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Lord Speaker’s Statement

Volume 810: debated on Thursday 25 February 2021

My Lords, as you perhaps 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. A range of important changes have been decided by the House of Lords 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 the 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 it over the coming years. It is sensible that the new Lord Speaker should have the opportunity of helping to build the structure as we go forward.

That is one of the reasons for my decision to stand down early, but it is not the only one. I have been in Parliament for over half a century, as some here will remember, 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 perhaps put it this way: I am only 83, and unless I am careful, I will not have time to start my next career. The career I wish to start is that of an entirely independent Back-Bencher, able to speak out on political issues that concern me, such as the size of the House, and to have the freedom to campaign, particularly in the area of HIV and AIDS.

Well-intended people knock down the statues of those 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 suggest that what we should be asking is: what will people in 40 or 50 years’ time see as our failures of today? Is it not likely that they will say that our failure to eliminate killer diseases when the means of successfully combating them existed is a blot on our generation? I think of TB, malaria, and most of all, I think about AIDS.

Around the world, we have lost 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—I emphasise that. 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, but I will say only 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. Thank you very much for that.

Let us get on with the business. Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them short, confined to two points. I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.