Jim Griffiths

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Jim Griffiths

Jim Griffiths Secretary of State for Wales.jpeg
Secretary of State for Wales
In office
18 October 1964 – 5 April 1966
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Preceded byOffice Created
Succeeded byCledwyn Hughes
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
In office
2 February 1956 – 4 May 1959
LeaderHugh Gaitskell
Preceded byHerbert Morrison
Succeeded byAneurin Bevan
Secretary of State for the Colonies
In office
28 February 1950 – 26 October 1951
Prime MinisterClement Attlee
Preceded byArthur Creech Jones
Succeeded byOliver Lyttelton
Minister of National Insurance
In office
27 July 1945 – 28 February 1950
Prime MinisterClement Attlee
Preceded byLeslie Hore-Belisha
Succeeded byEdith Summerskill
Member of Parliament
for Llanelli
In office
5 April 1936 – 18 June 1970
Preceded byJohn Henry Williams
Succeeded byDenzil Davies
Personal details
Born(1890-09-19)19 September 1890
Betws, Carmarthenshire
Died7 August 1975(1975-08-07) (aged 84)
Teddington, Greater London
Political partyLabour
Spouse(s)Winifred Rutley

James (Jeremiah) Griffiths CH PC (19 September 1890 – 7 August 1975) was a Welsh Labour Party politician, trade union leader and the first Secretary of State for Wales.

Background and education[edit]

He was born in the predominantly Welsh-speaking village of Betws, near Ammanford in Carmarthenshire. The youngest of ten children; his father, William Griffiths was the local blacksmith. He spoke no English until he was five.[1] Educated at Betws Board School, he left at the age of 13 to work at Ammanford No. 1 colliery (Gwaith Isa'r Betws), where he eventually became Lodge Secretary. Griffiths was a pacifist and while campaigning against the Great War met Winifred Rutley, whom he married in 1918. His brother (David Rees Griffiths, 1882–1953) was a notable Welsh poet who took the bardic name of 'Amanwy' after his native valley.

Political career[edit]

Griffiths continued his education by attending night school and became an active socialist. He helped establish a branch of the Independent Labour Party in Ammanford in 1908 and soon became its secretary. Later he occupied the powerful post of secretary of the newly formed Ammanford Trades Council (1916–1919). At the age of 29, he left the colliery on a miner's scholarship (1919–1921) to the Central Labour College, London, where at the same time Aneurin Bevan and Morgan Phillips were studying.[2]

On returning home, Griffiths worked as Llanelli Labour Party agent (1922–1925), before becoming an agent for the Anthracite Miners' Association (1925–1936), and President of the powerful South Wales Miners' Federation – known locally as the Fed – in the Anthracite district of West Wales (1934–1936). In 1936, he was elected Labour Member of Parliament (MP) for what was then safe seat of Llanelli. Three years later he continued his rise through the Labour movement by getting elected to the party's National Executive Committee.

Following Labour's victory at the 1945 general election, he was made a Privy Counsellor and Minister for National Insurance by Prime Minister Clement Attlee. In this role he was responsible for creating the modern state benefit system. He introduced the Family Allowances Act 1945, the National Insurance Act 1946 and the National Assistance and Industrial Injuries Act 1948. Along with Bevan, he was one of the chief architects of the Welfare State. He served as Chairman of the Labour Party (1948–1949), and in 1950 he became Secretary of State for the Colonies. Within two years, though, the Labour Party was out of office.

During the long period in opposition, Griffiths became deputy leader of the Labour Party (1955–1959), and spokesman on Welsh affairs. He used his good relationship with Hugh Gaitskell to commit the Labour Party to a measure of devolution. Amid the Suez Crisis of 1956, he made an important speech opposing the underhanded tactics of the then Prime Minister Anthony Eden in which he stated "This is for our country a black and tragic week... an unjustifiable and wicked war". This was said to sum up the mood of many at the time.

Given Griffiths' determination in having campaigned for a Secretariat of State for Wales ever since the 1930s, Harold Wilson persuaded him to delay retirement and serve as the first Secretary of State for Wales following Labour's 1964 general election victory.[3] At Wilson's instigation, Griffiths established the Welsh Office and laid the foundations for the role until the 1966 general election, whereupon he returned to the backbenches. He was appointed a Companion of Honour.

Though by now suffering from ill-health, Griffiths avoided resigning from the House of Commons, because he feared that if he did so, Labour would lose a by-election in Llanelli. Plaid Cymru had captured the neighbouring seat of Carmarthen in 1966; and the popular Llanelli Rugby coach Carwyn James was poised to stand for Plaid Cymru in a by-election, had Griffiths stood down. He remained in Parliament until 1970 and was succeeded in Llanelli by Denzil Davies, who fended off the Plaid Cymru challenge. The previous year, Griffiths had published his autobiography, Pages From Memory (London: Dent, 1969).

Personal life[edit]

He died in Teddington, Greater London, aged 84, leaving two sons and two daughters. He is buried at the Christian Temple chapel in Ammanford. In a memorial address Jim Callaghan, the future prime minister, described him as "one of the greatest sons of Wales. We honour the memory of Jim Griffiths of Ammanford. I mention his birth place because, despite all his honours and journeyings, it was the place of his birth, deep in the heart of Wales, that essentially shaped his life and actions."


  • Plan for Britain: A Collection of Essays prepared for the Fabian Society by G D H Cole, Aneurin Bevan, Jim Griffiths, L F Easterbrook, Sir William Beveridge, and Harold J Laski (Not illustrated with 127 text pages).[4]
  • Griffiths, James. Pages from Memory. London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1969.
  • Griffiths, Winifred. One Woman's Story (privately printed, 1979)


  1. ^ Morgan, Kenneth O. (2010). Labour people : leaders and lieutenants, Hardie to Kinnock. London: Faber. p. 198. ISBN 9780571259618. OCLC 573359444.
  2. ^ Jones, John Graham. "GRIFFITHS, JAMES (JEREMIAH) (1890-1975), Labour politician and cabinet minister". Y Bywgraffiadur Cymreig. Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  3. ^ Gower, Jon (2013). The story of Wales (Paperback ed.). London: BBC. p. 320. ISBN 978-1-849-90373-8.
  4. ^ Detail taken from Plan for Britain published by George Routledge with a date of 1943 and no ISBN

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Henry Williams
Member of Parliament for Llanelli
Succeeded by
Denzil Davies
Trade union offices
Preceded by
John Thomas
Agent for the Anthracite District of the South Wales Miners' Federation
Succeeded by
Arthur Horner
John James
D. J. Williams
Preceded by
Enoch Morrell
President of the South Wales Miners Federation
Succeeded by
Arthur Horner
Party political offices
Preceded by
Manny Shinwell
Chair of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Sam Watson
Preceded by
Herbert Morrison
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Aneurin Bevan
Political offices
Preceded by
Leslie Hore-Belisha
Minister of National Insurance
Succeeded by
Edith Summerskill
Preceded by
Arthur Creech Jones
Secretary of State for the Colonies
Succeeded by
Oliver Lyttelton
Preceded by
(new position)
Secretary of State for Wales
Succeeded by
Cledwyn Hughes