Television Licences

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 10:14 pm on 12th July 1988.

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Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:14 pm, 12th July 1988

I beg to move, That the Wireless Telegraphy (Broadcast Licence Charges and Exemption) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 1988 (S.I., 1988, No. 899), dated 18th May 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th May, be revoked. I hope very much that at the end of the debate hon. Members on both sides of the House will join us in the Lobby.

We know from the former Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. and learned Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Waddington), that the Government wish that they could get rid of the concessionary television licence. In an intervention on 16 January 1987, the then Minister stated: what I said"— he made it clear that that was in a letter to a pensioner in Preston— could not be reasonably defended was the 5p concession". That is what the then Minister with responsibility for those matters said at the time, although he was gracious enough to add, for the sake of clarity: and that as a matter of practical politics we could not get rid of it".—[Official Report, 16 January 1987; Vol. 108, c. 508.] That thought was echoed by the Home Secretary himself when he was answering questions earlier this year. So there we have it. The Government's real intention with the concession is that they wish that they could get rid of it, but they do not believe that they could get away with it.

When the Government were defeated in the court over the qualification for a concessionary licence, they had a choice. They could have done what the Prime Minister is constantly urging all of us to do, and said, "Right, we shall accept the rule of law and abide by the court's decision." The Government chose not to do that. Instead, they seek to change the law to match their view. They have added, as a sop, private nursing homes and in the process upped the cost of the concession from 5p to £5 for each person in the places where the concessionary television licence operates.

Presumably, the £5 will now be the base from which the cost of the concessionary licence will be raised from time to time. That must follow. Having made the first increase since 1969 when it was introduced, the Government have now decided that an increase is long overdue and that, having made one increase they might just as well from time to time go on to make others. That must follow, too, or perhaps the Minister will give us an undertaking now, or when he makes his speech on how long the cost will remain at £5.

Through the regulations, the Government are making matters worse, not only by such a hefty jump in the cost but by extending the anomaly. I say that because we are now left with a group of elderly people living in a warden-controlled complex who have the concession, while their friends and neighbours of exactly the same age and in a similar financial position, but living independently across the road or even next door, do not have it. I defy the Minister or any other hon. Member to explain that to elderly people so that they will see the justice of it. It makes no sense at all to discriminate in that arbitrary manner. That is why Labour is pledged to phase out the television licence fee for all pensioner households. That is the pledge that I am pleased to repeat now.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor , Solihull

As the hon. Gentleman is hostile to the anomaly, will he say whether he is in favour of a television licence fee or of abolishing it in favour of those of us who may not want to watch the BBC? Why should we pay for it?

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has not been following with his customary care what I am trying to say, but let us hope that what I shall now say will make it clear. The point that I am making is that millions of pensioners do not understand how, by the mere accident of an address at which they happen to live, either they get the concession or they do not, when on all the other factors they stand absolutely four square with those who get the concession.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor , Solihull

Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of a licence fee?

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

If the hon. Gentleman will stay with me, I will give him and the House the answer to that in a minute.

When the Government, on the back of the Kirkleess judgment, looked at this matter, that was the other choice that they had. They could have said that this was unfair across the whole range of pensioners and that they would take the opportunity to exempt all pensioners from payment of the television licence fee.

The right hon. and learned Member for Ribble Valley, on 16 January 1987, at column 508 of Hansard, described the whole of the concession as "absurd" and argued against its extension. Indeed, he said that he regretted that it could not be abolished.

Instead of tinkering around, why have the Government not done the sensible thing and extended the concession to all pensioner households, or, better still, abolished the licence fee for all pensioners?

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Is my hon. Friend aware that the decision was taken in the High Court on 23 January, exactly one week after my private Member's Bill —which would have done precisely what my hon. Friend has suggested—was defeated by 21 votes? Is it not interesting that that decision in the High Court was not appealed against by the Government, and that instead they are bringing in this new scheme?

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The whole House owes my hon. Friend a debt for the persistence with which he has pursued his efforts for the extension of free television licences to pensioners. The hallmark of this Government, and classically, of course, of the Secretary of State for the Environment, is that, when they are taken to court and lose, they do not abide by that decision; they come here, use their majority to move the goal posts, and change the law.

Just in case the Minister and the House think that this revolutionary notion of exempting pensioner households from paying the television licence fee is the sole child of the Labour party, I want to remind them that the Peacock report, two years ago, at paragraph 634, recommended a step towards this, when it said that pensioners drawing supplementary benefit—as it was then—in households wholly dependent upon a pension should be exempt from the licence fee. To be fair, it went on to say that it did not accept the case for extending this to all pensioners. That did not meet Labour's aspirations, but it did recognise that 1·6 million pensioners living on means-tested benefits had special needs. I want to remind the House in particular what Peacock said would he the cost. It said that it would add about £5 at most to the cost of a licence for the rest of us.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight , Derby North

A few months ago the hon. Gentleman was urging that the licence fee should be abolished for all pensioners. Would that not cost something like £360 million a year, which is equivalent to a 50 per cent. increase for all those who still have to pay the licence fee, including those on low incomes?

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No, it would not. I am happy to say that the latest calculation is that it would cost £287 million—but do not let us fall out over the difference, whatever it is. There are other ways of doing that, If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a moment, I shall come to them. I anticipated all the questions that I was going to be asked.

The Government argue that abolishing the television licence fee for pensioners would give help to many who do not need it. Of course, in that sense so does the concessionary bus pass. The Prime Minister and her husband are entitled to bus passes, and I have heard no one say that they should not get them, like other pensioners, even though there are about 13 television sets in No. 10 Downing street for which no licence fee is paid.

The Government say that there is no way of knowing where the pensioner households are. That is tommy-rot, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) will quickly confirm. Perhaps the poll tax will at last unwittingly serve some sort of useful, though expensive, purpose by making it possible for the state to know exactly who lives where and how old they are.

This compassionate Government say that if they exempt pensioners, even pensioners who are on some form of means-tested benefit, what about other people on low incomes—the jobless, single parents, the sick and disabled and those on low pay? We know about the Government's concern for such people. The social security changes in April have made millions of them worse off. Again, the poll tax register would identify such people.

The Government argue that exempting pensioners would mean that taxes would have to go up. No such thing follows. I remind the House that Peacock said that exemptions for the 1·6 million pensioners then on means-tested benefits would add no more than £5 to the cost of the licence for the rest of us. Of course, we could claw back just a few of the thousands of millions of pounds handed to the already rich in this year's Budget and those that preceded it in the last nine years. The Government's arguments will not wash. They are indifferent to the real hardships faced by millions of pensioners, and, given the political will, the abolition of the licence fee is an extra and avoidable expense.

