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Volume 634: debated on Tuesday 9 January 2018

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport if he will make a statement on the accusations of unfair pay at the British Broadcasting Corporation following the resignation of China editor, Carrie Gracie.

Like most Members, I strongly support the BBC, and, like most of the licence fee payers who fund it, I would go so far as to say that I love it. Perhaps now in this digital age more than ever, if the BBC did not exist, we would need to invent it. But, as a treasured national institution, the BBC must not only uphold, but be a beacon for, the British values of fairness that the nation holds dear. Those values include fair pay and equal pay for equal jobs.

By introducing reforms to the BBC charter, the Government, under the leadership of my two predecessors, have vastly improved BBC transparency and shone a light on gender and pay issues at the BBC. This new transparency includes the requirement for the BBC to publish annually the salary details of all BBC staff who are paid more than £150,000. The publication of such details for the first time in July last year resulted in much-needed public scrutiny of pay at the BBC.

The BBC’s overall gender pay gap stands at around 9%, but the figures also show that two thirds of those who earn more than £150,000 are men, and reveal a lack of staff from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds among the top earners. At the time of the publication of the salary details, some male presenters were understandably uncomfortable with the results. John Humphrys even acknowledged that he would not necessarily be able to explain his salary of £600,000.

This is not just a matter of levelling women’s pay up; it is a matter of pay equality. To work for the BBC is a public service and a great privilege, yet some men at the BBC are paid far more than other equivalent public servants. The BBC has begun to act, and I welcome that, but much more action is needed, especially when BBC foreign editors can earn more than Her Majesty’s ambassadors in the same jurisdiction.

With respect to the specific case of Carrie Gracie, I welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s decision to look into the issues she has raised. The EHRC is the regulatory body responsible for the policing of equal pay and it is for the commission, not the Government, to investigate this matter and take further action, if necessary.

Of course, the BBC is operationally and editorially independent of the Government—and rightly so. The director-general has commendably committed to sorting out this issue by 2020, and we will hold him to that. I understand that the BBC’s report about on-air presenter salaries will be published in the next few weeks, but we expect the BBC to observe pay restraint and to deliver value for money for licence fee payers. We will watch closely. The BBC must act, because the brilliant women who work at all levels of the BBC deserve better.

I wish you, Mr Speaker, and your team a happy new year and all the best for 2018. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his new role as Secretary of State. I am glad that he is on his feet so soon after his appointment.

The resignation of the BBC’s China editor, Carrie Gracie, over the gender pay gap at the BBC has shocked and saddened us all, and I welcomed what the Secretary of State said. He may be interested to know that I received a rather unfortunate comment from the BBC earlier, which said:

“On air colleagues who have been seen to campaign on the issue of BBC equal pay have to question whether or not they would be regarded as impartial by audiences when covering the story.”

Does the Secretary of State agree that instead of carping or attacking its own people, the BBC, as a publicly funded organisation that does not pay equally, should be getting its own house in order?

I pay tribute to Carrie Gracie, who will be a huge loss. She has shown great bravery and determination on this issue. Her letter makes for staggering and shocking reading. It says:

“Salary disclosures the BBC was forced to make six months ago revealed not only unacceptably high pay for top presenters and managers but also an indefensible pay gap between men and women doing equal work…In the past four years, the BBC has had four international editors—two men and two women. The Equality Act 2010 states that men and women doing equal work must receive equal pay. But last July I learned that in the previous financial year, the two men earned at least 50% more than the two women.”

How many talented women need to resign and be lost before the BBC and other media organisations take action? The Secretary of State has said that he will challenge them, but what tangible action will we see from him, his Government and the BBC? It is now 100 years since women got the vote. We have come a long way, but why does it feel like so many in the establishment are stuck in the past?

I share the hon. Lady’s outrage at what we have discovered, and I underline that we have discovered it only because of the transparency measures that were brought in by this House, led by my predecessors, during the royal charter process. She asks specifically about editorial guidelines. They are a matter for the BBC. It is understandable that it might say that people with a strong view should separate that view from their impartial delivery of news, but I would ask whether they observe that in every case, as well as cases about just the BBC.

I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee decided this morning to invite the director-general to come and account for the BBC’s actions on gender pay since the publication of salaries last summer. It is important to see what progress it has made as well as what more needs to be made. Does the Secretary of State agree that this case underlines why we were right to insist on full disclosure of top pay, and not just for executives, but for on-screen talent?

