Since I last replied to a question from the hon. Member on this subject on 7 June, we have received one letter, referred to us by an hon. Member, seeking free television licences for retirement pensioners.
The truth is that the many pensioners involved in this almighty muddle, with a few receiving free television licences and millions not, are tired of writing to the Government because they know that they are so hard-hearted that they will not respond, so they ask Labour Members of Parliament to raise the matter in the House of Commons. Is the Minister aware that in the past I0 years pensioners have been robbed of £600 a year by the Government since they broke the link with earnings? That would pay for nearly 10 television licences. When the Home Secretary gets the sack from the Prime Minister, he will pick up £7,000. He will be able to pay for televisions and licences for the rest of his life.
This is the fourth time that the hon. Gentleman has asked me that question this Session. He sounds increasingly like a cracked record with the needle stuck in the groove. I give him the same answer as before. We do not believe that television licences are a proper instrument of social policy. Free television licences for pensioners would cost about £400 million, which would mean an increase of about half for everyone else. Many in need would not benefit. The right way to help those in need is through the pensions and benefits system, not through television licences.
A real sense of grievance is felt by pensioners who have to pay the full television licence fee when they see their neighbours paying the lesser fee. Is the Minister aware that the problem has been worsened as in some cases pensioners who live in accommodation under the control of a warden have to pay the full licence fee, whereas their predecessors paid the smaller fee?
I am aware of the problems to which my hon. Friend refers. As he knows, last year we considered the adjustment of the concessionary licences. We produced a scheme that was intended to go back to the original intention—helping those in residential nursing homes or accommodation attended by a full-time warden. At the same time we continue to give the concession for all those who previously benefited from it. It is not perfect, but it is the best that could be devised in a scheme that was increasingly becoming full of holes.
Is the Minister aware that, on 23 June this year, the day that the Home Secretary visited Leicester, the 3,000th Leicestershire pensioner signed a petition—which, incidentally, was launced by my mother, who is a pensioner—calling for free television licences for pensioners? As Minister with responsibility for broadcasting the hon. Gentleman has access in his offices to television sets without having to pay for a licence. Television is the only form of entertainment for many pensioners. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his meanness in denying them a free television licence means that they are denied their only form of entertainment?
Of course, everyone realises that pensioners, like many others, depend a great deal on television, but the hon. Gentleman is echoing the nonsense in the Labour party's proposals for broadcasting. The Labour party says, and I assume that the hon. Gentleman supports it, that the licence fee should remain the main source of the BBC's income. At the same time, however, the hon. Gentleman suggests that low-income groups and pensioners should be exempted from the licence fee. That would mean that the licence fee would have to increase by at least half for everyone else—from £66 to over £101. That is Labour party policy. It is not just an election bribe; it is a penalty.