Ian Grist

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The Independent Online

Ian Grist, politician: born Southampton 5 December 1938; MP (Conservative) for Cardiff North 1974-83, for Cardiff Central 1983-92; PPS to the Secretary of State for Wales 1979-81; Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Welsh Office 1987-90; Chairman, South Glamorgan Health Authority 1992-96; married 1966 Wendy White (two sons); died Cardiff 2 January 2002.

Ian Grist was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales from 1987 to 1990. More at home as a constituency member than on the front bench, he was given office despite an independence of mind that had been shown in his opposition to water privatisation, his votes against the Education Bill in 1976 and his publicly voiced criticisms of the poll tax.

Defeat in the 1992 general election brought his 18-year career in the Commons to an abrupt end, but he was almost immediately appointed by David Hunt to a four-year term as chairman of the South Glamorgan Health Authority. In many ways he was the classic mainstream Tory, hard-headed in matters of economics and soft-hearted on issues where compassion ought to come into play. Thus he resisted efforts to modify the legislation on abortion, favoured the abolition of corporal punishment in schools and voted against efforts to restore the death penalty.

Although staunchly pro-American, to the point of supporting the US over the invasion of Grenada, he backed British entry into Europe – although it should be added perhaps that the Europe he favoured was a Europe of nation states. He was also a passionate opponent of Welsh devolution and acted as the Welsh secretary of the Union Flag group led by Maurice Macmillan, which ensured that the Conservative Party changed tack and opposed the move in the late 1970s.

The son of a successful Southampton garage owner, Ian Grist was educated at Hildersham House, Broadstairs, and Repton. From there he won an open scholarship in History to Jesus College, Oxford, but chose to read PPE. Briefly he acted as a college secretary for the Oxford University Conservatives, but chose to look to the Colonial Service as a career. He acted as Plebiscite Officer in the South Cameroons in 1960-61, then left what was looking an increasingly doomed service for the United Africa Company. From 1961 until 1963 he was a sales manager in Nigeria.

He had joined the Young Conservatives in Eastleigh in 1956 and, on his return from Nigeria in 1963, he joined the Conservative Party organisation, serving as their Information Officer for Wales. He was himself one-quarter Welsh and his mother bore the good Welsh name of Hughes. After contesting the safe Labour seat of Aberavon in 1970 he worked for the Conservative Research Department. In the delayed boundary changes implemented after the Conservatives took office, the Cardiff North seat, which they had captured in 1970, was remodelled and a new North West seat created. The sitting MP chose to fight the new seat and Grist was chosen to succeed him in Cardiff North.

In February 1974, he won the seat in a four-way fight with 42.9 per cent of the vote and held it until 1983. Almost immediately he became secretary of the Conservative MPs Welsh Committee, but his subsequent activities in the anti-devolution camp did not prevent him from pursuing other work in the House. He was a member of the Select Committee on Violence in the Family, 1977-79, and from 1977 to 1987 and again in 1991-92 chaired the Conservative West African Committee. He also became Vice-Chairman of the Association of Conservative Clubs, 1977-82.

After the Conservative election victory in 1979 he became PPS to the Secretary of State for Wales, but resigned in November 1981 in order to speak freely about Welsh affairs. He served on the Select Committee on Members Interests, 1984-87, and could give the matter dispassionate consideration since he was always a full-time MP.

His activities at the Welsh Office included responsibility for health and he served on the Ministerial Group on alcohol abuse and represented the Welsh Office on the Cabinet Committee dealing with urban regeneration. It fell to him to deny the links between high unemployment, poor health and suicides and he cannot have been altogether comfortable in doing so.

Although never hostile to the Thatcher government, he "never really took to Margaret's form of government" and towards the end of his time as a minister he became disillusioned with her leadership. A supporter of Michael Heseltine himself, he was in full agreement with his Secretary of State's decision to vote for Heseltine. The entire Welsh team was in fact to be found in the Heseltine camp in the leadership contest that followed Thatcher's defeat.

Since he had shown himself to be a sensible junior minister, "a useful colleague to have, helpful in a quiet way", as the MP Kenneth Clarke recalls, it was slightly surprising that Grist found himself out of the Major administration. "The problem with being a Welsh MP at that time, when the party was doing quite well, was that you got typecast and had to be really exceptional to break out." Although a perfectly sensible and competent minister, Grist was never that.

Two years later he was out of politics altogether. After a further set of boundary changes, he had taken the Cardiff Central seat in 1983 and from the start held it on a minority vote. In 1987 he retained it in a tight three-way contest by only 2000 votes in the face of an increasingly strong Labour challenge. It was no surprise therefore when Labour swept Grist to defeat in 1992 although some observers felt that his supporters had given up the fight too soon.

Grist's final contribution to public life was as chairman of one of the new health authorities charged with planning and co-ordinating the newly reformed health service. Although it is likely that the appointment was made to a colleague with no career to fall back upon, Grist was a good choice, competent, moderate and as always wholly sensible.

In 1966 he had married Wendy White, a graduate like himself, and they had two boys, Julian and Toby, whom characteristically he had educated at the local comprehensive school.

A tall man with an engaging, sometimes rather avuncular manner, he was too quiet perhaps to be a great success in the House. Although he could be thought reserved, he was reasonably gregarious, popular with his colleagues and had a very down-to-earth practical view of what politics was about. He was never a memorable speaker, but his performances at the box were well judged.

In private, he liked his Guinness, was grateful to have escaped with his life when a Jaguar wrecked his own car on the M4, read a good deal of science fiction and loved listening to music. He knew his own mind and, although his views rarely strayed from those common to his generation, was always a fount of shrewd common sense.

John Barnes

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