Lives of the fellows

Alfred, Baron Morris of Manchester in the County of Greater Manchester Morris

b.23 March 1928 d.12 August 2012
AO(1991) QSO(1989) BA Oxon(1953) Hon MA Salford(1997) Hon LLD Manchester(1998) Hon FRCPS Glasg(2009) Hon FRCP(2009)

Alf Morris was a Labour politician and a pioneering disability campaigner. He was an exceptional man, a tireless campaigner and someone who changed the lives of millions of people across the world. He had conviction and compassion in abundance.

Alf’s origins were to say the least humble. He started life in the Manchester slums, one of eight children and with few prospects. His war-disabled father, George Henry Morris, died when he was just a small boy, leaving his wife, Jessie Morris (née Murphy), and children with no pension and potentially no home. Fortunately, an almost divine intervention by Canon Shimwell meant the family were eventually rehoused and his mother’s war widow pension reinstated. It is hard to imagine that someone from such humble beginnings, who left school at the age of 14 to work at Wilson’s Brewery, could have progressed to academic brilliance at Oxford, let alone become a Member of Parliament and become the architect of legislation which changed, and continues to change, so many people’s lives.

Alf became the MP for Wythenshawe in 1964 and was quick to embark on an impressive parliamentary career. He became a parliamentary private secretary to Fred Peart, the then secretary of state for agriculture in Harold Wilson’s Government, having to help tackle the first foot and mouth crisis, amongst other things. But it was on 6 November 1969, when Alf came first in the private members ballot, that he set about bringing in a piece of legislation to improve the lives and fortunes of millions of disabled people. The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 was a bold and challenging move for the young Alf Morris. Its origins stem from his early experience of living with a disabled father and later with a disabled mother-in-law. It is hard to appreciate how life-changing this piece of legislation was given the massive inequalities which existed at the time. Disabled people weren’t seen and in legislation they didn’t exist. Of course, it wasn’t plain sailing for Alf, and many within the then Labour Government thought the legislation was impossible and too costly. In spite of critics and sceptics, Alf fought valiantly on and his Bill received royal assent in May 1970 in the wash up before the general election. This alone is testament to Alf’s tenacity and courage.

The Act touched on practically every aspect of the lives of disabled people and the services they needed to achieve their full potential. It meant that for the first time there was a statutory commitment to transform the quality of life of all disabled people in British society – proclaiming that they had as much right as everyone else to take part in all activities of life, and challenging public and private authorities to meet the needs of disabled people. Indeed it was referred to as the ‘Magna Carta’ for disabled people.

This Act of Parliament was the first of its kind anywhere in the world and countries across the world sat up, took note and followed Alf’s lead. He went on to become the world’s first minister for disabled people, in 1974, and to enshrine rights for disabled people in an international charter for disabled people. He introduced the mobility allowance and motability.

His determination to champion the rights of disabled people, both in this country and throughout the world, persisted through his 33 years as an MP, and continued following his elevation to the House of Lords in 1997. Alf’s time in the Lords was also devoted to two high profile campaigns; his unremitting struggle to win compensation for people with haemophilia infected – often fatally – following treatment with contaminated NHS blood and, secondly, to secure justice for veterans returning from the Gulf War suffering from Gulf War syndrome. Both were hard fought, not least as the British Government would not accept liability for the haemophilia patients who died nor accept the existence of Gulf War syndrome in the UK.

The boy from Ancoats achieved great distinction and awards across the world and, in particular, was awarded the Order of Australia and the Queen’s Service Order of New Zealand. There must be millions of people round the world who have reason to be grateful to him. Yet he always remained the same straightforward, unaffected, unassuming man who, when faced with injustice, would show remarkable persistence and determination to put things right.

Gill Morris
Stephen Miller

[The Guardian 14 August 2012 – accessed 26 May 2016]

(Volume XII, page web)

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