I beg the House to understand that for millions of pensioners television is a necessity and not the luxury or optional extra that it may be for some of us with more money. In most Opposition Members' constituencies there are hundreds of thousands of lonely, isolated pensioners living behind locked and chained front doors. To those people television is not simply a friend but often their only friend.

Of course I accept, as do we all, that regular contact within their communities is one answer to the loneliness of such people, but such contact is immensely difficult to achieve. Elderly people often resent well-intentioned neighbours popping in. They value their independence, although they often pay a high price for it. For millions of elderly people living alone and for elderly couples, television is a necessity. We know that most people rely mainly on television as a source of information about what is going on, and that is especially true of the elderly. It can help elderly people to play an active part in our democracy, and freedom from the licence fee can help in that process.

The television licence fee hits elderly people especially hard because, although it is good value, it represents a higher proportion of the income of pensioners than of the income of those of us who are at work, the principle seemingly being that the less one has the more one pays in percentage terms.

The Government's reluctance to help pensioners in this way is all the more difficult to understand amid all their boasts about eight years of sustained economic growth and the Prime Minister telling us that living standards are at their highest ever levels. They are for some, but not for millions of pensioners who have been left out of these riches. Why cannot the Government spare a few crumbs from the table for the elderly? What they have given away to the already rich in tax cuts would pay for exempting all pensioners from the TV licence fee seven times over. The value of those tax cuts is 78 times the cost of even the present restricted concessions.

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I regard this as a matter of justice. Justice demands that pensioners have both the right and the means to live in decency and dignity. If the Government deny them that right again tonight, the Labour party will give it to them after the next election.

Photo of Mr Roger Sims Mr Roger Sims , Chislehurst 10:30 pm, 12th July 1988

I have a good deal of sympathy for my hon. Friend the Minister of State. Home Office, who is faced with a concessionary television licence scheme that he would not necessarily have wished to inherit. I do not believe that he wants to abolish it, but I suspect that he would have preferred it to be in a different form when it reached his hands.

As we know, the scheme applies to people in sheltered housing who are of retirement age or who are physically disabled or mentally disordered. At present it does not cover nursing homes and is confined to premises provided by local authorities or housing associations. It does not cover privately run sheltered accommodation, of which I suspect there was very little when the scheme was first devised.

Inevitably, the scheme has its anomalies. In particular, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said, it does not cover pensioners who live in their own homes, although it seems to me quite impracticable and unreasonable to suggest that it should. After all, many pensioners living in their own homes are well-to-do and can easily afford the full charge for the televison licence. Many homes have several wage packets coming in and only one pensioner; how simple it would be to take the concessionary television licence out in the name of that one pensioner. It would also be enormously expensive for ordinary licence holders if the concessionary scheme were extended to all pensioners.

The Government are right to extend the scheme to nursing homes and to suggest that the sum of 5p, which has remained unchanged for years while the licence fee has increased in line with inflation, should be fixed at the more realistic figure of £5. Nevertheless, the scheme is still confined to sheltered housing run by local authorities and housing associations. Many sheltered housing schemes are privately run, and there are a number in my constituency. It is now proposed to extend the scheme to private nursing homes but not to private sheltered accommodation.

The circumstances of people in privately run accommodation are often similar to those of people in local authority accommodation. Some of them are on social security, but they still do not get the concession. In some cases housing associations have taken over the management of private sheltered schemes and as I understand it, the residents of such homes will get the concessions, whereas those in homes remaining in private hands will not. Often it is pure chance that determines whether elderly people needing sheltered accommodation finish up in accommodation provided by local authorities, by housing associations or by private oganisations.

I have urged my hon. Friend the Minister of State in parliamentary questions and in correspondence to remedy the anomaly by extending the concessionary scheme to private accommodation. He has failed to do so and he has not justified his failure. In a letter dated 22 June he wrote: the original intention of the scheme … was to benefit pensioners and disabled people living in residential homes, or in equivalent sheltered housing provided by a local authority or a housing association. We did consider whether it would be right to extend the scheme to private sheltered housing, but we concluded that this would not be justified.. I have to ask my hon. Friend: why not? The only grounds that I can think of would be those of cost, but this is already met in part at least by increasing the fee to £5, which will increase substantially the revenue from concessionary licences. If it did not cover the cost of extension to private schemes, I would take no exception to the fee being £6, which would still be a modest figure compared with the full charge for a licence. Although the regulations remedy one injustice, they perpetuate another. As it is not possible to amend a statutory instrument, I find myself unable to support the regulations as they stand.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 10:35 pm, 12th July 1988

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) will be joining us in the Division Lobby.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

He shakes his head. At least he will be abstaining, I hope.

The new regulations ensure that it will be much more difficult for pensioners to receive a concessionary licence, which is to cost £5 instead of 5p. Although I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said, if all pensioners paid £5 we would have no quarrel.

The background to this deplorable decision by the Government was the High Court case which, as I said in my intervention, was one week after my private Member's Bill was defeated by 21 votes. The High Court ruled that Kirklees council was right and the Home Office was wrong. Kirklees said that pensioners who were visited by a warden should be entitled to the concessionary licence fee. The High Court agreed, as long as the pensioners lived in accommodation designated for retired people. The Home Office did not appeal against the High Court decision. It is interesting to note that, in his judgment, Mr. Justice Taylor said: The standpoint taken by the respondent"— that was the Home Office— is perverse and one which no reasonable Home Secretary could adopt. Following that decision on 23 January last year, a number of local authorities, Labour-controlled in the main, which wished to assist pensioners in their areas, made applications on the same basis as the High Court had ruled. That is, the local authorities made application where there was a common facility. In the case of Kirklees, it was the visiting warden.

In my own borough it was the "piper" warning system, which is a first-class facility for pensioners. They press a button if they are in difficulty and the warning goes through to a department in the town hall. It is a common facility. So long as the pensioners are in accommodation designated for pensioners, it was accepted by the television licence office in Bristol that the applications should succeed. Therefore, the regulations have to be seen against the background of the Kirklees application being successful. The Government have responded disgracefully. The whole purpose of the new rules is to make it as difficult as possible for pensioners to qualify for the concession.

The week before the High Court decision, I introduced a private Member's Bill that would have exempted all pensioners from the payment of the licence fee. Why was that Bill defeated by 21 votes? The explanation is simple. The payroll vote came out in force. The Daily Star called the No Division list a list of dishonour. Among those voting against was the Secretary of State for Education, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Minister for Local Government, who is responsible for the poll tax, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Minister of State, Foreign Office, the Secretary of State for Social Services, his deputy for health matters, the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Scotland.

The hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), who could himself virtually subsidise the pensioners' licence fee, voted against, as did the Government Chief Whip, the Leader of the House, the former chairman of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), and the Secretary of State for Employment—all people earning substantial salaries and all——

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to read names from a Division List relating to a vote which took place some time ago?

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

This is a short debate and I have heard nothing out of order so far.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

I will not read further names from what was indeed a roll of dishonour. Those who voted against on that occasion were, as I said, earning substantial salaries, over £40,000, from their Government jobs. They voted to deprive pensioners living on very limited incomes of concessionary television licences.

Hon. Members:

Sit down. [Interruption.]

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

The more interruptions I have from Conservative Members, the less time they will have to speak.

I am in favour of the BBC having a licence fee, and I regard it as good value for money. Indeed, any alternative to the licence system—for example, subscription television—would be wrong and would make life more difficult for those on low incomes.

Television plays an important role in the lives of the elderly, particularly the very old, especially those with few relatives or close friends, and especially during the winter months. The Peacock report pointed out that many pensioners were dependent on television for information and entertainment. One third of pensioner households are on what is now income support, and many more are just above that level.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam , Redcar

Would my hon. Friend agree that the least the Government should do would be to introduce concessionary licences for all pensioners, particularly in view of the fact that since 1979, when they ended the link between pensions and earnings, they have taken £1,249 from the single pensioner?

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

That is right, and that was the purpose of my Bill, which was defeated by Government pressure and the payroll vote. In the main, pensioners deeply resent having to pay the full licence fee. While Conservative Members criticise us over this issue, many of their pensioner constituents, like ours, want the fee reduced because of their limited incomes, and they and we will continue to campaign until that happens.

The Peacock report recommended that pensioners on what is now income support, then supplementary benefit, should pay a concessionary fee. I said on Second Reading of my Bill that if the Government were not prepared to accept my argument, I would meet them halfway as a first step on the road to achieving justice for pensioners. But the Minister who replied—he is now at the Foreign Office—said that in no circumstances would the Government bend their view. Now they are making it far more difficult for pensioners to receive the concession.

The Government have argued—no doubt the point will be made again tonight—that the cost would be substantial, but this is a year that has seen massive tax cuts for the wealthiest in the community. Not only the hon. Member for Hove but many others will receive hundreds, in some cases thousands, of pounds more each week as a result. A third of pensioners rely on income support, and I am informed by the Library that around 64 per cent. are on small incomes and certainly substantially below average incomes. Why should they be denied what they have argued and campaigned for year after year? No Conservative Member will argue that the pensioner's bus pass is wrong and unjust and should be withdrawn.

Mr. Greg Knigh:

rose——

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

If the hon. Gentleman is one Conservative Member who believes that the bus pass is wrong, he can tell his constituents so.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

No, I will not give way.

If it is right for pensioners to receive the bus pass, why should they not receive the television licence fee concession? Why should they have to pay what we pay out of our incomes? That is both illogical and unjust.

I know that, because of the Government's majority, we shall lose the vote and these squalid, miserable regulations will be passed. Of that none of us has the shadow of a doubt. But anyone who believes that the issue will die a natural death is living in a fool's paradise. There are millions of pensioners in this country, and they are determined people: they fought for the bus pass. This shows my age, I suppose, but I well remember the campaigns which were directed at local authorities—I was a member of one—and against the Tory Government of the time, and which finally resulted in the introduction of the pass.

I have no doubt that pensioners will eventually get the concessionary television licence, but I know that it will not come from the present Government. A Government who have given massive increases to the rich in the Budget, and who are always willing to act for the most prosperous in the community, have introduced a measure that removes the opportunity for more pensioners to receive a concession. Everyone who votes against our prayer should be thoroughly ashamed. We have every justification for voting against the Government.

Photo of Mr Roger King Mr Roger King , Birmingham, Northfield 10:48 pm, 12th July 1988

After listening to the speech made by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), I feel—as, no doubt, will most of my colleagues—that Harold Wilson was more than generous when he once described him as the silliest man in the House. If the hon. Gentleman had taken the time and trouble to study his own rhetoric and his private Member's Bill, he would know that only 162 Labour Members bothered to turn up to support him that afternoon. Where were the rest?

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. First, nothing in the Library suggests that Harold Wilson was ever foolish enough to describe me in such an absurd fashion. That is a lie. No such remark was ever made about me. I want to put that right, because it has been mentioned before.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. That is a matter for debate, not a point of order for the Chair. Mr. King.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Further to my point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) said that I introduced a ten-minute Bill. I——

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his speech. Having resumed his place, he must allow other hon. Members to contribute to the debate. Mr. King.

Photo of Mr Roger King Mr Roger King , Birmingham, Northfield

The silliness of the——

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your advice.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. Everything that the hon. Gentleman has said so far amounts to a point of debate, not a point of order. If the hon. Gentleman has a point of order for the Chair, he must come to it immediately.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Certainly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman said that I introduced a ten-minute Bill on the date to which I referred. I ask that it be placed on the record that it was a private Member's Bill—I won a place in the Ballot—and not a ten-minute Bill. That is my point of order.

Photo of Mr Roger King Mr Roger King , Birmingham, Northfield

I concede that it was a private Member's Bill. It was silly, however, to read out a list of Conservative Members who voted against the Bill, when only 162 Labour Members bothered to support it. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was not a supporter, nor was the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett). Where was the hon. Gentleman's support? The fact is that it was not present in this place. It was defeated by a small number on a Division.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons why the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) could not support the Bill brought in by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) was that he, the right hon. Gentleman, was a member of the Labour Government who took away the Christmas bonus for pensioners? He may have felt guilty about supporting the Bill when he had supported the removal of the bonus from pensioners.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) will not be tempted to go down that road.

Photo of Mr Roger King Mr Roger King , Birmingham, Northfield

I do not intend to do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin) for reminding us of the lack of generosity on occasion of Labour Members when they are in government.

I understand that the regulations will increase the 5p television licence fee for those who are in warden-controlled accommodation. For some years many people have claimed that 5p was far too small a sum. They argued that the difference between the full licence fee and 5p was an enormous anomaly. I could not object to the 5p fee being increased to £5, but perhaps we should consider a two-tier system, which would mean that all old age pensioners in receipt of the basic state benefit would pay a reduced fee of £30, for example. That would be far more acceptable.

We are paying money to the BBC to bring us television and radio services, which are available in considerable quantity. The cost to the consumer is about 16p a day for two television channels, four national radio stations and many local radio stations. When we bear in mind that the cost of the average newspaper is about 25p, the television licence fee is a bargain. But is the idea of a television licence fee right and proper nowadays? I believe that there is no need for such a licence. It is time that the BBC was placed on a more commercial footing. The elderly and everyone else should have the option to buy a television set that receives commercial channels only. If someone does not want the BBC services, he should be able to buy a television set that will receive the commercial channels only.

