TV Licences for over-75S

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 8th May 2019.

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage) 4:15 pm, 8th May 2019

As I said, the hon. Gentleman is entitled to make that argument but is not entitled to palm the decision off on the BBC. That is the essence of our point.

My old university friend, my hon. Friend John Grogan—who is still, I think, the distinguished chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the BBC—said that George Osborne is the villain of the piece. I think that many of us can agree with that, in many ways. I am looking forward to the rapturous coverage of my hon. Friend’s speech in the Evening Standard tomorrow. He said that his majority is currently 249, I think. I am sure that he is going to romp home after his speech today when his older constituents read how he so ably supported them.

My hon. Friend Julie Cooper pointed out that for over-75s living alone, TV can literally be a lifeline. She mentioned the amount of money that will be taken out of the pockets of people in her constituency. That is the essential point. If this concession is ended, people in an already hard-pressed community will have to pay in full for their TV licence. That is money that should not be taken out of communities that are struggling at the moment. My hon. Friend Faisal Rashid read out some of the quotes from constituents who had written to him and pointed out that they understand what the Government are up to and will not be fooled by the approach they are taking.

My hon. Friend Tracy Brabin knows a lot about TV. Like my brother, she has appeared as an actor on “Coronation Street”, and she knows what she is talking about when she says that TV is a friend to the lonely. The work that she has continued with the Jo Cox Foundation, which she mentioned, is to be commended. It is a pity that the Government are not rethinking their approach in the light of all the evidence about loneliness and older people.

My hon. Friend Marsha De Cordova accused the Government of devolving their political responsibility for the cuts, and she is absolutely right—that is exactly what they are doing. My hon. Friend Laura Smith pointed out that 7,000 people in her constituency receive this welfare provision, as she rightly called it.

My right hon. Friend Mr McFadden correctly pointed out that this policy has two effects—on the BBC through the hospital pass that it has been given, and on pensioners in the form of the stealth tax that it will represent if the Government do not act. He also pointed out that 40% of people entitled to pension credit do not receive it, so there will be a double whammy for them. He mentioned the Government’s claim that austerity is over and gave them some political advice. I knew him when he was a political adviser to the former Labour Government, so I would advise the Minister to listen very carefully to what he said, because the Government will pay a political price if they do not.

Chris Stephens quoted “Flower of Scotland” when referring to the fact that I pointed out that his Scottish Conservative colleagues had been completely wrong when they said that we—his party and my party—had not opposed this measure during the passage through this place of the Digital Economy Act. I can add to what I said about the Committee stage. On 28 November 2016, my colleagues and I tabled an amendment on Report in which we also opposed this measure.

My hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson told us about her own representations to the BBC’s consultation. I hope that it will listen to what she said, but more importantly, I hope that the Government will listen, because ultimately that is where the responsibility lies. My hon. Friend Hugh Gaffney rightly said that this was a “Let’s blame the BBC” policy, and that his constituents would pay the price for the Government’s cynical breach of their promise.

I remind the House that we have consistently opposed this underhand stealth tax on older people and the creative sector. We strongly support the excellent campaign that has been run on this by many of my hon. Friends, but also by publications such as the Daily Mirror. It is wrong to outsource social policy to an unelected organisation whose historical mission is to entertain, educate and inform the country, not to decide who should be the beneficiaries of Government social policy. But if the Government believe that that should be part of the BBC’s role, they should have argued for it. They could have put in their manifesto—