Robert Shirley, 13th Earl Ferrers

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The Earl Ferrers
13th Earl Ferrers.jpg
Deputy Leader of the House of Lords
In office
January 1988 – May 1997
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
John Major
Preceded byThe Lord Belstead
Succeeded byThe Baroness Jay of Paddington
In office
November 1979 – May 1983
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded byThe Lord Goronwy-Roberts
Succeeded byThe Lord Belstead
Minister of State for Environment and Countryside
In office
6 July 1995 – 2 May 1997
Prime MinisterJohn Major
Preceded byThe Viscount Ullswater
Succeeded byMichael Meacher
Minister of State for Consumer Affairs
In office
20 July 1994 – 6 July 1995
Prime MinisterJohn Major
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Minister of State for Home Affairs
In office
10 January 1988 – 20 July 1994
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
John Major
Preceded byThe Earl of Caithness
Succeeded byMichael Forsyth
Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
In office
7 May 1979 – 13 June 1983
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded byEdward Stanley Bishop
Succeeded byJohn Selwyn Gummer
Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
In office
8 January 1974 – 4 March 1974
Prime MinisterEdward Heath
Preceded byPeggy Fenner
Succeeded byRoland Moyle
Government Whip
In office
5 January 1971 – 8 January 1974
Prime MinisterEdward Heath
Preceded byThe Lord Bethell
Succeeded byThe Lord Sandys
In office
3 December 1962 – 10 October 1964
Prime MinisterHarold Macmillan
Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Preceded byThe Marquess of Lothian
Succeeded byLord Hobson
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
In office
2 February 1955 – 11 November 1999
as a hereditary peer
Preceded byThe 12th Earl Ferrers
Succeeded bySeat abolished
In office
11 November 1999 – 13 November 2012
as an elected hereditary peer
Preceded bySeat created
Succeeded byThe Viscount Ridley
Personal details
Robert Washington Shirley

(1929-06-08)8 June 1929
Died13 November 2012(2012-11-13) (aged 83)
Political partyConservative
SpouseAnnabel Carr
Parent(s)Robert Shirley, 12th Earl Ferrers
Hermione Justice Morley

Robert Washington Shirley, 13th Earl Ferrers, PC, DL (8 June 1929 – 13 November 2012), styled Viscount Tamworth between 1937 and 1954, was a British Conservative politician and member of the House of Lords as one of the remaining hereditary peers. He was one of the few people to serve in the governments of five prime ministers.

Background and education[edit]

Lord Ferrers was the eldest child and only son of Robert Shirley, 12th Earl Ferrers. Educated at the West Downs School, Winchester College and Magdalene College, Cambridge, he succeeded to become 13th Earl Ferrers in 1954 on the death of his father. He took his seat in the House of Lords on 2 February 1955.[1]

He received an emergency commission as a second lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards on 27 November 1948,[2] serving in Malaya. His commission was regularized on 4 March 1950, with seniority from 1 January 1949.[3] Tamworth was promoted to lieutenant on 3 August 1950.[4]

Political career[edit]

An early contribution in parliament in 1957 was against the admission of women:

Frankly, I find women in politics highly distasteful. In general, they are organizing, they are pushing and they are commanding. Some of them do not even know where loyalty to their country lies. I disagree with those who say that women in your Lordships' House would cheer up our Benches. If one looks at a cross-section of women already in Parliament I do not feel that one could say that they are an exciting example of the attractiveness of the opposite sex. I believe that there are certain duties and certain responsibilities which nature and custom have decreed men are more fitted to take on ; and some responsibilities which nature and custom have decreed women should take on. It is generally accepted that the man should bear the major responsibility in life. It is generally accepted, for better or worse, that a man's judgment is generally more logical and less tempestuous than that of a woman. Why then should we encourage women to eat their way, like acid into metal, into positions of trust and responsibility which previously men have held? If we allow women into this House where will this emancipation end? Shall we in a few years' time be referring to “the noble and learned Lady, the Lady Chancellor”? I find that a horrifying thought. But why should we not? Shall we follow the rather vulgar example set by Americans of having female ambassadors? Will our judges, for whom we have so rich and well-deserved respect, be drawn from the serried ranks of the ladies? If that is so, I would offer to the most reverend Primate the humble and respectful advice that he had better take care lest he may find himself out of a job. These examples may sound a little excessive, but I fail to see any reason whatever why, if one allows women to become Peers, this form of emancipation should not extend into those other positions of trust and responsibility which in the past have been carried out, and to such good effect, by men. There is another reason: in this age of science and statistics, where everything has to be accounted for and tabulated, where even the atom and the molecule are no longer a mass of red and green balls attached by pieces of wire which no well-intentioned student could ever understand, there are nevertheless three virtues which evade such tabulation: common sense, intuition and judgement; and I do not believe that the common sense, intuition and judgement of the public will allow women to be taken into those positions of trust of which I have spoken. I hope, therefore, that your lordships' judgement and logic will be such that women will not find their way here."[5]

