Cathedral service gives thanks for ground-breaking disability act


Hundreds of people have attended a service at Manchester Cathedral held to mark the 40th anniversary of the introduction of a “ground-breaking” piece of disability legislation.

The service was held on 6 November, nearly 40 years after the House of Commons first debated the bill which was to become the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act.

The act was introduced as a private members’ bill by the Labour MP Alf Morris (now Lord Morris of Manchester), whose idea it was to mark the anniversary with a service.

Music for the national service of thanksgiving was provided by Manchester’s renowned Halle Orchestra.

Lord Morris read from the speech he made to introduce the bill to the Commons, while Baroness Masham, president of the Spinal Injuries Association, who made her maiden speech in the Lords on the bill, read a lesson.

A number of disability charities were represented, including the British Dyslexia Association, the Disabled Living Foundation, Guide Dogs for the Blind, RNIB, RNID, Skill, the National Autistic Society, Sense and Scope.

The disabled peer Lord [Colin] Low, who is president of both the disabled students’ charity Skill and the European Blind Union, spoke about the act during the service.

Lord Low said afterwards that he told the congregation the act had been “ground-breaking” and was “a base on which a lot of provision for disabled people had been built”, although further campaigning work was later needed because of the bill’s “little bit less than mandatory” language.

He said the National Federation of the Blind had “made particular use” of a section which encouraged local authorities to co-opt disabled people onto their committees.

Another important section of the act created a duty on councils to provide a range of services for disabled people, he said.

Lord Low said the service had been “uplifting”.

He added: “It was a most important piece of legislation and certainly worth celebrating. It was a heart-warming occasion.”

Canon Gilly Myers, precentor of the cathedral, who organised and conducted the service, said Lord Morris has been “a tireless and tenacious champion of disabled people” and his act had “changed lives and lifestyles”.

Introducing his bill in the Commons in 1969, Alf Morris, then MP for Wythenshawe in Manchester, had told fellow MPs: “What most disabled people want more than anything else is to lessen their dependence on other people, to get on with living their own lives as normally as they can in their own homes amongst their own family, and, wherever possible, to have the opportunity of contributing to industry and society as fully as their abilities allow.”

10 November 2009