Lord Ashley, champion of disabled, dies

Flood of tributes for Britain's first deaf MP, who also campaigned over domestic violence and the Thalidomide scandal

Lord Ashley of Stoke, the veteran Labour peer and disability rights campaigner, has died after a short illness, his family announced yesterday. He was 89. As Jack Ashley, he became Britain's first deaf MP, following an unsuccessful ear operation in 1968. He died on Friday night.

His death was announced by his son-in-law, the television presenter Andrew Marr, who said: "The campaigner for the rights of the disabled, who had been the first ever deaf MP, won major victories for the victims of the drug Thalidomide, for victims of army bullying, and for victims of domestic violence."

He is survived by his three daughters, Jackie, Jane and Caroline. Jackie Ashley, a Guardian columnist, wrote on Twitter: "My wonderful, brave and adored father, Jack Ashley, Lord Ashley of Stoke, has died after a short battle with pneumonia."

Tributes to Lord Ashley were led by the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, who praised "an outstanding servant of the Labour Party and an extraordinary campaigner for equal rights for people with disabilities". David Cameron described him as "a tireless campaigner for disabled people [who] had a huge impact, not just through his charity work and pushing for legislation in Parliament, but also in changing attitudes." The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said Lord Ashley's life was "an inspiration to all. His tenacity and courage made this country a better and fairer place for people with disabilities".

Jackie Ballard, chief executive of Action on Hearing Loss (formerly the RNID), said: "Jack was a great role model to anyone with hearing loss. He had a brilliant career before and after losing his hearing. But he wasn't just a supporter of the deaf; he was a champion for people of all disabilities."

Susan Daniels, chief executive of the National Deaf Children's Society, of which Lord Ashley was vice-president, said: "His achievements are many, and there can be no doubt that he leaves a truly great legacy. Deaf and disabled people can be inspired by the strides that Lord Ashley made with and for them in his remarkable political career."

The former prime minister Gordon Brown described him as the "greatest champion Britain's disabled have had".

Born in Widnes in 1922, he worked as a coal heaver before winning a scholarship to Oxford. After further study, he became a researcher and radio producer, before joining BBC television in 1956. He was elected MP for Stoke-on-Trent South in 1966. He recalled the "total and unbelievable silence" of the House of Commons chamber when he returned to Parliament after losing his hearing two years later. He said: "Each member on his feet appeared to be miming... At that moment I felt in my heart that I had begun a lifetime of tomb-like silence. I took a final look around the chamber before leaving for home and my family, and to prepare for my resignation."

Colleagues and constituents persuaded him to take a course in lip-reading and he subsequently returned to the Commons. MPs turned towards him during Commons debates so he could get a clear view of their mouths.

Lord Ashley championed other groups, including the physically and mentally disabled, victims of rape and domestic violence, as well as victims of the drug Thalidomide.

He insisted his condition did not affect his combative nature. He said: "Early on, when I first lost my hearing, I think people were a little fearful about attacking me. But as I re-established my confidence, that soon fell away."

In 1993, soon after moving to the House of Lords, a cochlear implant partially restored his hearing. He immediately began campaigning for the NHS to make the operation more widely available.

David Blunkett, the first blind Labour cabinet minister, said last night: "Jack Ashley was a pioneer who set aside his disability and, by doing so, forged a path which others, including me, have been able to follow. By sheer tenacity and, latterly, technology, he was able to demonstrate not only that he could work on equal terms but achieve a great deal more than most of us in politics are able to boast about."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most