Lord Geraint

Farmer who became a Welsh Liberal MP
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The Independent Online

Geraint Howells gave long service to the Welsh Liberal Party, from 1974 as MP for Cardigan, then holding the seat of Ceredigion and Pembroke North until it was lost to Plaid Cymru in 1992, when he moved to the Lords, serving as Deputy Speaker for five years until 1999.

Geraint Wyn Howells, politician and farmer: born Ponterwyd, Cardigan 15 April 1925; MP (Liberal) for Cardigan 1974-83, for Ceredigion and Pembroke North (Liberal 1983-88, Liberal Democrat 1988-92) 1983-92; Leader, Welsh Liberal Democrats 1979-85; Deputy Speaker, House of Lords 1994-99; Vice-Chairman, British Wool Marketing Board 1971-83; chairman, Wool Producers of Wales 1977-87; created 1992 Baron Geraint; an Extra Lord-in-Waiting to the Queen 1998-2004; married 1957 Olwen Griffiths (two daughters); died Aberystwyth 17 April 2004.

Geraint Howells gave long service to the Welsh Liberal Party, from 1974 as MP for Cardigan, then holding the seat of Ceredigion and Pembroke North until it was lost to Plaid Cymru in 1992, when he moved to the Lords, serving as Deputy Speaker for five years until 1999.

He was born in Ponterwyd, Cardiganshire, in 1925, into a farming family and was educated at the local primary and then at Ardwyn Grammar School in Aberystwyth. On leaving school he went into farming himself, and began to take an interest in local politics.

I first became very aware of Geraint Howells when he was standing as a candidate for Wales for the British Wool Board in the Sixties (and indeed he went on to become their Vice-Chairman from 1971 and 1983). I was actually supporting a rival candidate who was a good friend of mine. However, as soon as we met we got on very well, and his death has brought to an end the firm friendship and close co-operation between the two of us over many years.

Howells and I realised that we shared common views on many subjects, and I thought to myself that he could be a very powerful contributor to the efforts we were making as Liberals in Wales to re-establish the position of the party, and in particular, our efforts to establish the Welsh Liberal Party as a truly independent entity on the lines of the Scottish Liberal Party within a loose federation of Liberals in the United Kingdom.

Howells had a high reputation among farmers and he had also shown a sharp business acumen building up a very successful sheep- and cattle- dealing business and that he was also by this time a county councillor in Cardiganshire. The more I saw him the more I thought of him as a possible Liberal candidate for Cardiganshire, his native county.

Elystan Morgan, the popular Labour Member for Cardiganshire who had ousted Roderick Bowen QC, would be difficult to defeat but Geraint Howells could be the man to do it. For he was a very well-built, handsome man with a genial personality, and an attractive and cultured wife and two charming daughters all deeply involved in work in the community, particularly at his native Ponterwyd. His devotion to the welfare of the community there was just a foretaste of what he would achieve in Cardiganshire as a whole.

I therefore did all I could to try to enable him to secure selection as the Liberal candidate for Cardiganshire at the 1970 election, which I believe he would have won. However, there was always a strong tendency in rural Wales, possibly particularly in the Liberal Party, to look for parliamentary candidates who had achieved academic, legal or other professional distinction, but had emerged from a sound Welsh rural background.

In 1970, it was this somewhat outmoded approach by the then Liberal Association which accounted for their selection of a distinguished native naval officer as the candidate. Unfortunately, he did not win the seat but magnanimously told me thereafter that he thought Howells should have been selected and would have won and that he was keen to help Howells in any way he could if Howells was selected as the candidate when the next parliamentary election took place.

In the meantime, Howells had accepted an invitation to fight Brecon and Radnor, which had once been a Liberal seat but was then disorganised completely. He went there, built up an incredible organisation in very little time and though he came third in the general election in 1970, he had built up such goodwill towards the Liberals there and set up the basis of a first-class organisation, which eventually led to the recapture of the seat by the Liberals in the form of Richard Livsey (now Lord Livsey of Talgarth).

That episode in itself illustrates Geraint Howells's sheer determination, shrewdness and long-term thinking. It also endeared him enormously to those who were active in the Welsh Liberal Party at the time. From the 1974 general election onwards, when he was elected MP for Cardigan, Howells and I worked particularly closely together. Our private discussions were always conducted in Welsh and it was rarely that we disagreed on any subject.

When, in the 1992 general election, the Welsh nationalist Cynog Dafis succeeded in taking Ceredigion and Pembroke North, Geraint Howells went to the Lords as Lord Geraint. He was a fine man, a good friend and exuded warmth and generosity of spirit wherever he went. He will be missed greatly in Wales and in the Lords; from his colleagues to all the staff who were obviously appreciative of his ever kindly and natural and rural approach.

To the counsels of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party, Geraint Howells brought a shrewd mind and a stubborn resisistance to any tendency to take the short- as opposed to the long-term solution to political problems.

Emlyn Hooson



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