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I regret to have to inform the House of the death of Michael Hilary Arthur Roberts, esquire, Member for Cardiff, North-West, and I desire, on behalf of the House, to express our sense of the loss we have sustained and our sympathy with the relatives of the honourable Member.
I believe that it would be the wish of the House to pay a spontaneous tribute today to our friend and colleague, Michael Roberts, Under-Secretary of State for Wales, who was taken ill at this Dispatch Box last evening, and who died later. And friend he was to many of us. Michael Roberts had been in the House for less than 13 years, and from the moment he came here he had a natural effortless ability for friendship which extended to all parts of the House. He had served a long apprenticeship in politics, having fought three elections before he became Member for Cardiff, North in 1970. He was for seven years the first headmaster of the Bishop of Llandaff high school. Throughout his service in this House he retained a deep interest in education, for which he held ministerial responsibility in Wales since 1979.
He was a most assiduous constituency Member, a fine Minister, an enthusiast in all that he undertook, a notable orator in the Welsh tradition, always partisan, but retaining the respect and affection of all sides of the House. We extend our deep sympathy to his widow and family, and to his constituents whom he served so well.
May I say at once that I am sure it was right for the right hon. Lady to decide that this tribute should be paid to Michael Roberts immediately, and I am sure that my hon. Friends would have been here in great numbers if they had known exactly when it was taking place. I hope, therefore, that no misinterpretation will be placed on the fact that they are not here in great numbers now, and I am sure that they would join me in everything that I am glad to have the chance to say about him now.
I join the right hon. Lady in offering our sympathy to his family. We know of some of the trials that he has so bravely overcome, and we pay a special tribute to him on that account. As the right hon. Lady said, he had a gift for friendship. He had a gift for kindness. He had unfailing courtesy. Those of us who, as representatives of Welsh constituencies, had many dealings with him have nothing but good to say of the way in which he would deal with our problems and devote his energies, imagination and efforts to serving the causes in which he believed.
We are happy to join with what the right hon. Lady said in tribute to him. We believe that he was a most distinguished Member of this House. He gave to this House great qualities, and we are glad to pay tribute to them.
As a parliamentary neighbour, you know, Mr. Speaker, that Michael was a stalwart colleague and a wonderful friend. He was generous and warm-hearted. As the Prime Minister has reminded us, although always vigorous and effective in debate, he was liked and respected as much by his political opponents as by those on his own side. The concern and sadness shown by so many in the House last night was a demonstration of that. There will be as much sadness in many parts of Wales, and not least among those who enjoyed the privilege of having been taught by him.
In the last week he led the life that he had chosen and loved to the full. He attended the England-Wales match at the Arms park and all the parties that go with it. He spoke twice in the House and he died taking part in a debate the centrepiece of which had been a new initiative—in which he played a central role—to restore the rundown parts of his beloved Cardiff, which he had served so well as a Member of Parliament. He had known personal tragedy but his thoughts were always for others, and our thoughts and love will be for Eileen and his family today.
I do so with a heavy heart and a deep sense of loss. I knew him for close on 20 years and was privileged to regard him as a friend, as did countless others both in the House and in the Principality. He had all the special qualities that lend themselves to, and call out for, friendship: warmth, compassion and perhaps, above all, a great sense of fun. There was always time for laughter. When personal tragedy struck him some time ago, he rallied, despite the circumstances, and many of us recall the fortitude and courage with which he bore that loss. I know too that the borough of Blaenau-Gwent would wish to be associated with my remarks. I cannot remember ever going to see Michael as a Minister and coming away totally empty-handed. To quote a Quaker phrase, he was a man who preferred not to curse the darkness, but to light a candle. He will be sorely missed.
I should like to associate myself and my colleagues on the Plaid Cymru Benches with the remarks made by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the hon. and learned Member for Abertillery (Mr. Thomas). The loss of Michael Roberts so suddenly last night was a very deep shock to all those taking part in the debate and to everybody in the House last night.
Michael Roberts was one of the most cheerful hon. Members and, however much we may have disagreed in the Chamber, he was one of the easiest hon. Members to join outside the Chamber and to talk with about not only what divided us, but what united us. Our feelings go to his family, who have had to bear such great sadness, and also to his colleagues at the Welsh Office, who have suffered such a great loss.
I should like to associate my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) and myself with the tributes paid to Michael. His views were firm and consistent, but his friendships in the House were catholic and extended to all parties. We should like to associate ourselves with the tributes that have been paid and with the sympathy that has been extended to his family.
I should like to associate myself on behalf of my Scottish colleagues with the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and other right hon. and hon. Members. The Welsh and the Scots have always been akin to each other, and there will be great sadness in Scotland today that one of our Welsh Ministers has been taken from us.