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Free TV Licences

Volume 669: debated on Thursday 16 January 2020

The Government are disappointed with the BBC’s decision to restrict the over-75 licence fee concession to those in receipt of pension credit. As we said in our manifesto, we recognise the value of the free TV licence for over-75s, and they should be funded by the BBC. We know that taxpayers want to see the BBC using its substantial licence fee income in an appropriate way to ensure it delivers for UK audiences.

If the Tories break their promise to older people and scrap their free TV licences, about 4,000 households in Newport West will be affected. This loss of free TV licences would be a disgraceful blow to some of the most vulnerable people in our society. No Government should force people to choose between heating and eating, or engaging with the outside world, so will the Minister finally listen and rethink the decision to scrap free TV licences for the over-75s?

May I gently remind the hon. Lady that the Government agreed a deal with the BBC in 2015? The director-general at the time said that it was

“a strong deal for the BBC”,

and that it provided “financial stability”. It saw BBC income boosted by requiring iPlayer users to have a licence. We have unfrozen the licence fee for the first time since 2010 and, in return for this, we agreed that responsibility for the over-75 concession would transfer to the BBC in June 2020. The BBC needs to honour this agreement.

I am sure that when the Minister was, like me, knocking on doors in November, he was struck by the number of older people who were living on their own who were relying on the TV for company. I think four out of 10 older people nationally do that—rely on the TV for company during the day and evenings. I heard what he said about being disappointed about what the BBC has done, but disappointment does not butter any parsnips, so what is he actually going to do about this to make sure that older people can keep their free TV licences?

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. It is really important that people over 75 who are on their own are able to get their TV licences paid, but I remind her of the words of the former shadow Secretary of State, Tom Watson, who had the very good sense to leave this place before the election. He actually admitted that this was a decision for the BBC. In an interview with LBC in late 2018, he actually criticised the BBC for accepting this deal. I will say again that Lord Hall said that the overall deal provided “financial stability”, and the

“government’s decision here to put the cost of the over-75s on us has been more than matched by the deal coming back for the BBC.”