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Lord Speaker Norman Fowler Is Stepping Down Early To Campaign On HIV And AIDS

The Lord Speaker is ending his term early [PA Images]

4 min read

Lord Fowler, who is 83, was set to end end his five-year tenure in September, but announced he would step down in April so he could focus on campaigning on public health issues, including HIV/AIDS.

As health secretary under Margaret Thatcher between 1981 and 1987, Lord Fowler was responsible for creating the "AIDS: Don't die of ignorance" campaign, which, while controversial at the time, has been widely credited with raising awareness of the illness.

"It has been a privilege to serve as Lord Speaker these last five years, and to have worked with such exceptional colleagues who devote themselves daily to improving public life," he told peers on Thursday.

He announced he would resume his place in the House of Lords as an independent backbencher where he said he can "devote my energies to continue campaigning on HIV/AIDS".

"Around the world we have lost the lives of around 35 million men, women and children since the onset of that pandemic, he said.

"Moreover, there are examples beyond count of the persecution of LGBT people worldwide. Even now in 2021, there are some 70 nations where homosexuality is illegal and where there are obvious barriers against people coming forward for HIV/AIDS related treatment.

"So, I want to spend the next years campaigning against these modern evils and trying to support the many individuals and organisations in the field who are working to turn the tide."

He highlighted the "excellent and moving" Channel 4 drama It's a Sin, which focuses on the impact of Aids in the UK during the 1980s.

He added: "In those days a HIV positive diagnosis was a virtual death sentence. The drama showed the cruel consequences on the victims and their families. We need to remember that these are the very consequences being faced today in many countries overseas and we have an important duty to ensure their suffering is never forgotten."

Lord Fowler has remained an active campaigner on the issue during his time as a peer, including chairing a Lords committee on HIV/AIDS and supporting efforts in Westminster to commemorate those who have died of the illness.

The Lord Speaker has also come to blows with Boris Johnson over the size of the House of Lords in recent years and the power of the Prime Minister to appoint new peers.

In December, he called for an inquiry into the issue, saying that the number of peers had risen to 830 despite previous cross-party commitment to reduce that figure to 600.

And speaking earlier that year, he had urged Johnson to stop creating "mass" peerages following a cronyism row which saw his brother Jo Johnson and several Tory donors handed seats on the red benches.

Speaking at the time, Lord Fowler said: "I do think the Prime Minister has got to stop these kinds of mass appointments because I think the public are unimpressed with it, I think most of us in the House of Lords are unimpressed with it and it is not necessary – we don't need a House of Lords of 830."

He added: "I mean, it is ridiculous because it is far too many for the duties… we have very important duties to carry out in terms of the governance of this country but we don't need 830 people to do it – that's the plain fact and everyone knows that is a fact.

"What you are doing is encouraging some in the House of Lords who are quite frankly passengers and don't make much effort in any event."

Following the announcement, Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle paid tribute to Fowler's "incredible 50 years of continuous service in politics". 

"His decision to step down as Lord Speaker to continue his relentless campaign for awareness of HIV and AIDS is commendable," Hoyle said. 

"I am in no doubt that his ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ awareness campaign when he was Health Secretary was a life saver, in that it showed his grasp of the enormity of the AIDS epidemic at a time when gay sex was a taboo topic.

"So, it goes without saying Norman – good luck with this next chapter in your illustrious career. I have no doubt you will continue to make a huge impact on the vital cause of HIV/ AIDS awareness."

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