In the event, a small number of women came into the Lords as a result of the Life Peerages Act 1958. Women who held hereditary peerages in their own right were admitted by the Peerage Act 1963.

Ferrers served as a Lord-in-waiting (government whip) from 1962 until 1964 under both Harold Macmillan and Sir Alec Douglas-Home. When the Conservatives were returned to power under Edward Heath, he once again served as a Lord-in-Waiting from 1971 to 1974, then serving as a Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) at the beginning of 1974.

When the Conservatives were returned to power under Margaret Thatcher in 1979, Lord Ferrers returned to MAFF, this time as a Minister of State. He left office in 1983, and returned to the backbenches in the Lords. In 1988 he returned to government service as a Minister of State at the Home Office, and in 1994 moved to the Department of Trade and Industry, where he remained until 1995, when he became Minister for the Environment at the Department of the Environment. Between 1979 and 1983, and again between 1988 and 1997, he served as Deputy Leader of the House of Lords.

With the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999, Ferrers along with almost all other hereditary peers lost his automatic right to sit in the House of Lords. He was, however, elected as one of the 92 elected hereditary peers to remain in the House of Lords pending completion of House of Lords reform, coming first in the ballot.[6]

He was made a Privy Counsellor in 1982. Earl Ferrers was a Vice-President of the Royal Stuart Society and Grand Prior of the Grand Bailiwick & Priory of England and Wales of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem. He was also High Steward of Norwich Cathedral from 1979-2007 and a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Norfolk from 1983. He was moved to the retired list in 2004 upon reaching the Mandatory retirement age of 75.[7]

Earl Ferrers was Deputy Leader of the House of Lords from 1979 to 1983 and from 1988 to 1997, and Minister of State in four different departments: at Agriculture, Food and Fisheries from 1979 to 1983; at the Home Office from 1988 to 1994; at the Department of Trade and Industry (in charge of small firms and consumer affairs) from 1994 to 1995; and at the Department of the Environment (responsible for environment and the countryside) from 1995 to 1997


The Earl married Annabel Carr (1930–2019) in 1951. The couple had five children:

  • Robert William Saswalo Shirley, 14th Earl Ferrers (b. 29 Dec 1952), a chartered accountant;
  • Lady Angela Mary Shirley (b. 16 June 1954);
  • Lady Sallyanne Margaret Shirley (22 March 1957 – 6 July 2011);
  • Lady Selina Clare Shirley (1 July 1958 – 2 June 1998), in whose memory the Royal Academy's Selina Chenevière Travel Award was founded;
  • Hon. Andrew John Carr Sewallis Shirley (b. 24 June 1965).

The family country seat is Ditchingham Hall near the village of Ditchingham, south Norfolk.


  1. ^ "Prayers (1955)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Lords. 2 February 1955.
  2. ^ "No. 38520". The London Gazette. 25 January 1949. p. 443.
  3. ^ "No. 38927". The London Gazette. 2 June 1950. p. 2723.
  4. ^ "No. 38984". The London Gazette. 4 August 1950. p. 3999.
  5. ^ The Parliamentary Debates (Hansard): Fifth Series Volume CCXI House of Lords official report (London: H.M. Stationery Office, 1957), p. 719
  6. ^ "Earl Ferrers". The Telegraph. 13 November 2012. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
  7. ^ Roth, Andrew (18 November 2012). "Earl Ferrers obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 November 2022.

External links[edit]

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Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by Earl Ferrers
Member of the House of Lords
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Parliament of the United Kingdom
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Elected hereditary peer to the House of Lords
under the House of Lords Act 1999
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