1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cecil, Lord Robert
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Cecil, Lord Robert
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CECIL, LORD (Edgar Algernon) ROBERT (1864- ), English lawyer and statesman (see 24.76), third son of the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, was born Sept. 14 1864. Educated at Eton and University College, Oxford, he obtained a second class in law in 1886. He was a prominent speaker at the Oxford Union, and obtained political experience as one of his father's private secretaries from 1886 to 1888; but he determined to approach an active political career by way of the bar, and was called by the Inner Temple in 1887. He made such progress in his profession that he could take silk in 1899; and he established his position as a sound lawyer and capable advocate. It was not till 1906 that he entered Parliament as Conservative member for E. Marylebone, and he was one of the principal critics of Mr. Birrell's abortive Education bill of that year, contending throughout that facilities should be afforded for the training of children in the religion of their parents. In this he carried on the work of his younger brother, Lord Hugh Cecil, now out of Parliament. But, though a vigilant champion of Church interests, as for instance in opposition to the Deceased Wife's Sister's bill, he also took up, in conjunction with Mr. Harold Cox on the Liberal side, an attitude of individualist opposition to Socialist measures, such as Miners' Eight Hours, Old Age Pensions, and Increment Taxation bills. He also dissociated himself from the tariff reform policy of his party. He had won a leading place among the private members of the House, when Parliament was dissolved in 1910. He then retired from Marylebone, owing to the strong opposition of the tariff reformers, and failed to secure election as a Unionist free trader at Blackburn. In the second General Election of 1910 he stood for N. Cambridgeshire but was beaten by Mr. Neil Primrose. However, he returned to Parliament at a by-election in 1912 as member for the Hitchin division of Herts., the tariff reform issue being now in abeyance. He immediately resumed his prominent position in the House, and was active in his opposition to schemes of socialism and disestablishment. He was a leading advocate of woman suffrage; and, though not palliating militancy, was a strong critic of forcible feeding. Ultimately, after women had been granted the suffrage under the Reform Act of 1918, he had the satisfaction of carrying a resolution permitting them to sit in Parliament.
By the time of the outbreak of the World War his claims to recognition among the Unionist leaders were so considerable that he was appointed Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in the first Coalition Ministry. His functions mainly concerned the vitally important question of blockade; and when there was a considerable outcry against the comparative ineffectiveness of our blockade, a new Ministry of Blockade was constituted, in Feb. 1916, with Lord Robert as minister. In that capacity he announced in June 1916, to the general satisfaction, that the Allies had decided to abandon altogether the Declaration of London. His work was so much appreciated that he was retained both as Minister of Blockade and as Foreign Under-Secretary in Mr. Lloyd George's Ministry of Dec. 1916. In July 1918 the labours of the Foreign Office became so considerable that he was relieved of the Ministry of Blockade, and became Assistant Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, retaining that important post through the negotiations which resulted eventually in the Armistice; but he resigned on the eve of the General Election, on the ground that he could not support the decision of the Coalition Ministry to treat Welsh disestablishment as a fait accompli. Though out of office, he nevertheless went over to Paris in 1919 to help to fashion the League of Nations, of which from the first he was an enthusiastic advocate. He was subsequently indefatigable in pressing its claims upon Parliament and people, urging that the sooner enemy nations, including Germany, could be included in it with safety, the better. In 1920 he attended the first assembly of the League at Geneva as the representative of South Africa at the request of Gen. Smuts, himself a convinced believer in this new international organ. He also took a large share in Parliamentary debate, appearing, for instance, as a strong supporter of the Church Enabling bill, and criticizing the policy of the War Graves Commission and the regulation headstone which it recommended. In spite of his protestation, when he left the Government, that except on the one point of the Welsh bill, he was a convinced supporter, he steadily drifted into opposition, being especially alienated by their gigantic budgets, and by the policy of reprisals in Ireland. At one time both extreme Tory and visionary Radical thought they saw in him the leader of the future; but when he ultimately took his seat on the Opposition front bench in 1921, he did not appear to carry anyone across the House with him, except his brother, Lord Hugh.
Lord Robert Cecil married, in 1889, Lady Eleanor Lambton, daughter of the and Earl of Durham. (G. E. B.)