Cecil, Robert Arthur James Gascoyne-, fifth Marquess of Salisbury 1893-1972, politician, was born 27 August 1893 at Hatfield House, the elder son and second of the four children of Lord James Edward Hubert Gascoyne-Cecil [qv.], who became the fourth Marquess of Salisbury in 1903. Educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford, as Viscount Cranborne, he did not complete his degree because of service in World War I in the Grenadier Guards; he was awarded the croix de guerre. After the war he worked in the City for some years and entered politics in the 1929 general election, when he held South Dorset for the Conservatives
     In 1934 he was appointed parliamentary private secretary to Anthony Eden (later the Earl of Avon) who was lord privy seal and minister without portfolio in the national government. His first ministerial appointment was that of under-secretary of state for foreign affairs when Eden succeeded Sir Samuel Hoare [qv.] as foreign secretary in 1935. He worked in complete harmony with his chief and, when Eden resigned in February 1938 in protest against the appeasement of Mussolini, he resigned also. His resignation speech greatly annoyed the prime minister, Neville Chamberlain. After the Munich agreement in October 1938 Cranborne again expressed his unhappiness when he referred in the Commons to Czechoslovakia as a country thrown to the wolves
     When Chamberlain resigned in May 1940 (Sir) Winston Churchill brought Cranborne back into office as paymaster-general and then into the Cabinet in October as secretary of state for the dominions. In January 1941 he was raised to the Lords as Baron Cecil of Essendon so that he could deal with foreign affairs in that House. In February 1942 he was appointed secretary of state for the colonies and leader of the House of Lords. He returned to the Dominions Office in September 1943, having declined an invitation to succeed Lord Linlithgow [qv.] as viceroy of India. Linlithgow had hoped he would accept once it had been decided that Eden could not be spared, as he thought highly of Cranborne's abilities
     The victory of the Labour Party in the general election of 1945 marked the start of what were probably Cranborne's most effective years, as leader of the Opposition in the Lords. His first major challenge came with the Parliament Bill of 1947. The bill was a direct attack upon the delaying powers of the Lords; Salisbury, as he became on the death of his father in April 1947, fought it with all the formidable debating qualities at his command. After noting the tributes paid by the government to the Opposition in the Lords for passing bill after bill without obstruction, he referred to this bill as a bomb in a battle of flowers. He rounded on the government's doctrine that any government had the right to interpret the views of the people even when these were not accurately known, calling it the doctrine of a blank cheque with a vengeance
     In the same speech Salisbury made a strong plea for the reform of the House of Lords on the grounds that it was still true to say that parties of the right were in too great a majority. He pointed out that in 1888 his grandfather had introduced bills to create life peers and to eliminate peers who did not attend their duties, bills which were defeated not in the Lords but in the Commons. He remained an ardent champion of reform
     The government postponed the bill so that all-party talks on reform could be held. The talks began in February 1948 and embraced the composition of the Lords as well as their powers. Although the Conservatives were prepared to recommend that a permanent majority should not be assured for any one political party and that heredity should not alone constitute a qualification for admission, the talks foundered on the question of powers
     Salisbury had done his best in the cause of reform and he could now resume his attack upon the Parliament Bill in the House. The Lords defeated it in three successive sessions and it was passed against their will in December 1949
     Meanwhile Salisbury tackled the Iron and Steel Nationalization Bill. His tactics were to delay the coming into operation of the Act until 1 October 1950, after the general election, in order to give the electorate a chance of giving a considered opinion on the proposals. The tactics were effective in so far as the government, admitting that they had to face the realities of a situation which they were powerless to alter, tabled an amendment which had the effect that the bill, although it would be on the statute book immediately, could not be implemented in full unless the government were returned to power. The Opposition in both Houses accepted this compromise. Salisbury protested against the accusation by Herbert Morrison (later Lord Morrison of Lambeth) [qv.] of intolerable interference by the Lords and claimed that the government's decision was a complete justification for the existence of a second chamber
     With the return of the Conservatives to office in 1951 Salisbury was appointed lord privy seal and again leader of the House of Lords. In March 1952 he became secretary of state for Commonwealth relations and then, in November, lord president of the council. He carried the sword of state at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
     At about this time he was deputed by Churchill to address the Conservative back-benchers on the subject of independent television. He argued, on behalf of the Cabinet, against its introduction but the Parliamentary Party were strongly in favour of it as a safeguard against monopoly broadcasting and did not welcome his words, especially when he deployed the double-edged weapon of the theory of the mandate—a theory which had always attracted him
     Salisbury supported Eden loyally through the Suez crisis in 1956. His advice was sought by the Crown when a successor to the fallen prime minister had to be found; he was in no doubt, after consultation with his Cabinet colleagues, that Harold Macmillan (later the Earl of Stockton) was their choice. In Macmillan's government he was again appointed lord president of the Council and leader of the House of Lords. It is probable that he was never really happy in the new administration (he was very different in temperament from the prime minister) and by March 1957 he had clearly had enough when he suddenly resigned over the release from detention of Archbishop Makarios [qv.]. There was a banner headline in an evening paper Salisbury: the Storm Breaks, but there was no storm of any kind, although there was distress in the constituency parties, where his influence had always been strongest. It was a sad ending to a distinguished career
     From then on Salisbury concentrated upon strong and often strident criticism of the government's African policies. Macmillan's wind of change did not impress him and he lashed out at what he believed was the over-hasty emancipation of the African colonies. Accusing Iain Macleod [qv.], the colonial secretary, of deceiving the white settlers in Kenya, he indulged in language that conspicuously lacked the dignified tone which he had always adopted so effectively in the past, and described him as too clever by half. It was a savage attack and it certainly harmed the colonial secretary. Salisbury followed it up by resigning his presidency of the Hertfordshire Constituency Conservative Association
     As the crisis in Rhodesia gathered momentum, he attacked the policies of both government and opposition. When the Rhodesians made their unilateral declaration of independence he would not support it, admitting that it was unconstitutional. At the same time he compared their action with that of the American colonists at the time of the war of independence, quoting Burke's words: It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason and justice tell me I ought to do. He did not live to see the creation of Zimbabwe
     Bitterly though he felt about events in Africa, and bitterly though he spoke about them in public, at no time did the charm and courtesy of Bobbety, as his friends knew him, desert him in private. On a day's shooting or at a dinner party he was still a delightful companion. He was a man who loved his country, his church, and his family, and who had served without fear
     Salisbury was appointed privy councillor in 1940 and created KG in 1946. He was chancellor of Liverpool University from 1951 to 1971 and had honorary degrees from Toronto (1949), Birmingham (1950), Oxford (1951), St. Andrews (1953), Manchester (1954), Cambridge (1954), London (1955), and Exeter (1956). He was a fellow of Eton College from 1951 to 1966 and, because of his work for science while lord president of the Council, was elected FRS in 1957
     In 1915 he married Elizabeth Vere (died 1982), daughter of Lord Richard Frederick Cavendish. They had three sons, the second of whom died in 1934 and the third in 1944. The eldest son, Robert Edward Peter Cecil (born 1916), succeeded as marquess when his father died at Hatfield 23 February 1972.

     Lord Todd in Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, vol. xix, 1973
     personal knowledge.

Contributor: Glendevon

Published: 1986