Extract from speech by Lord Fowler, the Lord Speaker, given on Tuesday 17 April in the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords, at a reception to mark the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.
“The Commonwealth faces many challenges. In the area of human rights, for example, we should try to establish around the world that progress is possible. This is not a matter of lecturing or hectoring but showing by example. In the United Kingdom, for example, we can say that whatever mistakes were made in the past, this is how we do it today, not least in the protection of the rights of LGBT people. Those rights today now include the right to equal marriage which was made possible by legislation passed by big majorities in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
Allow me to say this: back in the 1980s I was Secretary of State for social services – health and social security together. It was my challenge to combat HIV and AIDS at an early stage. It was both a difficult and at times a heart-rending task. More often than not, contracting HIV was a death sentence. We had no drugs or vaccines to help us and the people most affected were young men and women. The one thing that we could do was to warn others in an open and frank public education campaign of the dangers.
Today that has all changed. We have the drugs which not only save life but also ensure long lives. No longer is taking the medication a long and complicated process. So what I find so indescribably tragic is that in the world today there are still a million deaths a year – and we have almost two million people a year becoming newly infected with HIV.
Would it not be magnificent if the Commonwealth together could set an example in bringing down that death toll, and I repeat not by lecturing each other but by showing by example that there is a better way of doing things - by showing that it is not inevitable that 70% of people with HIV do not know their status and perhaps worst of all that only 43% of the two million children living with HIV around the world receive antiretroviral therapy. Around 120,000 children a year die from AIDS-related causes.
And of course, progress here also depends upon tackling the issue of LGBT rights. For one thing is quite clear. If there is discrimination, criminal sanctions and stigma, then that is a huge barrier to people coming forward for testing and treatment. So my message is clear: far from AIDS having gone away, it remains a dark cloud over the world and a challenge to us all.”