I strongly agree with the Chair of the Select Committee, and I welcome his Committee’s scrutiny of this. The BBC resisted the transparency measures, and we are starting to see why.

Happy new year, Mr Speaker. May I start by offering my congratulations to the outgoing Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), on her new role? I also congratulate the new Secretary of State, who, unlike Carrie Gracie, has not turned down a £45,000 pay rise this week. He tweeted yesterday about how humble he was—something he has become well known for in recent years—but I know how important this promotion will be for his fragile self-esteem.

We still live in a society in which confident men who believe in their own self-worth tend to rise to the top, or stay in position despite failure after failure, while talented women are more easily undervalued or forced out—but enough about the Prime Minister’s reshuffle. Carrie Gracie’s resignation as the BBC’s China editor highlights the issue of unequal pay in the BBC, in broadcasting and in society more generally, and we all have a role to play in stamping that out. Lord Hall said last year that he is determined to close the gender pay gap at the BBC, but this story shows that there is still a very long way to go.

Carrie Gracie says in her public letter that she told her bosses when she took the job of China editor that she expected pay equality with her male peers and that she believed she had secured it. Does the Secretary of State believe that the corporation is, as Carrie says, in breach of equality legislation? How can employees of less transparent media companies know whether their employers are complying with equality law? The BBC is accountable to the public and we know more about the pay gap there than we do about the pay gap in other organisations. Is the Secretary of State confident that female staff in other broadcasters and media companies are paid as highly as their male colleagues? Will he call them in to encourage them to be as transparent as the BBC? What will he do to ensure that this story is used not just to criticise our national broadcaster, as other media organisations might wish, but to highlight pay inequality across the board? The people involved in this story are at the top of their profession and earn significant sums, but we need to be at least as concerned about pay equality and fair pay for BBC employees and contractors on the lowest pay, some of whom are on as little as £16,000 a year. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that low-paid workers are not forgotten? Will he ensure that those paid by independent production companies or through BBC Studios are not exempt from pay transparency? Does he agree, finally, that when it comes to unequal pay, we all have to say, “Time’s up.”?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; it is good to be shadowed once more by him. He is quite a shadow, and I am sure we will all enjoy his stand-up in the exchanges ahead.

There is a very strong degree of cross-party unanimity on this subject, and I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for the measures that we have taken to introduce more transparency. As well as introducing transparency measures for the BBC, we introduced wider transparency measures on the gender pay gap for all large organisations. I think that that answers many of his questions about other organisations, but other public organisations have strong duties, and I will take his point about that very seriously. When it comes to investigating individual cases and policing the Equality Act 2010, that is a job for the EHRC. We welcome the fact that it is taking action in this case now, and it must take action wherever it sees that as appropriate.

This country has some of the best laws in the world to protect women who face these sorts of employment problems, but those laws need the Equality and Human Rights Commission to act, and to do so quickly. Why is it that, despite the overwhelming evidence that has been in the public domain for more than six months, the EHRC has failed to intervene on the BBC but has been placated by a BBC-funded internal review, which has clearly not tackled the problem? What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that the Equality and Human Rights Commission performs its statutory duties and uses it statutory enforcement powers to protect women facing these sorts of problems in not just the BBC, but many other organisations?

I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend—my predecessor—who has brought to the EHRC’s attention the importance of acting in this case. It has a statutory duty to act when it sees unequal pay, and I am glad that, as of this morning’s announcement, it is taking that forward.

May I add my congratulations and best wishes to the Secretary of State as he takes up his new position? Does he agree that, as a publicly funded institution, the BBC has to be both transparent and accountable and that the existence of this secret gender pay gap in the corporation shows that it has been anything but? Perhaps that would explain why the BBC management were so vehemently opposed to having to publish how much the BBC pays its top-earning presenters. I am sure the whole House will join me in thanking my predecessor, Mr John Nicolson, and the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport for their work in exposing this scandal. Does the Secretary of State believe that the BBC has acted unlawfully in this matter? Is he confident that the BBC should continue to police itself in such matters? Iceland now insists that all companies with more than 25 employees obtain Government certification of their equal pay policies or face heavy fines. Does he believe it is time that the UK followed suit?

Given the action that Conservative Members have taken to bring this transparency to the BBC, one would have thought that the Scottish National party might say that that was a good idea or welcome it. We strongly support the BBC, but we also believe that it is acting in its own self-interest by sorting out these sorts of issues, and we will make sure that it does.

