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Lord Speaker announces he is stepping down

25 February 2021 (updated on 25 February 2021)

Lord Fowler announced in the House of Lords chamber today that he is stepping down as Lord Speaker to focus on campaigning on HIV/AIDS and other issues.  

Speaking at the start of business, Lord Fowler said:

‘My Lords, as you may know my period as Lord Speaker is due to come to an end in September. For various reasons that I will come to in a moment, I have decided to leave Office some months before that. My final day as Lord Speaker will be in late April.

The first reason is purely to do with the future organisation of the House. There are a range of important changes that have been decided by Commission, which I chair. They include the appointment of a new Chief Operating Officer who will work closely with the next Clerk of the Parliaments, Simon Burton, whose appointment was announced last week .He will take the place of Ed Ollard who has served this House so well since 2017. Other new appointments and changes including a new Clerk Assistant will be announced over the coming weeks.

It is a radical programme of reform and I think it is important that it should be seen through by the team who will be implementing them over the next years. It is sensible that the new Lord Speaker should have the opportunity of helping to build the structure as we go forward.

So that is one of the reasons for my decision to stand down - but it is not the only one. I have been in Parliament for over half a century, but it has never been as a truly independent member of either the Commons or the Lords. The nearest has been the last four and a half years as Lord Speaker but it suffers from one grave disadvantage. I have independence but entirely properly I am not able to speak my mind on the issues of the day.

Let me put it this way: I am only 83 and unless I am careful, I will not have the time to start my next career. The career I wish to start is that of an entirely independent backbencher able to speak out on political issues that concern me like the size of this House and to have the freedom to campaign particularly in the area of HIV and AIDS.

Well-intended people knock down the statues of people who have organised terrible trades in the past but with the best will in the world we are self-evidently too late to influence history. I would suggest that what we should be asking is what will people in 40 or 50 years-time see as our failures today. Is it not likely that they will say that our failure to eliminate killer diseases when the means of successfully combatting them existed is a blot on our generation? I think of TB, Malaria, and of course AIDS which I know most about.

Around the world we have lost the lives of 35 million men, women and children since the onset of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. 35 million. While in addition to that, 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 treatment. 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.

So, my Lords, I give the notice that is necessary to elect a new Lord Speaker. This is not the time for thanks, tributes or sighs of relief- that time will come. At this point I would just like to say that it has been the greatest privilege to have been Lord Speaker and Lord Speaker of a great House. Of course, there are things which can be improved here but I will only say that in 50 years I have never worked with a better group of colleagues than we have here – or if I may add, such an exceptional staff.’

The election process for the next Lord Speaker will begin shortly.