House of Lords speaker Norman Fowler gives powerful speech as he steps down to fight ‘evils’ of HIV and homophobia

Norman Fowler in his Lord Speaker garb

Lord Fowler has announced that he is stepping down early as lord speaker to fight the “modern evils” of HIV and homophobia.

Norman Fowler has presided over the House of Lords since 2016, but announced Thursday (25 February) that he will step down earlier than scheduled to focus on HIV and LGBT+ activism in Britain and beyond.

A champion of queer rights, the 83-year-old will sit as an independent backbencher after 50 years serving in the Commons and Lords as a Conservative.

“As an independent backbencher, I now want to devote my energies to continue campaigning on HIV/AIDS,” he said in a speech from the Woolsack in the House of Lords announcing the move.

“Around the world we have lost the lives of around 35 million men, women and children since the onset of that pandemic. Moreover, there are examples beyond count of the persecution of LGBT+ people worldwide.

“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 added.

Lord Fowler will leave the role near the end of April, ahead of the formal end of his five-year term in September.

During his time in office he often spoke out about how to handle the unelected second chamber of parliament, which is intended to serve as a check on the elected House of Commons.

As lord speaker he responded with concern over the chamber’s swelling number of peers, speaking in favour of slimming it down to 600 members as per a 2017 report by the Burns committee – the chamber currently has 830 members.

Lord Fowler worked on the famous ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ HIV/AIDS campaign

Before he was lord speaker, Norman Fowler was a man who sought to battle the injustices of the AIDS epidemic.

In the 1980s, as health secretary of Margaret Thatcher’s government, Lord Fowler worked on campaigns to educate the public about the virus, including the blistering “Don’t Die of Ignorance” campaign.

Its stark advertisement and blunt acknowledgement of the dizzying death toll and risks of AIDS is something, decades on, Fowler refuses to apologise for running.

Fowler recalled such times, citing the recent Russell T Davies drama It’s a Sin.

It was an “excellent and moving” programme, he said, and watching it gave him pause to reflect on the devastation brought by the epidemic.

“In those days, a HIV positive diagnosis was a virtual death sentence,” he explained.

“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.”

“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 added.