TV licence reforms to move closer

Mid Devon Star: MPs are expected to back an amendment exploring reforms for the penalties for non-payment of the TV licence MPs are expected to back an amendment exploring reforms for the penalties for non-payment of the TV licence

A review of the penalties for non-payment of the TV licence is set to move a step closer today, paving the way for possible decriminalisation.

MPs are expected to back an amendment to the Deregulation Bill that will require an examination of reform options and give ministers the power to make it a civil offence.

Significant cross-party backbench support to remove the threat of a criminal record and jail sentence for non-payers prompted the Government to propose the review, which Labour also backs.

The BBC, which had warned an immediate switch would hit funding for its services by encouraging evasion, has signalled a willingness to discuss changes as part of negotiations over the renewal of its charter, due in 2017.

Cases of people accused of evading the £145.50 fee accounted for more than one in 10 criminal prosecutions last year, with 155,000 convicted and fined, encouraging more than 150 MPs to back a decriminalisation campaign led by Tory Andrew Bridgen.

The new proposals require Culture Secretary Maria Miller to carry out a review of the sanctions, lasting up to a year, within three months of the Deregulation Bill being passed.

The findings of the review will be presented to the BBC Trust as well as both Houses of Parliament.

The BBC's director of strategy and digital, James Purnell, said the present system "works pretty well" and questioned some of the evidence put forward by proponents of decriminalisation.

TV licence cases accounted for only 0.3% of court time because cases were processed on average in about three minutes, he said.

But he added: "We want to look at the facts and work with Mr Bridgen and other people in Parliament who have expressed a concern and with the Government to come up with the best possible system.

"That is what this set of amendments allows us to do. It avoids the risk of doing it in a rush, it allows it to be looked at in the round and that is something we welcome."

Chancellor George Osborne said the Government was " looking very closely" at decriminalisation .

"It is getting more and more support across the political parties and you can see it is all heading in a particular direction," he said.

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