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Disability rights campaigner Lord Ashley passes away

Disability rights campaigner Lord Ashley passes away

TRIBUTES have been paid to the former Labour MP Lord Ashley who was a tireless campaigner for disability rights. He was 89.

As Jack Ashley, he was elected as MP for Stoke-on-Trent South in 1966, but within two years he was left completely deaf after suffering an infection following an ear operation. At the time he had been expected to rise to ministerial office but following his loss of hearing many believed he would leave Parliament.

However, he decided to remain in office as the first deaf MP in the Commons and was eventually to be regarded one of the most influential backbench members of his generation. 

He campaigned for disability rights and also for groups of people within society who had suffered, including rape victims, battered wives and members of the armed services who had contracted cancer after witnessing nuclear tests.

One of the great battles which he waged was for the victims of Thalidomide — children who were born limbless after their mothers had taken the drug which had been prescribed to alleviate the effects of morning sickness and other conditions.

His tireless campaigning on behalf of the victims encouraged the press to back his efforts and he was eventually to shame the company behind the drug into paying compensation.

Mr. Ashley’s great efforts to overcome his disability and to make such a major contribution to the House of Commons won him the respect of all parties. All members were always willing to help in whatever way they could. In his early days Tory MPs would help by using hand movements to indicated if he needed to raise or lower his voice during a speech.

He retired from the Commons after 26 years as an MP and entered the Lords in 1992 where he continued his campaigning.


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