John Morris, The Lord Morris of Aberavon (1931 - 2023)

John Morris was one of a generation of exceptional law students from Aberystwyth from a Welsh-speaking background in west Wales who graduated after the Second World War and went on to become prominent Labour Party politicians in Westminster.

A native of the University’s bro, John Morris was raised in the village of Capel Bangor in the Rheidol Valley and had his secondary Education at Ardwyn School. Even though his educational career after Aber and his Professional career as a barrister and then as a politician took him to Cambridge and then to London, he remained a proud Cardi throughout his life.

He had a distinguished career as a barrister, but it is as a politician that he was most renowned. Before becoming a member of the House of Lords, he had served in the House of Commons as Member of Parliament for Aberavon for over forty years, spending two periods on the front bench as a member of the UK Cabinet. Between 1974 and 1979, he was Secretary of State for Wales under Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. From 1997 to 1999 he was Attorney General under Tony Blair, a role which he had shadowed for fourteen years before that while Labour was in opposition, evidence perhaps of the respect his fellow politicians had for him as a dependable provider of legal advice and guidance.

He has an important place in the history of Welsh democracy. As Secretary of State for Wales he was responsible for crafting the first UK Act of Parliament to offer devolution to Wales in the form of an elected Assembly, and for steering it through Parliament.  That attempt was rejected in a referendum. Nevertheless, when devolution was revisited following New Labour’s victory in 1997, it was a similar model of Governance that was once again offered to the people of Wales and accepted by them.  In contrast to the Scottish Parliament (which had primary law-making powers) this Assembly was an executive body only. Powers which had previously been exercised within the UK cabinet by the Secretary of State were transferred to it. Part of John Morris’ function as Attorney General was to ensure that this new Assembly respected the boundaries between its functions and those which remained in London under the control of UK Government Ministers. The irony that he, a keen exponent of devolution for Wales, should act as a kind of border patrol guard amused him greatly.

As well as being a proud Cardi, throughout his life he was an enthusiastic supporter of Aberystwyth University and of the Department of Law and Criminology (as it is now). He was a Fellow of the University, and when a dinner was held in the Hall of the Old Bailey last year to celebrate the Department’s 120th anniversary he was there, lively as ever, his words and his demeanour full of pride for the University and the Department and of enthusiasm for their success. This is what stays in the memory when thinking about the connection between John Morris and Aberystwyth. May he rest in peace.

Professor Emyr Lewis
Head of the Department of Law and Criminology, Aberystwyth University
June 2023