It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Laura Smith, and I want to begin where she left off. I agree with her that free TV licences were introduced as a welfare policy. That is very much how it was seen at the time, alongside benefits such as free bus passes and free eye tests. The Government’s decision to pass responsibility for this on to the BBC in the knowledge that the BBC would be under this kind of pressure has two impacts. The first is on the BBC itself; the other is on the pensioners who receive the benefit at the moment.
Passing this responsibility on to the BBC is the policy equivalent of a hospital pass. The Government know that the BBC is under pressure. At the moment, the policy costs some £660 million a year, rising to more than £700 million in a couple of years’ time, and asking the BBC to fund this out of its own resources will leave it facing a cut of around one fifth of its budget. As has been said, that is the equivalent of the budgets for BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, the BBC News channel and the children’s channels. This will have a major impact and major implications for our national public service broadcaster at the very moment when the broadcasting and entertainment environment is changing and the BBC is under more pressure than ever from Netflix, Amazon and other providers. The direct impact of this on the BBC is that it will be faced with the awful choice of cutting quality or hitting pensioners.