Concessionary Television Licences

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5 May 1983.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield 12:00, 5 May 1983

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will issue guidance to local authorities concerning eligibility for concessionary television licences for pensioners.

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Wandsworth Putney

Information about the conditions on which the old persons' home television licence may be granted, which remain unchanged, was sent to all local authorities in April 1978. Further advice will be issued when the extension of the 5p licence scheme to physically disabled and mentally disordered people in similar accommodation is introduced.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. All hon. Members are aware that the present system creates many anomalies and dissatisfaction among the majority of pensioners, who do not live in warden supervised accommodation. Is my hon. Friend aware that some local authorities appear to be abusing the system by appointing wardens merely to control groups of dwellings so that more elderly people can take advantage of cheap television licences? Is he further aware that that practice is especially rife among Labour-controlled authorities? Is that fair to the public, who are responsible for the expenditure, or elderly people who are still unable to get the benefit of concessionary licences?

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Wandsworth Putney

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. Like the Labour Government, we recognise that the system is anomalous. The problem is that it is impossible equitably to take away the concession from those who have it, and it is not economically realistic to extend it to all pensioners —nor would that be justified. I am aware that my hon. Friend might be referring to publicity for Sheffield city council. It does not have permission for such a scheme, and we wait to hear from it about the matter. It should not be assumed that what the council proposes will fall within the terms of the scheme.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North

Does the Minister agree that the present system is complete nonsense and grossly unfair? The Government now claim that a recovery is on the way. Would it not be a good idea to share that recovery with pensioners and let them all have free television licences rather than continue with a system that creates anomolies?

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Wandsworth Putney

That sounds attractive in theory, but the consequence would be a shortfall of £250 million in revenue to the BBC. Granting the benefit to all pensioners, not all of whom can be described as needy, would be an imposition on many non-pensioner families, some of whom might be poor, who would have to pay £70 for a television licence to compensate for the shortfall of £250 million. What the hon. Gentleman suggests is an attractive electioneering promise, but it does not have much to it.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

Is the Minister aware that those who want to help pensioners believe that the cost could be met, at least in part, by a proper charge being levied on hotels and other commercial premises which pay a single television licence for, as is the case with the Savoy, 365 television receivers? When will we hear the Government's view about commercial premises being charged a proper fee?

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Wandsworth Putney

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Government made their view clear some time ago in a written answer. I am not sure that imposing additional burdens on the hotel sector, which provides much employment, is the answer. I do not know whether that is how the right hon. Gentleman will vindicate the promise that the Labour party has made on this issue. The right hon. Gentleman must accept, as he did when he was a member of the Labour Government, that it is not as easy as it sounds to grant that boon to all pensioners without creating unfair consequences for others.