Lord speaker withdraws from House of Lords over coronavirus concerns

PUBLISHED: 12:32 19 March 2020 | UPDATED: 12:32 19 March 2020

Lord Speaker Norman Fowler speaks to dignitaries at the Norman Porch for the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster. Photograph: Matt Dunham/PA.

Lord Speaker Norman Fowler speaks to dignitaries at the Norman Porch for the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster. Photograph: Matt Dunham/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

The Lord speaker has announced he is ‘reluctantly’ withdrawing from the House of Lords in view of the coronavirus advice for the over-70s.

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Lord Fowler, 82, told peers he would still be in close contact with his office and “continuing my duties as Lord speaker”.

He said: “In effect, I will be doing what thousands of people are now doing - working from home.”

His duties in the chamber would be carried out by deputy speakers, who would be “further strengthened in numbers”.

In a brief personal statement, Lord Fowler, a former Tory health secretary, said the coronavirus outbreak was the second “major public health crisis” he had experienced.

“The Aids crisis of 1986-87, when I was health secretary, was the first and it presented a particular set of circumstances.

“But it was fought on basis of expert medical advice from the public health experts at the Department of Health.

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


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“We can and should learn valuable lessons from the past.”

Lord Fowler said the best course to take in the present crisis was to follow the clear direction of Public Health England on social distancing and advice for those over 70 and with underlying conditions.

“This is not only for their own good but for the benefit of those in our NHS who are working so incredibly hard in current circumstances.

“Some of us are not just over 70 but over 80. So, 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, deciding private notice questions and continuing my duties as Lord speaker.”

After a small cheer of support from the noticeably fewer than normal peers present in the chamber, Lord Fowler said no member of the Lords should consider “it is their duty” to be in the House during present circumstances.

“As parliamentarians we have a duty to show leadership and heed the clear advice of the public health experts.

“I would ask that everyone continues to reflect on their own situation in the light of that advice for their own good and for the broader public interest.”

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