A biography of Labour-Co-operative peer, Lord Morris of Manchester, was written by Derek Kinrade, Alf Morris – People’s Parliamentarian and published in 2008. The Manchester Evening News reports that he described his early life in Manchester’s Ancoats district where “several children would share a bed, wash in a tin bath and often dine on sugar butties”, but where, “People did stick together. You always felt there was someone worse off than you.”
Personal experience of injustice
Disability Now records the words of Alf Morris about his father, George Morris, who died when Alf was seven: “My earliest memories are of my father waiting to die. He was very badly gassed in the First World War and his lungs were cut to pieces. He lost a leg and an eye in the war too. My wife’s father was also badly gassed and her mother was in a wheelchair. We had a shared indignity because I used to have to lift her out of the wheelchair into the bath.”
Because the official cause of death was heart failure, his widow Jessie was not entitled to a war pension – until her local MP Harry Thorneycroft took up her case and won after a three-year battle.
This personal experience of injustice is said to have inspired Alf Morris’s work for many. His private member’s Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill (1970), establishing new duties to identify and help disabled people, became the model for similar legislation around the world. He also introduced the Motability scheme whereby severely disabled people could get a free motor vehicle.
Seeking “an honourable settlement” for Gulf War Veterans
For 13 years Lord Morris pressed for an inquiry into the unexplained illnesses affecting Golf War veterans who had been given a ‘cocktail’ of injections and in 2004 set up and inquiry funded by an independent backer without government support, publishing a report finding that the complaints of veterans were justified. Government however has not acted on this. PCU quoted part of Lord Morris’ Manchester Speech: Gulf War Veterans’ Conference, Birmingham, 9 May 2007:
“There is no higher duty for the parliamentarian than to act justly to those prepared to lay down their lives for this country and the dependants of those who do so. Gulf Veterans say that has not yet been done and I am reminded of the saying of American veterans that “a nation can’t afford to do right by its veterans can’t afford to go to war”. Ours is the fourth richest economy in the world and we most certainly can afford, in Tom Watson’s words, “an honourable settlement” with Gulf War veterans.”
Alvin Pritchard who served in that war has been pursuing this issue through the Freedom of Information Act; read the highly disturbing requests and answers here.
Campaigning for these whose mothers had taken thalidomide – “given a thimbleful of practical help.”
He attended school with Harold Evans – later editor of the Sunday Times – and like him later did sterling work campaigning for these whose mothers had taken thalidomide. In 2009 Lord Morris said: “What is morally wrong ought not to be legally permissible. People who have been grievously disabled for years have been given a thimbleful of practical help.”
Fighting for better treatment of British NHS patients infected with contaminated blood products – objectives not yet fully achieved
PCU recorded Alf Morris’s fight for better treatment of patients infected with contaminated blood products for years – he became President of the Haemophilia Society. In 2002, the Lancet reported the Irish parliament’s generous compensation package for haemophiliacs infected by contaminated blood products. The British government has not treated victims so well. Many of the relevant records have disappeared. Former Health Secretary Patrick Jenkin and former Health Minister David Owen both searched the departmental archives, but were told that the documents had been accidentally destroyed. The BBC reported that, “A series of blunders and misjudgements was made by successive governments and their officials”
Medics and politicians had known by the mid 1970s that commercially manufactured blood products from the USA were suspect. By the mid-1980s there were warnings of a similar situation in respect of HIV. Nevertheless these products continued to be imported and used.
Heartless and obstructive Labour government whip
In 2010, PCU reported the use of a foolish parliamentary convention by the Labour government whip, Kerry McCarthy, who delayed the bill presented by Alf Morris seeking compensation for haemophiliacs given infected blood transfusions, by shouting ‘object’! Lord Morris told BBC reporter Susan Watts: “If she had not shouted object to the bill it would now be in committee, debated line by line. What took place prevented any further debate on the bill . . . “
Campaigning until ‘right is done’
After a PCU article referring to Alf Morris’ good work for haemophiliacs he contacted the writer, saying that he had re-introduced the bill on the first day of the new Parliament and intends to go on campaigning until ‘right is done’ and hoped for further publicity for this campaign, which he described as profoundly important – “to arguably the most deprived and needful minority in Britain today”. It was good to see a Hansard report indicating that Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North, Labour) is working on this issue.
Our parliamentarians should take his advice to heart:
“What is morally wrong ought not to be legally permissible.”