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Robert Michael James Gascoyne-Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury, PC (born September 30, 1946), is a British Conservative politician. During the 1990s, he was Leader of the House of Lords under his courtesy title of Viscount Cranborne. He is currently the Chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire.

Contents

Political career

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House of Commons

Lord Cranborne attended Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford and became a merchant banker before going to work on the family estates. He was selected, unexpectedly, as Conservative candidate for South Dorset in 1976, where his family owned lands, despite the presence of several former MPs on the shortlist. He spoke at the 1978 Conservative Party conference to oppose sanctions on Rhodesia. He won the seat in the 1979 general election, the seventh consecutive generation of his family to sit in the Commons, and in his first speech urged Ian Smith to stand aside in favour of Abel Muzorewa.

He attracted a general reputation as a right-winger, especially on matters affecting the Church of England, but confounded this reputation when he co-wrote a pamphlet in 1981 which said that the fight against unemployment ought to be given more priority than the fight against inflation. He took an interest in Northern Ireland, and when Jim Prior announced his policy of 'Rolling Devolution', resigned an unpaid job as assistant to Douglas Hurd.

Lord Cranborne became known as an anti-communist through activities in support of Afghan refugees in Pakistan in the early 1980s, and sending food parcels to Poland. (In fact until the early years of the 21st century a charity shop was run on his Hatfield estate which was solely to raise money for this cause and also to fund Polish orphanages.) He was involved in efforts to fund the Afghan resistance. His strong opposition to any involvement by the Republic of Ireland in Northern Ireland led him to oppose the Anglo-Irish Agreement and contributed to his decision to retire from the House of Commons in 1987.

House of Lords

After the 1992 general election, John Major utilised a writ of acceleration to call Lord Cranborne up to the House of Lords in one of his father's junior baronies. Lord Cranborne was summoned as Baron Cecil of Essendon (his father's most junior dignity), though continued to be known by his courtesy style of Viscount Cranborne. This is the last time a writ of acceleration has been issued, and because of the provisions of the House of Lords Act of 1999, abolishing the automatic right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords, any future use of the writ of acceleration is highly unlikely.

He served for two years as a junior defence minister before being appointed as Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords in 1994. When Major resigned to fight for re-election as Conservative Party Leader in July 1995, Lord Cranborne led his re-election campaign. He was recognised as one of the few members of the Cabinet who were personally loyal to Major, but continued to lead the Conservative Peers after Labour won the 1997 general election.

When the new Prime Minister Tony Blair proposed the removal of the hereditary element in the House of Lords, Lord Cranborne negotiated a pact with the government to retain a small number (later set at ninety-two) of hereditary peers for the interim period. For the sake of form this amendment was formally proposed by Lord Weatherill, Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers. However, Lord Cranborne gave his party's approval without consulting the Leader, William Hague, who knew nothing and was embarrassed when Blair told him of it in the House of Commons. Hague then sacked Lord Cranborne, who accepted his error, saying that he had "rushed in, like an ill-trained spaniel".

All former Leaders of the House of Lords who were hereditary peers accepted Life Peerages to keep them in the House in 1999. Lord Cranborne, who had received the title Baron Gascoyne-Cecil, of Essendon in the County of Rutland, remained active on the backbenches, until the House adopted new rules for declaration of financial interests which he believed were too onerous. He took 'Leave of Absence' on November 1, 2001. He was therefore out of the House when he succeeded his father as 7th Marquess on July 11, 2003.

In January 2010, Lord Salisbury and Owen Paterson hosted secret talks at Hatfield House, involving the DUP, the UUP and the Tory party. These talks prompted speculation that the Tories were attempting to create a pan-unionist front to limit Sinn Fein and the SDLP in the general election of 2010[1].

Personal life: ancestry, lineage, and family

Robert Michael James Gascoyne-Cecil was born on 30 September 1946 as the eldest child and first-born son of the Honourable Robert and Mollie Gascoyne-Cecil, who became Viscount and Viscountess Cranborne in 1947, when his great-grandfather the 4th Marquess of Salisbury (son and heir of the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, thrice Prime Minister) died on 4 April.

His father the 6th Marquess succeeded his father, the 5th Marquess of Salisbury (1893-1972), and generally eschewed a political career unlike his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. The 3rd Marquess of Salisbury (1830-1903) had been a late Victorian Prime Minister; the 4th Marquess of Salisbury (1861-1947) had been Tory Leader of the House of Lords; the 5th Marquess of Salisbury (1893-1972) had been also a leading Conservative politician in the House of Lords. The Marquesses of Salisbury were descended from the 1st Marquess, a courtier and favorite of King George III of the United Kingdom, who was himself a descendant of Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury and one of the men who brought about the accession of King James I of England. Robert Cecil was himself a younger son of Elizabeth's courtier-advisor William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, the descendant of a Welsh soldier David Cyssell - the family name is still pronounced "Siss-el" not "Sess-il".

His mother Marjorie "Mollie" Olein Wyndham-Quin was a descendant of Windham Wyndham-Quin, 5th Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl on her father's side, and of George Bridgeman, 4th Earl of Bradford, via her maternal grandmother. Lady Salisbury is a noted gardener, who has advised several other beginning gardeners including Charles, Prince of Wales.

His parents had seven children, of whom four sons and a daughter survive, although two sons predeceased them.

Robert Gascoyne-Cecil began using Robert as his preferred Christian name from his 21st birthday. In 1970, aged 23, he married Hannah Stirling, niece of Lt Col David Stirling (a co-founder of the SAS) and a descendant of the Lords Lovat, Scottish Catholic aristocrats. The marriage was initially opposed by his family, mostly because Miss Stirling was Roman Catholic.

During the 1970s, Lord and Lady Cranborne had two sons and three daughters (including twins), of whom the two elder daughters are married. Until recently, they lived at Cranborne Manor, Dorset. The family seat is Hatfield House, once home to Queen Elizabeth I of England which was given the family by James I of England in exchange for the Cecil family house Theobalds, which the king liked better. The Salisbury family is very wealthy, with land in Dorset, Hertfordshire, and in London; and with heirlooms at Hatfield House.

He ranked 325th in the Sunday Times Rich List 2008, with an estimated wealth of £250m in property.

The Marquess of Salisbury's heir is his elder son Robert Edward "Ned" William Gascoyne-Cecil, called Viscount Cranborne (b. 1970). The heir is currently unmarried, though he does have a daughter born out of wedlock in 2001.[2]. The younger son Lord James has recently married.[3]

Titles

  • Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, Esquire (1946-1947)
  • The Hon. Robert Gascoyne-Cecil (1947-1972)
  • Viscount Cranborne (1972-1979)
  • Viscount Cranborne MP (1979-1987)
  • Viscount Cranborne (1987-1994)
  • The Rt Hon. Viscount Cranborne, PC (1994-2003)
  • The Most Hon. The Marquess of Salisbury, PC (2003-)

Notes

External links

Offices held

Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Wakeham
Leader of the House of Lords
1994 – 1997
Succeeded by
The Lord Richard
Lord Privy Seal
1994 – 1997
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Evelyn King
Member of Parliament for South Dorset
1979 – 1987
Succeeded by
Ian Bruce
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by
Robert Gascoyne-Cecil
Marquess of Salisbury
2003 – present
Incumbent
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Robert Gascoyne-Cecil
Baron Cecil
(writ of acceleration)

1994 – present
Incumbent

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