I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment to what is one of the best jobs in government. I also wish his predecessor every success in what is one of the most challenging.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not good enough for the BBC to say that its performance in this area is better than that in many other sectors? Does he share my view that it is because the BBC is funded by public money that we are entitled to expect it not just to adhere to the requirements of the law, but to set a higher standard that others can then follow?

It is not just because the BBC is a public organisation and the people who work there are public servants that it has a higher obligation than private organisations; it is also because the nature of the BBC is to reflect on to the nation—and indeed the world—the values that we hold dear, and it must live up to those values.

What we should be doing today is thanking Carrie Gracie for the principled stand that she has taken. She has done this on behalf of not just women in the BBC or in broadcasting, but women throughout the country who suffer pay discrimination. As a broadcaster and a journalist, she is exceptional, but as a woman facing entrenched pay discrimination, I am afraid she is the norm.

When it comes to transparency and the requirement under the Equality Act 2010 to publish the pay gap, the Secretary of State rightly says that it is for the regulator, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, to police and monitor the position to ensure that companies publish and set targets for closing the gap. To ensure that the Government can carry out the important task of remedying this discrimination, will he commit them to redressing the cuts of up to 70% that have fallen on the Equality and Human Rights Commission? This is a pivotal moment. We need the commission to be able to do its job, and it needs funds so that it is able to ensure that we right this wrong.

I pay tribute to the leadership that the right hon. and learned Lady has shown on this issue in government and since, because making sure that an equality of opportunity pervades our country is important, and that means gender equality, too. She has rightly been an outspoken voice in favour of gender pay equality and equality across the board. On the EHRC, this is about its actions. It has a duty to act, and now it is indeed acting, and that is a question of judgment as much as resources.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment?

The BBC has been run like an old boys’ club for far too long, not least with Lord Hall’s appointment of James Purnell to a very highly paid job without that even being advertising to anyone else. I am sure that there was a far better qualified woman who would have wanted it, although I do not believe anyone on the Opposition Benches complained about that at the time. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not that women at the BBC are paid too little, but that many men at the BBC are paid too much and it is those salaries that should be levelled down? Does the Secretary of State also agree with Carrie Gracie that in this regard the BBC has been acting illegally?

I will leave that last point to the EHRC. On my first day in this job, I did not expect to be lobbied in favour of women’s rights by my hon. Friend, but I am glad to see progress pervading even our own Back Benches, and he certainly has a point. This is not just about levelling up women’s pay and paying women more; it is about equal pay and appropriate levels of pay in an organisation that is funded by licence fee payers who want to have a television, whether they like it or not.

Like the Secretary of State and his predecessor, both of whom I congratulate, I love the BBC. I also stand with Carrie Gracie, as I think most people across the country will, on equal pay. She says in her letter that

“the BBC often settles cases out of court and demands non-disclosure agreements, a habit unworthy of an organisation committed to truth”.

That issue applies not just to the BBC, but to other broadcasters and companies right across the country. If we are trying to get transparency in equal pay, does the Secretary of State think it is a serious problem if so many employers pursue non-disclosure agreements when it comes to pay claims?

We should use whatever tools are at our disposal to ensure that we have the right level of transparency. We want to ensure that this work takes place across the board at the BBC and other places, and it is important that every case is looked at, rather than just individual cases. There might be individual circumstances in which an NDA is appropriate, but we need to be careful to ensure that a systemic problem is not hidden by the overuse of such agreements.

I am sorry to disagree with the Secretary of State in his first few hours in office, but I would not reinvent the BBC as it is now. It resisted all the way taking the threshold down to £150,000, so that we would actually know what was going on. The fact that it tried to solve the problem with Carrie Gracie with a bung of £45,000 says to me that there is an endemic problem: the BBC does not understand and it does not get it. Some of the men are overpaid. The fact that the BBC did not wish to address this issue until it was forced into it shows that we need a root-and-branch analysis of what is going wrong in the BBC.

I agree that a root-and-branch analysis is needed and must happen. There is of course much more to the BBC than just the high pay. There are the local stations and the local work, which receive far less scrutiny than many of these issues at the top. We must ensure that the solutions brought by transparency for top pay apply throughout the organisation, and apply to presenters and off-air staff right across the BBC, and not just at the top.

