TV Licences for over-75S

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:15 pm on 8th May 2019.

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Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk 3:15 pm, 8th May 2019

The hon. Lady makes a perfectly fair point. The welfare state has always evolved. At heart, however, it is about the contributory system. I think most people would expect that when they pay into the system, they will get what they were told they would receive. Obviously, anyone who was over 75 in 2000 and went on to receive a free TV licence cannot conceivably have been told, when they began paying contributions at the start of their working life, that that was one of the benefits that they would receive.

Of course, the obvious point to be made is this: does that mean that I think we should not have free TV licences for the over-75s? The short answer is that I do not think there should be a TV licence. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon that it is not remotely sustainable as a solution. In my office in Parliament, I have three young members of staff. We worked out that we have three subscriptions to Netflix, two to Amazon Prime and one to Now TV. The whole world of TV viewing in this country is changing very rapidly and the licence fee is deeply anachronistic. It is levied on people without any reference to their ability to pay and without reference to whether they even watch the BBC. It does not seem to fit the era in which we live or the direction in which communications is heading.

How should we pay for it? I do not imagine that I am the world’s foremost expert on this point, but I think that—taking the principle of public service broadcasting, which I do believe in—everyone should contribute to some degree, based on their ability to pay. We should look at a core service for the BBC funded by, for example, a supplement on subscriptions to Netflix, to ensure that everyone who benefits from having a public broadcaster contributes to some degree.

In this Chamber, we could all stand up at any time and say the easiest thing. The easiest thing here is to say how wrong it is to take away this responsibility from the Government and put it on the BBC. The easy point to make would be to suggest that we as Conservatives are somehow taking benefits away from people or doing something harsh. The reality is that the welfare contract I have referred to throughout my speech is changing fundamentally.