Debates between Baroness Fox of Buckley and Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 8th Feb 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Ofcom: Appointment of Chair

Debate between Baroness Fox of Buckley and Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay
Wednesday 24th November 2021

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, regardless of his suitability for the job, Paul Dacre’s stinging critique of the blob rang true with many of us, especially as only yesterday Dame Kate Bingham accused the Civil Service of groupthink and risk aversion. Does the Minister agree that, whoever is recruited, they will need to be sufficiently independent of mind to face down the blob? They should break Ofcom out of any sort of groupthink—the sort that led one of the most powerful regulators in the land to so unwisely be captured by the gender ID lobbying group Stonewall, perilously threatening impartiality in the media in the coverage of women’s sex-based rights.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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On the first part of the noble Baroness’s question, yes, this underlines the importance of having independent people appointed to oversee such important regulators. It also underlines the need for boards with a broad and diverse range of views. All government departments and regulators such as Ofcom benefit from that breadth of experience and views.

Sport: Transgender Inclusion

Debate between Baroness Fox of Buckley and Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay
Tuesday 9th November 2021

(2 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Yes, increasing everybody’s participation in sport is the main aim of the Government’s strategy, Sporting Future, so I certainly support the message from the sports councils to individual governing bodies to think in innovative and creative ways to ensure that no one is left out. As the noble Baroness says, that might involve novel or modified versions of their sport. Creating the right environment is important so that everybody, whoever they are, can take part and get active.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, it is clear that trans women cannot belong in the female sports category because they have a male performative advantage, however they identify, which is inherently unfair. Obviously, trans women should be able to compete fairly in sport. Will the Minister meet Dr Nicola Williams and colleagues from Fair Play for Women, which has some excellent, detailed proposals for including trans people in sport without disadvantaging women, and is courageous enough to open up the debate, not close it down?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, this varies from sport to sport. I took part in your Lordships’ full-bore rifle shooting match against the other place, which I regret to say that we lost. That is a sport on which men and women already compete on an equal basis. Some sports are games of skill, some of stamina and some of strength. That is why it is right that there is a case-by-case approach for each sport. I will take forward the meeting suggestion, as I did for the noble Lord, Lord Triesman.

Ofcom: Appointment of Chair

Debate between Baroness Fox of Buckley and Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay
Tuesday 26th October 2021

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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Will the Minister note that one specific issue that the new Ofcom chair needs to urgently address is an egregious example of compromised media impartiality due to the powerful lobby group Stonewall, as revealed by the superb BBC Sounds 10-part podcast series “Stephen Nolan Investigates” on the influence of Stonewall’s gender identity on the output of the BBC, skewing impartiality? Perhaps the Minister can comment on the content of episode 9 revealing that Ofcom itself was using its judgments on audience complaints as evidence to Stonewall, as though it was judge and jury, to prove its LGBT credentials. That is not comforting from a neutral regulator.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I have not heard that episode but the example that the noble Baroness points to underlines the importance of a free and fair media that scrutinises everyone in power, whether that is those in government or in lobby groups. It also reflects the importance of the BBC broadcasting a range of views in fulfilling that important role.

Public Service Broadcasting (Communications and Digital Committee Report)

Debate between Baroness Fox of Buckley and Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay
Thursday 27th May 2021

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, one premise of the report that I found very stimulating is that public service broadcasters are

“struggling to achieve their mission to serve all audiences in the face of increased competition”

from streaming services

“and changing viewing habits.”

This could identify the wrong problem, and it ignores the elephant in the room. There is a serious issue of broadcasters failing to serve all audiences, but I do not think it has much to do with video on demand. There is a much more profound identity crisis, and I am glad that the Government’s public service broadcasting advisory panel has tried to dig a bit deeper and ask whether, as has already been mentioned, the concept of public service is needed and, if so, what a modern PSB should look like.

That is a bit more like it, because it seems to me that, especially in the last five to six years, there has been a growing chasm between public service broadcasters and the public. More and more of the public feel alienated from mainstream media and often feel that they are being done a disservice by PSB channels. It seems significant that we are about to see the launch of a new channel, GB News, which has already been maligned and demonised in this place. It is being launched on 13 June. The director of news, John McAndrew, described GB News’s aims as free, fair, impartial and Ofcom-regulated, arguing:

“We can sense a real hunger for something fresh and different in television news and debate.”


He is right.

It is worth noting that this new channel is headed up by Andrew Neil. He was one of the best public service news broadcasters at the BBC—but they did not know how to use him and lost him. GB News is a start-up that has attracted presenters and production talent from across the PSB landscape, and a whole swathe of young producers and employees—diverse, passionate and eager to make a difference—recruited by an enthusiasm for the project of covering stories and voices neglected by PSB channels rather than by some special HR-designed diversity charter. I think it is exciting and although, according to one noble Lord we have heard, we should be worried because of its foreign owners—my goodness, xenophobic or what?—what is to say that GB News is not a new kind of public service broadcasting? We should at least allow it to shake up any complacency.

I want to focus especially on the problems of the BBC. The BBC is an institution whose ideals I love and want to defend, but I find it increasingly hard to do so. It feels as though somewhere along the line it lost track of its public service mission. I do not doubt the BBC’s commitment to serve and reflect communities across the country but, sadly, this is conceived in rather a technical way by focusing on regional production sites and programmes commissioned outside the M25. That is all good, but why then in the same month last year did we hear of £25 million cuts to established regional programmes while a pledge of £100 million was made to a new diversity initiative? I worry that obsessing about a particular interpretation of “diversity” does not serve all audiences and does not stress what we have in common but rather plays on differences.

