§ 7. Mrs. Gorman
To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what consideration he has given to abolition of the television licence fee.
§ Mrs. Gorman
Has my hon. Friend read in the newspapers during the past few days about the massive windfall that some directors of independent television companies have picked up simply because they managed to gain one of the franchises? Does not that show that there is masses of money in the private sector that could fund television programmes on BBC, just as well as it funds programmes on ITV? Is not it quite wrong that if grandad wishes to watch "Coronation Street" on ITV as opposed to "EastEnders" on BBC, or grandma prefers "This is your Life" on ITV to "One Foot in the Grave", they must pay £85 a year for a lot of programmes that they do not want to watch, when private sector money is available to fund the BBC?
§ Mr. Key
My hon. Friend has put her finger on an important point. Indeed, it was a point raised by her constituent Mr. Leonard Jones of 77 Belmont avenue, Wickford in his letter to her of 20 October which she forwarded to me. I am grateful to her for raising that point. It is part of the charter review process and we will consider that representation.
§ Mr. Bryan Davies
Given the limitations of the licence fee, especially as it affects pensioners, will the Minister accept that many Labour Members would be sceptical 485 about any alternative form of funding the BBC that left it open either to crude market forces or to increased Government intrusion in programme making?
§ Mr. Key
I accept that very important point. There are two sides to the argument. I also take the point about concessionary licences over which the House and successive Governments have wrangled for many years. It would be very expensive to change the position. Conservative Members and, I suspect, all other Members do not regard the licence as an instrument of social policy.
§ Mr. Dickens
Many years ago, I asked for the television licence to be completely abolished and I supported a Labour Bill on that. Will my hon. Friend try to get away from the licence fee? We employ many people to go round with detector vans, and we have to replace and maintain those vans. It costs a lot of money that could go towards television programmes. There must be a better way. It would help pensioners tremendously not to have to pay those large bills.
§ Mr. Key
Of course I recognise my hon. Friend's point about the cost to pensioners. It is also worth making the point that the BBC licence fee costs about 23p a day. My hon. Friend's representation will be taken into account and we shall have to work out a way forward. It is worth noting that we have received more than 6,000 representations in response to the paper that we published before Christmas. I do not think that there has ever been such a widespread review of broadcasting policy.
§ Mrs. Clwyd
I am sure that the Minister agrees that among the vast amount of evidence that he has received, no coherent argument is emerging for changing the current system of financing the BBC through the licence fee. The debate on the future of the BBC cannot be seen in isolation from the wider broadcasting industry and from the chaos caused by the Broadcasting Act 1990. Will the Minister admit today that ITV is in danger of being swamped by imported American programmes and that the BBC could become the only significant source of original, high-quality United Kingdom production? When will he face up to his responsibilities and take up his responsibility to amend the invidious and infamous Broadcasting Act 1990?
§ Mr. Key
I accept my responsibilities; I have broad shoulders and I intend to use them. However, I do not accept for one moment that the ITV companies are in danger of being swamped by anything. They are vibrant and strong, and they are making programmes that are held in worldwide esteem. Of course there are coherent arguments on all sides of the debate about the future funding of the BBC. The hon. Lady has done her bit to destroy confidence in the ITV companies by some of her recent comments.