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BBC: Equal Pay

Volume 783: debated on Thursday 20 July 2017

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions or consultations have taken place between Her Majesty’s Government and the BBC regarding equal pay.

My Lords, the Government have not discussed equal pay with the BBC. However, the Government believe in transparency, which is why we have required the BBC to publish the salary details of its staff and talent. Employers with more than 250 staff, including the BBC, are now required by law to publish their gender pay gap and will do so for the first time at the end of this financial year.

My Lords, given that it is nearly 50 years—half a century—since the Equal Pay Act, that is quite a disappointing Answer. We should all be immensely proud of the BBC as a standard bearer and a standard setter for high-quality drama, entertainment, factual programmes and news. The publication of salary levels has received considerable comment, some perhaps unfair. As other media outlets are not as open and transparent as the BBC, we do not have any information on the competitive context.

However, on the issue of gender pay equality within the BBC, the criticism appears justified—and while Eddie Mair’s reference to the male anatomy on Radio 4’s “PM” programme last night might be a bit much for your Lordships’ House on the last day of term, it is hard to understand why the male Y chromosome justifies a higher salary. It is significant how many of our most senior, well-qualified and experienced women presenters and journalists are paid so much less than their male counterparts. So I have two questions for the Minister: given that he specifically referred to transparency in his Answer, is it not time for the Government to ensure that all employers publish gender pay audits; and does he share the concerns that the disclosures yesterday could lead to the loss of experienced, talented women from the BBC?

My Lords, I think there is a slight confusion here. On the one hand, the accusation is that publishing these figures will lead to talent being attracted elsewhere; on the other hand, we are able to see the position in the BBC. I agree with the noble Baroness that it would appear that, based on this sample of 96 employees out of the 19,000 BBC employees, there is a roughly two-thirds, one-third split. I am very pleased that the director-general of the BBC has admitted that this is not good enough and is committed to narrowing the gap to make it equal by 2020. So I am pleased that we did this. We have learned some lessons. It remains to be seen whether the gloomy prognostications of those who think it will harm the BBC come to pass.

My Lords, clearly the publication of these figures has been a wake-up call for the BBC. I note that other media organisations have gleefully criticised it. Well, we will see what we will see when they have to publish their pay gap figures next year. Will the Minister confirm that, with effect from next year, all organisations with 250 or more staff will be required to publish their gender pay gap figures, thanks to the work of the Liberal Democrats and specifically Jo Swinson in the dying days of the coalition?

I am certainly not sure about the last part of that question. However, I can confirm that the regulations came into force on 31 March this year for the public sector and on 6 April for the private sector. Organisations with more than 250 employees have 12 months to publish their gender pay gap figures for the first time, and will have to every year thereafter. That means that the BBC will need to publish its overall figures by April 2018. That is a much more important measure, which will look at all the employees in the organisation, not just some of the top-paid stars.

My Lords, drawing attention to the gender pay gap in the BBC is extremely important, and I was shocked to see that neither Jenni Murray nor Jane Garvey, who are excellent broadcasters, were even mentioned—which means they earn less than £150,000 a year. Closing the gender pay gap by 2020 is, frankly, too late. I would also ask about the black and ethnic minority pay gap. It is shocking to note that Chris Evans earns more than every person of colour who is employed at a high level in the BBC. What are the Government doing to make representations to the BBC on that aspect of the pay gap?

I did note the comments that Jane Garvey made about the differential in salaries. This illustrates the problem when you look at specific individuals, because the comparison between them is not necessarily obvious just from the figures. They may work at different periods, for one day a week or five days a week. It may include some parts of their remuneration but not others, which may come through BBC Studios or other commercial arms of the BBC. But the general point is made. We take diversity seriously and have put diversity in the BBC’s new public purposes in the charter renewal to make sure that it delivers for everyone in the UK. Our position is clear: the BBC should be leading the way in diversity, both on screen and off screen, in equal measure.

Would my noble friend not take any sauce from opposition parties on this matter? After all, none of the opposition parties has ever seen fit to have a woman leader. This party—our party—has had two women Prime Ministers. Let them put their actions where their mouths are and elect a woman leader.

My Lords, I always listen to my noble friend. As far as I am concerned, I am in an interesting position. I serve a female Prime Minister and a female Leader of the House. I am answering a Question from a female Leader of the Opposition. In my department, there is a female Secretary of State, a female Permanent Secretary and a female Government Whip. When I recover from that—I mean, when I go home after a very pleasurable day—I go home to a wife and four daughters.

Does the Minister agree that some of these salaries are not just large but extraordinarily large, by any standards? When you contrast that with those of public servants who are dealing with life-and-death issues day by day, does it not seem that our priorities have got seriously out of order at this time? Could the Minister use his influence to indicate to the BBC that, frankly, when it comes to talk about how we could lose these fantastic talents—well, why not?

My Lords, I completely agree. This is a sort of philosophical question that should really have a debate. It is a question of cost versus value and priorities. I would point out that the Labour Party, in the discussions on the proposal to require these issues to be published, thought that it was a bad idea and that the proposal should be withdrawn.

Does the Minister not agree that it is outrageous that any individual is paid more than £2 million from licence fee money?

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on serving so many women masters with such good grace and fortitude. Further, I congratulate the Government on introducing Ofcom as the first external regulator and for advising it to introduce an operating framework for the BBC. Should equal pay not be one of the first models that the operating framework should cover?

My Lords, I do not agree with my noble friend. Diversity and equal pay are management issues for the BBC. The board of the BBC should be obeying the law and should be paying people on an equal basis, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or anything else. The BBC knows full well what our view is, and the director general of the BBC is committed to doing something about it by 2020.