Jim Griffiths

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The Right Honourable
Jim Griffiths
Secretary of State for Wales
In office
18 October 1964 – 5 April 1966
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Office Created
Succeeded by Cledwyn Hughes
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
In office
2 February 1956 – 4 May 1959
Leader Hugh Gaitskell
Preceded by Herbert Morrison
Succeeded by Aneurin Bevan
Secretary of State for the Colonies
In office
28 February 1950 – 26 October 1951
Prime Minister Clement Attlee
Preceded by Arthur Creech Jones
Succeeded by Oliver Lyttelton
Minister of National Insurance
In office
27 July 1945 – 28 February 1950
Prime Minister Clement Attlee
Preceded by Leslie Hore-Belisha
Succeeded by Edith Summerskill
Member of Parliament
for Llanelli
In office
5 April 1936 – 18 June 1970
Preceded by John Henry Williams
Succeeded by Denzil Davies
Personal details
Born 19 September 1890 (1890-09-19)
Betws, Carmarthenshire
Died 7 August 1975 (1975-08-08)
Teddington, Greater London
Nationality British
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Winifred Rutley

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

Background and education

He was born in the strongly Welsh-speaking village of Betws, near Ammanford in Carmarthenshire. The youngest of ten children his father was the local blacksmith. His brother (David Rees Griffiths, 1882–1953) was a notable Welsh poet who took the bardic name of 'Amanwy' after his native valley. 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.

Political career

He 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. He went on to occupy the powerful post of secretary of the newly formed Ammanford Trades Council between 1916–1919. At age 29, he left the colliery on a miner's scholarship to the Central Labour College, London, On returning home he worked as Llanelly Labour Party agent, between 1922–1925, before becoming an agent for the Anthracite Miners' Association, 1925–1936, and President of the powerful Miners' Federation of South Wales – The Fed – in the Anthracite district of West Wales between 1934–1936. In 1936, he was elected Labour Member of Parliament (MP)] for the safe seat of Llanelli. Three years later he continued his rise through the Labour movement by getting elected to Labour's National Executive Committee in 1939.

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, a new Industrial Injuries Act, and the National Insurance Act 1948. Along with Aneurin Bevan he was one of the chief architects of the Welfare State. He became Chairman of the Labour Party between 1948–1949, and in 1950 he became Secretary of State for the Colonies. Within two years however the Labour Party was out of office. During the long period in opposition he was deputy leader of the Labour Party, 1955–1959, and spokesman on Welsh affairs. He used his relationship with Hugh Gaitskell to commit the Labour Party to a measure of devolution. During 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.

Having campaigned for a Secretary of State for Wales 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. He established the Welsh Office and laid the foundations for the role until the 1966 general election when he returned to the backbenches. He was appointed a Companion of Honour. Though by now suffering from ill-health he avoided standing down because he feared 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 the Party in a by-election had the ageing Griffiths stood down. He remained in Parliament until 1970 and was succeeded by Denzil Davies. He published his autobiography, Pages From Memory (London: Dent, 1969), the same year.

Personal life

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 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).[1]

Add:"Pages from Memory" by James Griffiths, published by Dent,1969

  • Griffiths, Winifred One Woman's Story (privately printed, 1979)


  1. Detail taken from Plan for Britain published by George Routledge with a date of 1943 and no ISBN

Chapter on James Griffiths in "Labour's People" by Kenneth O Morgan (Oxford1987)


External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Henry Williams
Member of Parliament for Llanelli
Succeeded by
Denzil Davies
Trade union offices
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