Baroness Young

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BARONESS Janet Young, who played rugby as a schoolgirl and emerged as the "Iron Lady" of the House of Lords, was the only woman Margaret Thatcher elevated to Cabinet rank in her 11 years of power.

Her life-long ambition to become an MP was never fulfilled, but she was made a life peeress in 1971 and became the first woman Leader of the House of Lords.

Throughout her political career, Lady Young was a doughty fighter, a firm adherent of the self-help brand of Toryism and a tireless advocate for the family unit and in protecting children from what she regarded as liberal excesses.

One campaign she fought bitterly was to prevent unmarried couples, whether straight or homosexual, being able to adopt children. But political observers found it impossible to label her as being either on the right or the left of the party. She was somewhere in the middle.

Lady Young always laughed off her description as the Tory Party’s Iron Lady Mark Two, but she conceded: "If you want to get things done, you have to exercise a certain amount of discipline."

And after her ministerial career was long over, Lady Young emerged as a fierce opponent of the John Major government’s highly contentious no-fault divorce legislation.

Janet Mary Young was born on 23 October, 1926, the daughter of an Oxford don. She was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford, Headington School, and in New Haven, Connecticut, returning to St Anne’s, Oxford to read modern greats.

The Dragon School was a boys’ school and she shone at cricket and rugby. Once she said of that period of her life: "No allowances were made, and it taught me independence of spirit and how to stand up for myself in society."

She served for 15 years on Oxford City Council, eventually becoming the leader of its Tory group.

In 1971, the then Prime Minister, Edward Heath, who admired her deeply, awarded her a life peerage. He said of her: "She is firm and calm in the face of crisis. Whenever I had to deal with her, she was always ex-tremely balanced."

She was appointed a government whip in the House of Lords in 1972, and the following year she became a junior environment minister.

During the period when the Tories were in opposition, Lady Young served as a vice-chairman and then deputy chairman of the Conservative Party.

But when Mrs Thatcher swept to power, Lady Young became Minister of State at the Department of Education, where she had responsibility for schools and teacher employment.

She was a fair minister and one who had friends throughout the educational spectrum. She was admired, particularly, for the speed with which she made decisions.

Her break came in 1981 when she became Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Lords, a place which, she said, was gravely under-rated. In addition, she had responsibilities for the organisation, management and overall efficiency of the Home Civil Service.

Lady Young was a member of the Cabinet throughout the Falklands conflict. However, she had to relinquish the Leadership of the House of Lords in 1983 to make room for Lord Whitelaw.

She said at the time: "Yes, I was disappointed. I’m human. But this is political life."

However, there were compen-sations. She later accepted a post as deputy Foreign Secretary outside the Cabinet, a job which involved her in travelling to no fewer than 60 countries.

In her time she was also a director of the United Kingdom Provident Institution, a member of the British Railways Advisory Board for the Western Region and an honorary fellow of the Institution of Municipal Engineers.

The doctrine of women’s liberation had no attractions for Lady Young. Once she said: "It’s a mistake to assume that all women want to do the same thing. I have worked almost throughout my married life.

"I do not say everyone should do it, but I believe strongly that if you want to be full-time with your children at home, then you should do so and not feel guilty."