Lord Morris of Aberavon, the final remaining member of Harold Wilson’s cabinet and the last Labour MP elected in the 1950s, has passed away at the age of 91. Previously known as John Morris, he held the position of Welsh secretary under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, and served as attorney general during Tony Blair’s tenure. Lord Morris was one of the few senior Labour politicians to have worked with Wilson, Callaghan, and Blair, as well as with Neil Kinnock in opposition.
Lord Morris has been referred to as the “father of devolution” in Wales, having drafted legislation in 1978 that led to a no vote in the 1979 referendum. While this title is debated, he claimed to have had a significant influence on the process, and the current Aberavon MP, Stephen Kinnock, described him as a “champion of devolution.”
Kinnock, the son of former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, stated, “John Morris was a Welsh Labour politician and minister of great distinction in both the Commons and the Lords. He served the people of my Aberavon constituency with dedication and huge commitment for 40 years and my deepest sympathies go to Margaret and his family.”
Lord Morris, a prominent barrister and later a QC, became an MP in 1959. As a Labour MP for 41 years, he held the record for the longest-serving Welsh MP in parliament. Including his time in the House of Lords after receiving a peerage upon leaving the Commons in 2001, Lord Morris served in parliament for six decades.
During Wilson’s 1964-70 government, he was a junior minister at both the ministry of power and ministry of transport, before becoming minister of state for defence during the Biafra War. He served as Welsh secretary throughout the entire 1974-79 Labour government and as attorney general from 1997 to 1999 during the conflict in Kosovo.
As secretary of state for Wales, Lord Morris drafted the devolution bill passed by Callaghan’s government in 1978, which paved the way for the 1979 referendum. However, the vote was lost, with just over 20% of the electorate supporting the creation of an assembly in Wales.
In a 2015 TV documentary, Lord Morris said, “I had no idea the defeat would be such a big one. The truth had to be faced, we had failed abysmally.” He claimed that the devolution proposals in the 1979 referendum were mostly the same as those presented to the public in 1997 by Blair’s government. “There was very little difference between the old Act of 1978 and the new one. It’s the same piece of legislation. New work wasn’t needed, and that’s how the measure was prepared so quickly. My fingers were on the strings of that harp from beginning to end.”
The 1997 referendum was narrowly won, with just over 50% of the vote in favour, and a 2011 referendum to grant the assembly law-making powers secured a 63.5% Yes vote.
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