My fear is that there is a balkanising of audiences going on by attempting to tailor programmes to different demographics and identity groups. It is true that this reflects one aspect of modern Britain—the divisive and essentialising identity politics so fashionable in metropolitan echo chambers. It can lead to the crassest form of programme making. Look at how broadcasters do not so much cater for 16 to 34 year-olds as chase after them, flattering and fawning to prove that PSB is relevant. It is excruciating witnessing the resulting soft bigotry of low expectations. Look at the tangle that Radio 3 and the Proms get into. “Add a bit of grime and rap and the audience will love us,” you feel them saying. Too many PSBs seem convinced that the young are an undifferentiated blob with the attention span of a gnat. The irony is that what the young are watching on streaming services are complex, nuanced, challenging long-form documentaries and drama series.

Another problem that I have with the focus on diversity is that too often it neglects diversity of opinion and thought. Even though Tim Davie, the BBC director-general, used the word “impartiality” 11 times in his inaugural speech, the most common complaint that I hear about the BBC is that it is partial by offering a narrow worldview. The problem with the present strategy is that it assumes that a Geordie or Yorkshire accent means diversity—but you can talk metropolitan orthodoxies with a northern voice, believe me. The BBC may have dumped received pronunciation, but its embrace of a suite of received opinions feels even more stifling and condescending.

Often the BBC cannot hear itself. It just does not realise that it is tone deaf about diverse values and worldviews that it does not share. This became apparent to me personally in 2016. I was a panellist on Radio 4’s “Moral Maze” for 20 years. I have done all the current affairs and news programmes that the BBC has to offer—a bit of a “BBC luvvie” if you want. No doubt I was seen as a bit of a maverick, but I was accepted on the scene. However, when I mentioned that I was going to vote leave, it was met with disbelief. “But you’re an intelligent, well-educated person, Claire,” said one senior producer—and from then on, in studios and green rooms, a growing sneer. And that sneering was even more viscerally observed by audiences.

The virtually unanimous view that Brexit was a foolish, backward and inexplicable idea meant that those called public service broadcasters did not have a clue what the public were thinking and were totally shocked at the referendum result. Many news reports before and since that democratic vote have given the impression that PSBs just do not like the public.

It is sometimes suggested—it has already been said here—that anyone who makes such criticisms is whipping up grievances and fuelling a culture war. I often think it is the other way around, and I worry that the BBC is inadvertently behaving like an activist in the culture wars. There are endless examples: the bizarre statement from “Countryfile” about the UK countryside being a “white environment”, and the “Rule Britannia” saga at the BBC Proms.

It was not the Defund the BBC campaign that clipped a section of a BBC Sounds podcast featuring two young women hectoring older white women for being “Karens” who should educate themselves about their white privilege, saying, “get out of the way” and ordering them to “basically leave”. The BBC eventually deleted the clip after a backlash, but what was it thinking? “Educate yourselves, you Karens” makes the old-fashioned, patrician Reithianism sound positively egalitarian.

The BBC is owned and paid for by the public, and it has a moral duty, not just a financial one—

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, but this is a time-limited debate.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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Do not be complacent, or public service broadcasting will not survive.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Debate between Baroness Fox of Buckley and Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay
Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 8th February 2021

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, one salutary and useful aspect of this amendment is that it has focused our minds on false memories and false allegations. It is therefore a reminder that we must challenge what we believe to be the victim mindset that can lead to grave injustices. The amendment should remind the Government that abuse is so emotive that it becomes quite hard to challenge if it has been alleged. The reason why false memories have been so damaging over the years is that once the victims say that they have been abused while under the care, guidance, manipulation or coercive control of said “quack” counsellor, no one can challenge that because it is an accusation of abuse. This legislation bends the stick in the direction of victims far too much, in my opinion, and I urge the Minister to take great care and perhaps investigate some of the harrowing stories of false memory syndrome in order to learn lessons and not make the same mistakes here.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Baroness is right to say that this area needs continued and careful thought, a point also made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, who referred to the complexity of the issues and the matters which have to be considered. We will indeed do that.

Covid-19: University Students

Debate between Baroness Fox of Buckley and Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay
Monday 16th November 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, throughout the pandemic we have been working closely with universities to make sure that they have plans in place locally, shared with local directors of public health, to manage the specific risks in their area. We have been keen to keep universities open so that students and young people are not putting their lives on hold or finding that their education is disrupted. We are therefore keen for face-to-face teaching to continue as much as possible. Universities have risen to the challenge by providing a blend of online teaching and of course by working closely with students on accommodation and other issues.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, last week, 192 academics from the University of Manchester wrote to the vice-chancellor saying that they were ashamed and humiliated at the erection of a metal fence literally locking students into their residences. The student slogan said it all: “Paid, Blamed, Caged.” This incident might be extreme, but it is not a one-off. Will the Minister explain to vice-chancellors that such invasive and heavy-handed security measures are not necessary when Covid is not a lethal risk to the lives of students? I also draw the attention of noble Lords to a letter from a student, Harry Butcher, to the UCU noting the limitations of low-quality online teaching. He says

“how impossibly demotivating it is to be educated in front of a laptop; most likely in the same room that you sleep … sat on a chair half a metre from your bed.”

Can the Minister encourage more face-to-face teaching, because it is both safe and necessary?