Photo of Mr Rupert Allason Mr Rupert Allason , Torbay

Does my hon. Friend agree that in a short time satellite television broadcasting will make that option available to the consumer? It will mean that it will be possible to subscribe to individual channels. If pensioners prove that they are pensioners, the cost will be reduced for them. Is that not the future? If hon. Members ask how or why, I can suggest two British colonies which receive extremely good satellite broadcasts—the Turks and Caicos islands and Bermuda. If hon. Members want to learn about satellite broadcasting. they should go to those islands.

Photo of Mr Roger King Mr Roger King , Birmingham, Northfield

I shall do the debate a service by pointing out that fully commercial television operations enable consumers to choose whether to take those services. We definitely should encourage that.

Returning to the principle of a television licence, we should examine much more carefully how the BBC spends its money, because that is reflected in the cost of the licence.

Photo of Mr Bruce Grocott Mr Bruce Grocott , The Wrekin

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Roger King Mr Roger King , Birmingham, Northfield

No. I wish to get on because other hon. Members wish to speak in this very short debate.

Millions of pounds are being gambled by the media on allocating television time for soccer coverage. I understand that many pensioners do not watch soccer on television, yet their licence money is helping to provide those services.

Photo of Mr Roger King Mr Roger King , Birmingham, Northfield

We are told that if we were to introduce advertising to reduce the level of the licence fee on the BBC, the editorial content would be altered as a result of demands on the BBC to respond to the whims of the market place by down-marketing its programmes.

Photo of Mr Bruce Grocott Mr Bruce Grocott , The Wrekin

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he is advocating a subscription to the BBC, and that if pensioners want to watch the Cup final, the Grand national or Test match cricket, under his system they will have to pay for those services provided by the BBC? Will he confirm that that is his view and tell us how much he estimates they will have to pay?

Photo of Mr Roger King Mr Roger King , Birmingham, Northfield

I am not sure that I advocated that. I said that if pensioners wished to buy a television set that was adapted to receive only commercial television, and not the BBC, they could watch the programmes and not pay a licence fee. Those who wanted to watch BBC programmes would have to pay a licence fee, which we have at the moment and which we are discussing tonight. I believe that if we allowed sponsorship for sporting programmes on the BBC, the licence fee could be reduced dramatically, if not wiped out altogether.

We are told that there are not enough advertisers to use the BBC services. It is considered that if more commercial channels and more sponsorship were announced, there would be a dearth of advertisers. Of course that is not so. Our commercial systems are extremely expensive to advertisers—the most expensive in Europe—because they have a monopoly within the United Kingdom. By encouraging more competition, particularly in sponsored programmes, we can reduce the cost of the licence fee. Why should soccer not be sponsored by Barclays bank, or motor racing by Shell?

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. We cannot have a wide-ranging debate on what is likely to happen in future. Incidental references are in order, but the hon. Gentleman must direct his remarks to the merits of the new definition and the new fees payable.

Photo of Mr Roger King Mr Roger King , Birmingham, Northfield

The present policy of increasing the concessionary licence fee from 5p to £5 is a step in an unavoidable and necessary direction, and most people should welcome it as entirely realistic. However, we should look towards a better system which would enable all pensioners to benefit from a reduced licence fee, and eventually eliminate the greater part of it, if not all of it. I accept the regulations, but hopefully this will be one of the last occasions on which we have to debate them.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South 10:58 pm, 12th July 1988

I shall be very brief. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, in its 30th report, drew the attention of the House to the instrument. The House should be grateful to the Opposition for tabling a prayer against this negative procedure instrument. I remind the House that negative procedure instruments are never debated unless a prayer is tabled. They are brought before the House by agreement, and many prayers are entirely ignored. We have this opportunity because the Opposition have taken the trouble to bring the matter to the House.

The 30th report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has not been referred to so far. The Committee does not consider the merits of regulations. We are charged with considering ambiguities and drafting. The Committee says that the drafting appears defective because the definition of those who qualify for concessionary television licences are people who live in. a group of at least four dwellings within a common and exclusive boundary". Such people in sheltered accommodation include retired people of pensionable age. The question arises whether the exclusive definition in paragraph 7 applies to a warden's residence. The services of a warden are an important qualifying provision when obtaining concessionary licences.

It is important that delegated legislation is clear beyond peradventure, because it is subject to action in the courts. This is an area that has been subject to court action. It therefore seems right that the Committee should have drawn the House's attention to this ambiguity, which is best avoided in case the matter is subject to further challenge.

The Committee is obliged to give the Department an opportunity to provide an answer before it reports to the House. The Home Office replied in a memorandum that the warden's residence was included in the exclusive zone and that the regulations could not operate unless it was taken in that way.

The Committee believes that, when an order is made, it should be absolutely clear in writing, rather than by means of implication—hence our report to the House. I hope that the Minister can give us some assurance about that, so that it is on the record.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

The hon. Gentleman is making a useful contribution to the debate. I also listened carefully to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). Am I right to assume that the regulations do not take account of the High Court judgment in favour of the Kirklees local authority? Am I right to think that the cheaper television licence for the elderly is not being extended to people in private retirement, residential warden-supervised accommodation, in accordance with the recommendation of the High Court in the Kirklees judgment? If so, it seems extraordinary for us to debate regulations which make concessions but do not extend them in accordance with the judgment of the High Court.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South

The Committee was certainly not competent to comment on that, as that would involve considering the merits of the regulations. It appears, however, that the Minister has not met the requirements of the court.

It is poor of the Government not to meet clearly the court's comments in the Kirklees case and not to give pensioners who have spent years working for the country—many of them fought for it in the 1939–45 war—this concession. Many of them feel strongly about the matter. Many of us receive letters on the subject and meet pensioners who recognise the anomalies. The regulations are a little confusing, so some of the anomalies will continue. Pensioners feel that those anomalies are unjust. They would rather have a £5 licence fee for all pensioners as a stage towards free licences, which is what the Labour party believes is the correct answer.

Opposition Members can tonight vote positively in favour of the prayer to revoke the regulations, as a step in the right direction. We hope that the Conservatives will not act as organised scrooges and go into the Lobby to deny pensioners justice. They may do so, but we shall 'vote positively for the prayer to ensure that pensioners know that there is a party in the Chamber that is concerned for decency and justice.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member) 11:05 pm, 12th July 1988

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) sought to equate his proposals with the idea of free bus passes and said that no hon. Member could oppose those. He wanted free bus passes for all. I must inform him that there is at least one hon. Member who will speak against them, for exactly the same reason that I shall speak against the principle of concessionary television licences for all.

