Hilary is the Labour Member of Parliament for Leeds Central and the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
He served as a Minister in the Home Office, as International Development Secretary and as Secretary of State at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the last Labour Government. Since 2010, he has been the Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, the Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Shadow Foreign Secretary.
He was elected Chair of the Exiting the European Union Select Committee in October 2016 and served in this capacity and then subsequently as Chair of the Select Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union until January 2021.
He was also currently co-convenor of the UK Trade and Business Commission.
Hilary was born in London in 1953 to Tony and Caroline Benn. He attended Holland Park Comprehensive School and Sussex University. A former President of Ealing Acton Constituency Labour Party, he was elected to Ealing Borough Council in 1979 at the age of 25, becoming Chair of the Education Committee in 1986. He served as Deputy Leader of the Labour Group for nine years and was Deputy Leader of the Council from 1986-1990. In 1988 he was elected Chair of the Association of London Authorities Education Committee. He was also a member of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities Education Committee and the Labour Party’s Education Forum.
In 1980, while a Research Officer with the Association of Scientific, Technical and Management Staffs, Hilary was seconded to the Labour Party to act as Joint Secretary to the finance panel of the Labour Party Commission of Inquiry.
In 1982, at the age of 29, he was selected as Labour prospective parliamentary candidate for the constituency of Ealing North, which he contested in the 1983 and 1987 General Elections. In 1993, he was appointed as Head of Research at Manufacturing, Science, Finance – Britain’s fifth largest trade union – and in 1996 was promoted to the post of Head of Policy and Communications. He represented MSF on the Labour Party’s National Policy Forum and was an elected member of the Party’s Environment Policy Commission and a member of the Labour Party into Power Taskforce on party democracy. He also gave evidence to the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life. From 1994 to 1999, he was Chair of the Management Committee of Unions 21 – the trade union think tank.
Work as a Special Adviser
Following Labour’s 1997 General Election victory, Hilary was appointed as special adviser to the Rt Hon David Blunkett MP, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. His responsibilities included lifelong learning, and he was closely
involved in the drafting of the Learning Age green paper and the Learning to Succeed White Paper. He was also instrumental in setting up the highly-successful Union Learning Fund.
MP for Leeds Central
In June 1999, Hilary was elected as Member of Parliament for Leeds Central, succeeding the late Derek Fatchett. Hilary has established a reputation as a hard-working and approachable MP who fights hard for his constituents. He does regular advice surgeries and supports a number of local community organisations. He is a Patron of Caring Together in Woodhouse and Little London, Holbeck Together, St Vincent Support Centre, the First Floor Project, Leeds Development Education Centre, Hunslet Hawks RLFC, the Ciaran Bingham Foundation Trust, Middleton Railway, Rosebank Millennium Green, Friends of PHAB, Faith Together in Leeds 11, St Luke’s Cares, STOP, Leeds Groundwork, the James Burke Foundation and the Hamara Centre.
June 2001, Hilary was appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development. Between May 2002 and May 2003, he was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Community and Custodial provision at the Home Office.
In May 2003 he was appointed as Minister of State for International Development and in October that year entered the Cabinet as Secretary of State for International Development. While at DFID, Hilary played an important part in increasing the UK’s aid budget and in winning agreement on debt relief for the poorest countries at the 2005 Gleneagles Summit. He oversaw the UK’s response to the South-East Asian Tsunami and the Pakistan earthquake, and it was his idea that resulted in the establishment of the UN central emergency relief fund which now helps the world to respond better to disasters. He also led the UK negotiating team at the 2006 Darfur peace negotiations.
Hilary was appointed to DEFRA as Secretary of State in 2007, when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister. At DEFRA, he helped to put the ground-breaking Climate Change Act on the statute book and piloted the Marine and Coastal Access Act – which will protect out marine ecosystems – into law. He also created the South Downs National Park.
Following the 2010 General Election Hilary became Shadow Leader of the House of Commons before being appointed as Shadow Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government in October 2011. He was then appointed Shadow Foreign Secretary following the 2015 General Election and served in that position until June 2016.
In October 2016 Hilary was elected as Chair of the newly formed Exiting the European Union Select Committee and was then Chair of the Select Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union until January 2021.
In October 2019, he sponsored the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, also known as the Benn Act, which obliged the Prime Minister to seek a third extension to EU membership because no withdrawal agreement had been reached with the EU.
From 2021 to 2023 Hilary was the co-convenor of the UK Trade and Business Commission and, from 2022 to 2023, Vice-Chair of the UK Delegation to the EU/UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly. He was also a member of the Energy Security and Net Zero Select Committee.
In September 2023, Hilary was appointed as Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Hilary Benn won the Channel 4 Politicians’ Politician Award in 2006, the House Magazine Minister of the Year Award in 2006 and 2007, was the Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year in 2016 and the Political Studies Association Parliamentarian of the Year in 2019.
When not working, Hilary enjoys gardening and watching sport. He is married and has four grown-up children and a growing number of grandchildren.