Culture Secretary 'surprised' at revelations of BBC gender pay gap

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Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said she was left "surprised" by differences in pay for the BBC's male and female stars.

The Cabinet minister told MPs she wants to see gender disparity removed from all employers after concerns were raised in the wake of the broadcaster publishing its top salaries.

BBC documents showing pay for staff on more than £150,000 revealed the corporation's most well-known male presents and actors received far more than their female counterparts.

Radio 2's Chris Evans topped the earnings list with more than £2 million while the highest paid woman was Claudia Winkleman, who received between £450,000-£499,999.

BBC director-general Lord Hall has suggested he wants to take action over the gender pay gap.

Speaking after Ms Bradley updated MPs about 21st Century Fox's £11.7 billion bid for Sky, Conservative Mims Davies (Eastleigh) said: "Media plurality is vital, transparency is vital.

"On the issue of pay within all media like to remind all employers we do have equal pay laws, for people for all backgrounds doing the same job to be paid equally."

Ms Bradley, after commenting about Wimbledon, replied: "I agree with you, I think Wimbledon is one of the places that does have equal pay for men and women.

"I want to see gender disparity removed from all employers and I too was as surprised as you were by yesterday's annual report."

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) said the BBC gives "millions of pounds to presenters some of us have never heard of". 

He asked: "May I commend (Ms Bradley) for not becoming party to the socialist vendetta against the Murdoch family and ask her when considering media plurality, whether she will bear in mind that when Sky launched there were four channels and there are now hundreds.

"And that the real opponent of media plurality is the bloated BBC, taxpayer funded, that likes to give millions of pounds to presenters some of us have never heard of."

Ms Bradley replied: "Mr Speaker, I know you do not wish me to stray into the grounds of the BBC so I will not respond on that particular point."

In a later debate, Tory former deputy speaker Nigel Evans called for £1 billion to be taken from the licence fee to fund the NHS after discovering that an actor on BBC hospital drama Casualty was paid significantly more than most nurses.

Mr Evans, speaking during the business statement in the Commons, said: "Thanks to the Prime Minister's insistence that anybody who earns over £150,000 and works for the BBC that their salaries ought to be declared, I learned today that a gentleman called Derek Thompson, who apparently plays Charlie in Casualty, earns up to £400,000 a year and yet someone who is a real nurse earns round about £23,000 a year.

"There is a double injustice there that somebody who actually does make real life and death decisions on a daily basis earns a fraction of an actor playing somebody who makes life and death decisions.

"Could we have a debate as soon as possible that perhaps we could top slice £1 billion from the BBC taxpayers' licence fee and pay it to the National Health Service to people who do really deserve bigger salaries?"

Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said the Government had to balance supporting public sector workers and ensuring the UK lives within its means, adding: "It's absolutely right that on this side of the House we have urged transparency in pay."

Later in the Commons, Tory MP Sir David Amess (Southend West) said he would be happy to step in and host shows on the BBC.

"I and other members of the House are absolutely sickened by the senior pay of certain members of the BBC, absolutely horrified," he said.

"I'd be happy to offer my services on a part-time basis to host any number of those shows."