Lord Fowler, health secretary during the AIDS crisis, has some sage advice for fighting coronavirus

The Lord Speaker Lord Fowler listens inside the House of Lords

House of Lords speaker Lord Norman Fowler has announced he will be withdrawing from the chamber due to coronavirus – as he spoke about lessons learned from the AIDS crisis.

Three decades before taking up his role overseeing the House of Lords, Norman Fowler served as health secretary under Margaret Thatcher – and oversaw the government’s response to the AIDS crisis in the face of anti-LGBT+ resistance.

The 82-year-old politician shared advice from the AIDS epidemic on Thursday, as he announced he would be withdrawing from the Lords temporarily in line with government advice for over-70s to begin social distancing.

Lord Fowler: ‘We should learn lessons from the past.’

Lord Fowler said: “This is the second major public health crisis I’ve experienced. The AIDS crisis of 1986-7, when I was health secretary, was the first.

“It presented a particular set of circumstances, but it was fought on the basis of expert medical advice from public health experts at the department of health.

“I followed the advice I was given, I might say in the face of some opposition, and we had more success than many other nations in preventing deaths.”

He continued: “We can and should learn valuable lessons from the past. My strong view from my own experience is that the best course of action is to follow the clear direction of Public Health England, who have issued specific advice about social distancing for those over 70 and with underlying health conditions.

“This is not only for our own good, but for the benefit of those in our National Health Service, who are working so incredibly hard in present circumstances.”

Parliament is still open to push through emergency laws during coronavirus pandemic.

The lord speaker added: “Some of us are not just over 70, but over 80. Reluctantly, I will be withdrawing from the house for the time being, but thanks to modern technology I will still be in close contact with my office, continuing my duties as lord speaker.

“In effect I’ll be doing what thousands of people are now doing: working from home.”

The Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, served as health secretary during the AIDS crisis

The Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, served as health secretary during the AIDS crisis (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images)

The government has opted not to shut down the Houses of Parliament while emergency coronavirus legislation is pushed through, but attendance at debates in both the Commons and the Lords has been restricted.

Lord Fowler made clear: “My advice remains that no one should consider it their duty to be here in present circumstances. As parliamentarians we have a duty to show leadership and heed the clear advice of public health experts.”