I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State. Does he share my deep disappointment in my former employer’s clumsy memo reminding staff of the need for impartiality on this matter at a time when it is facing criticism over the gender pay gap? Does not that call into question the corporation’s attitude to reporting to the Government on this issue, and indeed to the Equality Act itself?

The BBC appears to have demonstrated more enthusiasm for ensuring that those editorial guidelines are put in place on this matter than on many others.

My right hon. Friend is right to suggest that the problem is not principally that women are paid too little in organisations that are, in one way or another, funded by the public, but that men are paid far too much. What cognisance has he taken of organisations beyond the BBC, such as universities, that are quite egregious in this matter, and what does he think can be done to sort it out?

Over the past seven or eight years, we have brought in measures to ensure that people in the public sector are paid appropriately and that there is much more transparency. We implemented those measures in the civil service and in other areas of public life, so that there was not this problem of too high pay at the top, but some organisations have not implemented the same sorts of approaches, and now, where a body is funded by the taxpayer or licence fee payer, the problems of ignoring the need for that restraint are being brought into the light.

I join others in welcoming the new Secretary of State. I appreciate that today is only his first or second day in office, but as he goes through his brief he will realise that, thanks to the agreement between the Secretary of State and the BBC, he has the power to give a direction to the BBC about equality of opportunity. Will he use that power to ensure that every member of staff at the BBC—male or female—is able to exercise freedom of expression at work, and protect their right to speak out as the best way to get transparency?

I certainly want to make sure that this issue is properly and rightly aired. In ensuring proper reporting, which is the question that the hon. Lady was asking, we must make sure that the BBC is objective about itself. That is a difficult thing to pull off, but it is very important that the BBC does it.

May I say to the new Secretary of State that some of us—perhaps across the House and perhaps some here on these Benches—do not share quite as strongly the love for the BBC that he, in his first couple of days in the job, has shown? At the end of the day, we are talking about the top end of pay, but I agree with the shadow Secretary of State that this must be going on across the pay bands in the BBC. The BBC is under a charter from this House; we could change that at any time we wished to make sure that it publishes and shows everything, so that there is equality across the pay bands for contractors as well as those at the top end.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that this is a question about fair pay at all levels, and not just at the top.

I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman’s status is a matter of legitimate importance to him, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will happily apologise for failing to recognise that he is a right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, he is a knight of the realm, and that is very important to us all, but particularly to the right hon. Gentleman. I think that we are now clear about that.

I am both right and honourable on this matter, which not everyone can say. The point about it being a problem at the BBC is writ large in the debate today. My inbox is full of emails from women having to sign non-disclosure agreements for all sorts of reasons, equal pay among them, so we must be careful that we do not bash the BBC unnecessarily. However, Evan Davis talked about this while presenting “Newsnight” last night, after going on Twitter and giving his very clear opinion, which was neither right nor honourable. Why has he not been silenced when women who have spoken up as part of the campaign group have been taken off the air? What will the Secretary of State do in his brand new shiny role to make sure that women are not being silenced on this issue at work? Will he send a message to all the women who have emailed me—the ordinary women of the UK—that in the first equal pay issue seen under the new legislation, we will not allow them to be silenced, and we will not send the message that, “If you speak up, you’re out.”?

We will not allow unequal pay to pervade the BBC or any other organisation. We have brought in rules and strengthened them across the economy and especially at the BBC. We are proud of the transparency that we have brought, and we will get to the bottom of the matter.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the events of the past few days show that the Government were absolutely right to insist on a pay transparency level of £150,000 a year, and not the £400,000 a year that the BBC wanted?

My hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. Without that decision and without the support to bring down the threshold to £150,000, there would still be silence on this issue, and now there is not, which is good.

This urgent question plus the gender pay gap figures released at the weekend show that gender assumptions across the UK are still pervasive—assumptions about what a woman is worth, what her potential is and what she can aspire to. What will the Minister do in his new role to tackle those assumptions?

Getting to the bottom of this problem in the BBC is not just important for the BBC itself and for all the brilliant women who work in the BBC and who are not paid as much as their male counterparts doing the same job. It is symbolic across the whole country and shows that we believe in the equality of opportunity and in people being paid fairly. Gender should not define how much an individual is paid.

