Lord Morris’s Disability Act stands as an exceptional example of political compassion and humanity

Labour peer Lord Morris of Manchester, a pioneer of disabled rights legislation, who has died at the age of 84

Labour peer Lord Morris of Manchester, a pioneer of disabled rights legislation, who has died at the age of 84

The former Labour Politician, Alf Morris (Lord Morris of Manchester) who died this week achieved an exceptional and groundbreaking feat of proposing, and ensuring the passage of, a Bill that became the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act of 1970.

One may disagree with much of the politics of the former Labour MP for Wythenshawe, once a Parliamentary Private Secretary supporting the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but it ought to be conceded that his achievement has changed the lives of thousands of people, not just in the UK, but in other states where the idea of basic rights for the disabled have borne fruit so as to avoid complete national and social exclusion for sufferers.

A key benchmark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable and physically disadvantaged, and Lord Morris’s Act ensured that Britain, on this front, is not empty of compassion, or too self-absorbed to exclude basic moral sensibilities.

Some of the key ground breaking provisions of the Act was to introduce easier access to buildings for persons with disability, including schools, and universities. Also included in the Act is the provision for disabled parking badges to make it easier for using car-parking facilities. It also empowered disabled war veterans by allowing them to challenge the terms of their pensions where there are, for example, errors in provisions.

There can be no better, or stark, example of a nation’s desire to improve the welfare of its people than the treatment of both the mentally unwell and disabled. In, at least, one way a our progress over the last two to three centuries can be illustrated by our successes and failures to propose appropriate legislative response to our compassion on these issues, by creating frameworks of equal access and for, affordable, minimum treatment provisions.

On the different issue of the mentally ill, as opposed to the physical disabled, popular views that were initially imbued to the brim with prejudice, superstition and fear towards one’s fellow man, were challenged by the humanity of using science and endeavour to understand the plight of the once so-called possessed, in order to make a claim for basic minimum treatment of decency. This has been part of a push for greater rights for the disabled.

Lord Morris’s Act is a key part of this movement of slow, yet significant, legislative change for the vulnerable, whether physically or mentally disabled. It made significant inroads into equal access, from the Mental Health Act of 1959, (both instruments are markers for progress when one considers former aptly titled, in reflecting the views of the time, Lunacy Acts of 1845 and 1890).

From a broader viewpoint Lord Morris’ Act was ground breaking in ensuring the legislature reflected some progress towards ensuring that there was no gap between the current law and scientific progress in understanding and caring for the disabled.

Without wishing to sound too wistful, or sanctimonious, it is an aspiration for us all to see that one of the first duties of man, beyond himself and his family, is to the welfare and improvement of common humanity. Lord Morris’ legislation was one of the finest examples of this and is the hallmark of an exceptional Parliamentarian.

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