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Free TV Licences: Over-75s

Volume 655: debated on Thursday 7 March 2019

6. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on free TV licences for people over 75 years of age. (909642)

I discuss a range of matters with my Cabinet colleagues, and we know that older people across the country value TV as a way to stay connected with the world. That is why we have guaranteed the over-75s licence concession until June 2020, at which point responsibility for it will transfer to the BBC. After that, it will be for the BBC to decide on the future of that concession, but the Government have made it clear that we would want and expect the BBC to continue with it.

A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown that one in six of our pensioners are now living in poverty, so the last thing they need is an extra £150.50 added to their bills. I know that the Minister and his Government are keen to shift responsibility for this on to the BBC’s shoulders, but will the Secretary of State accept that having promised in his party’s manifesto that licences for the over-75s would be maintained, he must either fulfil that promise or admit that his party and his Government have let pensioners down?

First, the responsibility has been transferred—that happened by statute in 2017. The deal was done with the BBC in 2015. What we do not yet have are the proposals that the BBC intends to make. My suggestion is that we all wait to see what the BBC actually decides to do, and then we can comment upon it.

The Secretary of State is right: it is in statute. We opposed it, and right now the National Pensioners Convention is protesting outside DCMS—not outside the BBC. That is because this policy was invented by this Government. It is about transferring social policy to the BBC, which should not have happened. Should this not be up for the prize for the most cynical policy this Government have ever created?

No, but what is truly cynical is to criticise the Government for the transfer of a financial liability without any hint whatsoever from Her Majesty’s Opposition that they would be prepared to take it back. So I would be very interested to hear whether it is the policy of the Labour party, in government, to take this responsibility back into the Government’s hands, and exactly what would be cut, what extra would be borrowed or what taxes would be raised to pay for it. Otherwise, it is just hot air.