Edward Leigh

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Sir Edward Leigh
Official portrait of Sir Edward Leigh crop 2.jpg
Chairman of the
Public Accounts Committee
In office
7 June 2001 – 9 June 2010
Preceded byDavid Davis
Succeeded byDame Margaret Hodge
Member of Parliament
for Gainsborough
Gainsborough and Horncastle (1983–1997)
Assumed office
9 June 1983
Preceded byMarcus Kimball
Majority17,023 (33.1%)
Personal details
BornEdward Julian Egerton Leigh
(1950-07-20) 20 July 1950 (age 68)
Kensington, London, England
Political partyConservative
Spouse(s)Mary née Goodman
(now Lady Leigh)
ResidenceLondon and Lincolnshire
Alma materDurham University

Sir Edward Julian Egerton Leigh (born 20 July 1950) is a British Conservative Party politician who has served as a Member of Parliament since 1983.

Leigh speaks regularly in the House of Commons on civil liberties, constitutional, ecclesiastical and economic matters. He has represented Gainsborough, Lincolnshire in the House of Commons as its Member of Parliament since 1983 (representing its predecessor constituency, Gainsborough and Horncastle, until 1997).[1]

Leigh was knighted in the 2013 Birthday Honours for public and political service [2][3] and received the Légion d'honneur in 2015.

Leigh has a reputation in Westminster for being a “serial rebeller”[4] and an independent-minded MP, often voting against his own political party where it conflicts with his own principles.[5] He was one of the original Maastricht Rebels and reportedly sacked for organising Euro-rebels among ministers.[5] In 2003, Leigh famously opposed military intervention in Iraq,[6] and has since called for those who voted for the Iraq War and are still seeking to justify their support for it, should be held to account.[7]

He served as the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee from 2001 to 2010, investigating government waste and seeking value for money in public expenditure. Sir Edward stepped down at the end of the parliamentary session in 2010, as it is customary for a member of the Opposition to hold this post.[8]

Leigh has edited and authored three books: Right Thinking (1988); The Nation that forgot God (2008);[9] and Monastery of the Mind (2012)[10]

Early life[edit]

Insignia of a Knight Bachelor

Leigh was educated at The Oratory School, the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle (the French School in London) before going up to University College, Durham, where he read History (BA) and was elected President of the Durham Union Society. Before entering politics, he qualified as a barrister at the Inner Temple, and practised in arbitration and criminal law. He was a member of Goldsmiths Chambers.[11] He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (FCIArb) and formerly served as an Ensign in the Honourable Artillery Company.[12]

His father, Sir Neville Leigh KCVO, hailed from the ancient Cheshire family of West Hall, High Legh, a descendant of the Egertons, earls of Bridgewater.

His maternal grandfather was Colonel Cyril Denzil Branch MC, a French citizen, and he is a nephew of Princess Nikolai Galitzine.[13]

Political career[edit]

Leigh first stood for Parliament at the October 1974 general election when he contested the safe Labour seat of Middlesbrough, but he was beaten by Arthur Bottomley.

Leigh worked in the private office of Margaret Thatcher from 1976–77 as a private secretary when she was Leader of the Opposition. Leigh was elected to Richmond Borough Council and thereafter to the Greater London Council, serving as Councillor between 1974 and 1981.

In 1983, he was elected for Gainsborough and Horncastle. A strong supporter of Margaret Thatcher, Leigh visited 10 Downing Street with Michael Brown MP on the morning of Thatcher's resignation as Prime Minister in 1990 to try to persuade her to carry on.[14] Although Charles Powell advised them it was a forlorn task, they were nonetheless granted access to the Cabinet which was in process at the time. Leigh and Brown departed 10 Downing Street and walked down Whitehall back to the House of Commons reputedly with "tears in their eyes". After Thatcher resigned, in the ensuing leadership election, Leigh supported Michael Heseltine, under whom he had served at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), preferring to support someone who had stabbed Thatcher in the front to those who had stabbed her in the back.[15]

Leigh served as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in John Major's ministry but was sacked in May 1993 over the stance he took by opposing the Maastricht Treaty. Whilst in office at the DTI he was a keen advocate of privatisation of the Post Office (opposed by Labour at the time but as the Royal Mail division attracting general bipartisan support and floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2013). In the following Conservative leadership election, Leigh supported John Redwood.[15]

From 2001 until 2010, Leigh served as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, the primary parliamentary body auditing the Budget, investigating government waste, and seeking value for money in public expenditure. During his two terms as Chairman, the PAC took evidence on 420 separate government projects and programmes and was responsible for saving the taxpayer over £4 billion.[16]

In October 2006, Leigh was vocal in stating that after David Cameron had become leader of his party core supporters were drifting away from voting Conservative.[17] Nonetheless, his effective chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee led to the rejuvenation of his parliamentary career.

