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BBC Licence Fee

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons on 13th February 2020.

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Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Assistant Whip

What his policy is on BBC licence fee penalties and payments.

Photo of Nigel Adams Nigel Adams Minister of State, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

The Government have committed to maintain the licence fee funding model for the duration of this 11-year charter period. We want to help vulnerable people who may struggle to pay for their TV licence, which is why we have announced the simple payment plan, which will come into effect on 1 April. On penalties for evasion, we believe it is right to look again at whether the criminal sanction remains appropriate, given ongoing concerns about whether it is unfair and disproportionate.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Assistant Whip

I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he agree that the BBC should stop focusing on criminalising customers who cannot pay for the licence and focus instead on its agreement to provide free TV licences for over-75s?

Photo of Nigel Adams Nigel Adams Minister of State, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I agree with my hon. Friend. As we made clear in our manifesto, we recognise the value of free TV licences for over-75s. They should be funded by the BBC, and we remain disappointed with the BBC’s decision to restrict the over-75 licence fee concession only to those in receipt of pension credit.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

As the Minister just made clear, he is aware that in only a few weeks’ time, some of our poorest and most vulnerable pensioners will be hit with TV licence fee charges. The Government deliberately foisted what should be a social provision on to the BBC which, foolishly under Lord Hall, accepted this responsibility. Does the Minister agree with the Secretary of State that the Government have no business doing that, and will he commit today to stepping in to cover the cost for the most vulnerable in society?

Photo of Nigel Adams Nigel Adams Minister of State, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Forgive me for repeating the answer that I gave to my hon. Friend Eddie Hughes, and the answer that I gave to the urgent question last week, but we are consulting on whether the decriminalisation of TV licence fee evasion should go ahead—that is absolutely the case. If John Nicolson is saying to me that, in 2020, the future of a broadcaster’s financing is based on potentially sending someone to prison, we perhaps need to look at other models of funding.