The BBC came under fire yesterday after announcing plans for an inflation-busting increase to the licence fee.
The yearly increase of 2.3 per cent above inflation will see the fee for a colour TV set rise from £126.50 to nearly £180 by 2013, according to some estimates.
BBC bosses say the rise is needed to pay for digital services and to replace endless repeats with new comedy, drama and entertainment shows. But MPs and pensioners' groups attacked the plans.
BBC chairman Michael Grade and director-general Mark Thompson faced a Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in Westminster to outline their proposals for a new settlement from 2007-2013.
MP Nigel Evans told them the Corporation risked creating "licence fee martyrs" - similar to the "council tax martyrs" who have gone to jail rather than pay higher bills.
"You are asking for an inflation-busting settlement.
But there are millions of people out there who don't get inflation-busting increases whatsoever," he said.
"How have you got the nerve to come here and say you want to push up the licence fee to near £180 and expect those people to stump up the cash?
"There is a poll tax on their TVs and they have got to pay it."
Mr Evans also questioned the need to plough money into extra digital services when existing digital channels such as BBC3 and BBC4 have relatively tiny audiences.
"You say people want all these wider services but you know from the annual report that a number of these extra services you provide people just aren't watching," he said.
While at Channel 4 three years ago, Mr Thompson complained that the BBC was "basking in a Jacuzzi of spare cash".
Select Committee chairman John Whittingdale MP told the BBC executives: "It might be argued that this will result in a swimming pool of spare cash."
Help The Aged said many elderly people would be unable to meet the fee increase.
Policy and incomes officer Anna Pearson said: "The BBC's inflation-busting proposals will give poorer pensioners serious cause for concern.
"Many under-75s not eligible for free licences are already struggling to make ends meet in the face of increased household costs such as council tax and rising utility bills which far outstrip the meagre rise in the Basic State Pension.
"A near 20 per cent increase in the licence fee will be yet another burden. We can only hope that if the Government does agree to this large increase in the licence fee, the BBC will invest some of this new money in ensuring that digital services are fully accessible to older people.
"The country's poorest pensioners will be right to demand the very best services for the larger bills which will land on their doormat."
Mr Thompson told the Commons Select Committee: "I recognise the licence fee is a burden. But it is our belief, even with the settlement announced today, that the burden will continue to decline steadily as a proportion of disposable income."
Mr Thompson later cited audience research which showed 81 per cent of people believe the licence fee represents good value for money and more than 40 per cent would be prepared to pay twice the current fee or more.
Chairman Michael Grade said: "What this plan attempts to deliver is a situation in which repeats become a matter of choice rather than necessity".