TV Licences for over-75S

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:32 pm on 8th May 2019.

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Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 4:32 pm, 8th May 2019

I would like to thank all Members who have brought this debate to life with passion and enthusiasm. We have had some amateur dramatics from Labour Members that would no doubt impress a BBC talent scout; I suggest that those on the Labour Front Bench should audition. It is a testament to the respect that Members across the House have for the BBC and its vital role in our society that we can debate it with such vigour. My hon. Friend Peter Heaton-Jones was one of many who gave powerful speeches. This subject is particularly important when we consider the value of the BBC to all in our society, and particularly the older people across the United Kingdom who depend on television and radio for companionship and entertainment. They love the BBC, and they value it, as do the Government.

I want to take a moment to respond to some of the considered points raised by Members. A number of Opposition Members have indicated that they have been studying the Conservative party manifesto astutely. I can commend that habit to them. I am delighted, and I hope they read more about the benefits of Conservative policies such as low tax, a free market economy, social justice, keeping unemployment at the lowest level ever and respecting all in our society. There are a number of policies in that document from which Labour Members could learn, so I commend them for having such close regard to the Conservative party manifesto and hope to see more of that.

Reference by Labour Members to pensioners is a little rich, if I may say so, given that the Labour party gave pensioners an increase of 75p in one year when they were in government. No doubt they will excuse me if I am not convinced by their argument. That is relevant when we are comparing Conservative policies to Labour’s manifesto. Given that Labour is of course happy to spend £1 trillion and to get the country into huge debt, perhaps one should not be surprised. Labour’s policy is to centralise and to tax—the state always knows best—but this Government have confidence in the BBC on this subject.

I want to make it clear that this is a decision for the BBC, not for the Government. It is crucial to the BBC’s success that it is independent from Government, which allows it to deliver impartial and independent comment on the events of the day. That is the alpha and omega of what is important for the BBC, and I absolutely cherish it. It is entirely right that the BBC is operationally and editorially independent from Government, and the Government cannot, should not and will not intervene in the BBC’s day-to-day operations.

I think Opposition Members may have forgotten—from hearing them, it appears that they do not recall it—that the Government and the BBC agreed in 2015 that responsibility for the concession for the over-75s would transfer to the BBC in June 2020. We have been clear for some time that the future of the concession is entirely the BBC’s decision. It is for the BBC to decide whether it wants to maintain the current concession or to take a different path.