Television Licences

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th June 1989.

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Photo of Mr Peter Thurnham Mr Peter Thurnham , Bolton North East 12:00 am, 15th June 1989

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people were fined for non-payment of television licence fees in each of the last five years; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

The following information has been supplied by the national TV licence records office and relates to the number of convictions in each of the financial years 1 April to 31 March:

Number
1984–85110,042
1985–86123,122
1986–87174,509
1987–88158,182
1988–89172,604

Photo of Mr Peter Thurnham Mr Peter Thurnham , Bolton North East

Bolton magistrates court tells me that these are by far the most miserable of all the fines that it has to collect as 60 per cent. of those fined are female, many of them single mothers with young children, and there are known cases of women having to resort to prostitution to pay their fines. Is it not high time that my hon. Friend brought in a subscription pay-as-you-view revenue system for the BBC instead of listening to Mr. Hussey saying that people like paying their licence fees to fund a grossly overstaffed BBC?

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

I listened with care to my hon. Friend. We accept that people with limited means may find it hard to pay the BBC licence fee. For that reason, we are doing two things. We are encouraging the BBC to develop other streams of income—for example, through subscription—and, from this September, we will introduce a pay-as-you-go instalment scheme. A successful pilot scheme has been run and, as from September, it will be possible gradually throughout the country for the television licence fee to be paid quarterly.

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

Is the Minister aware that many pensioners are caught up in this problem? The Government should be ashamed of themselves? [Interruption.] The Tories may laugh, but this is a serious matter for pensioners. We have asked regularly for all pensioners to be treated the same and to have a £5 television licence instead of the increase that the Government have introduced. Why do we not have fairness so that pensioners can keep themselves out of court and enjoy their later days? The Government are unfair to the elderly. Let us have the Minister at the Dispatch box saying that he will come my way.

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

The hon. Gentleman has not studied the Labour party policy review with the precise attention that I would have expected. The review says that the BBC licence fee is the core of the BBC's income for the future. To do as the hon. Gentleman suggests would remove £400 million from the BBC. The only way to recoup that would be to put up the licence fee by about half for everyone else. The hon. Gentleman has not thought his argument through, but that is no surprise.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood , Wokingham

Does the Minister think that under the pressure of satellite broadcasting and commercial television the BBC's audience share might be so low that this method of financing would no longer be appropriate?

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. I have no doubt that as we are giving our blessing to a new terrestrial channel—Channel 5—to be financed by advertising and subscription, and in view of the number of satellite channels that are coming and the increasing success of cable, the BBC in its forward planning for the 1990s will be thinking carefully about what it should do if its audience share falls in the way suggested by my hon. Friend so that the continuance of the licence fee would be an intolerable burden on many households who are willing to look at channels other than the BBC.