The BBC is “stealing the Ovaltine from pensioners’ night-time drink”, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has claimed, after a change resulted in the over-75s having to pay the licence fee.
The broadcaster agreed to take on responsibility for funding over-75s TV licences – which had previously been free – as part of the charter agreement hammered out with the Government in 2015, but has since said it cannot afford to continue the universal benefit.
The corporation was set to introduce means-testing at the start of last month but the move was delayed until August because of Covid-19.
Tory backbencher Sir David Amess (Southend West) said high pay for BBC stars was “outrageous and shameful” given the change.
“These salaries are outrageous and shameful and it’s about time the Government put an end to it.”
Responding during business questions, Mr Rees-Mogg told the Commons: “I do think the BBC has been unfair on pensioners in requiring them to pay the licence fee.
“The hope was that they would not do this and they are basically stealing the Ovaltine from pensioners’ night-time drink by charging them for this licence fee and they are losing licence payers.
“They lost a quarter of a million licence payers in the last year as people are voting with their feet.
“And I think the BBC needs to pay attention to what my honourable friend is saying because, when charging some of the least well-off in our society and giving the money to some of the most well-off in our society, there are people who will rightly question that.”
The BBC this week announced that Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker was paid £1.75 million for the year to the end of March, although he has since taken a pay cut.
Mr Rees-Mogg added: “I’m not entirely sure why a retired footballer is paid more than Vic Marks, a distinguished Somerset cricketer who regularly appears as an expert summariser on Test Match Special, and I would have thought he would be deserving of much more money than a retired Association Footballer.”
Tory MP Lee Anderson (Ashfield) said his constituents should be consulted on high pay at the BBC.
He added: “The BBC is a fantastic employer – one of their employees recently received a £1 million a year rise paid for by the great British public.
“However, the residents in Ashfield were not consulted over the pay rise due.
“Does the Leader of the House agree with me that there should be a debate in this House so the people of our great country can have a choice in whether or not their hard-earned cash should be used to subsidise BBC presenters’ million-pound salaries?”
Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “As a public service broadcaster funded by the licence fee – i.e. taxpayers – the BBC has a responsibility to lead the way in promoting equality in the workplace, ensuring overall pay restraint and value for money.
“And that’s why the Government requested that all BBC staff and talent paid over £150,000 are published.
“I could not believe that there were people being paid over a million pounds and one of them was not our leading cricket commentator, Aggers himself.
“This is a great injustice and I hope that somebody will request a backbench business debate to try and put this right. Fairness for Aggers!”
A BBC spokesman said: “It was the Government who decided to stop funding free TV licences for the over-75s.
“The BBC Board believes the fairest option is to help the poorest older pensioners.
“Around 1.5 million households could get free TV licences if someone is over 75 and receives Pension Credit.
“Critically, it is not the BBC making that judgment about poverty, it is the Government who set and control who is eligible for Pension Credit and what level of payments are made.”