Dugdale, William Lionel, first baronet, and first Baron Crathorne 1897-1977, minister of agriculture and fisheries, was born at Bucklands Hotel, Brooke St., London, 20 July 1897, the only son (he had one sister) of James Lionel Dugdale, of Crathorne, Yorkshire, an army captain, and his wife, Maud Violet, daughter of George William Plukenett Woodroffe, of the Royal Horse Guards. He was educated at Eton and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. In 1916 he joined the Royal Scots Greys and served in France and Belgium. After the war he was captain (1923), and later adjutant (1927) in the Yorkshire Hussars (Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own) Yeomanry (TA).
His parliamentary career began when he was elected Conservative MP for the Richmond division of the North Riding of Yorkshire in 1929. He retained this seat until 1959. In 1931 he became parliamentary private secretary to Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister (later Earl of Swinton) [qv.], president of the Board of Trade in the national government, and he continued as his PPS when he became colonial secretary and secretary of state for air. In 1935 Stanley Baldwin (later Earl Baldwin of Bewdley), the prime minister, selected Dugdale to be his own PPS.
He was therefore deeply involved from the first moment that the prime minister took cognizance of the relationship between the King and Mrs Simpson and was totally in the prime minister's confidence, in fact long before the members of the Cabinet became aware of what Baldwin was doing. He was in attendance on the prime minister on almost every occasion when he saw either the King or other members of the royal family and later on when the Cabinet colleagues were consulted. He was also present at the final dinner at Fort Belvedere before the King abdicated. He gave Baldwin much moral support and helped him to deal with an immensely difficult task so that the matter could be concluded with as little disturbance as possible to the country as a whole, and with the minimum amount of damage to the monarchy.
From 1937 to 1940 Dugdale was a junior lord of the Treasury, and then was on active service in Egypt with the Yorkshire Hussars. In February 1941 he returned to England and became deputy chief government whip. He left that office in 1942 to become chairman of the Conservative Party Organization (he had been vice-chairman in 1941-2), but he became ill and resigned in October 1944. He received a baronetcy in the New Year honours in 1945.
During the Labour government after 1945 Dugdale was opposition spokesman on agriculture, a position for which his landowning interests in Yorkshire well-fitted him. He was therefore an obvious choice as minister of agriculture in (Sir) Winston Churchill's government in 1951. At the same time he was admitted to the Privy Council, and in September 1953 he was made a member of the Cabinet.
He inherited, like most other ministers, a vast amount of wartime regulations which the Labour government had done little to remove and this was largely the cause of the mishandling of the Crichel Down affair. The Air Ministry had taken over some land in Dorset for use as a bombing range and had later passed it on to the Ministry of Agriculture. The original owners wished to repurchase the land, but the Crown Land commissioners instead found another tenant without informing the owners. This action aroused the anger of farmers and MPs, who demanded a public inquiry. Dugdale resisted this, without avail, and the inquiry's report severely criticized various civil servants who, it was said, had deliberately deceived the minister. Dugdale was a man of very high principles who firmly believed that if a Ministry made a mistake, the minister, as ultimately responsible, should resign. This he did, although many of his colleagues tried to dissuade him as he bore no personal responsibility. The ending of Dugdale's political career in this way forced ministers and senior civil servants to think seriously about the reduction or elimination of the vast powers they had acquired during the war.
One of his passions in life was racing and as a young officer in the Royal Scots Greys he occasionally rode on the flat and in point-to-points and over fences. He had often watched his father's horses working on Middleham Moor, where his own horses were subsequently trained. In 1951 he owned a good horse, Socrates, which was beaten, although favourite, in the Cambridgeshire; it subsequently won the Zetland and Manchester Cups. His contribution to racing administration was unobtrusive but extremely effective, stemming from his friendly, unassuming nature and his integrity. In 1959-60, when the issue of a levy on horse-racing was an extremely controversial subject, it was he who played a key role in the departmental committee which resolved the matter. Subsequently he served as one of the first Jockey Club representatives on the Horserace Betting Levy Board from 1964 to 1973.
Deeply interested in European affairs, in 1958 he became a member of the Council of Europe. He also joined the NATO parliamentarians conference, of which he became president in 1962-3. He did a great deal of work through both organizations to interest British MPs in the vital importance of European countries and the USA working together to guarantee peace. When he retired from Parliament in 1959 Dugdale was created first Baron Crathorne. He was chairman of the north of England advisory committee for civil aviation from 1964 to 1972, and chairman of the political honours scrutiny committee from 1961.
In 1936 he married Nancy (died 1969), formerly wife of Sylvester Govett Gates and daughter of Sir Charles Tennant [qv.], merchant and art patron. They had two sons, of whom the elder, Charles James (born 1939), succeeded his father in the barony when he died at home at Crathorne Hall, Yarm, Cleveland, 26 March 1977.
Contributor: St. Aldwyn