Certainly, this debate shows why it was absolutely right to insist that the threshold for disclosure was £150,000. The whole point was to engender a debate about what it is right to pay people at the BBC—an organisation to which we are forced to contribute. Does the Secretary of State agree that the priority will be to ensure that pay is not only equal on a gender basis, but proportionate, given that some of the salaries that we have seen are almost impossible to defend?

I warmly congratulate the Minister on assuming his new job, but I did not like the tone he adopted when he said that he was delighted that this issue was going to be “aired”. There is no point in airing it, because we have been airing it for decades now. The point is actually to bring about change. Perhaps Carrie Gracie should be made chair of the BBC; perhaps she should be given a role specifically to bring about change in the organisation. In the end though, are not some of the men, such as John Humphrys, going to have to say, “You know what? I am paid too much. I should take a 50% pay cut.”?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very interesting suggestion. It is not true that this issue has been aired for decades. This information has been in the public domain only since last July, because of the actions that we took to insist on transparency, so while the broader issue may have been discussed, we have not had the details to hand in the public debate. That is very important, because it is only once something is measured that it can be managed.

Order. I hope I can be forgiven for making the point that if the Secretary of State was so keen for the issue to be aired in the Chamber, he could have volunteered to make an oral statement to the House. The reason why the issue is being aired in the Chamber today is that somebody—namely, the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell)—applied for an urgent question and I granted it. I massively welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s participation, but I think it is quite important that the public should know how this matter has come to be aired in the Chamber today.

In Britain in 2018, we have the unbelievably absurd situation where it remains a criminal offence not to pay a licence fee to an organisation that has institutionalised gender pay inequality. Will the Secretary of State invite Lord Hall to his office for an interview without coffee to explain urgently that the situation is unacceptable and needs to change well before 2020?

I certainly hope that the BBC can act before 2020. Lord Hall has, indeed, said that he wants to act before then, and I will be taking this matter up with him. On your point, Mr Speaker, of course I welcome the urgent question and I am grateful to you for granting it.

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), will the Secretary of State now very clearly join us in saying that it is not acceptable that women who speak out on these issues are now facing barriers at work and questions about whether they can carry out their duties and whether or not they will progress in their careers? A very clear message needs to come from this place that that is not acceptable.

I am sure that the BBC will have heard the strength of feeling in this House that the hon. Lady has just articulated.

Like the new Secretary of State, I love the BBC, but I welcome the approach he has taken to ensure that there is full transparency regarding how public money is spent. When spending public money, it is important to ensure both that there is gender equality and that the wages are justified. Will he be asking the BBC to justify why some stars are paid 25 times as much as we pay a transplant surgeon and 80 times what we pay a nurse?

My hon. Friend brings up reasonable comparisons. I compared the pay of foreign ambassadors with that of BBC editors. All these jobs are in public service, and when one is in the service of the public, restraint is necessary.

May I take the Secretary of State back to the role and capacity of the Equality and Human Rights Commission? Not only has its funding just been cut, but it is running short of board members because a number of experienced candidates who have been on the board have been vetoed for reappointment as a result of Cabinet Office decisions. What is he doing to talk to his colleagues in the Cabinet Office to ensure that people such as Sarah Veale, former head of equalities at the TUC, are not vetoed for appointment, so we can have expertise such as hers on the board?

As I said before, it is a question of judgment. I think the EHRC made the right judgment in announcing this morning that it is going to investigate the matter.

I was a member of the Committee on the Digital Economy Act 2017—the legislation brought about this change—so I thank the Minister for steering it through, in the teeth of resistance from the BBC. As several people have already said though, this is not just about how much women are paid; it is about pay equality full stop. It is about ensuring that everyone throughout the BBC gets equal pay. Will the Minister now really endeavour to ensure that everyone throughout this public sector organisation—not just the high-profile figures in front of the camera—gets equality within the law?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. Sometimes the Committee work of this House is overlooked, but my hon. Friend gives a good example of a measure that was properly scrutinised in Committee, put into the Digital Economy Bill and made law, thanks to the work in Committee of Members on both sides of the House, including my hon. Friend, to whom I pay tribute.

Carrie Gracie is indeed to be praised for her stand on gender pay equality and for her comments more generally on pay equality. In her interview last night on “Channel 4 News”, she stated that her actions were not a personal plea for more money; indeed, she said that there may need to be a pay cut for all at her grade at the BBC to combat the pay inequality, which has risen in many organisations, including the BBC, over the past few decades. Is it not time that, as well as ensuring 1:1 gender pay ratios, the Government moved to ensure the fairness of ratios between the top and the bottom in many organisations such as the BBC, banks and many other companies? Wage inequality in this country has become staggering in the past few decades.

