Norman Fowler celebrated his fiftieth year anniversary of membership of the House of Commons and House of Lords on June 18th 2020.
He was elected Lord Speaker of the House of Lords in June 2016 when he gained 70% of the vote in the first round of the election. His election was the latest episode in a long political career.
The Lord Speaker not only chairs daily business in the House of Lords chamber but is chairman of the House of Lords Commission which oversees its work. He set up a special committee to reduce the numbers of Peers whose report was unanimously endorsed by members. He greatly expanded the opportunities for backbenchers to raise Questions on the floor of the House. He set up the Ellenbogen inquiry into bullying and harassment which led to the establishment of a special inquiry to examine the administration of the House. He was Lord Speaker during the exceptional changes that had to be made in the House proceedings as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and ‘lockdown’.
Lord Fowler is the third Lord Speaker elected by Lords members.
You can visit the official Lord Speaker page here.
House of Commons
He was first elected to the House of Commons on June 18th 1970 for Nottingham South and after redistribution of boundaries moved forty miles west to Sutton Coldfield. In Ted Heath’s government, he was parliamentary private secretary in the Northern Ireland Office from 1973-4. He was the last front bench appointment made by Ted Heath when he was made a Home Office spokesman under Keith Joseph.
After Margaret Thatcher’s election as Leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, he was appointed as a member of her first Shadow Cabinet – although he had voted for Ted Heath and Geoffrey Howe in the leadership election. He was made shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Security opposing Barbara Castle. The following year he moved to Transport where he remained until the 1979 general election.
Following the Conservative victory in 1979 he was appointed Minister of Transport attending all cabinet meetings. “There was only authority to pay 22 Cabinet Ministers and as the most junior I was number 23 and paid on the scale of a chief whip.”
At the beginning of 1981 his position was formalised when he was made Secretary of State for Transport. In his time at Transport, with only one junior Minister, Ken Clarke, he carried out the first privatisation measures of the new government (see Ministerial Career).
Later that year he was appointed Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (now two separate departments) where he remained for a record six years until 1987. Amongst the policies he carried out was the campaign on HIV/Aids in 1986/7 (see HIV/Aids).
After the election in 1987 he was made Secretary of State for Employment where he abolished the by now notorious Dock Labour Scheme.
In a surprise move, after fifteen years service with Margaret Thatcher, he left the government to “spend more time with his family”, the first to use the phrase. He says it was a decision he never regretted.
Now on the back benches, he declined offers from both Margaret Thatcher and John Major to be their campaign manager in the leadership election of 1990. Instead he voted for Michael Heseltine and became even more firmly anchored on the back benches. John Major became Prime Minister and a few weeks before the 1992 election invited Fowler to become a special adviser to him during the election campaign and to travel with him.
Following the election, he was made Chairman of the Conservative Party where he sought to reform the party organisation which was almost bankrupt. He was also chairman during the long struggle to implement the Maastricht legislation and was asked to do the initial interviews explaining why the government was leaving the ERM, as well as having to handle some of the “scandals” of the early 1990s.
He left Central Office in 1994 and in addition to his parliamentary duties he pursued a range of interests in business and industry. He became chairman of a management buyout of the Birmingham Post and Mail.
In 1997, the Conservatives were defeated and William Hague asked him to join the new Shadow Cabinet, first as shadow Secretary of State for the Environment and then shadow Home Secretary. He stood down from the front bench for the last time in 1999.
House of Lords
In 2001, he left the House of Commons and was made a life peer as Lord Fowler, of Sutton Coldfield. He chaired the House of Lords select committee on the renewal of the BBC’s Royal Charter and in 2006 became the first chairman of the Lords’ select committee on Communications. He was one of the first Parliamentarians to campaign against phone hacking by some of the press and backed the Levison inquiry. In 2011, he chaired the select committee looking into HIV and Aids in Britain. He also wrote two books, A Political Suicide (2008) and Aids: don’t die of prejudice (2014).
Prior to his election as Lord Speaker Norman was an active contributor to the work of the House of Lords, speaking frequently on a variety of topics with a particular interest in media regulation, the BBC and HIV Aids.
1973-74 Parliamentary Private Secretary, Northern Ireland Office
1974 Opposition Spokesman, Home Office
1975-76 Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Services
1976-79 Shadow Transport Minister
1979-81 Minister of Transport; Secretary of State for Transport
1981-87 Secretary of State for Health and Social Services
1987-90 Secretary of State for Employment
1992-94 Chairman of the Conservative Party
1997-98 Shadow Environment Secretary
1998-99 Shadow Home Secretary