Published on 14 Aug 2012

Disability campaigner Lord Morris dies aged 84

In an article he wrote three years ago, Labour Peer Lord Morris of Manchester recalled the bill he introduced to parliament for the chronically sick and disabled persons. It was not so much a boast as a simple statement of fact when he said:  “That law, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, transformed the lives of millions, not only people who were disabled and infirm, but also their families and carers, their neighbours and communities.

Alf Morris was MP for Manchester Wythenshaw when he proposed the bill back in 1969. It was enacted the following year in England and Wales and by 1978 covered the whole of the UK.

The pioneering act gave rights to people with disabilities that they had never had, including rights of access to buildings, including schools and universities. It made the world’s first statutory provision for purpose-built housing for disabled people, and entitled them to help in adapting their homes.

In the House of Commons itself they were forced to remove the ban on guide-dogs for blind visitors being left outside and in the House of Lords they created the “Mobile Bench” of Peers – the removal of the first row of the cross benches to makes space for wheelchairs.

He was then, and remained, a tireless campaigner for those he felt were treated unfairly by society and by successive governments.

Lord Morris said himself that it was his early life that formed his views. Born into poverty, he was the eighth child of a father who had lost a leg and an eye serving in the First World Ward. His father was unemployed and when he died, his mother was refused a war widow’s pension.

During his career he was a frontbench spokesman on disabled issues and the first minister for the disabled in Harold Wilson’s second government from 1974, before he was created a life peer in 1997.

Lord Ashley of Stoke once described his friend and colleague as the most considerate man in the House of Commons – and that never changed. He was quietly spoken and quick to smile, but also determined, remaining a campaigner to the end.

Inquiry into ‘tainted blood’ scandal

His anger at the way he felt people with haemophilia had been treated led him to establish the privately funded two-year inquiry into the “tainted blood” scandal after the government declined to hold one.

As president of the Haemophilia Society, its chair Bernard Manson said he showed “understanding and empathy for those who had suffered or had been bereaved”, and he gained the trust of all those involved.

“Campaigners who have worked with him for many years remember his genuine warmth, kindness, and gentle manner as much as his tenacious parliamentary activity,” added Mr Manson. “His contribution in this area – as in many others – has been unmatched.  He created genuine and lasting change for the better; his passing marks the end of an era.”

Alice Maynard, chairwoman of disability charity Scope, said: “It is for his support for disabled people in all our fights for justice that I will remember him: in the slow, painstaking, behind-the-scenes kind – such as the battle for quality, accessible information – as much as in the more exciting, frontline kind, such as our battle for anti-discrimination legislation.”

‘Genuine compassion’ for disabled people

This was what Lord Morris said the day before the second reading of his disability bill on 5 December, 1969:

“If we could each bequeath one precious gift to posterity, I would choose a society in which there is genuine compassion for long-term sick and disabled people; where understanding is unostentatious and sincere; where needs come before means; where if years cannot be added to their lives, at least life can be added to their years; where the mobility of disabled people is restricted only by the bounds of technical progress and discovery; where they have the fundamental right to participate in industry and society according to ability; where socially preventable distress is unknown; and where no one has cause to be ill at ease because of her or his disability.”

He is survived by his wife Irene, two sons and two daughters.

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6 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:

    Victoria,

    Alf Morris was a truly courageous and outstanding politician. He will be much missed, but his achievements will live on.

    Compare him to that moron Boris Johnson and you’ll see what I mean.

  2. Philip says:

    One of the few politicians who earned the respect and trust of many, by using his privileged position as an MP for the good of disadvantaged people and hence the common good. If only there were more like him. Rest in peace Alf Morris.

  3. Michael Connelly says:

    I have a deep respect for Alf Morris . He never had high political office in the Commons but his legacy will be as great as if he had been a Minister for the Disabled . One of the greats in British politics .

  4. Patricia Eastwood says:

    Because of Alf Morris, I, at 62, can live in my own home, looking after myself. He caused the authorities in this country to change the attitudes of the many towards the few, because today, I can go out in my specially-adapted vehicle, knowing that I will be able to shop, socialise, visit a library, even go to a sports center to swim. I can go confidently, knowing that there will be access for my scooter.
    I am not housebound as I would have been twenty, thirty, forty years ago.
    Because of this man, I have rights of access in this country to all public buildings … businesses make it their business ( :D ) to ensure there are ramps and wide doors for their customers, even my bank has a lift for wheelchair users, raising them the one meter upwards onto the internal floor level.
    Thirty years ago, I worked as a Sheltered Housing Warden, looking after people like me … who were, effectively, housebound. Now, at the age of 62, I am NOT one of them. I live in an adapted bungalow and, should my condition worsen, I know there are many changes which can be made to this bungalow (wider doors, lower Kitchen worktops etc) which will enable me to continue looking after myself.
    Thank you, Lord Morris, for all of this … for my easy, comfortable life in this new millenium. I would not have it if it wasn’t for you and your tireless efforts on ‘my’ behalf.
    Thank you, also, on behalf the Paralympians who are arriving from all corners of our globe … who will compare and contrast the facilities here in Britain to those in their own, less-enlightened countries … and will return whence they came, telling the tale of how they were treated in London as if they are valued members of society in their own right. Telling how they could go in and out of shops and banks, restaurants and museums with ease. Telling how they are not objects of curiosity on our streets, how people treated them as if they, too, are human.
    Lord Morris tossed a pebble into the pool of British life, many years ago … and now the ripples from his life’s work are slowly spreading outwards, over the face of our globe.

  5. The Citizens Trust says:

    A tribute to The Rt. Hon. The Lord Morris of Manchester AO QSO

    From The Disability Times Trust (also known as The Citizens Trust)

    2 Craven Road, Ealing, London W5 2UA

    Lord Morris has been the active Chairman of this Charity since 1997 and will be sorely missed, not only by our Chief Executive, Mrs.TK Moore MBE, but also the Trustee Directors and all the staff. He was a charismatic and caring man with a strong sense of right and wrong, and a love of people. He had a gentle, but persuasive manner, and his help and that of his wife Lady Irene Morris, in the founding of this very successful Charity, was invaluable. His passion was to fight for fairness and indeed the rights of disabled and disadvantage groups. His Chronically Sick and Disabled persons Act 1970 was the forerunner of the Disability Discrimination Act, which he finally guided through both Houses in 1997. It was the privilege of this organisation, through its ‘Disability Times Newspaper’ (a voice of conscience for a caring nation) to play a significant part in supporting the powerful lobby assembled by Lord Morris and his fellow friends and politicians. He was a delightful person and a distinguished politician, greatly respected and highly regarded by Members of both Houses, regardless of political persuasion.

    Mrs. TK Moore MBE

  6. Pablo says:

    In Canada, Disability is not paid thgoruh a job but thgoruh the government and is available to anyone. However, it is very difficult to get on, and most people are denied at least once before being approved.

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