Lewis Carter-Jones

MP and champion of the disabled
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Lewis Carter-Jones was one of those politicians - they were and are more numerous than the public might like to believe - who really wanted to do something, rather than be someone. His cause, above all others, was that of the disabled, particularly the war-disabled. His mission in life was to encourage the use of modern technology to assist them.

Lewis Carter-Jones, politician and teacher: born Gilfach Goch, Glamorgan 17 November 1920; Head of Business Studies, Yale Grammar Technical School, Wrexham 1950-64; MP (Labour) for Eccles 1964-87; chairman, Committee for Research for Apparatus for the Disabled 1973-80; married 1945 Pat Bastiman (two daughters); died Wrexham 26 August 2004.

Lewis Carter-Jones was one of those politicians - they were and are more numerous than the public might like to believe - who really wanted to do something, rather than be someone. His cause, above all others, was that of the disabled, particularly the war-disabled. His mission in life was to encourage the use of modern technology to assist them.

For some years, we quite often played squash together - squash partners, showering and dressing, get to know each other pretty well and I discovered what made Lewis Carter-Jones tick. He had joined the RAF as a teenager, and had been posted to Bomber Command, where he ended the Second World War as a Flight Sergeant. "If you want to know why I am obsessive about the disabled and the injured, it is partly that I have a guilty conscience about dropping bombs, injuring innocent people," he said. "When I was young, I did not realise what havoc I was helping to create for civilians in German cities - now, I wish to atone for what was done." Throughout his life, Carter-Jones was a champion of the ex-serviceman - he reserved his criticisms for politicians who failed to avoid war.

Ray Holland, General Secretary of the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association (Blesma), says, "Many of the proposals to improve the conditions of war pensioners, and particularly amputees, came to fruition entirely through Lewis's persuasiveness and influence with his colleagues." Carter-Jones served as a member and latterly chairman of the Blesma all-party committee and, says Holland, "On retirement from Parliament he continued to serve as a member of the advisory committee of the association and regularly attended annual general meetings when he invariably received standing ovations."

I can testify, as one who was present as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Dick Crossman in the late Sixties when he was Secretary of State for Social Services, how this determined but ever-polite Welshman would come to the Secretary of State's office and eventually persuade cash-strapped ministers that his cause in helping the disabled with modern technology was a priority for funding. Perhaps he was so persuasive with colleagues because we all knew that he was acting out of conviction and completely selflessly, without any ambition towards ministerial preferment.

Alf Morris (now Lord Morris of Manchester) says,

Lewis was crucial to the passing of the Chronically Sick and Disabled

Persons Bill of November 1969. As he had been in the war a navigator, so in Parliament he was a navigator, getting support from all parties. He was one of the few who thought the Bill would ever reach the statute book, and that it did so was due in no small part to his expertise in the unmet needs of disabled people. He fought the good fight in Parliament with enormous energy and total commitment and was fearless in countering ministerial evasions.

Lewis Carter-Jones came from a South Wales mining family; his family, a former miner, had become an insurance agent. After Bridgend County School, to which he was always grateful for caring and rigorous Welsh teachers, Lewis went to the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, and excelled as captain both of the university and the local county hockey eleven.

He volunteered for the RAF in 1939 at the outbreak of war, and later counted himself lucky to have been among the relatively few who returned from more than a score of missions over Germany. "I've always thought that I was lucky to be alive and was living on borrowed time when so many of my friends in the RAF were not to survive."

Completing his studies and qualifying as a teacher at the age of 30, Lewis Carter-Jones was made head of business studies at Yale Grammar Technical School in Wrexham. Seeking three weeks' leave, he was Labour candidate at the by-election in Chester on 15 November 1956, being defeated by John Temple who got 21,137 votes to Carter-Jones's 14,789.

Three years later, in a straight fight in October 1959, he was defeated by Temple by 27,847 votes to 17,492. Having established himself as an excellent Labour candidate, he was chosen for the Eccles division of Lancashire where in 1964 he beat J.J. Hodgson, the Conservative, by 25,915 votes to 19,277.

On arrival in the Commons, Carter-Jones quickly made his mark by linking Harold Wilson's "white heat of the technological revolution" to what industry could do to help the disabled and injured. He was instrumental in setting up the Committee for Research for Apparatus for the Disabled and was its chairman between 1973 and 1980. He seldom missed a parliamentary opportunity to champion those who needed invalid vehicles, invalid tricycles, easy to manipulate wheelchairs, and those who suffered from such afflictions as agoraphobia, byssinosis, haemophilia and multiple sclerosis. No-one did more than he to promote the decent remuneration of occupational therapists.

I vividly remember Carter-Jones's contribution to the debate on the Social Security and Pensions Bill of 11 June 1975:

A person who suffers from agoraphobia is afraid to go out of the house and therefore lacks mobility. A child sufferer must be accompanied and looked after.

I cannot for the life of me understand why we are not allowed to give the mobility allowance to children under five years of age and over two years. I have been assured that the behaviour pattern of some of these youngsters is such that a private form of transport is the only reasonable way of taking them around, from the point of view of their parents, their guardians or the rest of their family.

Carter-Jones had a very ambiguous view of civil servants. No MP was better at working co-operatively with them, after seeking permission from the minister. But he had a lacuna in believing that the Treasury was wilfully wicked in not granting relatively small sums of money. For example, he thought far more state funds could be given to power-driven vehicles and their development. "I should hate to think that this sort of advance, which is practical, should not be available to those who can use a technically developed wheelchair within the home and outside it," he said.

Carter-Jones had focused interests outside his main field of activity. For 20 years from 1966 he was secretary of the Indo-British Parliamentary Group and I believe was the originator of the tradition of curry lunches at the Indian High Commission in Holborn, where many MPs were invited to hear the Indian High Commissioner of the day reviewing the problems of the sub-continent.

He also developed a lifelong interest in Colombia after he had been a member of the inter-parliamentary union visit. He was the first parliamentary colleague to warn us of the emerging huge problems, even at that time drug-related, which faced the government in Bogota.

MPs who nurture affiliations with particular countries perform a valuable service and Carter-Jones won the trust of the late President Virgilio Barco of Colombia who, after his turbulent presidency, in the early Nineties came to London. Carter-Jones typically made a point of seeing him on a regular basis when he was out of power.

He was a very proficient rugby referee, but one Monday morning his humour shone through: "Oh I had such a bad game on Saturday, and damn it, it had to be in my Eccles constituency," he told us with a grin. "I made a mistake. 'One hundred votes gone,' they chanted. And another mistake. 'Another one hundred votes gone,' they chanted again. Don't whatever you do agree to referee in your own constituency."

Invited to Eccles during the time of his successor Joan Lestor, I learned at first hand how much his constituents had come to respect him, not least for his help to the Lancashire aviation industry, but also to love him for what he was, a thoroughly good and decent man.

Tam Dalyell