Lord Roberts of Conwy: Politician

Conservative who served Welsh interests for nearly 30 years despite the indifference and hostility of his own party

The election as prime minister of Margaret Thatcher in May 1979 followed the resounding rejection of devolution in Wales in the earlier March referendum, and it seemed that there would be no legislative concessions or allowances made towards the Welsh language, or towards the development of civic institutions in Wales. Wyn Roberts managed to achieve both.

His greatest triumph came in persuading the first, and relatively insecure, Thatcher government to change its original refusal and to allow the creation of S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru), the Welsh language broadcaster.

In 1980, Roberts faced a difficult situation which the Tories were ill-equipped to face, when the Plaid Cymru leader Gwynfor Evans threatened to go on hunger strike to secure the establishment of a Welsh language television broadcasting service. This had been a key aim of Welsh nationalists and Welsh language campaigners since the early 1960s. The issue threatened to cause ill-feeling and political unrest in Wales, and to alienate Welsh speakers entirely. In the face of a Lords defeat, William Whitelaw, the Home Secretary, was persuaded by Roberts to change the legislation to include provision for the development of S4C, which began broadcasting on 1 November 1982.

Perhaps Thatcher’s greatest slight both to Roberts and to Wales was not appointing him to the full cabinet position as Secretary of State for Wales; the highest rank he went was Minister of State. Both Thatcher and Major showed indifference to Welsh sensibilities people by appointing Welsh secretaries of state who represented English constituencies, such as Peter Walker, David Hunt and John Redwood. Roberts, as well as being sensitive to the needs of his fellow Welsh Speakers and representing a Welsh constituency, had a wealth of ministerial experience and political loyalty which more than adequately qualified him for the top post. Other North Wales Tory MPs, Anthony Meyer and Geraint Morgan, found themselves marginalised by the Thatcher government. Despite not being fully recognised and rewarded for his talents by the Tory government, Roberts continued to work without seeking reward.

In the run-up to the introduction of the Education Act 1988, the proposals did not provide for Welsh being a core National Curriculum subject in Wales. Roberts pressed the case for its inclusion, and was met by Thatcher’s comment that “the only conservatives in Wales are the English who have moved in”. He was one of few ministers to engage with the Welsh Language Society (Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg), an organisation more accustomed to articulating its message through direct action and protest, to try to secure a broad consensus over the Welsh language, even among the indifferent.

During the Major administration Roberts took responsibility for the passage of the 1993 Welsh Language Act, which transformed the status of the Welsh language. Before the Act, the only official recognition of the equal status of Welsh in public was in court proceedings. The 1993 Act provided for equal status across all public services; local authorities and government agencies in Wales were able to deliver services and issue publicity material in Welsh. The Act also established a Welsh Language Board with statutory powers of monitoring compliance of equal status across public services in Wales. The Board also has an advisory and language promotional role.

Roberts was born in 1930 and raised in the rural Anglesey community of Llansadwrn, the son of a nonconformist clergyman. The family was mainly liberal in the David Lloyd George tradition, but Wyn displayed a political mind independent of those around him in the 1950s and 1960s. He won a scholarship to Harrow and served as an intelligence officer in postwar Germany, developing his talent at addressing an audience as a journalist and broadcaster with BBC Wales and the ITV station TWW. A unionist, he opposed devolution for Wales in the 1979 and 1997 referendums. He was a supporter of Thatcher, but not an apologist.

He was elected to the Conway (Conwy) constituency in 1970 after overturning Labour’s marginal majority. The Conwy constituency has been a marginal since the 1950s and Roberts’s only comfortable majority, 6,073 votes, came in the 1979 election. He saw off many strong challenges, including two from Betty Williams, who succeeded him in 1997. The Labour landside meant the end of any Westminster representation for the Tories in Wales. Roberts was enobled following retirement from the Commons, and he continued to be a vigorous spokesman on Welsh affairs in the Lords.

Wyn Roberts showed a remarkable talent to engage and work with the most seemingly difficult and pointed political opponents, including Thatcher and some of her ministers. He was able to disarm critics and challengers with a genial and respectful personal manner. He endured much and worked undaunted, in difficult political circumstances for many years. Welsh speakers and viewers of S4C, which has done much to preserve Welsh language and culture, are not traditionally disposed to a favourable assessment of the Tory party, but they owe Wyn Roberts a large debt of gratitude.

Ieuan Wyn Pritchard Roberts, politician: born Anglesey 10 July 1930; MP for Conwy 1970-97. Kt 1990, cr. 1997 Life Peer; married 1965 Enid Williams (three sons); died 13 December 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own