Entwistle urged to consider giving up half of severance pay

George Entwistle George Entwistle resigned just 54 days into the job

Former BBC boss George Entwistle should consider giving up half of the £450,000 severance payment he is getting, deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman has said.

The payment was described as "over-the-top" and "outrageous" by MPs as Parliament debated the fallout from the ex-director general's resignation.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller said it was a matter for the BBC Trust but "reward for failure" was inappropriate.

BBC chairman Lord Patten has insisted the payment was "justified".

Mr Entwistle resigned on Saturday, after a Newsnight report led to former Tory treasurer Lord McAlpine being wrongly accused of child abuse.

He had been in the job for just 54 days. Under the terms of his contract, Mr Entwistle had been entitled to six months' pay on quitting Lord Patten said the pay-off had been agreed "to conclude matters quickly".

In response to an urgent question from Labour, Mrs Miller said pay and other financial arrangements were a matter for the BBC Trust but said the sum was "hard to justify".

'Over the top'

She said it was for Mr Entwistle to decide whether it was appropriate for him to take the full amount, adding that the National Audit Office could examine whether the compensation package was value for money.

MPs from all parties criticised the pay-off, Conservative John Redwood saying it was "outrageous and over-the-top" and fellow Tory Rob Wilson suggesting that Mr Entwistle had been paid "to go quietly".

Analysis

It wasn't easy for MPs who wanted to defend the BBC. A flagship programme had in effect wrongly accused a senior Conservative of child abuse.

But the manner and swiftness of George Entwistle's departure allowed them to talk of the "honour" shown at the top of the organisation.

Then news of his pay-off emerged. Even those with sympathy for the corporation have been transformed at least into temporary critics.

Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman pressed for the Commons debate on the issue.

And the £450,000 pay-off has permitted the prime minister to enter, rather than stay above, the fray.

He has studiously avoided a public row with the BBC, or being seen to be exercising any political influence on its internal affairs.

But he and Culture Secretary Maria Miller haven't lost the opportunity to appear as champions of the licence fee-payer by asking the BBC Trust - the body which approved the pay-off - to justify its actions.

If the task now is for the BBC to restore the public's trust, even its staunchest supporters will take the view that Mr Entwistle's severance terms have hindered rather than helped.

Labour's Paul Farrelly said the payments made it "difficult for friends of the BBC to stand up for it".

However, other MPs praised the breadth and quality of BBC journalism and urged the new acting director general to be given space to bring stability to the organisation in the wake of its recent difficulties.

Downing Street sources said David Cameron believed it was a matter for Mr Entwistle's "conscience" whether to accept.

But in a letter to Conservative MP John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Lord Patten argued the amount was "justified and necessary".

Lord Patten said Mr Entwistle would have been entitled to a year's pay if he had been sacked, adding that the a "consensual resignation on these terms was clearly the better route".

Asked whether the pay-off further undermined trust in the BBC, acting director general Tim Davie said it was not his decision and was a "matter for the BBC Trust".

The BBC Trust said the size of the pay-off, the equivalent of a year's salary, reflected the fact that Mr Entwistle would continue to help on BBC business, most specifically two ongoing inquiries related to the Jimmy Savile abuse allegations.

He quit on Saturday after criticism of his leadership of the BBC in the wake of a Newsnight film in which a victim of alleged abuse at a children's home in Wales in the 1970s accused an unnamed former senior Conservative politician of involvement.

Speculation on the internet and Twitter linking Lord McAlpine to the case led him to issue a public statement saying such claims were "wholly false and seriously defamatory" and it emerged on Friday that he had been wrongly identified and implicated.

Patten's letter to Whittingdale

Mr Whittingdale said a lot of people would be "surprised" at the size of Mr Entwistle's pay-off.

"I wouldn't have thought that just because you have to help any inquiry into the Savile allegations you necessarily need to be paid such a large amount of money," he said.

Start Quote

I think this is the Trust in effect saying that they bear some responsibility for appointing him, because what does this mean for his career, where's he going to work now?”

End Quote Media commentator Steve Hewlett on George Entwistle's pay-off

The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson said that, on Monday, both PM David Cameron, who met members of the public in Bristol, and Labour leader Ed Miliband, who did a number of regional TV interviews, had chosen to say "not a single word" about the BBC.

The reason was that both government and opposition were determined to preserve the independence of the BBC, he added.

He said that while, in theory, ministers could dismiss Lord Patten and his fellow trustees, that was not going to happen.

Media commentator Steve Hewlett said the former BBC boss was entitled to compensation for losing his job, since he had "not done anything wrong in the moral or ethical sense".

"The point is he was the wrong guy for the wrong job at this time and one has every sympathy for him.

"So I think this is the Trust in effect saying that they bear some responsibility for appointing him, because what does this mean for his career, where's he going to work now?"

And Steven Barnett, professor of communications at the University of Westminster, said the BBC should be left to get on with the task of reviewing what had happened and that it was "not helpful" for Downing Street to question the size of Mr Entwistle's payment.

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More UK Politics stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • SailingGame on

    BBC Capital discovers why certain sports seem to have a special appeal for those with deep pockets

Programmes

  • European Union's anti-terrorism chief Gilles de KerchoveHARDtalk Watch

    Anti-terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove on the threat from returning Islamic State fighters

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.