ONE of the nation's most distinguished elder statesmen has said he was repeatedly overlooked for the role of Welsh Secretary because he speaks Welsh.
Sir Wyn Roberts, now Lord Roberts of Conwy, served as the Conservatives' Welsh Minister of State under four Secretaries of State between 1987 and 1994.
But in a TV interview to be broadcast on Thursday, he said his bilingualism left him sidelined from the nation's top political job of the time by the Tory Party's hierarchy.
Giving his own perspective on the situation to ITV1Wales' Waterfront programme, he said, "If a person speaks a language that you don't know and so on, it does tend to segregate him."
Lord Roberts, originally from Talyfan in North Wales, has had a long involvement in Welsh affairs and has often described the 1993 Welsh Language Act as his proudest achievement.
Prior to entering politics he had been a member of the Eisteddfod's Gorsedd institution and was Welsh-language programme producer for ITV1Wales forerunner TWW. At 75, he has just been re-appointed as the Conservative spokesman on Wales in the House of Lords.
Political opponents last night rounded on the comments as indicative of the then-Conservative Government's attitude to Welsh matters.
Dai Lloyd, Plaid Cymru South Wales West AM, said, "The Tory high command have never understood Wales. They led the No campaign against devolution and have been consistent in their opposition to the new Senedd.
"The Conservatives are an anti-Welsh party. I am not in a position to contribute on Sir Wyn Roberts' attributes; obviously he belongs to an era of pre-devolution Wales.
"Now it is more suitable time to look to the future with a Senedd, and support for a Parliament with full powers is gaining ground, despite the efforts of the Conservatives."
Meanwhile Dai Smith, professor of Welsh cultural history at the University of Wales, Swansea, described the claim as unusual.
"If this is true, the Conservative Party must be the only public institution in Wales in which this kind of thing happens - the opposite is usually the case," he said.
And last night Lisa Francis, the Conservatives' Assembly spokeswoman on culture and Welsh language, said she was saddened by the revelation.
"I find it extraordinary if that's the reason. I should have thought that having someone who spoke the Welsh language is an asset.
"I think it's a bit sad. I like to think we've moved on quite a lot since then, and that kind of decision wouldn't be made today."
Elsewhere in the interview Lord Roberts heaped praise on the first Welsh Secretary he served under - Nicholas Edwards (now Lord Crickhowell) - although he was less complimentary of his last boss, John Redwood.
"You require a lot of common sense in politics," he said. "I think he betrayed a lack of it when he stood beside me and tried to mime the national anthem."
As Minister of State for Wales at the time, he also questioned Prince Charles' decision to give the infamous 1994 interview with Jonathan Dimbleby where he admitted adultery.
And he gave a critical appraisal of the Prince's future, saying that he fitted into a UK tradition of having "all sorts of monarchs".
"It's part of the monarchical tradition that he should inherit the throne at the right time," he said.
"And he's done a great deal for Wales, as we know, and we've had all sorts of monarchs, haven't we, in this country over time, and I think that Prince Charles fits into that tradition."
The full interview will be shown on ITV1Wales' Waterfront on Thursday at 11.30pm.
Wyn Roberts - a long life in politics
LORD ROBERTS of Conwy was one of the longest-serving of Margaret Thatcher's ministers, spending a total of 15 years at the Welsh Office in various roles.
Wyn Roberts' ministerial career got off to a bumpy start in 1979 when Mrs Thatcher's decision to break an election promise to set up a Welsh-language television channel was swiftly reversed in the face of a threatened fast by Gwynfor Evans. The Harrow and Oxford-educated politician served four Welsh Secretaries as their Minister of State - Nicholas Edwards, Peter Walker, David Hunt and John Redwood.
He counts his proudest achievement as the 1993 Welsh Language Act.