There is no such thing as a free television licence—or a free bus pass. When the late but little lamented Greater London council in its infinite wisdom sought to give every Londoner a free bus pass, it was in effect laying a rate levy of £20 per pass on every Londoner. We know that many of those passes were issued to people who, because they were free, threw them into drawers and did not use them.

I represent a constituency in which 30 per cent. of the population are over retirement age. They range from people on state retirement pensions and supplementary benefit right up to some with private pensions and incomes who are very rich. I want the greatest possible help to be given to those in maximum need, and the minimum unnecessary assitance to be given to those who patently do not need it.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight , Derby North

Do not the Government deserve credit for introducing, as from next year, the pay-as-you-go scheme, whereby those who cannot afford to take out a licence in one go will be able to obtain one on payment of the first instalment?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member)

My hon. Friend touches on the crux of the argument and something that represents a major step forward. It will be of tremendous assistance to many of my constituents.

I see no point in giving unnecessary aid that is supposedly free. It is not free: it will be a charge on others. The hon. Member for Walsall, North said—when he reads Hansard he may regret this—that if every pensioner paid £5 Labour Members would have no quarrel with the Government. That was slightly at variance with what his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said—that a Labour Government, if ever elected, would phase out the TV licence fee for all pensioner households. So a pensioner living in Cliftonville with a Rolls-Royce or Jaguar parked in the drive and a large house would get an unnecessary free licence while a disabled single parent would still pay the full fee. That is arrant nonsense.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) drew attention to the crux of part of this argument—the anomalies that existed in the past. Thanet district council has tried to unravel the regulations over the years and has made a pig's ear of the job. The net result has been blocks of flats in Thanet in which pensioners living on the ground and first floors get concessionary licences—at 5p, they are effectively free—but pensioners on the second floor, which is deemed, because there is no lift, to be unsuitable for pensioners, do not—in spite of their being roughly the same age and on the same incomes, although perhaps more agile. That is wrong.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst went on to draw a correct comparison between those who happen to live in housing associaton sheltered housing or public sector sheltered housing, and those living in private sector housing—for example, the developments built by McCarthy and Stone Developments. The disposable income—that is what really counts—of those living in both kinds of accommodation is probably similar, but one group gets concessionary licences, and the other group does not.

Through these regulations my hon. Friend the Minister has sought to begin—I trust that this is an interim measure—to unravel some of the anomalies. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) correctly drew attention to the pay-as-you-go scheme. I am certain that my constituents will welcome and take advantage of the scheme, because the lump sum that they have had to pay previously will now be payable in smaller doses, and therefore will be more affordable.

All this begs the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) raised. In its unanimous report, the Select Committee on Home Affairs recommended the retention of the licence fee, and for one simple reason. Although there is the technology to provide an alternative, it is not yet in place. For some time some of us have been advocating the installation of Peritelevision sockets in sets that would enable fee collection by subscription, but a system for that is not yet in place, so the Select Committee recommended, correctly and unanimously, that for the forseeable future, the licence fee should be maintained.

The Select Committee went on to recommend, as a matter of urgency, that, by 1990, every set sold should have a Peritelevision socket. That will lead, I hope. inevitably and inexorably, to the abolition of the licence fee in toto, so that all television is paid for by advertising or subscription. Conservative Members look forward to the day when all pensioners are not given concessionary bus passes or licences, or anything else.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam , Redcar

They should have a decent pension.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member)

The Conservative party is working towards the adequate pension provision that the Labour party failed to provide when it was in power. We believe that the elderly should be given the right to choose what they pay for, whether it be private or public transport, television, concert tickets or anything else. The way forward will be, ultimately, the abolition of the licence fee in its entirety and the payment by those who view for what they choose to view.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence) 11:13 pm, 12th July 1988

The hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) is correct to say that there is no such thing as a free bus pass or a free television licence. Both these concessions have to be paid for. However, the Opposition are prepared to pay for these concessions, while the Government are not.

This is not so much a broadcasting issue as a social one. It is universally recognised that for the elderly and the disabled, television, metaphorically and in some cases literally, is a lifeline. That is particularly so for those who live alone and want to be independent, and those who, in that often repeated and somewhat pathetic phrase, do not wish to be a burden. Those who want to preserve their privacy and dignity and to remain integrated in the community are, paradoxically, the people who get no benefit from these regulations.

I welcome the fact that some additional institutions will qualify, but the definition that the regulations embrace of individual homes is most curious, because it endeavours to make individual homes assume the character of an institution. They must have a common and exclusive boundary, a resident or full-time warden and something archly described as a communal facility. The present arrangements occasion great aggravation. I suspect that sometimes the postbags of all hon. Members contain letters from constituents complaining of the anomaly that exists. They do not appreciate the fact that they do not qualify, while people elsewhere in exactly the same position do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) told me of three tower blocks in his constituency, one of which qualifies, but the other two of which do not. All three contain pensioners who, for all practical purposes, reside in the same circumstances, and who find it amazing and aggravating that some qualify and some do not.

The increase in the concessionary licence fee from 5p to £5 provides the opportunity to extend the concession to all old-age pensioners, because previously the costs of collection far exceeded the revenue that the concessionary licence generated. The concessionary sum of £5 allows for economic collection and is probably within the scope of most pensioners to pay. A simple solution would be to put the concessionary television licence on the same footing as a bus pass. which has already been referred to as something that has enjoyed unqualified success.

I have said already that this is a social issue, not a broadcasting one, and the inevitable consequence is that the shortfall in revenue should he met, not by the BBC, but by general taxation. I am happy to advocate that, and I suspect that outside the House there would be considerable support for that view.

Like many hon. Members, I wish that it was not necessary to have concessions for pensioners. If the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) is correct in saying that the Government are moving to a day when that will not be necessary, he will receive applause from me and other hon. Members when that occurs. However, I beg leave to display some cynicism about how soon the millennium for pensioners will arrive.

The concession that has been allowed in the past has become selective and discriminatory. It would be right and proper to make it universal, and there is hardly a person in the country who would not applaud the Government if they were to do so.

Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Barnsley West and Penistone 11:17 pm, 12th July 1988

The question of the concessionary television licence has been with us for a long time, because my predecessor, John Mendelson, raised it in 1976, 1977 and 1978, and I carried it on in 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983 and each year since, and I will continue to do so. As for voting, I remind the House that on one marvellous occasion on a ten-minute Bill, one of my colleagues decided that I had not gone far enough. He said that I was putting my toe in the water to test the temperature, but he would prefer to go in a little further. He divided the House and there were 197 votes for and none against, which meant that no Conservative Member had the courage to go with us or to go against us.

