I absolutely agree. We have a worrying trend of Parliament being bypassed. I know that minority government is not a comfortable place to be, but if a party of government cannot come to the Chamber and sell its policies, maybe the policies are the problem, not Parliament itself.
“The BBC is not an organisation that should collect taxes, of which the licence fee is one, for social purposes. Its money should be used for making programmes.”
Clearly, the UK Government disagree. I urge the Tories—I urge this Government—to honour this extremely important manifesto commitment, to do the right thing and to maintain pensioner benefits, including the TV licence, so that elderly people can continue to watch television for free instead of having to choose between watching television and switching on their heating and/or potentially being criminalised in their twilight years for watching “Coronation Street”.
Some say—I have heard them say it today—that many pensioners could pay for their own TV licence. That is not an argument to impose a charge for free TV licences; it is an argument against universalism that takes us down an extremely dangerous road. It is a distracting diversion that is being used as a tactic to remove essential support. In any case, it does not matter whether one thinks that universalism as a principle is wrong—the fact is that this was in the Tory manifesto, and the back-pedalling and attempt to deflect responsibility on to the BBC is fooling no one.
This policy is perhaps the most mean-spirited policy of this Government so far—and that is saying something. The Government need to get a grip, stop attacking our older people, accord them the care and respect they are due, and stop making life more difficult for them. As we have heard, it is extremely important that this House is allowed to have its say on this policy, because every single MP in this place should have the courage to go back to their older constituents, look them in the eye and explain why they voted—if they voted—to remove free TV licences from them.