Jan Royall on a fine comrade and friend who changed the lives of millions
Alf Morris died on 12th August at the age of 84. Today at a service at St Margaret’s in Westminster, he was remembered as a truly remarkable man, a great campaigner for the things in which he believed and a man rooted in strong socialist values.
Alf was born in Manchester (where an earlier service to his memory was held last month), one of eight children. His father, a signwriter who was gassed and badly wounded in the First World War, died when Alf was seven, leading him to often recall “I know how a whole family’s life is affected if one member is disabled”.
Alf left school at the age of 14 and worked in a brewery. He studied at night school, did national service and then went to Ruskin College, followed by St Catherine’s, Oxford and Manchester University where he did a postgraduate certificate in education before teaching in the city.
He joined the Labour Party at 16 and later became President of the League of Youth where he met his beloved wife Irene. He fought his first parliamentary seat at the age of 23, for Garston in Liverpool – then a safe Tory seat. Alf went on to win Manchester Wythenshawe in 1964 and soon became Parliamentary Private Secretary to Fred Peart, the Minister of Agriculture.
Alf was a fine socialist and at his first Party Conference speech in 1957 attacked “a society which allows people to make millions of pounds in a day and other people to exist without even the price for coal”. This is a fight he continued until his very last day in Parliament – in July 2012 - when he voted against the Coalition government’s proposals to decimate criminal injuries compensation.
Alf is, of course, best remembered for his Private Members Bill in 1969 which became the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. This was a milestone for him personally, but most importantly it was a milestone for disabled people, literally transforming the lives of millions and millions of people throughout the world. Every piece of disabled legislation here and abroad had its root in that Act.
It was fitting that Alf’s funeral in August was held on the very same day as the Paralympic Games opening ceremony, and I learnt so much from the loving eulogies. I was reminded that Alf was made the first ever Minister for Disabled People by Harold Wilson; that he opened the United Nations’ discussions that led to the International Day of Disabled People; that he was the honorary parliamentary advisor to the Royal British Legion, which set up an inquiry into Gulf War syndrome; that he was President of The Haemophilia Society; and that he was, of course, a life-long, very active member of the Cooperative Party.
Alf’s four children also gave us a glimpse of a man I wish I had known better – a man who had an extraordinary mathematical brain. He was passionate about horse racing and could swiftly work out any odds. He played a lot of sports with his children but always insisted he won! He taught one of his sons to drive, but most of the routes he took were to and from various pubs so that Alf always had a driver. He was a great family man.
We all miss Alf here in the Lords and will continue to remember a fine comrade and friend.
Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour’s Leader in the Lords
Published 13th November 2012