Those hon. Members did not go against us purely because of the voting patterns. They knew that they would infuriate millions of old-age pensioners by voting against. They decided not to take their courage in their hands, but to sit on their seats. I remember the Whips running round keeping them in their seats. If we are talking about voting, 197 to nil is worth mentioning.

I would like old-age pensions to be so high that pensioners had no need for concessionary television licences or travel warrants. But we should be fooling ourselves if we thought that that could be achieved in the near future. It will not. We have been talking about adequate pensions for some time. The link between earnings and pensions was cut, thus reducing considerably the value of pensions. We have not given people a large enough pension to make such concessions unnecessary.

Some hon. Members said that people buy newspapers, some of which cost 30p, and that television costs only 16p a day. But many pensioners in my constituency do not buy newspapers, because most of them must save every penny. I cite the example of my mother in that respect—I buy newspapers for her since she said that she could not afford them. I do not know what world Conservative Members live in, but pensioners in my constituency use the reading rooms of local libraries if they want to read the newspapers.

Television is a source of company for some pensioners. I again cite my mother as an example. I telephone her every night—she will not go to bed until she knows that I am all right—and the first thing that she says is, "Wait until I turn off the television. I have had it on for company." There are thousands like her. Pensioners with Rolls-Royces are few and far between. By far the majority of pensioners in my constituency have never seen a Rolls-Royce.

Let us talk about the real world and about what the regulations will mean. Why did the Government decide to limit their provisions to a group of at least four dwellings within a common and exclusive boundary"? Why four? Why not two, three, five or six? Where has that figure been plucked from? On what basis are we legislating for groups of four dwellings? What is a "common and exclusive boundary"? How far can it extend? At present, the concessionary licence is granted to a local authority house that has communal facilities and a warden. There are resident wardens, walking wardens where there are no communal facilities and walking wardens where there are communal facilities. The dwellings are in goups of twos, threes and fours, sometimes stretched out over a large area.

What is the Minister after? He does not want the High Court ruling to be implemented. He is wary about granting an extension that could be considered unfair, so he is trying to stabilise the position. The Minister is creating a launching pad for the future. The BBC has calculated that the cost of the licence must increase each year by 2 per cent. above the retail price index. The £5 fee will not remain for long. Will the Minister say definitely whether this is the be-all and end-all, or are the regulations a launching pad for fees of £6, £7, £8 or £9? The Government have decided to remove the anomaly in their usual way—not by increasing the number of people who can obtain the 5p concessionary licence, but by increasing the fee to £5. They can say that there is no longer an anomaly because everyone must pay the same.

When considering the cost of the concessionary licence, we should remember the Conservative Budgets of the past few years and all the money that the Government have given away to people who do not need it much. Using the basic rate of income tax as a guide, we know that it would cost only 0·2p for every pensioner household to have a concessionary licence. Using VAT, it would cost 0·24p for every pensioner household to have a concessionary licence. The House could decide on a combination of VAT, tax and an increased licence fee, provided everyone got the £5 concession.

With each Budget, the Government have willingly given away money and have forgotten the old-age pensioner's television licence. This is the biggest anomaly for years. It is time that we did away with it. This system is archaic and an insult to the 4·9 million pensioners in private and public dwellings who do not enjoy the concessionary licence fee.

Photo of Mr Gerry Steinberg Mr Gerry Steinberg , City of Durham 11:25 pm, 12th July 1988

Durham city council has about 4,000 pensioners linked to its pioneering sheltered accommodation scheme, and for the past 13 years many have qualified for the concessionary 5p licence scheme. For almost the past two years, because further applications were made as more pensioners joined the council's innovative scheme, the National Television Licence Records Office has not granted any concessionary television licences. The delay and uncertainty have caused anguish and confusion to many of my elderly constitutents who have been harassed and threatened by the licence office.

Some bungalows and flats qualify automatically, but 3,000 tenants were left without cover while the dispute about what constituted a group dwelling rumbled on. Many old folk received warning letters about holding valid licences and some were visited by licence investigators. There is the example of an 80-year-old widow who was petrified about being sent to prison because of the threatening letter that she had received from the licence office. It brought on an angina attack. That innocent old lady was caught in a trap brought about by the Government's callousness and deviousness. I can quote dozens of such cases.

The local authority was blamed for the Government's incompetence. Many old people could not sleep because of the worry about having to find £60, for which they had not budgeted. Some paid for the licence when they were entitled to it for 5p. The old people of Durham were caught in limbo, not knowing whether they were covered by a licence or were facing prosecution. Despite frequent attempts by me and the city council to get a positive response from the National Television Licence Records Office and the Minister, the council's efforts went unanswered, apart from the council being told that the office was awaiting advice from the Home Office.

Why were those people who had received concessionary television licences in accordance with the criteria laid down by the 1984 legislation and those pensioners who had joined the scheme later and qualified for the concession now unable to get it? Those pensioners included those living in sheltered housing; those with the services of a resident warden, good neighbour warden or mobile warden living in flats, houses or bungalows; and all those who had the city care alarm system fitted—the Home Office had previously accepted it as a modification to a property when occupied by a person of pensionable age—togther with other associated facilities, such as the services of a warden, the presence of a luncheon club and meals-on-wheels service and any other welfare facilities.

The Government did that because they were proposing a change in the concessionary licence scheme which they were not prepared to divulge to those asking the questions. The Government were proposing to inhibit the regulations and prevent many old people from getting a concessionary licence. It is now clear that the new criteria apply only to purpose-built accommodation for the elderly in groups of not less than four dwellings with one continuous boundary and shared facilities, such as a communal hall and a resident warden who shall spend at least 30 hours a week devoted to that scheme. The criteria do not apply to mainstream housing.

Many new applicants in Durham who would have qualified under the old regulations will not under the new regulations. Apart from being extremely uncaring and spiteful, they will cause anomalies and distress to many old people in my constituency, and, I assume, to many old people in many other constituencies throughout the country. There will be neighbouring dwellings where one person will receive the concession and the other will not, yet they will be living in the same conditions, where one received it previously under the old regulations and will keep it, yet another in exactly the same type of property and conditions will now not receive it.

Purpose-built accommodation is virtually no longer being constructed because of the Government's massive cuts in housing capital. Local authorities are looking at other ways of caring for their old and elderly population. As I said, central control care schemes can give protection to thousands of pensioners in both the public and private sectors. For the cost of, say, two sheltered schemes, which would cover only a handful of old people, one can now cover thousands of people with a controlled city care system such as Durham has.