Early in 2008, as Chairman of the PAC, he was embarrassed by relying on flawed Department for Transport (DfT) statistics to attack motorcyclists for tax evasion. He accused 38% of motorcyclists of evading vehicle excise duty. He later apologised for this following the admission by the DfT that 95.5% of motorcycles are entirely legal.[18]

Leigh serves as President of the socially conservative Cornerstone Group, which represents the views of over 40 Conservative Members of Parliament. He was author of the group's inaugural pamphlet Faith, Flag and Family in 2005.[19]

From 2010 to 2011, Leigh served as an Independent Financial Advisor to HM Treasury, appointed by George Osborne to bring external challenge to the development and implementation of a new financial management strategy for central government. He stood down in 2011, but was then appointed to report directly to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on improving Parliament's financial scrutiny of the Budget. He is a member of the Treasury Financial Reporting & Advisory Board. Since 2010, Leigh has been a delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, speaking regularly and serving on the Culture, Science, Education and Media Committee.[20]

At the end of 2010 Leigh was offered but declined the British ambassadorship to the Holy See.[21] Leigh also supported Boris Johnson's call to George Osborne in 2011 for lowering the rate of taxation in the UK in order to assist its economic recovery following the credit crunch.[22] Leigh, a qualified barrister and an Assembly Member of the Council of Europe,[23] opposes further human rights legislation, as proposed by the European Court of Human Rights.[24]

In 2011, Leigh was appointed Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, the body which audits the National Audit Office.

In 2012, Leigh, together with a record number of fellow Conservative MPs, including numerous Privy Counsellors, successfully voted against the Coalition Government's attempted railroading of House of Lords Reform by limiting time for meaningful parliamentary debate on this major constitutional issue.[25]

In September 2014, Leigh criticised the Government’s decision to allow mitochondrial replacement therapy to prevent the birth of the children with incurable diseases such as muscular dystrophy. These diseases affect up to 1 in 6,500 babies which Leigh stated could lead to people being “harvested for their parts" and a divide between what he referred to as "the modified and the unmodified". The Department for Health asserted no genetic modification is involved.[26]

Sir Edward also gained plaudits for his defence of fellow Conservative MP, Nigel Mills, by stating matter-of-factly that some committees can be boring![27]

In 2015, Sir Edward received the Légion d'honneur for his role as “a bridge between our parliaments, our governments and our societies”, as stated by H.E. Sylvie Bermann at his investiture.[28]

In March 2016 he joined three other Conservative backbench MPs in "talking out" a Bill introduced by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, which aimed to reverse moves to privatise the NHS. By filibustering for three and a half hours, Lucas was left with just 17 minutes to present her Bill, which was subsequently shelved without a vote.[29][30]


Leigh is a prominent Roman Catholic and has argued for tightening of abortion law and a ban on human embryonic research.[31][32][33] These positions align with his religion's stance, with accord to papal pronouncements.[34] He was on the losing side in defence of Section 28 and opposed the Civil Partnership Act 2004, voting against it in Parliament at its Second Reading. Leigh later proposed an amendment to extend the property and pension rights afforded by civil partnerships to siblings who had lived together for more than 12 years. This was opposed by many backers of the initial Bill, such as fellow Conservative MP Sir Alan Duncan, who dubbed it a wrecking amendment.[35][36]

Leigh was a vocal supporter of Brexit in the 2016 European Union Referendum [37]

Opposition to Conservative leadership[edit]

On a number of occasions Leigh has voted against the leadership of his party where it conflicts with his own principles.[5] In 2003, Leigh famously rebelled against the leadership of his own party and the Labour government to oppose military intervention in Iraq in 2003.[6] He was one of only 15 conservative rebels who opposed it at the time.

In October 2017 the House of Commons overwhelmingly passed an opposition motion to delay the introduction of Universal Credit and iron out problems with the system first. Leigh strongly criticised the government decision to ignore the vote, he stated, “The road to tyranny is paved by executives ignoring parliaments.”[38]

Speakership positions[edit]

A veteran backbencher, Leigh was encouraged to challenge for the Speakership of the House of Commons, and after the 2010 general election for one of the Deputy Speakerships, but chose not to pursue this opportunity since parliamentary convention precludes Government Party members being elected to such offices unless already in situ.

All-party parliamentary group[edit]

A fluent French speaker, Leigh is currently serving as the Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on France and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Italy, delivering a speech in Italian at the Palace of Westminster to visiting Deputies of the Italian Parliament. He is also the Chairman of the new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Russia, Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Insurance, and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs, Defence, and International Development subcommittee of the 1922 Committee.


Leigh was knighted in the 2013 Birthday Honours for public and political service.[2][3] He was previously nicknamed "the Viscount" in parliamentary circles, alluding to his landed gentry background.

Personal life[edit]

Leigh married Mary Goodman in London on 25 September 1984 in London; the great granddaughter of Duke Georg Alexander of Mecklenburg-Strelitz through her mother, and the great-granddaughter of Lady Ottoline Morrell through her father. She is a direct descendant from the Empress of Russia Catherine II and Princess Augusta of Great Britain, a sister of King George III.[39] By marrying a Roman Catholic, Lady Leigh had previously forfeited her precedence in the line of succession to the British throne until the change in the law of 2013.

