Norman Fowler is to step down early as Lord Speaker so he can campaign on issues including HIV/Aids and the persecution of LGBT people, he has announced in the House of Lords.
Lord Fowler, who as health secretary under Margaret Thatcher was central to early government information campaigns about HIV, will step down near the end of April, ahead of the formal end of his five-year term in September.
Announcing the move in the Lords, Fowler, 83, said the upper house was introducing a series of structural and organisational changes and that it would be best if these were “seen through by the team who will be implementing them”.
He also said, however, that after more than 50 years in the Commons and then Lords as a Conservative, he wanted to sit as an independent backbencher and speak openly on policy issues.
“I’m only 83, and unless I am careful I won’t have time to start my next career,” he said.
A key part of this will be campaigning on what Fowler called the “modern evils” of the continued global prevalence of HIV/Aids, and counties that criminalise or persecute LGBT people.
Fowler’s status as a recognised champion of LGBT rights has its origins in his battles within Thatcher’s cabinet to ensure proper efforts were made to combat the spread of the virus.
Speaking earlier this month, Fowler said he insisted that government leaflets about HIV from 1986 should explain sexual practices which made transmission more likely, despite Thatcher’s aversion to the idea.
He will also speak out against the size of the Lords, which now has 830 members, including more than 50 created by Boris Johnson, despite cross-party agreement that the total should be reduced to 600.
Even as Lord Speaker, Fowler was open about his concerns for the upper house, telling the Guardian in 2019 that there were too many “passengers” who contributed little.
Fowler has been seen more generally as a reforming Lord Speaker, also presiding over a change to procedures on bullying and harassment, and granting many more private notice questions, the Lords equivalent of urgent questions in the Commons.
The Lords has also adapted more significantly to hybrid sittings than the Commons during the Covid pandemic. MPs have to vote in person or via an in-person proxy, but peers have been able to vote electronically using a system called PeerHub since June.