asked the Postmaster-General whether it was with his authority that the Press were officially informed on Firday, 19th July, of the Government's intention to make an announcement on Thursday, 25th July, of a 20 per cent. increase in the annual television licence fee; why, in view of the Government's prices and incomes policy he has agreed to this increase; whether he will refer the proposed increase to the National Board for Prices and Incomes; and whether he will make a statement.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the public anger that is felt over the 20 per cent. increase in the licence fee and over his very unconvincing explanation for short circuiting the Prices and Incomes Board? Have any studies been made into the possibility of employing other methods to raise revenue for the B.B.C.?
To answer the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I am not aware of any great anger because I believe that the public recognise that they are getting value for money. The cost of having a black and white T.V. is only about 4d. a day and the service received for that is very good indeed.
To answer the second part, about referring the matter to the Prices and Incomes Board, the question is not really comparable as additional services are being provided. There is no question here of a charge being increased for a similar service.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that most people in the United Kingdom will welcome his proposal to increase television hours? [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Is he aware that most people would wish to have more than an average of an extra half-an-hour a week? Is he further aware that, like hon. Gentlemen opposite, many hon. Members on this side of the House would be prepared to consider other means of raising finance?
Would my right hon. Friend consider introducing the principle of selectivity in charging, as with medical prescription charges, particularly for the deaf, disabled, chronic sick and old-age pensioners?
I said on Tuesday that it would be very difficult indeed to introduce the principle of a benefit in kind. If my hon. Friend will write to me with any reasonable suggestions, I will, of course, consider them; but I see great problems in trying to do what has been suggested.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that on Tuesday the House rightly poured scorn on that part of his statement in which he said that a reference to the P.I.B. would have been, to use his word, "inappropriate"? Will he now explain what he meant by that word? Did he mean impossible, inconvenient or what?
This is not a charge in the normal sense—[Interruption.] It will cover additional expenses on the part of the B.B.C., something which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends a few years ago supported when they were in power. That being so, it is ridiculous for them to agree to an extension of the services, the switching to 625 lines, the building of new stations and the improvement of broadcasting facilities and at the same time complain in this way. It would be inappropriate to refer an increase in a fee which is related to extra services and improved broadcasting facilities to the P.I.B. As I say, we are not increasing a charge for a similar service. The service is being improved.
Since the House does not appear to have much control over the activities of the broadcasting organisations, would my right hon. Friend try to arrange for more frequent reports on the subject to be presented to Parliament so that hon. Members may thoroughly examine the activities of these organisations?
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, rather than lengthen the hours of television, it might be better to have better quality programmes and fewer old films? Will he set his mind against the prejudice on the benches opposite about advertising so that extra revenue may be available for better programmes?
Does my right hon. Friend recognise the great public interest that exists in any price increase? Usually the Government are blamed for these increases. Since the great communicators now have an opportunity, to do something really constructive, if my right hon. Friend cannot instruct them, will he at least arrange for the B.B.C. and the other lot to give ample viewing time for all the problems associated with the increase to be explained?
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Americans only wish that they had an advertisement-free broadcasting system like we have? Will he consider subsidising the cost of the B.B.C. with some of the very large profits made by the independent television companies so that, for example, disabled people may be given free licences?