Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:55 pm on 17th May 2022.

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Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Non-affiliated 4:55 pm, 17th May 2022

My Lords, I declare an interest as an unpaid ambassador for UNAIDS. I would like to concentrate upon health, particularly public health.

I remember intervening on a Question on HIV/AIDS three or four years ago. As I sat down, the Member next to me on those Benches said, “Of course, no one dies from AIDS any more”. The campaign of the 1980s was a distant memory, and AIDS no longer dominated the headlines—but, of course, his statement was not true then, and it is not true today. AIDS has been a deadly scourge, which has lasted for at least 40 years. Over 33 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the epidemic. Even today, 700,000 people a year die from AIDS—men, women and children, particularly young girls. It is an appalling toll, and one which this country must make every available effort to reduce and eliminate. We are now relatively fortunate in the UK but, even so, there are still well over 100,000 people living with HIV and all the problems that it brings: ill health, isolation and, above all, discrimination.

Other countries have not been so fortunate. If you take Ukraine—which I visited a few years ago to study its position—before the Russian invasion, it faced one of the worst and most serious HIV problems of any country in Europe, mainly from injecting drugs. Russia itself was much worse. However, in the last years the position in Ukraine had improved—thanks to the work of local and international organisations, including some from this country—but is now dramatically under challenge. The conflict has put the improvement at risk. Ukraine now faces formidable difficulties, including the dangers involved in getting drugs through and the risk to life that this entails, and the plight of those who are displaced and have become refugees.

The basic point I wish to make in this very short contribution is that although public attention may have drained away from HIV and AIDS, they still pose an enormous challenge to this country and the world—one that can increase because of new events such as war. In these circumstances, the question is: what can Britain do to help in this challenge?

Prejudice is a very serious issue. Perhaps we should say that although there have been Acts of Parliament that do away with the outright persecution of people such as Alan Turing—they are behind us—that does not deal with the whole problem. Changing law does not mean that all attitudes have changed, and individual examples become more important. At this point, may I say that I think the footballer Jake Daniels of Blackpool, who has taken a lead by coming out as gay only a day or so ago, is a magnificent example to this country?

However, we as a country need to be generous not only inside but outside. I remind the House again of my interest in the UN. In my view, our record over the past few years has been deficient. Frankly, it was a hell of a time to cut back on overseas aid. Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary published a new strategy. One part of that will be to make aid delivered more directly—we assume, by the Foreign Office—and a large slice will be taken away from organisations such as the United Nations and, I assume, UNAIDS that have undoubted experience, expertise and commitment. “Aid for trade” may make a convenient political slogan, but it is not, I suspect, a banner under which the small army of volunteers that we have in this country march. Let us be absolutely clear: if it was not for that contribution, this country would be in serious difficulties.

I am sceptical about what the Foreign Secretary is announcing. The banner that young people would march under would be one concerned with saving lives and preventing illness rather than some connection with trade. I say to the Government that I need to be convinced that the strategy set out by the Foreign Secretary at this stage is the right one to take this country forward.