Edward Leigh

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Sir Edward Leigh
Chairman of the
Public Accounts Committee
In office
7 June 2001 – 9 June 2010
Preceded by David Davis
Succeeded by Dame Margaret Hodge
Member of Parliament
for Gainsborough
Gainsborough and Horncastle (1983–1997)
Assumed office
9 June 1983
Preceded by Marcus (later Baron) Kimball
Majority 15,449 (31.4%)
Personal details
Born Edward Julian Egerton Leigh
(1950-07-20) 20 July 1950 (age 69)
Kensington, London W8
Nationality  United Kingdom
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Mary née Goodman
(now Lady Leigh)
Children 6
Residence London and Lincolnshire
Alma mater Durham University
Occupation Politician
Profession Barrister
Religion Roman Catholic
Website www.edwardleigh.org.uk

Sir Edward Julian Egerton Leigh MP (born 20 July 1950) is a British Conservative Member of Parliament (MP).

Leigh has represented Gainsborough, Lincolnshire in the House of Commons as its Member of Parliament since 1997,[1] and for its predecessor constituency of Gainsborough and Horncastle between 1983 and 1997.

He served as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee for 10 years between 2001 and 2010, investigating government waste and seeking value for money in public expenditure. Under his leadership, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was responsible for saving the taxpayer over £4 billion. Sir Edward stepped down at the end of the parliamentary session in 2010, as it is customary for a member of HM Opposition to hold this post.[2]

Leigh was knighted in the 2013 Birthday Honours for public and political service.[3][4] He was previously nicknamed "the Viscount" in parliamentary circles, alluding to his landed gentry background.

Leigh has opposed most instances of abortion and human embryonic research, deferring to his religious beliefs which accord with papal pronouncements. He was on the losing side in defence of Section 28, which barred Local Authorities from promoting "the teaching in any maintained-school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" and was a vocal opponent of 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.[5][6]

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. Described as an "intelligent but prankish and unpredictable radical rightwing intellectual" [7] and a Tory rebel, Leigh does not hesitate to vote against the leadership of his party where it conflicts with his own principles.[8] He speaks regularly in the House of Commons, mainly on civil liberties, constitutional, ecclesiastical and economic matters.

Early life

File:Knights Bachelor Insignia.png
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 as a member of Goldsmiths Chambers. Leigh was elected to Richmond Borough Council and thereafter to the Greater London Council, serving as Councillor between 1974 and 1981. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (FCIArb) and still undertakes some legal work while serving as an MP.[9]

His father, Sir Neville Leigh KCVO, Clerk to the Privy Council, hailed from the ancient Cheshire family of West Hall, High Legh and was a descendant of the Egertons, earls of Bridgwater. His maternal grandfather was Colonel Cyril Denzil Branch MC, a French citizen, and he is a nephew of Princess Nikolai Galitzine.[10]

Political career

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. In 1983 he was elected for Gainsborough and Horncastle. A strong supporter of Margaret Thatcher, Leigh with Michael Brown MP, visited 10 Downing Street on the morning of Thatcher's resignation as Prime Minister in 1990 to try to persuade her to carry on.[11]

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.[12]

Leigh served as a Minister 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.[12]

From 2001 until 2010, Edward 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.[13]

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.[14] Nonetheless, despite being on the losing side in successive party leadership elections, 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.[15]

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.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18]

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

At the end of 2010 Leigh was offered but declined the British ambassadorship to the Holy See.[19] 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.[20] Leigh, a qualified barrister and an Assembly Member of the Council of Europe,[21] opposes further human rights legislation, as proposed by the European Court of Human Rights.[22]

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.[23]

On 15 July 2014, he appeared in the House of Commons to be advocating a means-tested National Health Service with the following comment, as recorded by Hansard:

"When will both political parties be honest about the massive looming black hole in health funding, with an ageing population demanding ever better care? We cannot afford to pay for it out of general taxation, so are we going to be honest and have an open debate about moving to the French system of social insurance in which people are charged and repaid if they do not have the means, giving them an infinitely better health service?"

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.[24]

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![25]

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, Dr Lucas was left with just 17 minutes to present her Bill, which was subsequently shelved without a vote. [26]

Personal life

Leigh married Mary Goodman in London on 25 September 1984; a grandniece of George, Duke of Mecklenburg and a great-granddaughter of Lady Ottoline Morrell, she is descended from Princess Augusta of Great Britain, a sister of King George III.[27] 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.



  1. "Edward Leigh profile". UK Parliament Website.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Leigh to step down as head of PAC". FM World. 26 October 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60534. p. 1. 15 June 2013.
  4. "Birthday Honours List 2013" (PDF). HM Government. 14 June 2013. Retrieved 14 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Davie, Edward (9 November 2004). "Conservatives split on civil partnerships". ePolitix.com. Archived from the original on 13 January 2010. Retrieved 13 January 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Coward, Colin (9 November 2004). "Civil Partnership bill wrecking amendment defeated". Changing Attitude. Archived from the original on 13 January 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Edward Leigh profile". The Guardian. London, UK. 9 February 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. www.conservativehome.com
  9. Profile, publications.parliament.uk; accessed 14 July 2015.
  10. www.burkespeerage.com - LEIGH formerly of West Hall
  11. John Blundell (September 2008). Lady Thatcher: A Portrait. Algora Publishing. pp. 162–163. ISBN 978-0-87586-631-4. Retrieved 23 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 Byron Criddle (10 September 2012). Almanac of British Politics. Taylor & Francis. p. 385. ISBN 978-0-415-26833-2. Retrieved 23 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 'An open letter to my successor as Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts', by Edward Leigh MP, March 2010
  14. The Guardian
  15. "MPs apologise for motorbike error". BBC News Online. BBC. 28 February 2008. Retrieved 15 January 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Tory Catholic seeks to return 'faith, flag and family' to heart of party philosophy". Catholic Herald. 29 July 2005. Retrieved 14 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. www.edwardleigh.org.uk
  18. www.ambafrance-uk.org
  19. The Daily Telegraph. Leigh turns down appointment as UK Ambassador to The Vatican
  20. The Evening Standard: Leigh joins call for lower taxes
  21. www.assembly.coe.int
  22. "If we want our human rights then bring them back home", Telegraph.co.uk; accessed 14 July 2015.
  23. PM pledges one more try at Lords reform, news.sky.com; accessed 14 July 2015.
  24. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. www.dailymail.co.uk
  26. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/tory-mps-talk-long-derail-7539627
  27. www.britroyals.com

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Marcus Kimball
Crowned Portcullis.svg
Member of Parliament for Gainsborough and Horncastle

Succeeded by
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
New constituency
Member of Parliament for Gainsborough
Succeeded by
in office
Preceded by
David Davis
Chair of the Public Accounts Committee
Succeeded by
Dame Margaret Hodge