Obituary: Lord Morris of Manchester, politician
BORN 28 March, 1928, in Manchester. Died 12 August, 2012, in Manchester, aged 84
As Alf Morris, he was MP for Manchester Wythenshawe from 1964 to 1997 and a renowned backbencher. He was promoted to office as a spokesman on disabled issues in 1970, and in 1974 he became the first minister for the disabled in Harold Wilson’s second government. It was a post he filled with utmost dignity and understanding. He is remembered in Westminster for his skilful promotion of several measures to help the disabled and saw through the Commons in 1970 the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act.
Morris’s compassionate manner and generous style endeared him to many in the caring community and he was widely respected abroad. As well as being an expert in pension law, Morris was a British representative on a UN council and a co-opted member of a US Congressional committee.
Alfred Morris, one of eight children, had an early experience of disability as his father suffered from the loss of a leg and gas poisoning from his service in the First World War. His mother was not entitled to a war widow’s pension and this left in Morris a sour taste. Forty years later, he corrected the matter by changing the law affecting armed forces pensions when he became minister for the disabled.
Morris was brought up in straitened circumstances in Manchester and attended Brookdale Park School in Newton Heath. He continued his education at night classes while he worked as a clerk in the local Wilson’s Brewery.
After national service in the army (1946-48), where he served in the Middle East, Morris read history at Ruskin College, Oxford, modern history at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, and studied to be a teacher in 1954 at Manchester University.
Morris worked as a teacher in various schools in Manchester and as a university extension lecturer in social history until, in 1956, he was appointed an industrial relations officer for the electrical supply industry.
That year he fought and won the seat for Manchester Wythenshawe. Morris was to be their MP for 33 years, gaining respect and admiration throughout the constituency for his diligence in helping the community. He was known for never tolerating any injustice, locally or nationally.
It was with such a background that he decided to concentrate as a backbencher in the Commons on health issues. He promoted the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act which gave disabled people rights and an equal place in society. His legislation led to many injustices being eradicated, including access for disabled people to public buildings and home accessories that helped a disabled person to remain in their own home. His legislation undoubtedly gave much assistance to the disabled, but also gradually helped to change the attitude of society to their everyday plight.
When Harold Wilson called a general election in 1970, it looked as if the bill was going to be lost: it faced stern opposition from even within the Labour Party. However, it survived and Morris’s pioneering efforts were eventually welcomed by all parties.
A contemporary at Brookdale Park School was Harold Evans, the future editor of the Sunday Times. He recalled those months before the 1970 general election: “As time ticked away to the election, Alf Morris’s bill was the only piece of legislation worth saving.”
One of his first actions as the minister was to compel the Edinburgh-based whisky and gin giant Distillers Company Limited to establish a fund to compensate those affected by their thalidomide drug.
Morris went to the Lords in 1997, where he remained as independent-minded as ever.
No matter which party was in power, Morris campaigned for the less fortunate with the zeal and determination he had shown throughout his career.
As recently as 2004, Morris was instrumental in setting up an independent inquiry into all Gulf War illnesses dating from 1990-91. The verdict of Lord Lloyd of Berwick that there was a link between military service and Gulf War syndrome vindicated the stance Morris had taken – even if it was not accepted by the government.
Morris served on the committees of many health charities and was, for example, president of the Haemophilia Society. He campaigned assiduously for compensation for haemophiliacs who developed HIV through contaminated blood products.
Sir Tam Dalyell, a fellow MP of many years, told The Scotsman yesterday: “Alf was a wonderful colleague – always courteous, decent and patient. I hugely respected his judgment.
“When the editor of Hansard asked me, as Father of The House, to be one of the MPs to choose the most influential speech of another MP during my time in the Commons, I chose Alf’s 50-minute speech introducing his private member’s bill on disability.
“It was major new legislation and helped the disabled immeasurably and changed the public’s perception completely.”
Morris married Irene Jones in 1950. She and two sons and two daughters survive him. His niece is the Labour MP Estelle Morris.
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