I welcome calls for pay restraint in public bodies from all quarters, including from the hon. Gentleman.

I declare two interests as chair of the all-party parliamentary commercial radio group and the former proud owner of a BBC pass. I strongly welcome pay transparency as the BBC is a publicly funded body. We are now in a very disappointing place. Does the new Secretary of State recognise that, despite what the Government have done, it is astonishing that we would not have discovered this underlying disparity without the singular bravery of individual women?

Yes. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has worked hard on this issue during her time in the House. I also pay tribute to Carrie Gracie for her bravery and her actions.

Why does the Secretary of State think that it will take Lord Hall until 2020 to sort this out? It is an injustice. Surely the Secretary of State should tell Lord Hall to sort it out now.

It is, of course, for the commission to tell Lord Hall that. We have to be careful to ensure that the relationship between the Government and the BBC is proper, because the BBC is a public broadcaster, not a state broadcaster. The action that the Chair of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has announced—calling Lord Hall and potentially others to give evidence—will ensure that they can be held properly and directly to account.

All credit to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee and the Government for exposing the problem we are talking about today. Pay ought to be linked to ability and experience, so it cannot be right that men in the BBC are so often paid more than women with the same ability and experience. Does the Secretary of State agree that the BBC must be held to account and soon, and that questions need to be asked about why the BBC has suppressed coverage of this story?

I think that there is plenty of coverage of the story. No doubt the House has aired the issue and will air it again, should we so choose. The Select Committee has done a good job and I look forward to its further work. I know that my hon. Friend, who is a member of the Committee, will do that work extremely well.

I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State on his new appointment; I wish him well. Indeed, I also wish his predecessor well in her new role of power behind the throne in Northern Ireland. Does it not trouble the Secretary of State that the BBC’s suggested solution to Carrie Gracie was to give her a bung in excess of twice as much as the national average wage of people across the whole United Kingdom? Surely that highlights a systemic problem at the heart of the BBC and how it tries to solve problems.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. It matters because this is not just a case of putting women’s pay up; it is a matter of pay equality, of which pay restraint is an incredibly important part.

Does the Secretary of State share my disquiet, as an ex-BBC journalist, about any attempts in BBC policy to stop reporters reporting on this issue? Does he also share my concerns that a culture of unequal pay and ageism against women runs throughout the organisation right down to broadcast assistant level and does not just affect a few household names at the top?

It is incredibly important that the BBC recognises the level and strength of feeling in this House among people who have long championed the BBC, people who have long disagreed with the BBC, people who have been employed by the BBC and people who have never been employed by the BBC that the BBC must get to the bottom of this, root and branch.

When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) brought before this House the Equality Act 2010, which provides for gender pay audits on every organisation employing more than 250 people, the Tories voted against it. Will the Secretary of State now say whether he thinks that that was the right thing to do?

I am a very strong believer in equal pay and tackling discrimination, because I believe in the equality of opportunity—wherever someone comes from and whatever their gender, sexual orientation or race. Those are the values that will guide me in this role.

The gender pay gap will never be tackled in big organisations like the BBC so long as women end up with disproportionate responsibility for childcare. Given that, does the Minister agree that the Government’s decision to reject a series of recent recommendations to close the gap, including three months’ paternity leave, means that the gap at the BBC and further afield will never close?

I am afraid that I dispute the premise of that question, because no Government have done more than this Government over the past seven years to bring in equal paternity and maternity leave, and more of it, so that men and women can be more equal in the workplace. I was one of the first to be able to take advantage of more, and equal, paternity leave when my wife had a child. It is incredibly important that we tackle these issues, and nobody has done more than we have.

The Secretary of State is absolutely right that the BBC must comply with gender equality legislation with regard to pay. More than that, given the large salaries paid to some of the top presenters, will he send a very strong message to the BBC that it should be redeploying some of that resource to BBC local radio, which does so much to provide local information and entertainment on a pittance?

