received a letter from the hon. Gentleman on 6 July about the BBC licence fee, in the course of which he mis-spelt the word "licence" not once but four times. That, I suppose, is the result of 18 years of Tory education policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that, if we made free licences available to all pensioner-only households, it would cost £465 million, which would mean an increase in the licence fee for everyone else of £30 a year. We are not prepared to do that.

Despite some useful changes in the regulations governing television licence fees for elderly people, I must tell my right hon. Friend that there are a huge number of anomalies in the scheme. If nothing else, will he look at those anomalies, which need to be addressed because they are causing great resentment and irritation?

My hon. Friend makes a much better point than the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). There are indeed serious anomalies in the system at the moment. We shall certainly wish to look at that, in conjunction with the general review of the licence fee in a few years' time, to which we are committed. We were committed to that review by the previous Government and we shall be following it through.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the information that was given to me by his Minister for Arts to the effect that his party has no plans whatever to consider concessionary television licences—having given the impression in opposition that they would—until at least 2002? Is he not letting pensioners down flat?

No, because we made no commitment whatever on concessionary licences before the election.