David Yarburgh Cunliffe-Lister

The second Earl of Swinton THE Earl of Swinton, a man whose interests ran the gamut from the Conservative Party to Featherstone Rovers rugby league club, has died at the age of 69 after a long illness.

David Yarburgh Cunliffe-Lister, who became Lord Masham when he succeeded his grandfather to the title in 1972, was also passionate about cricket, horse racing, fishing and shooting.

Lord Swinton served as Margaret Thatcher's Deputy Chief Whip in the Lords from 1982 to 1986.

This was a testing time for the Government Whips' Office, as the Lords were giving Margaret Thatcher some of her most difficult legislative problems, on issues such as the decision to abolish the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county boroughs.

Lord Swinton was also Government spokesman on agriculture and education from 1983 to 1986.

The family was steeped in Tory politics, their seat Swinton Castle being home to the Conservative College from 1948 to 1975. Rab Butler delivered the first lecture, and the college held regular courses for party members and agents and became a hotbed of Tory thinking.

Lord Swinton, too, was always keen to discuss the party's fortunes, a statement he made in 1961, when he said the Conservatives, should change their "terrible name", having particular relevance to the challenges faced by the modern-day party.

He told Bradford East Conservatives that, because of its name, people thought the party stodgy and conservative in taste, while there was an idea that the working man would always vote Labour. But he insisted that the party was not just for the upper classes. "It is everybody's party," he insisted.

Lord Swinton's grandfather, Philip Cunliffe-Lister, the first Earl of Swinton, had been an MP and a veteran of 11 Tory Cabinets.

His great-grandfather was the first Lord Masham, Samuel Cunliffe-Lister, the founder of Listers Mill in Bradford.

Before the nationalisation of the coal industry, Lord Swinton's family had owned the colliery in Featherstone and he never forgot his links with the area, being a fervent supporter, as well as president, of Featherstone Rovers and a champion of the cause of rugby league.

He was vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Rugby League Group and played an important role in the campaign to end the archaic and unfair discrimination by the Rugby Football Union which barred rugby league players from participating in the other code.

In this, he worked closely with David Hinchliffe, the Labour MP for Wakefield. After Mr Hinchliffe launched his Sports Discrimination Bill in the Commons, Lord Swinton piloted it through the Lords.

"I thought very highly of him for standing up for what he believed in, despite of the opposition of many in his own party," said Mr Hinchliffe this week.

Lord Swinton also played a big role in setting up the Yorkshire Mining Museum at Wakefield, of which he was a trustee, and which subsequently became the National Coal Mining Museum.

"David was held in high regard by people because of his strong links to mining," said Mr Hinchliffe. "Although we were miles apart politically, I always had huge admiration for him."

Lord Swinton organised many cricket matches in the grounds of his family seat, Swinton Castle, and was a supporter and member of Yorkshire County Cricket Club and a close friend of Fred Trueman and Brian Close.

He was also steward of Haydock Park and Pontefract racecourses.

However, it was at shooting that he truly excelled. Both on the grouse moors and in the woods of his beloved Swinton Estate he showed that he was truly one of the best shots in the country.

Even after he had retired from shooting he still attended every day and was especially encouraging to any young gun, giving them a sporting experience they would always remember.

As well as sport and politics, Lord Masham also had a great love of food, drink and jazz.

This was never more in evidence than in his love of picnics, which saw him entertaining members of the Chaine de Rotisseurs food and wine club, personnel from Menwith Hill or merely family and friends on the banks of the River Ure.

These were said to be wonderfully jovial occasions and often ended with Lord Masham giving an impromptu rendition of The Teddy Bears' Picnic. He was known to enjoy a good performance and took part in several amusing productions with the Masham Players.

Born on March 21 1937, David Yarburgh Cunliffe-Lister was the first son of Major the Hon John Yarburgh Cunliffe-Lister, who was killed in action in the Second World War, and Anne Irvine.

Educated at Winchester College and the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, he married Susan Lilian Primrose Sinclair in 1959.

Disabled in a riding accident in 1958, she was awarded a life peerage in 1970 for her campaigning for the rights of the disabled and became Baroness Masham of Ilton. She sits as a cross-bencher in the Lords and for many years they formed a husband-and-wife team in the House. Lord Swinton left the House of Lords in 1999.

On the death of his grandfather in 1972, he succeeded as the second Earl. But in 1976, the family home, Swinton Castle, in Masham, North Yorkshire was sold to repay death duties on the estate of the Earl's grandmother, Mary, Countess of Swinton. It became Lindley Lodge Young People's Centre and the Earl and Countess made their home in Dykes Hill House on the estate.

Lord Swinton was also a member of the Countryside Commission from 1987 to 1993. His earlier political career saw him serve as a member of both North Riding County Council and its successor, North Yorkshire, from 1961 to 1977.

He was on the committee of the Yorkshire Country Landowners Association and the Moorland Association, as well as being a magistrate and serving as Deputy Lieutenant of North Yorkshire in 1978. From 1987 to 1993, he was director of Leeds Permanent Building Society.

Education was always a cause close to his heart and he was a governor of three nearby schools: Queen Mary's, Mowbray and Cundall Manor, as well as being deputy governor of the Church Lads and Girls Brigade and director of the Northern Division of Woodard Schools.

He was also chairman of the Anglo-American Community Relations Committee at RAF Menwith Hill and bailli of the Yorkshire Chaine des Rotisseurs food and wine society.

Lord Swinton died after a 10-year battle with the results of a stroke, Parkinson's disease, diabetes and eventually cancer.

He is survived by his wife and adopted children, Claire and John, who cannot inherit the peerage.

He is succeeded to the title of Earl of Swinton by his brother, Nicholas John Cunliffe-Lister, whose eldest son, Mark – now owner of Swinton Park which is run as a country-house hotel – becomes Lord Masham.

"He was very devoted to Yorkshire, and particularly Masham, so much so that it was possibly to the detriment of his political career in London. He was honest enough to say his real love was the countryside, the estate and the local people," said his brother.

A funeral service will be held at St Mary's Church, Masham, at 2.30pm on Thursday April 6.