THE Tory Government’s attempts to entirely blame the BBC for the decision to force most people over the age of 75 to lose the right to a free television licence appeared to have spectacularly backfired last night when more than 100,000 people signed a parliamentary petition calling for the free licences to continue.

The UK Parliament acknowledged the 100,000 mark being reached yesterday evening by stating on its website: “Parliament will consider this for a debate. Parliament considers all petitions that get more than 100,000 signatures for a debate.”

Such a Commons debate would allow opposition MPs and even some Tory members to make the point that it was the Government under David Cameron that forced the BBC to take on responsibility for the free licences as part of the licence fee settlement in 2015, the Treasury having paid for them since Tony Blair’s Labour Government in 2000 brought in the policy.

Since then, households with someone over 75 have been eligible for a free TV licence, and the Treasury still pays for it, but in what now appears to have been a cynical ploy, or political sleight of hand, Cameron’s Government made the BBC accept responsibility for funding free licences from next year, knowing full well the number of people living to beyond 75 is soaring.

It is estimated that maintaining the status quo with the licence fee at £154.50 will annually cost the Corporation £745m or a fifth of its budget, and the BBC announced on Monday that it would only give free licences to people over 75 who are on pension credit, expected to cost £250 million. Now the whole idea is likely to come under parliamentary scrutiny thanks to the petition.

Not that anyone at the BBC should be too pleased. Another petition yesterday soared way past the free licence petition – it called for the abolition of the TV licence.

The petition stated: “Abolish the BBC television license. The quality of BBC programmes do not reflect the price of the TV license. It is far too expensive for the majority of people and should be abolished.”

As The National went to press it had been signed by 170,000 people and Parliament confirmed it too will now be considered for a debate in the Commons.

Meanwhile high profile BBC celebrities have urged a re-think on the decision.

Jeremy Paxman, said: “Benefits are the business of government, not broadcasters. Like many of the BBC’s friends, I keep wondering how the organisation can keep shooting itself in the foot.”

Ben Fogle of Animal Park announced he would be donating his entire salary for the show to Age UK, stating: “I don’t entirely blame the BBC. I think the government forced their hand.

“I have decided to donate my entire salary for this year’s BBC Animal Park to subsidise licences for those over 75 who have no way of paying for a licence. “

Monty Python legend Michael Palin said: “I know that the BBC did a pretty bad deal, I think four years ago, saying it would take over the licences and I hoped somehow that would somehow go away and it hasn’t gone away.

“I just wish it wasn’t at the expense of the people who now have to fork out for their licence.”