James was born in 1949 in Suffolk. He was educated at Framlingham College, Suffolk, and Writtle Agricultural College.
James was a member of Suffolk Coastal District Council from 1976 to 1987. He served as the youngest ever Chairman of the Council in 1983.
James has been the Member of Parliament for South East Cambridgeshire since 1987.
Secretary of the Backbench Employment Committee and member of the Backbench Horticulture and Markets Sub-Committee, 1988-89. Member of the Select Committee on Employment, 1987-89. Parliamentary Private Secretary to Baroness Trumpington, Minister of State at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, 1989-90. Parliamentary Private Secretary to John Gummer, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries of Food, December 1990 - July 1994. Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Employment from July 1994 - July 1995. Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Education and Employment July 1995 - June 1997. Opposition Spokesman for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, June 1997 - 2001. Frontbench Spokesman for Home Affairs, September 2001 - November 2003. Shadow Minister for Home, Constitutional and Legal Affairs, November 2003 - September 2004. Shadow Minister for agriculture and rural affairs, September 2004 - May 2010. Minister of State for Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs, May 2010 - September 2012.
James is married to Ava and has two grown-up sons. In what little spare time he has he enjoys tending his small herd of Highland Cattle and various country pursuits.