Lord Belstead dies, aged 73

EADT Political Editor GRAHAM DINES looks back on the life of Lord Belstead - a former Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Lieutenant of his beloved Suffolk for nine years until 2003.

EADT Political Editor GRAHAM DINES looks back on the life of Lord Belstead - a former Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Lieutenant of his beloved Suffolk for nine years until 2003.

AFTER a long battle with illness, Lord Belstead, former Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk and a key member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet in the late 1980s, has died in St Elizabeth Hospice, Ipswich, aged 73.

A quiet and unassuming Suffolk landowner, he was one of the least likely candidates to become a Cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher. Yet he was thrust into the political limelight by the resignation of one of Mrs Thatcher's closest and most trusted advisers and supporters, Willie Whitelaw.

Two weekends into January 1988, Lord Belstead was invited to Chequers, the Prime Minister's official country residence, and over lunch was told of his promotion to Leader of the House of Lords.

At the same time, he was appointed Lord Privy Seal - a device used to ensure Lord Belstead was given Cabinet rank. His promotion followed the resignation of Whitelaw on doctors' orders, after suffering a mild stroke during a Westminster carol service.

John Julian Ganzoni, second Baron Belstead of Ipswich, born on September 30 1932, was the son of John Ganzoni - Tory MP for Ipswich from 1914 until he was created a hereditary peer in 1937 - and Gwendolen Gertrude Turner. Educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, he succeeded to the title on the death of his father in 1958.

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He became one of the most influential figures in Tory Party politics in Suffolk and throughout East Anglia. He served for many years as Chairman and then President of Ipswich Conservative Association and one of his greatest delights was the election of a Tory MP for Ipswich - Michael Irvine in 1987.

Civic service had been instilled into him from an early age and in 1962, he was appointed a Justice of the Peace, serving on the Ipswich bench.

“Suffolk has been very important to me,” Lord Belstead told the East Anglian Daily Times shortly after his promotion to the Cabinet in 1988. “My mother was born and bred in Suffolk, and her surname was Turner, which is a very old Suffolk name.

“It was my father who came from away. His father had been Swiss and came to this country, and was naturalised and married an English wife. My father was a barrister and when he wanted to stand for Parliament got adopted for the Conservatives in Ipswich and just as the 1914-18 war started, he was elected.”

After graduating from Oxford, he taught history at a preparatory school and had a lifelong interest in education, later becoming a governor of four schools in Suffolk. His maiden speech in the Lords in January 1964 - six years after succeeding to the peerage - was on the Newsom Report on secondary education and it was education that was to give him his first job in government.

When the Conservatives pulled off their shock General Election victory in 1970, Ted Heath appointed Lord Belstead Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Education and Science, becoming the Government's education spokesman in the House of Lords.

Three years later, as a result of the resignations from the Government of Lord Jellicoe and Lord Lampton following a “call-girl” scandal, Lord Belstead was moved to the Northern Ireland office, at a time when the IRA's bullet and bomb campaign was reeking mayhem across the province and on the mainland.

Heath lost the 1974 election and Lord Belstead spent five years on the opposition benches in the Lords until Margaret Thatcher took the Tories to power in 1979. She appointed him a junior Home Office minister and three years later - as a result of resignations of Foreign and Commonwealth ministers at the time of the Falklands War - he was promoted to Minister of State at the FCO.

In the New Year Honours List of 1982, he became a member of the Privy Council, an honour usually reserved for Cabinet ministers.

After the Tories' 1983 landslide election victory, the Suffolk peer became Deputy Leader of the Lords and switched to the Ministry of Agriculture. Yet another Tory election victory in 1987 saw Lord Belstead move to the Department of the Environment and six months later came his elevation to Cabinet rank.

With John Major's election as Prime Minister in 1990, Lord Belstead was demoted to Paymaster General and Deputy to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, finally leaving the Government after Major's election victory of 1992. He became chairman of the Parole Board, serving until 1997.

In 1994, the leading role he had played in Suffolk was recognised with his appointment as Lord Lieutenant, taking over from Sir Joshua Rowley. He served as the Queen's representative in the county until 2003.

As Lord Lieutenant, one of his last official duties was to greet and accompany Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh during their Golden Jubilee tour of Ipswich, Stowmarket and Bury St Edmunds in the summer of 2002.

During this period, Tony Blair's great cull of hereditary peers from the House of Lords would have removed his right to sit in the upper chamber, but he was one of just 15 hereditaries to be created a life peer. He took the title Baron Ganzoni of Ipswich.

Throughout his life, Lord Belstead was a keen sports enthusiast and inherited his father's love of tennis. He served as Chairman of Suffolk Playing Fields Association, President of Felixstowe Lawn Tennis Club and President of Suffolk LTA, played tennis for the county and was a member of the All-England Lawn Tennis Club and the MCC.

Lord Belstead, who never married, lived at Great Bealings on the outskirts of Ipswich. He is survived by his sister, the Hon Jill Ganzoni, and as there is no heir, the Belstead title becomes extinct.

Paying tribute last night, Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer, who served in the Thatcher and Major governments with Lord Belstead, said: "He was the most courteous and considerate man I have ever met. Both in the Home Office and Northern Ireland, where these qualities were need, he was outstanding.

"He gave the impression of shyness, but it was in fact courteous respect. He was decidedly a Conservative, but was well respected across the political divide.

"He had an absolute passion for Suffolk, and we owe him a huge debt because while in Government he fought to obtain vital sea defences for Aldeburgh."

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