Morgan, William James (‘Billy’) (1914–99), politician, was born 17 July 1914 in Belfast, third son of William James Morgan and Susan Jane Morgan (née Sharpe). At the age of 14 he left Finniston primary school to enter the family transport business, John Morgan & Sons, and retired as managing director in 1970. After serving for less than a year as the representative for Shankill on Belfast corporation, Morgan was selected as the unionist candidate for Belfast (Oldpark) in the 1949 election for Stormont. He defeated the sitting NILP candidate, Robert Getgood, by a margin of almost 3,000 votes, and retained the seat in October 1953. In March 1958, however, a new NILP candidate, Frederick Simpson, stood and Morgan lost the seat by just 155 votes. He was reelected in May 1959 in a by-election for Belfast (Clifton) and held this seat until the general election of 1969.
Appointed assistant parliamentary secretary to the ministry of finance (assistant whip), from December 1959 he served as parliamentary secretary to the ministry of commerce and production. In February 1961 he joined the government as minister of health and local government, and in a cabinet reshuffle (July 1964) he retained the health portfolio and was given the additional brief of labour and national insurance. In January 1965 he was appointed minister of the new ministry of health and social services, and held this position until his resignation in 1969. As minister for health, Morgan was praised for the skill with which he negotiated with the catholic church over the proposed incorporation of Belfast's Mater Hospital into the NHS.
In the late 1960s, however, Morgan became increasingly concerned by the programme of reform introduced by Terence O'Neill (qv) and, in particular, by the appointment of an independent authority, the Cameron commission, to investigate civil rights disturbances in Northern Ireland since 5 October 1968. He argued that the commission was being employed as a tactic to introduce the universal franchise (one man, one vote) to Northern Ireland and on 26 January 1969 he followed the lead of Brian Faulkner (qv) and stepped down as minister for health and social services. O'Neill later stated bitterly that Faulkner's resignation was ‘hastily followed by another cabinet minister, his evangelical friend, Billy Morgan’ and added that ‘the latter fence-sitting minister's resignation was almost a relief’ (O'Neill, Autobiography, 114). In an effort to strengthen his hand, O'Neill called a general election for 24 February 1969. Following a bitter internecine feud in Clifton, however, Morgan was prevented by court order from referring to himself as the Official Unionist candidate at the election, because of a violation of the rules at his selection meeting. He was subsequently defeated by the O'Neillite unionist, Maj. Robert Lloyd Hall-Thompson (qv).
On 22 April 1969 O'Neill agreed to ‘one man, one vote’ for local elections; the following day Maj. James Chichester-Clark (qv) resigned. This constituted the final blow to O'Neill's leadership and on 28 April he resigned. Although Faulkner and another hard-liner, William Craig, were seen to be vying for O'Neill's job, Morgan briefly became an unlikely favourite for the position of NI prime minister. He was not as controversial or as bellicose as Craig or Faulkner, and it was argued that his quiet determination would have satisfied the party's conservatives. Many considered, however, that he lacked both the gravitas and the vision for the role.
Shortly after his defeat in Clifton in February 1969, Morgan was elected to the NI senate, but he resigned in April 1970 to contest the Antrim South by-election. Although back in the Official Unionist fold, Morgan was defeated by the Protestant Unionist candidate, the Rev. William Beattie. In June 1973 he was elected to the Northern Ireland assembly for Belfast North, and campaigned against British entry into the common market, believing that it would erode the integrity of Ulster's barriers against immigration from the south. He also took a strong line against the ‘council of Ireland’ proposal during the assembly debate on the Sunningdale proposals, and on this issue transferred his support from Brian Faulkner to Harry West (qv) (1917–2004) in May 1974. In May 1975 he was elected to the constitutional convention as a member of the hard-line umbrella group, the United Ulster Unionist Coalition.
Having contested every general election in Northern Ireland between 1945 and 1975, Morgan gradually withdrew from politics in the 1970s and devoted most of his time to Christian endeavour. He was a lifelong member of the Oldpark presbyterian church, where he taught in the Sunday school, was chairman of the YMCA, led a Men's Fellowship, and was an elder for fifty-five years. Deeply conservative, he was also a superintendent of the Belfast City Mission and president of the Irish Temperance League, and was associated with both the Irish Evangelisation Society and Castle Erin, Portrush. He was also chairman of the ‘Saturday night rendezvous meeting’, which was formed during the second world war as a result of an amalgamation of the north Belfast blackout meetings and the Harland & Wolff bible class. A member of the Orange order, Morgan served as worshipful master of LOL 1332. In 1961 he was sworn as a privy counsellor for Northern Ireland. He died peacefully at home on 12 May 1999.
He married (17 July 1942) Dorothy Eileen; they had two sons, Raymond and Robert, and a daughter, Anne.