Free Television Licences

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons on 13th December 2018.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

What recent discussions he has had with the BBC on the future of free TV licences for people over the age of 75.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I meet the BBC regularly to discuss a range of issues, including the licence fee concession for the over-75s. The BBC has published a consultation that includes a range of options for the public to consider on the future of that concession, and we expect it to make a decision by June next year. I have made it clear that we expect the BBC to continue the concession after 2020.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, because that popular initiative was introduced by the Labour Government in 2000 to recognise that TV is a lifeline for many elderly people, and to give them something back for their contribution to this country. Does the consultation so far indicate that the cost of administering a new system that might include means-testing would far outweigh the savings that the BBC seeks to make?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Lady makes a fair point about means-testing, and whenever means-testing is proposed, that consideration must be accounted for. The right approach is to allow all those who wish to do so to comment on those consultation options, and for the BBC properly to consider them and decide what to do next. That is now its responsibility. The Government’s expectation is clear as, I suspect, is that of many Members across the House.

Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Mr Speaker, this will probably be the only chance I get to wish you, your family and the staff of the House a happy Christmas. We are very grateful for the work you have done for us this year. Thank you. I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Mims Davies to her new position. I am sure she will step into big shoes.

The Campaign to End Loneliness found that four in 10 older people say that television is their main company. That is a sad Christmas story indeed. Is the Secretary of State aware of how many older people in his constituency are set to lose their free TV licence if the provision becomes linked to pension credit?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

It will not be my last opportunity to wish you a happy Christmas, Mr Speaker. I will get to that later.

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is about to tell me the answer to the question he has just asked, which of course supposes a certain outcome to the consultation and the decision-making process at the BBC. I do not think we should make that supposition. It is right for the BBC to consider its options. It is now its responsibility to decide what to do on this matter. It is right for it to consider its options and then propose what it wishes to do. We will all have the opportunity to contribute to that discussion. I know he will do so, and I will too.

Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

As the Secretary of State does not know the answer I will tell him, because I think he needs to know: 6,060 households in his area could lose their free TV licence if it is means-tested. Many thousands of people in Kenilworth will lose their TV licence despite a Tory manifesto, on which the Minister stood for election, promising that a Tory Government would maintain all pensioner benefits, including free TV licences for everyone over 75. The Government may have devolved welfare cuts to the BBC, but the Secretary of State will not be able to devolve responsibility for this impending policy disaster. Will he now admit, on the record to this House, that the Government have broken a manifesto pledge and he has broken his promise to all those people in his constituency?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

No, of course not, because that has not happened. Let me just say again to the right hon. Gentleman that he is positing a hypothetical situation. It has not happened. It is important that the BBC gets the chance to consider the right way forward. All that he says about the importance of television to those who are elderly, particularly those who are lonely, is quite right, but no decision has been made yet. It is right to give the BBC the space in which to make it. That is the right way forward.