TV Licences for over-75S

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:46 pm on 8th May 2019.

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Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 1:46 pm, 8th May 2019

The hon. Lady makes an important point, and I am very grateful that she has aligned her party to the sentiments in this motion—it is very important.

For millions of these people, television is a lifeline. Four in 10 older people say that TV is their main source of company, and this Government are about to take that away from them. The experiences of older people speak for themselves. A 94-year-old widower who is living by himself, with diabetes and dementia, told us:

“I cannot leave the house and rely on the television for company and entertainment.”

Another pensioner told us:

“I am on a small pension and if it came to a choice between food and TV, I would lose out and become isolated and alone. TV keeps me company.”

The truth is you cannot means test for social isolation; loneliness can affect anyone, anywhere. Any change to the current free licences will cause harm.

In conclusion, we know that the Minister will now give a speech saying this is all the BBC’s responsibility and it is up to them to decide the fate of the free TV licence. We do not agree. We are not fooled by the Government’s attempts to offload and obfuscate their own responsibility. This is austerity by the back door. The public know that and pensioners know that. At the heart of this debate today is the question of what a manifesto promise means. I have always regarded manifesto commitments as one of the most basic and important of political pledges, not something that can be merely cast aside. Today, I urge the Minister to stand by that promise made by her party two years ago. She knows the parliamentary arithmetic; if she and the Member behind her tell the Government Front-Bench team they want to honour that promise, they would do so. So I urge every Conservative MP not to betray their promise to voters, not to betray the word they gave them at the 2017 general election. I commend this motion to the House.