Wyn Roberts MP

Ieuan Wyn Pritchard Roberts (Wyn) was born in Llansadwrn on Anglesey in 1930.  His father was a Minister and they lived in Ty Capel. He attended Beaumaris county school and won a scholarship to Harrow school in London. When he arrived there in 1944, his first language was Welsh, and although he could write English excellently he could initially speak it only with hesitation.

 

He did his National service in the Intelligence Corps which took him to Vienna, where he was involved in tapping a telephone cable linked to the Russians' headquarters in the city. It attracted counter-espionage, and Roberts believed he was obliquely approached, possibly through Kim Philby, to switch sides. He then won a scholarship to University College, Oxford, where he graduated in history. 

 

After two years as a sub-editor with the Liverpool Daily Post, Roberts joined the BBC in 1954 as a news assistant. In 1960 he moved to Television Wales & West as a producer and in 1964 was promoted to TWW’s Welsh Controller.

 

In 1966 he was made a member of the Gorsedd of the Bards and used his presidency at the Holyhead Eisteddfod to lobby for an early start for colour television in Wales.

 

At the 1970 election Roberts won the Conway seat from Labour, and held the seat (renamed Conwy in 1974) for 27 years until his retirement. Once at Westminster, Roberts immersed himself in Welsh affairs.

 

He started his career at the Welsh Office as parliamentary private secretary to the Welsh secretary, Peter Thomas, in 1970. He became an opposition frontbench spokesman for Wales alongside Nicholas Edwards in 1974.

 

With James Callaghan in power and Labour losing its majority, Parliament became preoccupied with devolution. Labour had been converted to it by the upsurge of the SNP in Scotland but Roberts saw little demand for it in Wales. He warned, as the referendum on St. David’s Day 1979 neared, that devolution would mean less government money and higher rates, and that a Welsh Assembly would be “just another tier of government” with greater bureaucracy.

 

Labour’s devolution plan for Wales was resoundingly defeated however the abortive outcome of the parallel poll in Scotland led to a no-confidence motion that brought down the government. Mrs Thatcher won the subsequent election, and appointed Roberts Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Wales.

 

Roberts faced a concerted campaign for a dedicated Welsh-language fourth channel. Plaid Cymru orchestrated the non-payment of television licences, and the party’s elder statesman, Gwynfor Evans, embarked on a hunger strike. In part, as a result of pressure from Roberts, the largely Welsh-language S4C was launched in 1982.

 

After the 1987 election, Peter Walker was appointed Secretary of State and Roberts became Minister of State.

 

He was knighted in 1990 by Mrs. Thatcher and despite joining Michael Heseltine’s leadership campaign, John Major kept him in the Welsh ffice and in June 1991 made him a Privy Counsellor.

 

In January 1992 Roberts met the Welsh Language Society in Aberystwyth — the first such meeting for seven years — after they suspended their campaign of direct action. But they renewed it after Major won that year’s election, although Roberts’s subsequent announcement of a Welsh Language Bill blunted its impact.

 

He left the government in 1994 and stood down at the election in 1997.  After his retirement from the House of Commons, he was elevated as a life peer on 1 October 1997 with the title of Baron Roberts of Conwy, of Talyfan in the County of Gwynedd. He served as an opposition  front bench Welsh affairs spokesman on Wales in the House of Lords until 2007. 

 

In 2006 he published his memoirs – Right from the Start which cover the fascinating period of political life in Wales from 1970’s to the 1990’s.

 

Wyn Roberts was always a defender of Welsh interests in Whitehall. Because of that, he was a precursor of the modern Welsh Conservative Party, one that continues a long-drawn out campaign to rid itself of the image of being an English party in Wales. By and large he was against devolution because, as he puts it early on in his memoirs, “it would mean Wales would lose influence and power in Whitehall and Westminster and ultimately resources.” 

 

Among his many achievements were the passing of the Welsh Language Act, the building of the A55 and Ysbyty Gwynedd.

 

He passed away at his home in Rowen in 2013.  He was survived by his wife, Enid (Williams) who he married in 1956 and their two sons, Huw and Geraint.  Their son Rhys had died in 2004.