Jack Ashley, Baron Ashley of Stoke

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"Jack Ashley" redirects here. For the Australian rules footballer, see Jack Ashley (footballer).
The Right Honourable
The Lord Ashley of Stoke
CH PC
Member of the House of Lords
In office
1992 – 20 April 2012
Member of Parliament
for Stoke-on-Trent South
In office
31 March 1966 – 9 April 1992
Preceded by Ellis Smith
Succeeded by George Stevenson
Personal details
Born (1922-12-06)6 December 1922
Widnes, Cheshire, United Kingdom
Died 20 April 2012(2012-04-20) (aged 89)
Political party Labour
Alma mater Ruskin College
Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

Jack Ashley, Baron Ashley of Stoke, CH PC (6 December 1922 – 20 April 2012) was a British politician. He was a Labour Member of Parliament in the House of Commons for Stoke-on-Trent South for 26 years, from 1966 to 1992, and subsequently sat in the House of Lords. He was a long-time campaigner for disabled people.

Early life and education[edit]

Ashley was born in Widnes and educated at Warrington Road School. He left school at 14 to work in the chemical process industry. He became a crane driver and was a shop steward in the Chemical Workers' Union, a union of which he was the youngest executive member aged 22. He served in the Army in the Second World War, and then won a scholarship to study at Ruskin College, where he received a Diploma in Economics and Political Science in 1948.

He continued his studies at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he was President of the Cambridge Union Society in 1951. He worked as a research worker for the National Union of General and Municipal Workers and then worked as a radio producer for the North American Service and BBC Home Service. In 1956 he joined the BBC television service and worked as a producer on Panorama and Monitor.

Member of Parliament[edit]

He served on Widnes Borough Council as a councillor from 1946. At the 1951 general election, Ashley contested Finchley without success. He was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Stoke-on-Trent South at the 1966 general election. In December 1967, at the age of 45, as a result of complications of a routine ear operation to correct a mild hearing loss caused by a perforated eardrum early in his working career, he became profoundly deaf. He described the event as "rather like being struck by lightning". He prepared to resign his seat, but was persuaded instead to take a crash-course in lip-reading. Several weeks later he returned to the House, the United Kingdom's first totally deaf MP and said to be the only totally deaf member of parliament in the world.[1]

Disability campaigner[edit]

He became a tireless campaigner for the disabled, especially the deaf and blind, and won broad cross-party sympathy, support and respect in parliament for his approach. In 1972, he sponsored the pivotal motion in the House of Commons making a distinction between legal and moral obligation. The success of this enabled The Sunday Times to continue its moral campaign for improved compensation for children disabled by thalidomide even while the parents' legal case was still technically in the courts. His Labour colleague Alf Morris (later Lord Morris of Manchester) was also a supporter. The editor of The Sunday Times, Harold Evans, later wrote in Good Times, Bad Times how Ashley selflessly gave up writing his autobiography so as to concentrate on the thalidomide campaign. He also campaigned for compensation for vaccine damage and for damage caused by the arthritis drug Opren. He became a Companion of Honour in 1975, and joined the Privy Council in 1979.

He also received a Doctor of Humane Letters from the Gallaudet University, the world's only university for the deaf, in 1975 for his efforts on behalf of deaf and hard-of-hearing persons.

Ashley's ability to follow the proceedings of the House of Commons helped inspire the development of live captioning on television to benefit the deaf and hard-of-hearing.[2] He had the ability to read the output from the stenographers who were reporting the debates. When Ashley visited the BBC's Ceefax department around 1975, this ability gave one of the staff the idea of commissioning a Southampton University doctoral student to develop a computer programme that would convert stenographic output to normal printed text as subtitles to television programmes. Later, Ashley also used the technique to follow parliamentary debates on a small monitor .[citation needed]

In 1986, Ashley and his wife founded the charity Defeating Deafness, now known as Deafness Research UK. He retired from the House of Commons at the 1992 general election and was made a life peer as Baron Ashley of Stoke, of Widnes in the County of Cheshire, in the same year. He received a cochlear implant in 1993 which restored much of his hearing.[3]

He was the subject of This Is Your Life in October 1974 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews while playing badminton in the back garden of his home in Epsom.

Personal life[edit]

Ashley married Pauline Kay Crispin (1932–2003) in 1951; she died aged 70 in Surrey.[4] They had three daughters, including journalist Jackie Ashley. His son-in-law was television presenter Andrew Marr through Marr's marriage to Jackie.[3]

Ashley died in 2012 aged 89, after contracting pneumonia.[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Obituary at bbc.co.uk
  2. ^ "The Teletext Museum". Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  3. ^ a b "First deaf MP Lord Ashley dies", Belfast Telegraph, 21 April 2012
  4. ^ Deaths England and Wales 1984-2006
  5. ^ "Obituary: Lord Ashley", BBC News, 21 April 2012

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Ellis Smith
Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent South
19661992
Succeeded by
George Stevenson