Surely it would not have been too much to expect the Government to allow all in those schemes a concessionary television licence. Ideally, I should like to see a free television licence for all pensioners, regardless of where they live, their incomes and their circumstances, and regardless of the cost. We have heard about that. That is the least that we can do for our elderly citizens who have served this country through two world wars and been prepared to give their lives for it. I am certain that the next Labour Government will be committed to doing that. I shall fully support them, as my comrades will.

To cut the number who will get the concession—[Interruption.] I have sat in the Chamber for about five hours today, and I intend to have my say regardless of the interruptions from the hon. Member for Rochdale (Sir C. Smith) whom I hardly ever see in the House [Interruption.] I am talking no more drivel than the rubbish that I have heard from Conservative Members in the debate.

To cut the number who will get the concession and to raise the concession fee from 5p to £5 is, to say the least, mean and uncaring, but that is exactly what I have come to expect from that lot on the Conservative Benches.

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex 11:32 pm, 12th July 1988

In this short debate I found the hypocritical indignation of the hon. Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) and for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), to mention but two Opposition Members, extraordinary. What are we doing tonight? We are extending the concession for all those who have had it before. We are extending it for the first time to those in residential nursing homes, and we are bringing in restrictions on further extensions. All that is at the cost of increasing the fee from 5p to £5 a week—[HoN. MEMBERS: "A week?] A year. Let me remind the House that the 5p has not changed since the scheme was introduced in 1969. In that time the colour licence fee has gone up by over £50, and the single pension by nearly £37 a week. The increase in the concessionary fee is less than £5 a year, a mere 1½fp a day, which is less than one hundredth of the increase in the single pension that we introduced in the Budget.

Listening to Opposition Members, one would think that we were increasing the licence fee by perhaps 50 per cent.—by £31—yet that would be the precise effect if we followed what the hon. Member for Walsall, North has suggested. If we were to introduce free licences for every pensioner it would, as my hon. Friend for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) said, mean an extra £360 million a year. If that had to be found from every other television licence holder, as it should be, it would mean an increase of 50 per cent. That is the Peacock point that the hon. Member for Erdington misquoted—that if anyone needed a concession on his television licence it was those on what used to be called supplementary benefit, now income support. It is precisely some of those who would have to pay the extra £31 a year, this extra 50 per cent., if we were to follow the Opposition's suggestions.

In the short time available I should like to recount the brief history of the scheme and what we are doing as a result of the Kirklees judgment. The licence scheme has existed in more or less the same form for nearly 20 years. The aim and scope of the scheme have been accepted by every Government, whatever their political persuasion, since 1969. A few improvements have been made over the years, the most notable being the extension of the scheme to disabled people in 1984. Typically, that was done by a Conservative Government, just as we have now extended it to nursing homes.

The underlying intention of the scheme, which was to benefit pensioners and, latterly, disabled people living in residential homes or in sheltered housing run by a local authority or housing association, remained unchanged for many years. The High Court judgment in the case brought by Kirklees metropolitan council changed all that. One of the three tests under the old rules was whether accommodation provided a common facility for the use of all residents. The Kirklees judgment widened that part of the definition to include housing stewards with some responsibilities for the care of residents.

In the light of the Kirklees judgment, it was also clear that the scope for the other two tests—that the housing formed part of a group and was specially provided for retirement pensioners and disabled people—had become wider than originally intended. That undermined the long-standing principle accepted by Governments of both parties and opened the way for the extension of the scheme to many people in mainstream housing. Such people were never intended by the Labour Government or, it must be said, by this Government, to benefit from the scheme.

I listened with great interest to my hon. Friends who suggested that the days of the BBC television licence might be coming to an end. We are not yet at that point.

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

No, I shall not give way, because I have only a few minutes left in which to reply and I want to deal with a point raised about the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

If we had not acted, the finances of the BBC would have been under great pressure and we would have had to increase the television licence fee by up to 50 per cent. for everyone else, including many people who are less well able to afford it than pensioners. The whole basis of the concessionary scheme would have broken down, giving rise to indefensible anomalies.

I should now like to deal with the important matter raised by the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). I assure him that we carefully considered the point raised by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. I think he will accept that it goes to the drafting rather than to the substance. In our reply to the Committee we tried to make clear our firm view that there is no internal inconsistency in the regulations. They require a sheltered housing scheme to have art exclusive boundary and a resident warden. The scheme must contain no dwellings other than those meeting the requirements of the regulations and that of the resident warden. In practice, that is the interpretation that we are placing on the regulations. We have had no complaints on this score and we do not expect any.

I should like to deal with the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Chiselhurst (Mr. Sims). In his moderate and friendly speech he dealt with a matter about which he is greatly concerned—the right to extend the scheme to privately run or sheltered housing schemes. As I have said before, that would not be justified, because this is an attractive and fast-growing sector of the owner-occupier market. We recognise that many private sheltered schemes display characteristics that are similar to those in schemes run by local authorities or housing associations. To include privately run or sheltered housing schemes would once again lead to an extension of the scheme far beyond its original intention. The regulations aim to get back to the original intention.

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

No. With great respect to my hon. Friend, I must deal with questions asked by other hon. Members.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

It was a very inadequate answer.

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

I always appreciate my hon. Friend's robust comments.

I listened with great interest to the challenging speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King), who said that, with the growth of satellite channels and the greater choice that that will bring, there may be no television licence fee. The logic of having no television licence fee is that no one will pay for the use of a standard television set, and that would apply to pensioners as well as everyone else.

One might have thought that the Labour party would have welcomed that proposition when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary touched on it in a speech the other day. Instead, they sucked their teeth in horror. That is typical of their lack of logic. They appear to believe in having free television licences for pensioners, but much more expensive licences for everyone else, including some of those on income support.

The hon. Member for Erdington returned to a well-known bribe—the fantasy promise of the Labour party that it will provide free television licences for all pensioners. If that point had been made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who was originally booked to open the debate, I might have understood it. It would have been an election bribe. We all understand that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is fighting an election at the moment. Doubtless his good comrade the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) would have gone around hatching a scheme to give not only free television, but free video recorders and lots of other freebies to every Labour dowager on the books. It is a nonsensical scheme.

It is not serious policy. It is a mere gesture. It is a substitute for reflective thought and practical action, and in his heart the hon. Member for Erdington knows that full well.

The Government of whom I am proud to be a member, on the other hand, have maintained the value of the state retirement pension, presided over a record growth in pensioners' incomes, protected pensioners' savings, and seen pensioners' total income rise by 18 per cent. in the years between 1979 and 1985—twice the increase for the population as a whole, and four times the increase under the Labour Government.

The Government's record on pensions is far better than anything that the hon. Member for Erdington and his colleagues can offer. The support that pensioners gave us in the general election and in every opinion poll since then shows that the pensioners know that we are a Government whom they can trust to deliver the goods for them. Neither they nor we——

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question pursuant to the Order of 11 July.

