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Lord Ashley Of Stoke Dead: Disabled Rights Campaigner Dies

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Lord Ashley of Stoke in 2003
Lord Ashley of Stoke in 2003

Disabled rights campaigner Lord Ashley of Stoke, the first deaf MP, has died aged 89, it was announced on Saturday.

The Labour peer passed away last night after a short illness, according to his family.

BBC presenter Andrew Marr, who is married to the peer's columnist daughter Jackie Ashley, said: "Lord Ashley of Stoke, the former Labour MP Jack Ashley, died last night, April 20, after a short illness at the age of 89."

Jack Ashley won the seat of Stoke-on-Trent South in 1966, but lost his hearing less than two years later after an unsuccessful ear operation.

He recalled in his autobiography that the last voice he heard was that of the late rugby commentator Eddie Waring.

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After initially fearing he would be forced to give up politics, Ashley learned to lip-read.

Other MPs, including political foes such as Prime Minister Edward Heath, turned towards him during Commons debates so he could get a clear view of their mouths.

Lord Ashley also worked hard to modulate his speaking voice, which he could no longer hear.

However, his deafness never affected his combative attitude.

"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," he said.

As his fame as an advocate for disabled rights grew, Lord Ashley became president of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf.

He also played a major role in the campaign for better compensation for children disabled by the drug Thalidomide, which was given to mothers to treat morning sickness during the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1993, a year after he was made a life peer, Ashley's hearing was partially restored by a cochlea implant, an electronic device which stimulates the nerves in the inner ear.

Lord Ashley worked in a factory after leaving school at 14, becoming a shop steward and a local councillor.

He studied at Oxford and Cambridge on scholarships, and worked as a producer for the BBC before entering parliament.

Andrew Marr added: "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 Ashley, Jane Ashley, and Caroline Ashley."

Jackie Ashley paid tribute to her father on Twitter:


Jackie Ashley
My wonderful, brave and adored father, Jack Ashley, Lord Ashley of Stoke, has died after a short battle with pneumonia.

Ed Miliband led the tributes from politicians and peers:


Ed Miliband
Very sad to hear of the death of Jack Ashley. He was an outstanding servant of the Labour party and an extraordinary campaigner

Denis MacShane
Jack Ashley was that rare MP - he made a difference

Dame Anne Begg
Sorry that the lovely Jack Ashley has died. He was the trailblazer who made it possible for me to even think I could be an MP

Janet Royall
Jack Ashley was a great man of courage and tenacity. In overcoming his own disability he fought harder for the rights and dignity of others

In a statement Miliband said: "I am very sad to hear of the death of Jack Ashley. He was an outstanding servant of the Labour party and an extraordinary campaigner for equal rights for people with disabilities.

"Jack Ashley turned his own tragic experience of losing his hearing into a mission of courage and determination for deaf and disabled people. He was a pioneer as the first deaf MP to sit in Parliament, but he did much more than that.

"There are many millions of men and women with disabilities who will have better lives thanks to Jack Ashley. He succeeded in changing the law and in changing attitudes. Anti-discrimination legislation for people with disabilities would not have happened when it did without his tenacity, his campaigning and his support.

"Jack Ashley will be missed by his family, his friends and his colleagues in the House of Lords. He led an amazing life and will be remembered with deep affection, profound respect and great admiration."

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett, who is blind, said: "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 the use of technology, he was able to demonstrate that not only could he work on equal terms but achieve a great deal more than most of us in politics are able to boast about."

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Labour peer Lord Ashley of Stoke dies