HIV pioneer Lord Fowler takes up role as House of Lords Speaker

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Former health secretary and HIV activist Lord Fowler has taken up his role as the UK Parliament’s Lord Speaker.

A former Conservative minister, Norman Fowler severed as Health Minister under Margaret Thatcher during the AIDS crisis.

He has dedicated much of his later career to HIV advocacy and LGBT issues, entering the Lords in 2001 and becoming a loud voice on the issues in Parliament.

Earlier this year, the peer was elected to replace Baroness D’Souza as Lord Speaker – the equivalent role of Commons Speaker John Bercow.

He took 443 votes in the election – well ahead of Baroness Garden of Frognal on 111 and Tory Lord Cormack on 85.

He officially takes office as Lord Speaker today, as Parliament prepares to return from summer recess. He will preside over a sitting of the House of Lords for the first time on Monday 5 September.

Lord Fowler told PinkNews previously that Thatcher warned him against becoming the “minister for AIDS” due to his early work on HIV.

Rather than take the advice, he became a prominent voice for HIV amid the sexual health crisis.

Newly-released private documents last year showed that Lord Fowler had put proposals to the then-PM for full-page newspaper adverts giving advice about how to avoid HIV transmission.

The ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ adverts would explain, under the heading ‘Risky Sex’, that unprotected anal sex carries a disproportionately high risk of transmission.

However, the PM herself intervened – writing in a memo: “Do we have to have the section on risky sex? I should have thought it could do immense harm if young teenagers were to read it?”

He recently urged the government to do more to challenge colonial-era anti-gay laws in the Commonwealth.

Lord Fowler said: “75 countries around the world have criminal laws against homosexuality. Forty out of the 53 members of the Commonwealth criminalise same-sex relationships; 90% of Commonwealth citizens live under such a law.

“[Progress in the UK] gives us an opportunity to try to change the climate of opinion, here and overseas. It gives us that opportunity because we are often blamed for introducing the anti-gay laws in the first place, apparently without anyone understanding that the position here has radically changed.”