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Lord Speaker’s Statement

Volume 802: debated on Thursday 19 March 2020

My Lords, I would like to make a short personal statement. This is the second major public health crisis I have experienced. The AIDS crisis of 1986 and 1987, when I was Health Secretary, was the first. It presented a particular set of circumstances but was fought on the basis of expert medical advice from the public health experts at the Department of Health. I followed the advice that I was given—in the face of some opposition, I might say—and we had more success than many other nations in preventing deaths. We can and should learn valuable lessons from the past.

My strong view from my own experience is that the best course to take in the present crisis is to follow the clear direction of Public Health England, which has issued specific advice about social distancing for those over 70 and those with specific underlying health conditions. This is not only for their own good—I should say “our” own good—but for the benefit of those in our National Health Service, who are working so incredibly hard in the current circumstances. Perhaps I could say softly that some of us are not just over 70 but over 80.

So reluctantly I will withdraw 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. In effect, I will be doing what thousands of people are now doing: working from home. My Woolsack duties will be carried out by some of my excellent deputies, who will be further strengthened in numbers.

As to the situation more generally, my advice remains that no one should consider it their duty to be here in present circumstances. As parliamentarians, we have a duty to show leadership and heed the clear advice of the public health experts. I ask that everyone continues to reflect on their own situation in the light of that advice, for their own good and the broader public interest. Lastly, I personally thank everyone for their co-operation over the last weeks.