Yes, I agree incredibly strongly with that. The local news, and local TV and radio, are a vital part of what the BBC does. As we devolve more and more power locally, they are more and more important. I am very glad that the BBC recently announced that it was not going ahead with the cuts it previously proposed to local radio. Those cuts were completely unnecessary because the BBC has a very generous licence fee settlement. I am glad that it is now going to strengthen, not weaken, that local provision.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his new position and look forward to his first outing in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. I want to put on record my praise and respect for Carrie Gracie for what she said yesterday: she is an outstanding woman. This is not about equal opportunity, as the Secretary of State has said many times that it is—it is about equal pay for work of equal value, right across the organisation. This has been known about for six months and the BBC has done nothing. It is illegal not to have equal pay. What are the Government going to do to bring pressure to bear on the BBC to act?

I agree that it is about equal pay for equal jobs, as I said right from the outset, and of course that underpins equal opportunity. On what we are going to do, the first thing we have done is brought in transparency. We are going to see what the BBC says in the next few weeks, when it will publish more on on-air presenters, and we do not rule anything out.

With some trepidation, I declare my interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the BBC. The BBC promised to publish pay gap data and an independent audit on pay. This it has done, and the independent legal and accountancy firm doing the auditing found no systematic gender discrimination. The final review of presenters, editors and correspondents will be published shortly. Given that the BBC is required to deal in facts, does my right hon. Friend agree on the need to wait for that review before this House rushes to judgment?

Of course the BBC has to deal with this objectively, but some very serious allegations have been raised. The BBC has said that it is going to get to the bottom of it. It must get to the bottom of it, and we will hold it to that.

I, too, declare an interest as a member of the APPG on the BBC. As such, I, too, welcome the BBC’s commitment to publish gender pay gap data and its independent audit of pay for most of its staff. However, the problem is that the BBC is in breach of the Equal Pay Act 1970. Surely 47 years is enough time to get its house in order.

One might have thought so. Now, thanks to the transparency measures that we have brought in, we are going to make sure that that happens.

The BBC website reported yesterday that since 2011 so few equal pay cases have been formally recorded as having a successful or an unsuccessful outcome at tribunal that the Ministry of Justice has both figures at 0%. We know that these figures do not reflect the reality and that a large proportion of cases are either withdrawn or settled away from tribunal. Does the Secretary of State agree that this method of reporting prevents us from having a true understanding of the actual figures involved?

We have brought in stronger laws to ensure that there is transparency, not only at the BBC through the royal charter but statutorily for all large organisations. We have taken action in this area because it is very important to get to the bottom of it.

Gender pay discrimination is partly a symptom of a much wider problem of sexist attitudes that prevail in too many large organisations. May I remind the Secretary of State that it is less than 24 hours since a colleague of his at the Dispatch Box defended the appointment of Toby Young as universities regulator for England, and less than two hours since another colleague at the Dispatch Box defended the offer of a state visit to Donald Trump? While I would agree with a lot of the Secretary of State’s criticisms of the BBC, will he not accept that if the Government are going to throw stones at the BBC, they should get out of the glass house they are in and stop rewarding such blatant and horrific examples of sexist behaviour elsewhere?

As I say, tackling the sort of unequal pay that we have seen at the BBC is very important. That is why we brought in the measures that we did, which I took through Parliament as the Bill Minister and which we are very proud to have brought in.

Sky News did some research in the summer that showed that the vast bulk of the best-paid BBC journalists went to a private or selective school and that we can count on the fingers of one hand those who did not. Does the Secretary of State agree that while there is much merit in pursuing this case, we have to end the self-serving, self-selecting elite bias in the appointments to some of the best-paid public sector jobs in this country?

I have a lot of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says. Making sure that we have equal opportunities is not only about the protected characteristics in the Equality Act; it is also about social background and making sure that people from all backgrounds get an equal chance.

I thank the Secretary of State for his responses so far. The BBC has been guilty of discrimination and a gender pay gap differential. The national average gap of 18.1% is wrong, but it is hard to understand the satisfaction that the BBC seems to have and the feeling that 9.3% is not too bad. Does the Secretary of State agree that whether the figure is 18.1% or 9.3%, the BBC needs to put in place action to ensure that all receive equality of pay immediately?

The BBC would do well to reflect on the discussions that we have had in this House this afternoon, where we have seen, unless I am mistaken, unanimity from every single Member in demonstrating the need for action that we, as a House, hold to. The defence that, as an organisation, it is better than others and better than the average is frankly not good enough, not just because everybody should be doing better, but because the BBC should be held to a higher standard as a treasured national institution and our national broadcaster.