The BBC has been urged at Westminster to "stop the blame game" in the row over ending free TV licences for the over-75s and retain the threatened benefit in light of the Covid-19 crisis.

The call came as peers highlighted the importance of television to the elderly in providing vital information during the coronavirus pandemic.

The arrival of Tim Davie as the new director-general of the BBC also provided an opportunity to revisit the controversial issue, the House of Lords heard.

Ministers have insisted the BBC is responsible for the concession and not the Government.

The corporation was set to introduce means-testing at the start of last month but the contentious move was delayed until August because of the public health emergency.

The decision on the start date is being kept under review and the BBC board will announce its decision later this month.

The broadcaster agreed to take on responsibility for funding the scheme as part of the charter agreement hammered out with the Government in 2015, but has said it cannot afford to continue the universal benefit.

Speaking during hybrid proceedings of the Lords, Democratic Unionist Party peer Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown said: "In light of what our elderly have already experienced with Covid-19, the isolation and loneliness they have endured... does the minister agree with me it's time for the BBC to stop the blame game and honour the clear commitment already given to the over-75s?"

Responding, the minister for media Baroness Barran pointed out that BBC "remains operationally independent of Government".

Broadcaster and Labour peer Baroness Bakewell said: "The Covid-19 crisis has emphasised more than ever the dependence of the over-75s on their television sets, particularly those isolating.

"The arrival of a new director-general at the BBC gives an opportunity to open up again what was in fact an extremely controversial negotiation with the Government about the licence fee."

Labour peer Lord Foulkes of Cumnock said: "Surely both the BBC and the Government have accepted by postponing for two months, how vital television is for old people keeping in touch with vital information from the Government as well as entertainment and other information."

He added: "Surely it's not too much to ask the Government and the BBC to get together now to discuss postponing this withdrawal of the free TV licences indefinitely."

Lady Barran said: "The Government is well aware of the sacrifice that many people, including particularly elderly people, have made during the past few months.

"However... the BBC is responsible for this matter."

Tory peer Lord Naseby said: "Bearing in mind that pensioners have suffered more than most in the lockdown... and that TV remains their number one contact with outside life, is it really sensible or fair that the vast majority of them are going to face an annual tax?

"Surely the BBC should find a way to pay this long-held free TV licence?"

He questioned why the BBC could not look at advertising or even selling off some of its radio stations.

Lady Barran stressed it was the responsibility of the BBC "to work out how it spends its budget".