Sir Edward and Lady Leigh have six children (Natalia, Tamara, Benedict, Marina, Nicholas, and Theodore) and split their time between their home in Westminster and constituency home in Lincolnshire. Their eldest children work for the British government in Her Majesty's Civil Service.


  1. ^ "Edward Leigh profile". UK Parliament Website. Archived from the original on 20 October 2012.
  2. ^ a b "No. 60534". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 June 2013. p. 1.
  3. ^ a b "Birthday Honours List 2013" (PDF). HM Government. 14 June 2013. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  4. ^ "David Cameron sparks MPs' protests in the Commons by sacking three 'serial' Tory rebels from Europe body". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2017-07-29.
  5. ^ a b c "Sir Edward Leigh MP: After a weak Queen's Speech, we could lose the next election - unless we change course".
  6. ^ a b "Did your MP support the rebels?". The BBC. London, UK. 19 March 2003.
  7. ^ cornerstonegroup (2016-07-14). "On the Chilcot Report". Cornerstone. Retrieved 2017-07-29.
  8. ^ "Leigh to step down as head of PAC". FM World. 26 October 2009.
  9. ^ Leigh, Edward (2008-03-31). Haydon, Alex, ed. The Nation That Forgot God: A Book of Essays. London: Social Affairs Unit. ISBN 9781904863410.
  10. ^ Leigh, Sir Edward (2012-07-31). Monastery of the Mind: A Pilgrimage with St Ignatius. St Pauls Publishing. ISBN 9780854398133.
  11. ^ "About Us - Goldsmith Chambers".
  12. ^ Profile, publications.parliament.uk; accessed 14 July 2015.
  13. ^ Burke's Landed Gentry - LEIGH formerly of West Hall
  14. ^ John Blundell (September 2008). Lady Thatcher: A Portrait. Algora Publishing. pp. 162–163. ISBN 978-0-87586-631-4. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  15. ^ a b Byron Criddle (10 September 2012). Almanac of British Politics. Taylor & Francis. p. 385. ISBN 978-0-415-26833-2. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  16. ^ 'An open letter to my successor as Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts', by Edward Leigh MP, March 2010
  17. ^ Hastings, Max (1 October 2006). "Max Hastings: Cameron's big problem - the Conservative party".
  18. ^ "MPs apologise for motorbike error". BBC News Online. BBC. 28 February 2008. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  19. ^ "Tory Catholic seeks to return 'faith, flag and family' to heart of party philosophy". Catholic Herald. 29 July 2005. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  20. ^ "Council of Europe - Edward Leigh MP - Gainsborough".
  21. ^ The Daily Telegraph. Leigh turns down appointment as UK Ambassador to The Vatican
  22. ^ The Evening Standard: Leigh joins call for lower taxes Archived 1 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  23. ^ "PACE Member File Edward Leigh". www.assembly.coe.int. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  24. ^ "If we want our human rights then bring them back home", Telegraph.co.uk; accessed 14 July 2015.
  25. ^ PM pledges one more try at Lords reform, news.sky.com; accessed 14 July 2015.
  26. ^ Press Association (1 September 2014). "Britain will be considered a 'rogue state' if it creates GM people, MP warns". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2 September 2014.
  27. ^ "Candy Crush Saga MP apologises".
  28. ^ "Sir Edward Leigh is made an Officier in the Légion d'Honneur".
  29. ^ Bloom, Dan (11 March 2016). "Tory MPs talk for so long they derail law against privatisation in the NHS".
  30. ^ NHS Reinstatement Bill: Tory MPs filibuster debate by talking about deporting foreigners for hours. The Independent. Published 11 March 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  31. ^ "MPs throw out bids to reduce abortion limit". 20 May 2008.
  32. ^ "The Most Dangerous Position In Britain Today Is... 'To Be A Female Foetus'". 9 October 2013.
  33. ^ Sparrow, Andrew (19 May 2008). "Ban on hybrid embryos and saviour siblings fails".
  34. ^ "Catholic MP fights to reduce 24-week abortion limit".
  35. ^ Davie, Edward (9 November 2004). "Conservatives split on civil partnerships". ePolitix.com. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
  36. ^ Coward, Colin (9 November 2004). "Civil Partnership bill wrecking amendment defeated". Changing Attitude. Archived from the original on 13 January 2010.
  37. ^ "Which Tory MPs back Brexit, who doesn't and who is still on the fence? - Coffee House". 16 February 2016.
  38. ^ We're not ignoring you but vote doesn't bind, PM's deputy tells MPs The Guardian
  39. ^ "Line of Succession to the British Throne".

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Marcus Kimball
Member of Parliament for Gainsborough and Horncastle
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Gainsborough
Political offices
Preceded by
David Davis
Chair of the Public Accounts Committee
Succeeded by
Dame Margaret Hodge