Hugh Rees

Sometime golden boy of Welsh Conservative politics
Click to follow

John Edward Hugh Rees, politician and chartered surveyor: born Swansea 8 January 1928; MP (Conservative) for Swansea West 1959-64; PPS to Sir Keith Joseph 1961-62; Assistant Government Whip 1962-64; chairman, Cambrian Housing Society 1968-2003; chairman, Abbey Housing Association 1980-92; married 1961 Gillian Milo-Jones (deceased; two sons); died Swansea 1 December 2003.

When I arrived at a by-election in the House of Commons in 1962 Hugh Rees was the Welsh whip and the golden boy of Welsh Conservative politics. As Sir Keith Joseph's Parliamentary Private Secretary he had been marked out for great things. It is the opinion of Alan Williams MP, who defeated him in 1964, that, had Rees not been so committed to Swansea, he would have been found a safe Conservative seat at an early opportunity in England.

Hugh Rees was born in 1928 into a professional family in Swansea, where he attended the Parc Wern School and Glanmor Secondary School. It was while studying to become a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and a Fellow of the Chartered Auctioneers' and Estate Agents' Institute that he became active in the Young Conservatives.

In the 1959 general election on a turnout of 82.1 per cent he beat the veteran Labour MP Percy Morris by 24,043 to 23,640 votes. In his maiden speech on 11 May 1960, he put a powerful case for the expansion of the Port of Swansea:

The Port of Swansea also has a very good general cargo trade. It is interesting to note that between 1938 and 1958 the figure has increased from 5.5m tons to 7m tons a year. At one stage it rose to almost 11m but there has been a fallback in the trade, partly due to a change in the industrial circumstances of the South Wales area and also due to a recession caused by the closing down of tinplate mills and the general downward trend in the shipping industry.

He had no qualms in co-operating with other South Wales MPs, in particular James Callaghan, then Labour MP for Cardiff South East, and George Thomas, Labour MP for Cardiff West, in trying to make sure that Cardiff, Barry and Swansea were not to be abandoned as ports of importance in favour of Port Talbot. One lyrical extremist was widely quoted in the press as referring to "the war along the waterfront of South Wales".

His opponent Alan Williams, who beat Rees by 26,703 votes to 20,650 in 1966 and again by 24,622 to 21,384 in 1970, spoke generously of Rees:

He was a great loss to national politics. He would tell people what his opinions were and never tried to hide or to sit on

fences. Had he been willing to try for another seat he would have certainly flourished during the heyday of Margaret Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph.

As it turned out he pursued a distinguished career with the Abbey National, serving as a director from 1976 until 1991. Along with colleagues such as Sir Stanley Morton, Sir Campbell Adamson, Sir John Carmichael and Sir Derek Hilton and others, he was one of a group that modernised the Abbey National and converted it to the formidable plc that it is today.

From 1973 he was a United Kingdom representative on the Economic and Social Committee of the EEC. He was particularly interested in cultural issues, being a member of the council of the National Museum of Wales from 1968 until 1994.

His last years were spent in the myriad of activities of the University of Wales in Swansea - after the death of his wife Gillian, to whom he was devoted.

Tam Dalyell