Earl Ferrers obituary

Publié le par The Guardian - Andrew Roth

The Guardianpublished 18/11/2012 at 13:59 GMT by Andrew Roth

Farmer and Tory politician who sat in the Lords for more than 50 years and was one of the 92 hereditary peers to be elected

Earl Ferrers
Robert Shirley, the 13th Earl Ferrers, who has died aged 83, sat in the House of Lords for more than 50 years and served in the governments of five Conservative prime ministers. In 1999, when the Lords was partially reformed, he was one of the 92 hereditary peers elected to keep their seats. He had demonstrated consummate skill as deputy leader of the Lords from 1979 until 1983 and 1988 until 1997, as well as in previous, lesser jobs; and it had been a shock, to him and others, when he was passed over by both Margaret Thatcher and John Major for the top job there.

In 1992, after Ferrers carried through the charities bill, Lord Richard, then leader of the opposition in the Lords, said: "He deals with bills in his suave and terribly effective manner at the dispatch box. He brushes aside arguments but does it in such a way that one cannot possibly take offence, even when one's favourite amendment bites the dust." He could have mentioned Ferrers's unmatched talent for summarising complicated bills with brilliant simplicity.

When I first met Ferrers in the early 1970s, he was a whip and standing in for Lord Denham at weekly off-the-record press briefings. I thought he had been sent by central casting as an archetypal aristocrat: tall and erect, with black brows and a 1930s military moustache. His family tree stretched back 1,000 years to the Derbyshire village of Shirley. One of his ancestors, Sir Robert Shirley, died in the Tower of London, where he had been imprisoned by Oliver Cromwell. The 4th earl murdered his steward and in 1760 was the last peer in Britain to be hanged.

Robert Washington Shirley, known as Robin, was the son of Robert Walter Shirley, who became 12th Earl Ferrers in 1937 (at which point Robin became Viscount Tamworth), and his wife Hermione. Robin was educated at Winchester college, Hampshire, and Magdalene College, Cambridge, and did national service with the Coldstream Guards in Malaya, before marrying Annabel Carr in 1951. He succeeded as the 13th Earl aged 25 and farmed Hedenham Hall estate, in Norfolk, for 30 years. He then moved on to Ditchingham Hall, in the south of the county, inherited by his wife on the death of her father. He restored the hall, farmed and raised rare breeds, including White Park cattle.

He was recruited as a government whip or lord in waiting in 1962, serving intermittently for eight years before becoming parliamentary secretary for agriculture in 1974. By 1976 he was joint deputy leader of the opposition peers when James Callaghan was prime minister. With Thatcher's victory in 1979, he became both minister of state for agriculture and deputy leader of the Lords. He left office in 1983 when, instead of promoting Ferrers, Thatcher made Willie Whitelaw a viscount, and leader of the Lords.

Admitting he had "missed being part of the team", Ferrers returned as deputy leader and home minister under Lord Belstead, when Whitelaw retired in 1988. He missed out again in 1992, when Major as prime minister put in Lord Wakeham as leader, and yet again in 1994, when Major replaced Wakeham with Viscount Cranborne. Ferrers soldiered on as deputy as well as minister for small firms and consumer affairs. After a year, in 1995 he became minister for the environment and countryside.

Always brilliant at introducing bills, with skilful summaries, he was also adept at securing passage of almost all his bills in the Tory-laden Lords, with the exception of the 1989 licensing bill which extended Sunday licensing by an hour because he mistakenly omitted to say "not content" to an amendment.

In his personal politics he was an old-fashioned rightwing Tory. He favoured capital punishment; opposed Labour's bill to abolish tied cottages in agriculture; was an arch-opponent of devolution; and opposed the televising of the Lords. He told colleagues he thought the age of consent for homosexual acts should be 75.

Ferrers also served various parts of the Trustee Savings Bank, and was a director of the Norwich Union insurance group. From 1979 until 2007 he was high steward of Norwich Cathedral; and in 1983, he was deputy lieutenant for Norfolk.

He is survived by Annabel and their two sons, Robert and Andrew, and daughter, Angela. Two daughters, Selina and Sallyanne, predeceased him.

Robert Washington Shirley, 13th Earl Ferrers, politician, born 8 June 1929; died 13 November 2012

Andrew Roth died in 2010

Publié dans Avis de décès

Pour être informé des derniers articles, inscrivez vous :
Commenter cet article