Parliamentary Rugby League Group Member Lord Ashley of Stoke
Lord Ashley of Stoke, long-standing member of the Parliamentary Rugby League Group and well-known campaigner for disabled rights passed away on Friday (20th April). Lord Ashley, who became deaf whilst sitting as the Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent South said in his memoirs the last voice he ever heard was that of rugby league commentator Eddie Waring.
Jack Ashley was born in Widnes in December 1922. He left St Patrick’s elementary school at 14 to support his mother and sisters, working as a metal factory labourer before becoming a crane driver at ICI. He was elected to the national executive of the Chemical Workers’ Union and to Widnes council. He was, at the age of 22, the youngest member of both. Upon the conclusion of the second world war, Ashley won a trade union scholarship to Ruskin College, Oxford, then in 1948 to Gonville and Caius, Cambridge where he chaired the Labour Club and became President of the Union.
After nearly ten years at the BBC, including as senior producer with Panorama, Ashley was elected for Stoke South in 1966 and after several successful local and national campaigns he became a Parliamentary Private Secretary and was tipped for a government position. It was at that point that he lost his hearing and announced he would give up his seat. He later changed his mind after receiving support from MPs from all parties, saying “On reflection, there’s nothing I can’t do as an MP. All that’s impaired is my hearing.”
Ashley then set to work on supporting and creating disability rights, championing the cause of battered wives and rape victims, and driving changes to the legal system. He forced several pharmaceutical companies to provide compensation pay outs for parents of children born deformed after taking particular medication. He protested over the exclusion of disabled Falklands veterans from the victory parade, as well as for servicemen injured in training exercises who were unsupported by the MoD. He also sought an inquiry into “widespread and severe” bullying in Forces’ training establishments.
In 1992, he became Baron Ashley of Stoke and moved to the Upper Chamber where he continued to campaign for the same issues as he had in the House of Commons. When he entered the Chamber in October 1993 he was cheered by his colleagues, having partially regained his hearing thanks to a cochlear implant.
The Parliamentary Rugby League Group Chairman, Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland said “it is terribly sad news for so many people to learn that Lord Ashley has passed away. His work in both Houses of Parliament was profound and his passion and commitment to important causes will be sorely missed. His support of the sport of rugby league was well known and he lived his life very much in the spirit of the game, sharing our sense of equality, togetherness and inclusivity. We wish his family and friends our thoughts and prayers.”
Lord Hoyle, Vice-Chairman of the Group, was a long-standing and close friend of Lord Ashley who said “I am very proud to have known Jack not only as a colleague but as a friend and ardent rugby league supporter, despite our many disagreements between Widnes and Warrington.”