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Miller urges stability at the BBC

Culture Secretary Maria Miller has called for stability at the crisis-hit BBC, as two more executives stepped down from their roles.

Mrs Miller said the corporation needed to address failings in the run-up to a botched Newsnight report 10 days ago which led to former Conservative Party treasurer Lord McAlpine being falsely labelled a paedophile.

She told MPs: "The Trust needs to act swiftly to ensure the management and leadership issues are resolved, and that these failings cannot be repeated.

"It's clear from the interim director-general's interviews today that the BBC is looking seriously at what went wrong, where responsibility lies and how to address this in the long term."

Mrs Miller was summoned to the Commons to ask an urgent question tabled by deputy Labour leader and shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman.

The Culture Secretary's statement came after BBC director-general George Entwistle quit on Saturday with a 450,000 pay off, while head of news Helen Boaden and her deputy Stephen Mitchell stepped aside from their roles.

Tim Davie was appointed acting director-general by the corporation's chairman Lord Patten, who has so far resisted calls for him to resign.

Mrs Miller said the search for a new director-general to replace Mr Entwistle - who lasted just 54 days in the job - should focus on finding "the right candidate to both stabilise the BBC and drive through the change that is necessary".

While stressing the BBC's independence, she demanded the corporation respond "decisively and quickly" to inquiries into Newsnight's decision to shelve an investigation into now-disgraced BBC presenter Jimmy Savile, which sparked claims it covered up child abuse allegations.

"Ultimately, the only organisation that can restore the public's trust in the BBC is the BBC itself," she said.

Mrs Miller said Mr Entwistle's payoff was "hard to justify" and suggested the public spending watchdog could probe the package.

"The National Audit Office is empowered to conduct a value for money review of any issue. If they decide to review this decision, I expect that the BBC would co-operate fully," she told the Commons.

"The circumstances of his departure make it hard to justify the level of severance money that has been agreed.

"Contractual arrangements are a matter for the BBC Trust, but the Trust also has clear responsibilities to ensure value for money for the licence fee payer."

Ms Harman called on Mr Entwistle to return half the money, adding: "The BBC Trust cannot justify a payoff of double the amount laid down in his contract.

"George Entwistle should reflect on this and only take that to which he is entitled."

She said it was "disgraceful" that Newsnight's report led to Lord McAlpine being branded a child sex offender, "a damning accusation which could only have caused him and his family untold distress".

But Ms Harman, seen as a cheerleader for reform of how the press is regulated in the run-up to Lord Justice Leveson's report into standards and practices of the press, attacked the corporation's media rivals for "pouncing" on its latest crisis.

"The BBC is a loved and trusted institution but it has enemies waiting to pounce," said the deputy Labour leader.

She called on the Government to "stand up against the commercial competitors and political opponents who are lining up to attack and wound the BBC at this moment of crisis".

She added: "The BBC has made grave mistakes and it must sort them out, but everyone, including us politicians, must keep cool heads and let that happen."

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