The House divided: Ayes 152, Noes 195.

Division No. 409][11.43 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeEadie, Alexander
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Evans, John (St Helens N)
Allen, GrahamEwing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Alton, DavidFatchett, Derek
Anderson, DonaldFields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Armstrong, HilaryFlannery, Martin
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Flynn, Paul
Barron, KevinFoot, Rt Hon Michael
Battle, JohnFoster, Derek
Beckett, MargaretFyfe, Maria
Benn, Rt Hon TonyGalbraith, Sam
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Godman, Dr Norman A.
Bermingham, GeraldGolding, Mrs Llin
Blunkett, DavidGordon, Mildred
Boateng, PaulGraham, Thomas
Boyes, RolandGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bradley, KeithGrocott, Bruce
Bray, Dr JeremyHenderson, Doug
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Hinchliffe, David
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Holland, Stuart
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)Home Robertson, John
Buckley, George J.Hood, Jimmy
Caborn, RichardHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Illsley, Eric
Clay, BobIngram, Adam
Clelland, DavidJones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Clwyd, Mrs AnnLambie, David
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Lamond, James
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Leadbitter, Ted
Corbett, RobinLestor, Joan (Eccles)
Corbyn, JeremyLewis, Terry
Cousins, JimLitherland, Robert
Cryer, BobLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cummings, JohnLofthouse, Geoffrey
Cunliffe, LawrenceLoyden, Eddie
Cunningham, Dr JohnMcAllion, John
Dalyell, TamMcAvoy, Thomas
Darling, AlistairMcCartney, Ian
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Macdonald, Calum A.
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Dewar, DonaldMcKelvey, William
Dixon, DonMcLeish, Henry
Doran, FrankMcTaggart, Bob
Dunnachie, JimmyMcWilliam, John
Madden, MaxRogers, Allan
Mahon, Mrs AliceRooker, Jeff
Marek, Dr JohnRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Rowlands, Ted
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Ruddock, Joan
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)Sheerman, Barry
Martlew, EricShore, Rt Hon Peter
Maxton, JohnShort, Clare
Meale, AlanSkinner, Dennis
Michael, AlunSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Smith, Sir Cyril (Rochdale)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)Snape, Peter
Millan, Rt Hon BruceSteinberg, Gerry
Morgan, RhodriStrang, Gavin
Morley, ElliottThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Mowlam, MarjorieTurner, Dennis
Mullin, ChrisWall, Pat
Murphy, PaulWallace, James
Nellist, DaveWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonWareing, Robert N.
O'Brien, WilliamWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Parry, RobertWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Pike, Peter L.Wilson, Brian
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)Winnick, David
Prescott, JohnWise, Mrs Audrey
Primarolo, DawnWorthington, Tony
Redmond, MartinWray, Jimmy
Reid, Dr John
Richardson, JoTellers for the Ayes:
Roberts, Allan (Bootle)Mr. Frank Haynes and Mr. Ken Eastham.
Robertson, George
NOES
Aitken, JonathanDavis, David (Boothferry)
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelDover, Den
Allason, RupertDunn, Bob
Amess, DavidDurant, Tony
Amos, AlanEmery, Sir Peter
Arbuthnot, JamesFallon, Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Farr, Sir John
Ashby, DavidFavell, Tony
Atkins, RobertFenner, Dame Peggy
Atkinson, DavidField, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Forman, Nigel
Baldry, TonyForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Batiste, SpencerForth, Eric
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Bevan, David GilroyFox, Sir Marcus
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnFranks, Cecil
Blackburn, Dr John G.Freeman, Roger
Boscawen, Hon RobertFrench, Douglas
Boswell, TimGale, Roger
Bottomley, PeterGarel-Jones, Tristan
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Gill, Christopher
Bowis, JohnGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Brandon-Bravo, MartinGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Brazier, JulianGregory, Conal
Brittan, Rt Hon LeonGriffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Browne, John (Winchester)Harris, David
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Hawkins, Christopher
Buck, Sir AntonyHayes, Jerry
Burns, SimonHind, Kenneth
Burt, AlistairHunt, David (Wirral W)
Butcher, JohnJessel, Toby
Butler, ChrisKing, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Butterfill, JohnKirkhope, Timothy
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Knapman, Roger
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Carttiss, MichaelKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Cash, WilliamKnowles, Michael
Chapman, SydneyKnox, David
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Latham, Michael
Colvin, MichaelLawrence, Ivan
Conway, DerekLee, John (Pendle)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Cran, JamesLightbown, David
Currie, Mrs EdwinaLilley, Peter
Curry, DavidLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Lord, MichaelShaw, David (Dover)
Lyell, Sir NicholasShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Maclean, DavidShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
McLoughlin, PatrickShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
McNair-Wilson, Sir MichaelSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)Soames, Hon Nicholas
Madel, DavidSpeed, Keith
Malins, HumfreySpeller, Tony
Mans, KeithSpicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Marshall, John (Hendon S)Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Stanbrook, Ivor
Maude, Hon FrancisStern, Michael
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinStevens, Lewis
Miller, Sir HalStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Mills, IainStokes, Sir John
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Mitchell, David (Hants NW)Sumberg, David
Monro, Sir HectorSummerson, Hugo
Montgomery, Sir FergusTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Moss, MalcolmTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Moynihan, Hon ColinTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Neale, GerrardTemple-Morris, Peter
Needham, RichardThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Nelson, AnthonyThorne, Neil
Neubert, MichaelThornton, Malcolm
Newton, Rt Hon TonyThurnham, Peter
Nicholls, PatrickTownend, John (Bridlington)
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Tredinnick, David
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)Trippier, David
Onslow, Rt Hon CranleyTwinn, Dr Ian
Oppenheim, PhillipViggers, Peter
Page, RichardWaddington, Rt Hon David
Paice, JamesWalden, George
Patnick, IrvineWalker, Bill (T'side North)
Pawsey, JamesWaller, Gary
Porter, David (Waveney)Ward, John
Portillo, MichaelWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Powell, William (Corby)Watts, John
Price, Sir DavidWells, Bowen
Raison, Rt Hon TimothyWheeler, John
Rathbone, TimWhitney, Ray
Redwood, JohnWiddecombe, Ann
Renton, TimWiggin, Jerry
Rhodes James, RobertWilkinson, John
Riddick, GrahamWood, Timothy
Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasWoodcock, Mike
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)Young, Sir George (Acton)
Rowe, Andrew
Ryder, RichardTellers for the Noes:
Sackville, Hon TomMr. Alan Howarth and Mr. Stephen Dorrell.
Sayeed, Jonathan

Question accordingly negatived.