Co-operator and champion of the disabled, Lord Morris, dies aged 84

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Lord Morris of Manchester, a co-operative champion and activist for disabled rights, has died at the age of 84.

Alf Morris was the Labour/Co-op MP for Wythenshawe, Manchester, from 1964 until 1997. He became a Labour/Co-op peer in 1997 and continued to be an active backbencher on disabled and co-operative issues.

Lord Morris is best remembered for bringing into law through a Private Member's Bill the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act in 1970. As a result, he became the UK's first minister for the disabled in 1974.

Back in 1969, when the legislation first came into force, even simple measures such as the provision of disabled access to public places was unheard of. The Act’s 29 sections also recognised for the first time that hitherto ignored conditions such as dyslexia and autism existed and that provision should be made for those who suffered from them.

At the time, he described the Act as having been “born and bred” in the Co-operative Movement. Lord Morris echoed this view in April last year at a special service in Westminster Abbey to mark the 40th anniversary of the coming into effect of the Act. He read from the close of his Second Reading speech in the House of Commons on December 5, 1969, when he described his Bill as being the “legislative expression of the social philosophy of the Movement”.

For his campaigning on behalf of disabled people, Lord Morris received a lifetime achievement award from MENCAP in December, 2005, and in February, 2009, received an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow and the UK-wide Royal College of Physicians. During the 2009 ceremony, Prof Ian Gilmore, President of the Royal College of Physicians, highlighted the rare nature of awarding a Fellowship to a non-medical person.

Lord Morris also drafted Rehabilitation International's Charter for the New Millennium, which looked forward to a world where the potential of disabled people is fully recognised and valued. The charter, which was adopted by the United Nations as a blueprint for the future, was presented to Tony Blair in June, 2002.

In 1995, Lord Morris was recognised by co-operatives when he was elected as President at the 126th annual Co-operative Congress in Edinburgh. There he called for an end to, “the scandal of over-priced provision often of dubious quality of respite and long-term care”. He also said that co-operatives are well-placed to be the solution: “Our resolve must never be simply to consolidate but always to look for new opportunities to advance the practice of co-operation.”

In a 2003 interview with Co-operative News, Lord Morris said he is unlikely ever to retire: “You can’t introduce major legislation and just give up. You could say that I am a serial legislator, but I can’t check out now. I have never forgotten that as a child, whether I got a new pair of shoes often depended on the 'Divi'.

“There is so much more to do, it’s an unfinished agenda, and we have got to work at it. The care and well-being of our most needful fellow citizens is much too important a social task to abandon to those whose principal motivation is the making of more and more profit.”

In October, 2007, Lord Morris' biography was released, which followed the life and work of the Parliamentarian. At the time, Lord Graham of Edmonton, a friend and fellow Labour/Co-op peer, said of the book: "What a life! What a story! What a legacy!"

Added Lord Graham: "I first came across Alf on the front page of the Co-operative News in 1951 when he stood as the Labour and Co-operative candidate in Garston, Liverpool. He lost that one, but he was to win many more in due time.

"In 1951, Alf was the National Chairman of the Labour League of Youth and I was the President of the British Federation of Young Co-operators.

"It was in 1951 that the BFYC annual conference was held at Wortley Hall, Sheffield, and the fraternal delegate from the Labour League of Youth was one Betty Boothroyd. All three of us were to meet up later in the Commons and now work happily on many projects in the House of Lords."

During his career, Lord Morris was twice elected as the Chair of the Co-operative Parliamentary Group in Westminster; and chaired the Rules Revision Committee of the then Co-operative Wholesale Society.

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